Indianapolis Cultural Trail: A Legacy of Gene and Marilyn Glick

Designers: Rundell Ernstberger Associates (main) | City: Indianapolis, IN | Project Type: cultural center, trails, greenways, pedestrians, pathways, cultural park, bicycle trail
Date Visited: 10.02.12

Location: downtown Indianapolis
Size: 8-miles
Cost: $63 million (mostly donation-based)
Official Completion Date: End of 2012

For a city that gets a bad rap for poor walkability, Indianapolis is taking “what may be the boldest step of any American city towards supporting bicyclists and pedestrians.” The Indianapolis Cultural Trail, the latest example of Hoosier pedestrian-friendly efforts, is an 8-mile urban bicycle and pedestrian trail that connects neighborhoods, cultural districts, and entertainment areas with historical markers, public art, and colorful vegetation.

Named after the project’s lead benefactors Gene and Marilyn Glick, who contributed $15 million to the project’s creation (and an additional $2 million for the Glick Peace Walk), the $63 million budget for the trail was raised by both private and public funding, as well as federal transportation grants, such as the esteemed TIGER Grant. The trail is almost finished, and when I arrived, there were only two more blocks to go under construction.

Designed by the local landscape architecture and urban planning firm Rundell Ernstberger Associates, the trail is noted for its incorporation of stormwater management, wide cycling/pedestrian pathways, and bright, LED-powered contemporary signage. Per requirements of the 1% program, the cultural trail has almost become home to a myriad of public art–around $2 million was allocated for the arts–that showcase the strong arts community in Indianapolis.

Indianapolis Cultural Trail Map credit:reasite.com

I also had the opportunity to talk to Rundell Ernstberger Associates about the project. The Cultural Trail was a massive undertaking that took over seven to eight years to complete; two project managers were assigned to oversee the project. Talking to REA was also a great way to get a behind-the-scenes understanding of the work process and particularly, the steep and controversial construction costs. Though the Cultural Trail comes in at a hefty price tag numbering over $60 million, over half of that amount went into underground infrastructure such as utilities and electrical reconfiguration. The land required a lot of soil remediation, which not only added to the cost of the project, but added to the length of construction time as well. Since these sort of necessary operations are costly yet largely unseen, it is easy to see why people have difficulty accepting the cost of the project when all they see of a project lies on the surface. Still, I think the benefits of the Cultural Trail will reap rich, long-term rewards.

Besides the health and transportation benefits that come from increasing urban connectivity through walking and cycling, the Cultural Trail is also brings great economic and revitalization advantages as well. By beautifying the downtown area, visitors and residents alike will be encouraged to linger in downtown Indianapolis.

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