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Could the ‘Vision Zero’ plan eliminate traffic deaths in Indy?

Cyclists get ready to cross 86th Street to continue their path on the Monon Trail on June 12, 2023, on the north side of Indianapolis. A wreath memorializing Frank Radaker is seen at right near the crosswalk. (Provided Photo/Mirror Indy/Kelly Wilkinson/USA TODAY NETWORK)

INDIANAPOLIS (MIRROR INDY) — Kevin Daly has used the Monon Trail to make the 22-mile round trip from his South Broad Ripple home to his teaching job in Carmel for more than 20 years.

There’s one intersection in particular that gets his heart rate up. As he approaches a busy crossing where the trail meets 86th Street, he stays a few feet behind the curb and tries to make eye contact with the driver at the red light next to him before he crosses the thoroughfare.

Even when the stoplight is red, he said, drivers often ignore the no-turn-on-red sign and make a right-hand turn into a strip mall parking lot without checking for pedestrians and bicyclists.

“It’s not safe,” Daly, who rides a recumbent bike, said of the intersection. “Someone almost killed me last week. It’s survival of the fittest.”

This intersection and others like it throughout Indianapolis could get much-needed safety improvements should the city choose to follow in the footsteps of Midwest cities such as Ann Arbor, Michigan; Columbus, Ohio and Louisville, Kentucky, that have committed to Vision Zero, a term used to describe a safety plan for eliminating traffic fatalities and severe injuries for all road users.

Councilor John Barth, who represents parts of the north side, plans to introduce a proposal in the coming weeks that would create a task force to develop a Vision Zero action plan for Indianapolis. If the effort is successful, it could dramatically change how the city’s roads, bridges, and sidewalks are designed.

“We have a unique situation where we have a huge city that over the last 50 years has been designed completely with cars in mind,” Barth said. “So we’re having to make intentional decisions to adjust that infrastructure to be responsive to what people’s expectations are now.”

The move comes amid a surge in traffic deaths and amid pressure from pedestrian safety activists to make Indy’s streets safer.

Recent data tracked by Indy Pedestrian Safety Crisis, a crowdsourcing website that documents crashes involving pedestrians and bicyclists, showed 77 people were struck by vehicles in the month of April. That’s the highest number recorded in a 30-day time span since the site began tracking incidents two years ago.

It was also the sixth month in a row with a year-over-year increase, showing that the crisis has worsened, according to safety advocates.

Pedestrian deaths across the country have risen by nearly 15% since the pandemic, according to the Governors Highway Safety Association. Experts attribute this rise to a drop in traffic enforcement, a change in driver behavior since the pandemic, and crumbling infrastructure, such as sidewalks, crosswalks, and lighting. Furthermore, many Americans have a preference for larger vehicles which are more likely to injure or kill pedestrians, according to studies.

“Drivers are driving, however, they want to, and there’s no consequence for doing so,” said Eric Holt, who created Indy Pedestrian Safety Crisis after his husband was struck by a vehicle and injured while riding his bike near the intersection of Lafayette Road and 82nd Street in May 2021.

“That was a turning point for me,” said Holt. “I haven’t ridden nearly as much as I used to.”

Challenges ahead

Some cities that have adopted Vision Zero policies have seen dramatic results.

Hoboken, New Jersey, one of the country’s densest cities, has gone seven years without a traffic fatality, which the city accredits to its Vision Zero safety improvements. Changes can include everything from lower speed limits and protected bike lanes to wider crosswalks and right-turn restrictions.

But in a city like Cincinnati, which began implementing its Vision Zero policy in 2019, it’s taking longer to see results, due in part to funding challenges. A sprawling, car-centric city like Indianapolis would likely face similar hurdles.

The move to a Vision Zero policy in Indianapolis builds on previous efforts to reduce fatal crashes and serious injuries.

Several one-way thoroughfares have been converted to two-way roads, an effort intended to make the streets safer for travelers. Last year, city officials installed dozens of no-turn-on-red signs at various intersections. And as part of an update to the city’s Complete Streets policy, the city formed a Fatal Crash Review Team in 2022 to review deadly collisions and assess the safety of the city’s infrastructure.

But Holt, who met with city councilors last month to discuss Vision Zero, says he would like to see a greater sense of urgency on this issue.

“I came out of that meeting with the councilors both feeling good, but also feeling nervous and reserved because I’m not sure that I still get a sense of urgency from the council about just how bad this is, and how quickly we should be reacting to this,” Holt said.

Andy Nielsen, a councilor who represents the Irvington area, said he wants to ensure the city creates a policy that will stand the test of time.

“Things don’t happen overnight, but I can tell you there is a strong cohort, and councilors are taking this issue seriously,” Nielsen said. “It’s about making sure funding is in the budget to take these things on.”

Holt said he’s unsure whether the Hogsett administration is supportive of a Vision Zero policy. A city spokesperson declined to comment, referring to the Department of Public Works.

In an emailed statement to Mirror Indy, a DPW spokesperson said the department began conversations about Vision Zero last year with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization, which plans and distributes federal transportation funds for infrastructure projects in central Indiana.

The organization will soon issue a request for proposals for a Vision Zero study for Indianapolis.

Short-term measures

As Cincinnati has shown, it could take years for a Vision Zero policy to yield results. In the meantime, safety advocates have worked with the city to take proactive measures to reduce crashes.

A tactical urbanism project on the east side resulted in slower driver speeds along 10th Street, and a similar effort is underway at a dicey intersection farther north.

When 69-year-old Frank Radaker, Jr., was killed at the intersection of 86th Street and the Monon Trail while biking to work in 2021, his death brought attention to the dangerous crossing.

Connie Szabo Schmucker, who worked with Radaker at Bicycle Garage Indy, recruited volunteers to do a traffic study of the intersection.

In the long term, Schmucker would like to see a bridge or a tunnel at the intersection, but for now, she’s working with the city on a tactical urbanism project that would involve widening the crosswalk, installing bollards and rumble strips, and building curb bump outs to encourage drivers to slow down.

“These measures would be temporary, but we’re hoping that the city will make these permanent,” she said.

Peter Blanchard covers local government. Reach him at 317-605-4836 or