With electric scooters wedging their way into the shades of grey between pedestrians and bicyclists, there seems to finally be an impetus to take away space from cars in lieu of a popular transportation option. I propose creating a network of multi-modal lanes (midspeed lanes) through downtown created with reclaimed traffic lanes.
These multi-modal lanes would only require Jersey barriers or planters and would offer extra space to those in wheelchairs, those with strollers, or those biking or scooting around. The cost would be nearly zero. What is needed is political will.
Currently, the advent of electric scooters has caused a debate involving their safety, and where they belong. The City-County Council currently says they do not belong on sidewalks. However, streets are dangerous. With many downtown streets 3-4 lanes wide with fast-moving traffic, an adult person biking or scooting stands no chance against a speeding SUV. Imagine a child!
It is due to this continued threat that we see many scooters on the sidewalks still, angering and annoying downtown residents.
There is difficulty in educating visitors to Indianapolis about the exact parameters of scooter-regulation, so to speak. If I am visiting a city and see herds of people on scooters cruising by, as a curious visitor, my first thought isn’t asking if riding in particular places is illegal. Providing a midspeed lane can be a remedy for the confusion abundant not only in enforcement of scooters in downtown Indy, but in their future as a viable mobility option. Either way, until more space is allocated to multi-modal options, the issue of scooters taking up sidewalk space will be both a problem and a rallying point for denizens against anything but cars. Indianapolis has both the street-space in its downtown streets and a newfound revenue source to pay for such improvements.
Typically, the lane width of downtown streets is between 10 and 15 feet wide. Many of these arterials, such as East, Delaware, and Ohio are nearly 70 feet across. Corralling one lane of traffic and simply adding a bollard can help to create that midspeed lane, giving enough space for scooters and bicycles alike. This would still leave three to four lanes of traffic on these roads, as well as an additional multi-modal option.
For instance, take this block of East St, just north of Washington, adjacent to the Artistry development.
Look at all this space! The road is nearly 70 wide at this point, with four lanes of moving traffic. On a diagram, it sort of looks like this:
By taking away one (just one!) of those lanes and adding bollards as a separator, East could look something like this, with scooters and bikers sharing a whopping ten feet of space together, rather than the 3 to 5 usually relegated for bike lanes. This isn’t even so militant either, as by giving the midspeed lane only ten feet, we still leave the street with 40. A more extreme option would be taking away two lanes of traffic, although that is probably not politically feasible.
As former NYC transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan argues in her book, Streetfight, it does not take much to transform a street from a strictly automobile-centric thoroughfare into an equitable street for everyone. As featured in Streetfight, the picture below shows just how much room a lane of reclaimed street can leave for people. All with bollards! This did not take a huge upfront costs of infrastructure construction! This can be done with Jersey barriers if need be.
If L.A. can do it, then Indy can. Imagine that image on aforementioned East St. except, instead of restaurant seating and umbrellas, there is a lane and sidewalk with adequate space for scooters, bikers, pedestrians, mothers, wheelchairs, etc alike between them. Regardless of their mode of transit, there is room for everyone.
Once given the right amount of space on the street, travelers on scooters will cease being a hindrance to sidewalk pedestrians, as they will have the option of safety away from the sidewalk. Because, let’s be real: the only reason scooter users cling to sidewalks is because they are afraid of those two-thousand pound death machines flying past at 40 mph.
As for what this could look like, one option would be to take a cue from Amsterdam and build simple buffered lanes from reclaimed auto space. There is plenty of space on one-way arterials downtown to remove a traffic lane and do something similar to what’s below.
Amsterdam’s infrastructure does not need to be a pipe dream
In this example, there is plenty of space for both bikes, scooters, and e-bikes. That reclaimed lane of traffic can now hold far many more people than if it were solely for cars.
The important thing is the buffer. Without a feeling of safety, bikers and recreational scooter riders will not use these lanes. There must be something to differentiate the multi-modal lane from other lanes of traffic. One option presented has been bollards, although planters, Jersey barriers, etc could work just as well. Without the protection from traffic, scooters and skateboarders, et al. end up right back on the sidewalk.
To maintain affordability, Indy could use cheaper buffers such as delineators and, instead of laying costly brick, the city could paint the reclaimed lanes a different color, such as a vibrant red or green. If the scooter money comes anything close to the estimates, building midspeed multi-modal lanes like this should be entirely possible, and probably more effective than traditional bike lanes.
So, a “scooter” lane really just looks like a bike lane …if the bike lane was much wider, delineated, and more prominent. To insist that scooters and bikes can share three feet of painted space is hardly a solution, nor should it be. Sharing is caring, but to share, we must insist on creating and installing more space for differing forms of mobility. A lane such as the ones presented above would create a safer, more accessible street for all. But to call that a bike lane would be a misnomer, as it would really be a multi-modal street lane catering to various forms of transport.
Midspeed, multi-modal lanes that are wide enough to create a feeling of safety for bicyclists and scooterists can incubate and stimulate interest in transit options that are not the automobile. By ensuring equitable streets for all forms of transit, Indianapolis can produce safer, less polluted, more productive streets that allow anyone to have a share of the road. By reclaiming streets for the people, the city could increase reliance on transit and non-automobile options just by making it slightly harder to drive. If Indy is serious about encouraging walking/biking/transit, then it is not enough to just build rapid transit and encourage density. We must make it harder to drive and take away space from cars.
If scooters and multi-modal options do not have infrastructure in place, they will not thrive. As many of those riders would be taking an Uber/Lyft or driving a personal vehicle otherwise, Indy must do its best to encourage multi-modal options. .
Regular bike lanes won’t cut it. Midspeed lanes created by bollarding lanes of traffic downtown will. Time and time again, cities that have taken space away from cars and given it back to pedestrians and other forms of transport have found huge benefit – from Medellin, Columbia to New York City to Copenhagen.
Yeah, I guess it’s outrageous to think Indy can build or maintain Amsterdam-style cycle tracks. But it was crazy to suggest the Cultural Trail would become reality, too. It would not require massive amounts of construction, and the city already owns the land needed. We have already seen that no one is missing the traffic lanes used for the Cultural Trail. And if they are, their headaches may be soothed by the over $1 billion of investment along it.
Indy already took a risk by investing in the Cultural Trail – one that paid off handsomely. The city could move even further ahead of the curve by creating a network of downtown streets that cater not only to cars – but exist for pedestrians, scooters, and bikes. Downtown streets can exist for families, the disabled, and the car-less.