Indy cyclists pushing for safety improvements on streets

The City-County Council is expected to vote Monday on whether to update the Complete Streets program.

INDIANAPOLIS — As more cyclists hit the roads in the summer months, there’s a large concern from bikers on the roads about their safety.

With some trail crossings around Indianapolis leading to frequent near-misses for pedestrians and cyclists – and one fatality last fall – many bicycling advocates are pushing for change and working with city leaders to ensure it happens.

“It’s not a comfortable intersection. You know, you have to ask yourself, would you let a 7-year-old cross this on their own? And if not, it’s not safe,” said Connie Szabo Schmucker, advocacy director at Bicycle Garage Indy.

Szabo Schmucker loves cycling. She logs 4,000-5,000 miles in the saddle every year. But traveling on the Monon Trail at the 86th Street crossing, she said, is one of the riskiest places to cycle around the city.

The push for heightened safety there and at other trail crossings is personal for Szabo Schmucker and many cyclists. The busy intersection is where her friend, colleague and avid cyclist Frank Radaker was hit and killed last October while biking to work.

“You know, Frank was one of our beloved employees. He was riding his bike to work like he did every day for 25 years. And he was crossing the Monon and he got hit by a driver and was killed last October,” Szabo Schmucker said. “So to have him die in that manner just really struck people, because all of us said, ‘That could have been me?’ You know, how could that happen to Frank?”

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Now, she’s working to bring about change that can improve safety conditions for everyone on the road.

“I’m really focused on trying to do something at that intersection to make it better, so no one has to experience that,” Szabo Schmucker said.

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She said her top priority is securing a bridge or a tunnel that would protect Monon users at the 86th Street intersection. But beyond that, she’s been pushing city leaders to make further safety improvements when it comes to road planning.

“Really, a lot of it is road design. The roads are designed for the speed of cars. When you design roads for the speed of cars, you get fast cars. When you design roads for people, you get people,” Szabo Schmucker said.

Szabo Schmucker said more bike lanes will give cyclists a safe space to ride. The roads themselves, she said, can be narrowed to slow down drivers. And where trails and roads intersect, she recommends putting in trail crossing speeds and mechanisms like rumble strips to ensure drivers slow down.

“You could even just put paint coming in and narrowing the lanes, and that would actually slow people down,” she said.

Szabo Schmucker said she encourages and even teaches bicycle safety classes for drivers that are regularly on roads, like bus and delivery drivers. And she’s been pushing to improve safety procedures for cyclists, like stepping up the Complete Streets program.

“There are hundreds of examples across the city where infrastructure projects have contained elements of complete streets,” said District 7 Councilmember John Barth.

Complete Streets was first enacted 10 years ago, Barth said, calling for road projects to consider all road users, including cyclists and pedestrians.

But over the years, Complete Streets hasn’t been strictly adhered to. That may soon change, as the council considers plans to require more compliance and transparency, including adding a fatality review team to address crashes and if infrastructure played a role.

“Because if we built it right, it will be built in such a way that supports all the users and we should significantly reduce accidents. If we’re building it wrong and building it only for motorists, we’ll have more accidents. So we really need to make sure we’re holding the city accountable to building the built environment in a way that supports all the users,” Barth said.

Szabo Schmucker said she’ll be pushing for the new Complete Streets plan to pass, and will keep pushing the city on safety improvements so everyone can feel safe no matter how they use the road.

“We can’t do anything about what’s happened,” she said. “But hopefully, we can prevent things from happening in the future.”

The council is expected to vote Monday on whether to update the Complete Streets program.

To learn more about bicycle safe driving classes, send an email message to this link.

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