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Indianapolis Sidewalks 101

Sidewalk reconstruction on 46th Street

Sidewalk reconstruction on 46th Street

Sidewalks are a contentious topic around these parts. We here at Urban Indy like to advocate for more of them. Wider ones than currently exist and even go as far as to say, “Why don’t you add a grass strip between the street and the sidewalk for an extra measure of safety.” It is easy to talk about these types of improvements. It is NOT however, easy to get them implemented. Figuring out how to make suggestions to the city conjures images of scaling fences topped with barbed wire. It’s tough to figure out how to make progress, be heard, and ultimately to enjoy the success of new sidewalks in our neighborhoods.

I spent some time going back and forth with Molly Deuberry of the Indianapolis Department of Public Works (DPW) and chatted about sidewalks. How is construction planned? How is upkeep planned? What has priority? How much does it cost to build new sidewalks? Why does it cost so much? When a new sidewalk is built, who decides where it is going to be built? If there are homes there, how are owners affected by new sidewalks being constructed? I dug even further and asked a “what if?” type of question. What if a street or neighborhood wants to build new sidewalks in their neighborhood, but the city says no? How can they take action to make new sidewalks a reality? Following is a question and answer between her and I regarding these topics.

Q: How is construction planned? 
A:When street segments are identified for resurfacing, we send our designers to assess the road condition and the condition of the existing sidewalks. They identify panels in need of repair and they include them within their design. Installation of new sidewalks are typically designed based on requested need from the public especially in areas around schools and churches. Previously, the City hasn’t had a program to install new sidewalks.  We are working on changing that through RebuildIndy.

Q: How is upkeep planned? 

52nd St, still some room for improvement (image credit: Curt Ailes)

52nd St, still some room for improvement (image credit: Curt Ailes)

A:According to City ordinance, the maintenance of sidewalks (snow removal, for example) is up to the resident.  However, I think you may be talking more about long-term maintenance of broken panels.  Sidewalk segments are entered into our database based on the dates they were constructed.  There is not a plan in place and that is why RebuildIndy is needed—to not only address those areas of need but to recognize that there needs to be a long-term maintenance plan.  Now that we are looking at the installation of new sidewalks, which hasn’t been done before, we are also looking at a plan to maintain them.

Q: What has priority? 
A: Areas near schools and residential streets have priority to move pedestrians safely through neighborhoods and areas near churches and schools.

Q: How much does it cost to build new sidewalks? 
A: The cost of the project varies based on utility relocation, grading required, tree removal, driveway approach upgrades, etc.  Our cost recently has ranged between $60-70/foot.

Q: When a new sidewalk is built, who decides where it is going to be built? 
A: Plans need to be approved by DMD and DCE for location, width, material, and overall site plan approval.  But I think you may also mean who has a say in where and when and which projects are done.  A good explanation to this is here: http://www.indy.gov/eGov/City/DPW/RebuildIndy/Pages/RebuildIndy-Project-Selection.aspx

Q: If there are homes there, how are owners affected by new sidewalks being constructed? 
A: Sidewalk installation does cause some minor inconvenience to property owners while the ground is being prepared, cuts across driveways are ongoing, sidewalk is being poor and cured and final approaches are constructed for the new sidewalk across residents’ drives, there will always be construction material and equipment in front of homes during periods of construction and there is often times planting of grass and finished grading that occurs once construction has been completed.

Indy's Nicest Sidewalk, The Cultural Trail on Mass Ave (image credit: Curt Ailes)

Indy's Nicest Sidewalk, The Cultural Trail on Mass Ave (image credit: Curt Ailes)

Q: I dug even further and asked a “what if?” type of question. What if a street or neighborhood wants to build new sidewalks in their neighborhood, but the city says no? How can they take action to make new sidewalks a reality? 
A: We encourage residents to contact their City/County Councillor for advice and to establish a need within the neighborhood, send emails to MAC requesting addition of sidewalks in the neighborhood, and/or form a group of residents to petition the city to look at installing sidewalks in their neighborhood.

Final Thoughts

I would personally like to see better attention paid to our secondary streets that lack sidewalks. There are a number of neighborhoods on the east side, Irvington springs to mind that have notably good reputations as a place to live in the city yet have few sidewalks. My own neighborhood, Keystone Monon, has only a few and most of them around School #91. I’ve even spent a lot of time complaining about the quality of the design and construction (52nd Street) as well, which could use a bump. However, RebuildIndy seems to be a step in the right direction towards at least creating a plan to build new sidewalks and repair existing ones.

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16 Responses to “ “Indianapolis Sidewalks 101”

  1. Chris Barnett says:

    Curt, from my walks I’d say Irvington has some of the best sidewalk coverage in the city. This comment applies to the area generally east of Emerson/Pleasant Run N. Dr./Ellenberger Parkway, south of 10th, west of Arlington, and north of Brookville. Yes, there are a few notable gaps, especially a missing quarter-mile on Pleasant Run Parkway east of Ritter and another one on Brookville/English west of Ritter, but there is also a long piece of Pleasant Run Trail (from Howe HS to Ritter & St. Clair) and several pedestrian-only bridges over Pleasant Run. I’d rather walk long distances in the Irvington and Christian Park areas than almost anywhere else.
    .
    It’s right up there with Meridian Kessler and the Near East Side (where a street without a sidewalk is a rare exception).

    • John M says:

      I mostly agree, although there are very few sidewalks in the area bounded by 10th, St Clair, Emerson, and Ritter. I used to live on Leland, and I think it may have been the only street in that roughly 10 block area with sidewalks. Perhaps Curt is thinking of that, or of neighborhoods like Community Heights that are within realtors’ defintion of Irvington. But besides that area, the trouble spots you mentioned, and the awful intersection of PRP and Ritter, it is generally very good.

  2. John Howard says:

    I wish the city would stop pouring sidewalks around obstacle. Pity the poor blind walker who doesn’t discover a utility pole in their path.

    And check out East St north of Washingtown. In places it is barely possible to walk with the number of poles sticking up and due to narrowness of the walkway.

    I see many times where they do a quick 90-90-90 3-turn reroute around a pole.

    PLEASE! Do it right and move the obstacle.

  3. Ryan Gallagher says:

    I was just thinking about this today. I am wondering if IndyGo ridership can be increased economically by paying special attention to transit stops and sidewalks as part of a larger proposed improvement plan. I am seeing far too many potential transit stops along these routes and many without any amenities to speak of. There are currently IndyGo signs on just about every street sign and intersection along the routes. I feel as if a stop every two or three blocks outfitted with a shelter, bench, trashcan and route info and linked by navigable sidewalks would be a better alternative to the current situation and could lead to more efficient turnaround time of buses which would lead to better reliability and hopefully an increase in ridership. Thoughts?

  4. I think you bring up a good topic of conversation with regard to the sidewalk problems in the city of Indianapolis. Outside of Indianapolis (in the suburbs) it is it is just as pronounced of a problem. I have visited many other mid-western metropolitan areas and have noticed similar problems with sidewalks and infrastructure but many cities I have seen do not even come close to the problems Indy is dealing with currently. I will try to keep this response small with some very small examples of what I am blathering about here. In addition, I will bring in another topic which may give you another story. Ever notice how many eye-sore electrical poles there are everywhere? You would think many of them would be absent in our glorious downtown and inner city areas. Well you managed to find some of those with the pics you took of some repaired side walks. The real problem here is the city-county structure is too large, overwhelming and too expensive to maintain and to work properly. Many developments where put into place before proper infrastructure was in place. Many parts of the city (especially suburban Indianapolis in the outer townships) have developments surrounded by over used and under-capacity farm roads. There are many examples of places around Indianapolis where there are simply no sidewalks and nothing but small two lane road trying to service high occupancy areas. It just seems to me that the city only addresses these simple infrastructure problems after the fact. Too many accidents??? put in a stop light. Too much traffic…Well we’ll widen the road. Too many people get hit on the side of the road waiting for a bus that is always an hour away…well we will put in a sidewalk. Everywhere you look around this discombobulated poorly planned city you see this problem along with the electrical poles. Similarly sized cities in the mid-west I have found do not have these issues as bad as Indianapolis. Many other places I have visited seemed to plan ahead for growth. Road and side walls were in place, utilities were buried and proper lighting was in place before actual buildings and home developments were in place. I think the problem is when you compare other cities, these cities have more surrounding suburbs with smaller government service issues. I think Indianapolis would have looked much different had uni-gov not been put into place. We would have a large amount of suburbs surrounding Indianapolis that would have had proper development. The core of the city obviously was planned properly however many of the surrounding townships suffered due to a lack of planning. A couple of great examples to compare would be Kansas City and Minneapolis. We need sidewalks, better roads and buried utilities before we can even dream about even trying to provide a light rail service…With the taxes we pay you would think we would have adequate attention to the infrastructure problems we face with this city.

    • Jim says:

      Totally agree Tony. Having grown up in Milwaukee, Indy’s infrastructure feels like the old wild west. Having lived here for 13 years now, the main conclusion I can come to though is the culture – it’s cheap. People don’t want to pay for improvements – they are happy with the status quo and being left alone. I agree (in general) with the being left alone part, but we are talking about basic city services here. Unigov is a disaster for exactly the reason you cited – it’s too low density. We need many more people in the existing land area to be paying taxes to be able to afford better infrastructure – or the government has to generate more revenue. This is why I’m moving downtown Indy where things are the best planned, best maintained and gets the most attention in general. Broad Ripple is just falling to pieces.

  5. Micah says:

    Tony is exactly right with the Unigov statement, and how it’s affected development of our suburbs in the worse way possible. Indy will have to redefine itself with proper, higher density developoment…which in turn becomes very costly to fix.

  6. Mario says:

    Seems to me that every effort is oriented to high impact areas leaving behind side streets on old neighborhoods, we are betting on improvements done near down town and rebuilt an old house on the near east side of town, the problem is that the city is not moving at all, our sidewalks are almost gone and no sign of improvement is near, I think is not fare that residents are spending a lot of money to improve this neglected areas and the city is not, where our taxes go?, just a question

  7. Brian Hope says:

    If a corporation rents the sidewalk from the city does it then become private property?

  8. Joshua Cediel says:

    Where southport road and South Belmont Avenue meet there is good potential for a sidewalk since there is an already existing sidewalk that comes just to South Belmont Avenue but it doesnt cross the intersection and I feel that just if even adding a pedestrain crossing sign that it would help significantly becuase It would connect residents of southerndunes, bayberry and governers point to some trails that are down in that direction and it would also make it easier to access the numerous retail stores over in that direction by foot.

  9. Paul J Lambie says:

    Interesting to look back and read this article almost eight years later and think about what has or hasn’t improved. I found this this exchange with the DPW representative noteworthy: Q: When a new sidewalk is built, who decides where it is going to be built?
    A: Plans need to be approved by DMD and DCE for location, width, material, and overall site plan approval.

    I worked in DMD from 2004 to 2013. I never once saw a sidewalk plan submitted from DPW to DMD for any input on location, width, design, etc. I actually tried, with little success, to obtain plans from DPW and provide input on some of their larger projects. Typically, they weren’t interested in providing plans, and were even less interested in getting comments from citizens, let alone an employee of DMD.

    A good example is the project that rebuilt West 38th Street, between I-65 & I-465. When I was able to get a copy of the plans, they showed that they would remove the patchwork of existing sidewalks, most of which were actually separated from the curb as good practice would dictate, and replace them uniformly with a sidewalk, curb adjacent, directly next to travel lanes with a posted 45MPH speed limit. When I actually managed to get a meeting with the project manager, they told me that putting the sidewalks right at the curb was easier, and that they only scored points on their request for federal funding by including sidewalks, not based on how well they were designed for functionality, safety, comfort, etc. Essentially, DPW didn’t care. And leadership of DMD was not at all supportive of my attempts to ask questions of DPW and provide input. Not only did DMD leadership not make any effort to provide input to get sidewalks better designed, they blatantly discouraged involvement in another department’s work.

    It would be great to say that things have changed dramatically in the last eight years, but it just doesn’t seem evident traveling throughout the city. Indy needs a mayor who cares enough to expend some effort to make the planning, and more importantly the IMPLEMENTATION of good street and sidewalk design a real priority. It would be great if Indy were to have such a candidate in 2019.

    • Newbie says:

      Indianapolis city government is lackadaisical at best, and sloppy at worst. A recent essay on UrbanIndy focused on the plight of pedestrians navigating blocked sidewalks at downtown construction sites, bemoaning the fact that there is no advance warning of obstructions or alternative pathways protected from traffic. The city governments sloppiness is evident in that construction companies need to obtain a right-of-way permit to close a sidewalk, but the permit requirements do not include any need for advance signage or protected a pathway for pedestrians. It seems no one in city hall is paying attention, or cares. And accountability in that building is a foreign word.

    • Toni Turner says:

      There is a stretch of road on 16th Street to Shadeland Ave. that needs sidewalks. There is a nursing home whose residents walk this stretch that is very dangerous I’m afraid someone is going to get seriously injured here. I’ve seen them walking with canes, and even in wheelchairs. Where do I go to get this to someone’s attention?

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