Discovering New Lands in Your Community

Historically, since the 1912-1913 floods, Indianapolis has declared most major streams, creeks and rivers Flood Plains or Flood Ways on county land use maps. Additionally, the city made some efforts to curb building in these areas and maintained the 1920 and 1930 levee systems through the Marion County Flood Control Board until the mid 60’s. Then under UNIGOV, the board disbanded and responsibility for the flood & levee structures shifted to the newly combined City/County Department of Public Works.

Also in 1989 the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce started their work on the GIFT (Getting Indianapolis Fit for Tomorrow) report.  One of the first segments examined the ratio of population to parks. The report discovered that Indianapolis had a 20% parkland deficit compared to other similar cities, and that parkland is a critical quality of life indicator.  Since greenways promote parks by increasing park accessibility and preserving linear open spaces, Indianapolis’ green linear space became paramount in improving the parkland deficit. Without increasing Indianapolis’ parkland in the 21st century, we risked losing our communities competitive edge in a future of opportunities.

In 1990, the City County Council, in an effort to address the GIFT reports parkland deficit issues, created the Indianapolis Greenways Task Force to research and resolves these issues.

By working with the Department of Metropolitan Development and updating the comprehensive land use plan for all nine townships, we changed all Flood Plains (FP) and Flood Ways (FW) to a new designation of Linear Parks (LP) and Urban Conservation (UC).  We then identified and defined the Greenways as being any dedicated linear space including waterways, old railroad corridors, and utility corridors that now represents 20 defined linear greenway corridors and infrastructure opportunities.

The City County Council established a 16-member commission, appointed by the mayor, council and parks board to oversee the development of a Greenways Master Plan sensitive to the 340 species of birds, 755 species of plants and 60 species of trees along this vast greenways system.

The City of Indianapolis over the past 1.5 decades has developed a substantial Greenways network and trails system, with win-win partnerships.  And has worked closely with the Department of Metropolitan Development, Public Works, Utility Providers, Neighborhoods, Companies and the Greenways Foundation Inc. to meet our cities growing needs.

Today the Indianapolis Greenways System consists of over 6,000 acres of dedicated Greenways on over 200 miles of linear space, along with 65 miles of dedicated trails. Additionally, 45 miles are being planned or constructed and another 75 miles will undergo construction in the near future.

Our trail system is well underway to connect over 125 major destinations throughout our county to hundreds of Indianapolis neighborhoods. Such destinations include 55 parks, along with schools, museums, a zoo, libraries, art parks, one college and two universities.

In addition, we have re-established an 1836 Canal Towpath and several historic bridges in our diverse collection Circe 1872 to modern bridges for pedestrian crossings, and have continued to improve infrastructure that supports our trail system.  We have also built bridges over and under bridges along our Greenways system. As part of the mayor’s vision for a vibrant cultural agenda for our city we are now studying a 10-mile Cultural Trail hub greenway in downtown Indy.

In 2000 the City County Council gave the responsibility of developing and managing an all new countywide bike route system to the Greenways Division. Currently we are working with the regional Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) to develop a regional bike route system. With the Monon trail connecting Hamilton County to the North, and other greenways connecting to surrounding counties the system is starting to take shape. Marion county and the regional system features numbered routes extending well into all nine surrounding counties as shown on the new comprehensive bike route map. We have also worked with the IndyGo Public Transportation Utility to install bike racks on the front of all the busses. Making Greenways, Bike Routes and bus transportation into a user-friendly system.               

In other areas Indy Greenways has worked with the MPO and with IndyGo, the Indianapolis bus transportation utility, to acquire grants for installing bike racks on the IndyGo bus fleet. Our goal is to integrate the Greenways trail system into the 327-mile countywide bike route system that we are currently redeveloping. Further, we will intersect the regional bike routes with the IndyGo bus routes. This will not only improve public transportation; it will offer new options to public transportation users, allowing them a portable, personal transportation opportunity that was previously unavailable. This new alternative will serve customers at a fraction of the cost and time associated with the public transit system.

As Indianapolis area’s population has rapidly expanded over the past decade, public transportation has become more of a community necessity. With a high demand for employees in the service industry, public transportation becomes more of a critical issue, especially with the looming fuel and energy costs that could easily overwhelm service industry workers. And could quickly affect the local economies. Greenways can therefore have immediate results in this area of our economic community.

As our system developed, many new environmental, commercial, housing, art and nature opportunities began popping up along the Greenway Corridor.  Greenways that once started as a recreational opportunity has in fact become an engine for community based economic development as reported in several research papers by IUPUI (Indiana University Purdue University at Indianapolis) researching usage, home values and the explosion of housing development and small business creations.

The Greenways initiative has also collaborated to create public art in blighted areas while maintaining the integrity and improving the environment throughout Marion County.

Effectively planned greenway systems for any city can rapidly develop into an important quality of life amenity. Greenways have become recreation and transportation assets that also serve and meet the community’s live ability needs for 21st Century cities. A healthy green infrastructure that makes your city a competitive place can hold the focus for the visions we all have for our homes our cities our nation.

 By; Ray R Irvin;    3-30-06
 Director of Greenways and Bikeways,
 Indiana Dept. of Transportation
 rirvin@indot.state.in.us  @ 317-232-3936

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