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‘Like an open drag strip’: Indy offers neighborhoods new resources to calm traffic

Travis Tatlock, president of the Mapleton-Fall Creek Neighborhood Association, talks about concerns over the intersection at 32nd Street and College Avenue in Indianapolis. (Provided Photo/Jenna Watson/Mirror Indy)

(MIRROR INDY) — For the past year, Travis Tatlock and his neighbors have been pleading with city officials to do something about a dangerous intersection in their neighborhood.

In the span of 30 minutes one recent Friday afternoon, more than a dozen drivers ignored the right-turn-only signs at the intersection of 32nd Street and College Avenue in Mapleton-Fall Creek, and two cars nearly collided in the middle of the roadway.

“I’m basically waiting to come out to blood,” said Sam Guerin, who lives at the corner of the intersection and has witnessed several crashes, including when a rental truck overturned in her yard in April.

City officials hope a new approach called “tactical urbanism,” which aims to make streets safer through short-term, low-cost temporary projects, will help fix problems at this intersection and others around the city.

To help, the Indianapolis Department of Public Works is creating a “lending library” that residents can use to rent tactical urbanism equipment designed to make their streets safer. Normally, neighborhoods have to come up with 100% of the funding to purchase such equipment, which can include plastic bollards, removable lane barriers, advanced warning signage, and portable speed bumps.

Drivers often ignore the right-turn-only signs at the intersection of College Avenue and 32nd Street, area residents say. (Provided Photo/Jenna Watson/Mirror Indy)

“The goal of the program is to help neighborhoods achieve their infrastructure dreams,” said Brandon Herget, director of Indy DPW.

At 32nd and College, an examination of crash data showed that a majority of crashes were the result of drivers turning left onto College. So in May 2023, the city painted a right-turn-only arrow and installed a right-turn-only sign from 32nd onto College.

But the changes didn’t help. Drivers frequently ignore the painted right-turn-only arrows and accompanying signage, and crashes actually increased at the intersection after the signs were installed, according to data from City Protect, which collects crime data from the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department.

There were 30 crashes, including a hit-and-run, in the second half of 2023, data show.

“They’ve painted pavement, they’ve added signage, but people still ignore it,” said Tatlock, who as president of the Mapleton-Fall Creek Neighborhood Association is leading the charge for changes. “It’s like an open drag strip.”

As part of the tactical urbanism program, DPW came up with a solution that involves installing traffic lane separators on the centerline of College to physically prevent drivers on 32nd from crossing or making a left-hand turn. They also will paint curb extensions at the corners of the intersection to encourage drivers to slow down. 

A growing problem

Pedestrian safety advocates say tactical urbanism projects are a fast, practical solution to a growing problem.

Indianapolis is on track for another record year of pedestrian fatalities, according to projections by Indy Pedestrian Safety Crisis, a crowdsourcing website that documents crashes involving bicyclists and pedestrians.

In May, there were 72 traffic incidents involving pedestrians, making it the seventh consecutive month with a year-over-year increase in traffic incidents. The five fatalities in May 2024 were a year-over-year increase from both 2022 and 2023.

Some advocates have pushed for the city to adopt a Vision Zero policy, an ambitious plan that aims to eliminate traffic deaths.

But in the interim, they’re taking matters into their own hands.

Case studies

tactical urbanism project on 10th Street in Community Heights led to a 73% decrease in crashes on 10th Street between Arlington and Emerson avenues, suggesting that potentially three out of four crashes in the area were preventable with design changes.

The driver of a minivan struck a bus stop sign near the intersection of 32nd Street and College Avenue in October of 2023. (Provided photo/Sam Guerin via Mirror Indy)

After a cyclist was killed in fall 2021 at the intersection of 86th Street and the Monon Trail, Connie Szabo Schmucker, advocacy director for Bicycle Garage Indy, recruited dozens of volunteers to do a traffic study of the intersection. Schmucker had worked with the cyclist, Frank Radaker Jr., at Bicycle Garage Indy.

With a mix of public and private funding, the group purchased temporary plastic bollards, rumble strips and curb bumpouts, which were installed last month.

But it took several years of efforts by community volunteers, Schmucker said, and not every neighborhood has the same level of resources.

“I think there needs to be a lot of traffic calming done around the city, but the places that probably need it the most are not necessarily the places that are going to have the resources to implement a project in their neighborhood,” Schmucker said.

That’s a problem that city officials hope the lending library will solve.

Learn more about participating 

Residents interested in renting tactical urbanism equipment can email ReimagineROW@indy.gov for more information.

Peter Blanchard covers local government. Reach him at 317-605-4836 or peter.blanchard@mirrorindy.org. Follow him on X @peterlblanchard.