The Indy Cultural Trail helped bike riding surge in the Crossroads of America

By: Michael Andersen

If you'd pegged any city to build the first fully connected downtown protected bike lane network in the United States, it probably wouldn't have been Indianapolis. Afterall, Indy is probably most famous for being the host city to one of IndyCar's most prestigious races.

But that's exactly what Indiana's capital city did from 2007 to 2012. And the results have been breathtaking.

When it converted eight miles of auto travel lanes to a network of landscaped, sidewalk-level bidirectional bikeways known as the Indy Cultural Trail, Indianapolis saw an immediate and historic surge of interest in downtown living, commerce and private investment.

From slump to surge

Starting the year after the first protected bike lanes opened, building permits in the surrounding zip code doubled as a share of the citywide total. From fixed-up porches to coffee shops to new hotels, the projects came from property owners of every size, suddenly more interested in putting their best faces forward.

Tourists started to notice, too. In 2014, Indianapolis soared out of a 12-year slump in advance hotel bookings to set an all-time record, then blew past it in 2015 and 2016. 

Today, Indianapolis has the fastest-growing downtown in the Midwest. Another $2.8 billion in investment is already planned through 2022.

Power to the people

"We're developing along the trail because there are a ton of people who use the trail," said Jake Dietrich, the development director of Milhaus Ventures, a six-year-old firm that has completed more than $100 million in residential and commercial projects along the Indy Cultural Trail. "We offer secure bike storage inside the buildings, and it's full in every property. Everybody has a bike now."

Promotional flyers for Milhaus buildings all include photos of the trail and the amenities lining up along it, showing off what people find so attractive about the city's new downtown: other people.

"There's more people downtown right now than I've ever seen," Dietrich said. "I think people are drawn to buildings that are responding to the lifestyle that people want to live."

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