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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Residents express pedestrian safety concerns as crashes increase

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Mother and daughter duo Stephanie Patterson Cline and Nicole Young spend most mornings and some evenings biking together and with others from Black Girls Do Bike Indianapolis. Often, they said, they are on high alert looking out for drivers who aren’t paying attention to them. 

“Once a week, my husband, my kids and I are putting on our brakes or dodging a vehicle, usually it’s a moving vehicle that doesn’t see us,” Patterson said. “I’m sure if you’ve been here for any length of time, you [would] know in the biking community, we’ve had several cyclists be killed.” 

Most recently, she recalled, beloved community member and Bicycle Garage Indy employee Frank Radaker was hit and killed in October 2021 at the intersection of 86th Street and the Monon Trail. Since then, the group, including Patterson, have advocated for better pedestrian and bicycling safety. 

“When he was killed, I think it just made a lot of people rethink safety because we could all relate to him,” Patterson said. “He was just your average guy riding to work. He wasn’t someone racing or doing something reckless and it was something he’d done every day for like 20 years. So, I think a lot is happening and I think it’s made the community of bicyclists more aware.”

Three-fourths of the pedestrian and bicycling accidents in Indianapolis have resulted in injury or fatalities this year, according to Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. As of May 25, there have been 127 pedestrian and bicyclist accidents in 146 days. Of that, 96 have resulted in injury and 13 in fatalities. 

Only a small portion of vehicular accidents involve pedestrians, approximately 1%, but they account for 20% of fatalities involving a vehicle. 

The risk for severe injury increases with speed. Serious injury is almost certain at 31 miles per hour but can occur at speeds as slow as 16 miles per hour, according to a study done by National Association of Transportation Officials.

What’s going on? 

While the number of accidents and fatalities declined in past years, progress plateaued, and fatalities rose during the pandemic, despite less movement on the road. Pedestrian fatalities rose by 13% in 2021, and bicyclist fatalities by 5%, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In recent years, the city has made efforts to address equitable infrastructure, but funding remains an issue, according to a study commissioned by the Department of Public Works. Patterson said she has noticed an increase in drivers speeding and not paying attention since the pandemic. 

City officials have become increasingly aware of safety issues. Several officials hosted a town hall on May 10 to discuss the Complete Streets policy and ways to make Indianapolis safer. However, the problem cannot be solved until roadways are constructed with pedestrians and bicyclists’ safety as a priority, President and CEO of IndyGo Inez Evans said.

The majority of pedestrians and bicyclists were struck crossing at intersections, according to the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute 2019 traffic report. The report found in 2019, pedestrian and bicycling accidents dipped to a five-year low, after years of steady increase. However, the incidents are on the rise once again. 

The data speaks to disparities, and lower income neighborhoods and people of color often suffer the consequences of poorly designed streets, according to City-County Council Majority Leader Maggie Lewis. Approaching infrastructure in an equitable way has been a priority for the council, she said. Disparities in data help drive decisions when it comes to roads and sidewalks. 

How can the problem be mitigated? 

The situation has become so dire that we are in crisis mode, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Roadway Safety Strategy. The U.S. Department of Transportation developed a plan to address the crisis earlier this year. The strategy outlines key actions to move toward the long-term goal of zero fatalities. Strategies include investing in road safety through funding, designing roadways to mitigate human error, encouraging safety behaviors such as safe speed, the use of seatbelts and reducing impaired driving. 

Indianapolis is home to over 850,000 residents and 160,000 commuters meeting the roadways each day. Maintaining an adequate road system is expensive and Indianapolis isn’t spending enough money to build and maintain infrastructure, according to the DPW study. The city should be spending five times more, an estimated $1 billion a year, to maintain its roads, sidewalks and bridges, according to the study. However, that would take nearly all of the city’s $1.3 billion budget. 

“We look forward to a time where we can actually be properly funded and really redesign these streets the way they should be,” Department of Public Works Director Dan Parker said.

The DPW report provided several options for how much funding is needed for infrastructure. Funding needs would be up to the city and what it wants to buy, the study said.

The city maintains a total of 2,911 miles of sidewalks and has 1,958 miles of roadways that lack sidewalks. Building sidewalks along all roads will improve pedestrian safety, according to the DPW study.

To bring the number of roads without sidewalks to zero, the city would have to find and spend $7.2 billion. It also needs about $92 million to repair sidewalks in poor condition. Indianapolis found 87 miles of sidewalk, or 3%, are in poor condition and roughly 15% in fair condition, according to the DPW study. 

Another way to reduce the number of crashes is to enact traffic calming interventions such as speed bumps and narrowing streets. 

Upcoming Projects

The city has been making strides in safe infrastructure with upcoming projects such as Circle City Forward and Complete Streets.
The Indianapolis Board of Public Works voted to approve a $9.2 million residential street reconstruction project that is expected to begin this month. The first phase of Mayor Joe Hogsett’s Circle City Forward initiative began in February 2021 with $190 million in enhancements to a few major parks including Frederick Douglass Park, Riverside Park, Krannert Park, and Grassy Creek Park and several new public safety facilities, according to the city’s website.

The second phase will begin with 43 street segments, mostly located in northwest side neighborhoods. The reconstruction work also will include new ramps that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, new sidewalks, new curbs and rehabilitated roadways. 

Another project slated to begin in the spring 2023 will include improvements to existing sidewalks, curbs, ADA ramps and crosswalks with the Michigan Street and New York Street two-way conversion and the 29th Street and 30th Street two-way conversion.

Ongoing projects include the West Morris Street Revitalization. As part of U.S. Department of Transportation Complete Streets projects, this project includes repaving the roadways, constructing divided medians, bike lanes, multi-use paths, upgrades to traffic signals and adding trees and landscaping from Eagle Creek to Harding Street. The project is expected to be completed in late fall.

The city is also working to improve pedestrian connectivity near the planned White River Innovation District by constructing a new bridge on Henry Street over White River. 

The Community Justice Campus will also see infrastructure improvements along Pleasant Run Parkway, English Avenue, Southeastern Avenue, Keystone Avenue and LaSalle Street. This project will begin and end in the fall. 

Indianapolis residents express concerns

The projects come as many Indianapolis residents express concerns for pedestrian and bicycling safety. Nick Robertson has been biking since 2007 — in cities such as Atlanta, Portland, Tampa and now Indianapolis. He often catches himself looking over his shoulder waiting for the next driver to speed past him. He is also concerned when he walks his child to school three blocks away. A major issue is people who don’t stop at the marked pedestrian crosswalk. Better infrastructure needs to be a priority, he said. 

“I think I want to live in a world where my kids move around freely without worrying they are going to get run over, we have all the examples in the world,” Robertson said. 

The People’s Planning Academy gathers input from residents how to build safer streets.

However, Patterson said the city needs to host more of these events.

“They [city officials] have been really good about getting people at this apex where we need to walk more and ride more,” she said, “but the city needs to kind of make it so that we’re not taking our own lives in our own hands by doing that and it needs to be a part of the city planning.”

Patterson and Young agreed until better infrastructure is constructed, drivers should be cautious and treat bicyclists just like another car on the road. The NHTSA agrees, stating bicycles operating on a roadway should behave as cars do, including riding in the same direction as traffic and having the right of way just as a vehicle would. 

“Even as we’ve become more biker experienced, it’s still just as frightening to me to be out on a bike.” Patterson said. “Cars are doing what cars do. I think it has to be giving people thorough fares to get places on a bike without having to just be in the middle of the road.”

Other organizations such as Indy Bike Lane Defense are pushing for change within the city. The group said the city has placed its focus on “car-centric infrastructure” and should be moving toward inclusive infrastructure that doesn’t neglect cyclists and pedestrians. 

“We have to rethink how our entire city is designed and make it impossible for drivers and their vehicles to travel at deadly speeds they are able to reach now,” the organization said in a statement.

Contact staff writer Jayden Kennett at 317-762-7847 or by email jaydenk@indyrecorder.com. Follow her on Twitter @JournoJay.

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