Lucky for us, getting to and through Indianapolis, which at over 790,000 people is this country’s 12th largest city, would be a lot easier than my first time through in 1979 thanks to Ray Irvin, aka, Mr. Greenway. Back then, Indy, as it is referred to by locals, offered nothing more than high speed roads on which shoulders were absent. In fact, the days of questions and map study that had led up it, told me that the only way to get to the other side of it, and the vast metropolitan area that it sat in the center of, was to go around it. In all, the detour that resulted required an extra one hundred or so miles of travel.
Since 1990, however, because of Ray’s leadership, all that has changed. A man who lives his dreams, he most arguably has done more to get people out of their cars than any man alive today. Once an Indianapolis councilman, for the last year and a half he has been the Director of Greenways and Bike Ways for Indiana. An since Indianapolis is also the capital, he is taking the example he set there out into the rest of the state.
Aware of the changes that were taking place in Indianapolis because of Indy Greenways (IG), the organization that Ray led, Governor Mitch Daniels asked Ray if he could work his magic for the entire state. You see, as the director of Indy Greenways, the infrastructure Ray built for people power through ______ different Mayoral administrations, has caused a whole new Indianapolis to emerge. So much so, that it is now nationally respected as the center of the Greenway universe.
Under Ray’s watch, with the help of _____ University he was able to document the rise in property values of those homes located in close proximity to IG's growing network of trails. This as the numbers of its users also soared. He has also been witness to the many communities that have emerged as people get out on to the IG pathways where they are no longer separated from one another by glass, plastic or metal.
Once a dying Rust Belt City, because of the still virile Indy Grenways that Ray has left behind, Indianapolis has witnessed a new vitality. It has become desirable to the class of people most American post industrial city’s are just now realizing they need to attract in order to keep their economies growing. Called the Creative Class by noted author and economist, Richard Florida, this is the new generation of college graduates who work in high-tech businesses and knowledge intensive industries such as biotech, information technology and telecommunications.
Such workers are drawn to those cities where thinking is not walled in by the noise of freeways or traffic plagued streets. In the same way large computer employers attract the best talent by turning their places of employment into college campus like settings with walking paths, fountains and lawns, Indy Greenways has been working hard to turn Indianapolis into one giant university grounds.
Indianapolis knew back in the late ‘80’s, that in a part of the country where there was no ocean to hear or mountains to wonder at, that to attract the new blood of a virile work force, that its anchor attraction needed to become its beautiful green spaces. Toward this end, then, it had to get them interconnected as well as more accessible. The 70+ miles of trails (with 200 planned) that resulted now reach 56 parks, 24 schools, a zoo, a stadium, museums and three arts and cultural districts.
Because IG also manages the bus lines and bike travel in Indianapolis, its trail network is also inter-modal. In such a way, large employers, hospitals, libraries and most all important destinations are all built into this exciting interconnected labyrinth. All of Indy’s buses and its 300 miles of signed on street bike routes interconnect with IG’s paved pathways making for a transportation system that functions quietly and efficiently in the background of a a huge city that works.
As for actual bike lanes, they are a work in progress, as IG is working hard to increase the actual on street bike striping. However, the routes have been designated and are part of the bigger picture general plan. A plan that knows that bikes are a key to its success.
The low cost travel network it has built enables its minimum wage earners to safely and efficiently get to its restaurants, hotels, laundries, movie and sports complexes, and all those businesses that just make a city run as well as fun. And they are able to get to and from their work without clogging up the streets.
By making it easy and affordable for its service industry workers to get around, it also knew that since a lot of these low paying positions are entry level jobs, that using Greenways would carry upward in the culture. And already this is starting to pay off for Indy as these people graduate into their careers or move on to more responsible employment and even start to raise families..
Nor did any of this urban renewal require that Indianapolis decimate blighted neighborhoods or undertake any massive reconstruction projects. No, not at all. In fact the bulk of the recreation and transportation corridors that it built for its population came from the same stock of land many American cities already have at their disposal. Indianapolis created a lot of its linear parks by laying a small ribbon of asphalt on its once unused flood plains and abandoned rail corridors.
And it is here that Ray sees a way for other cities to build Greenways that can pay for themselves. He feels that underground utilities can be laid under them and that cities can charge a subterranean lease for this privilege. As such, digging up city streets every time a new gas, phone, sewer or cable line needs to be serviced would become a thing of the past
In getting people out of their cars in Indianapolis, so that he could begin building a Greenway consciousness Ray had to fight against tradition. Founded as the state capital in 1821, Indy’s geographic presence in the center of the state has always made it a cross roads for travelers headed north to Chicago, south to Louisville, east to Cincinnati, or west to St. Louis. After the car took over for the Madison & Indianapolis Railroad which had caused Indy’s population to swell from 8,000 in 1850 to more than 169,000 in 1900, it soon rivaled Detroit for America’s top Motor City honors. In fact, the Duesenberg, Marmon, National, and Stutz all had their car factory headquarters there.
Indianapolis car culture became officially ingrained in the local consciousness in 1909 when 3.2 million bricks were used to build the world famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Even today, a great preponderance of city resources are dedicated to the racetrack when its speedsters are in town. As added testimony to Indy’s preoccupation with the automobile, four interstate freeways now radiate out from Indianapolis.
And yet even within the midst of all this motor mania, the organization Ray drove for many years continues to make it not only safe but desirable to not be in a car. So much so that communities from all over the country come to him for guidance on how to improve the quality of life in their cities - with Greenways!!