Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Development: DMLK Jr./10th/11th/I-65 Interchange

I don't intend to review roads and road projects much. Frankly, I'm no expert and The Urbanophile already does a fantastic job. But since this area is a hot topic over at Property Lines right now -- there was an update on the planned Circle Truss "gateway" at this interchange -- and I happen to have a vested interest in the roads in this area (I live on the canal), I thought I'd take a look at this one.

First of all, I should note that this interchange is in no way under consideration for redesign by INDOT. Lord knows they have bigger things to deal with right now. I'm well aware that I'm dealing with a pipe dream here.

That said, let's start off by looking at some of the problems with this area:
  • The road is extremely wide, presenting a huge barrier to pedestrians.
  • Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. (DMLK Jr.) and West St. are viewed by many motorists as an extension of the expressway. The speed limit drops to 35MPH immediately at 11th St., yet people frequently rip down the road at speeds close to or even exceeding 55MPH. The Indy Metro Police don't seem to care at all about this since I've never seen someone pulled over in the three-plus years I've been living in the area (both in Ransom Place and along the canal). Obviously, this is very bad for pedestrians.
  • The DMLK Jr. northbound cross-over is confusing, complicated and kludgey. You have to go through three ill-timed lights to go from the point it splits (near 9th St.) past 11th St. This is quite a hindrance to people that want to travel that way.
One of the losing entries in the 'Rotary International Centennial Gateway Competition - Indianapolis' is called "Triumph." It includes a large statue pointing toward downtown, an expansion of greenspace, and a redesign of the on/off ramp structure in this area. Obviously, the statue is pretty silly, so let's just heave that part of the proposal into a very oversized dumpster. It's a shame this wasn't selected because their road proposal, on the other hand, has a lot of great ideas. You can view the whole proposal, as well as the other 4 finalists, here. This section is pertinent to this roads discussion:

There are many things to like about this design:
  • It moves the I-65 southbound merger with DMLK Jr. further to the north. This has multiple effects. First, it provides a ramp over DMLK Jr. northbound traffic, eliminating the need for the kludgey DMLK Jr. northbound cross-over. Second, it places I-65 on city streets earlier and onto an underutilized road. This should help to slow down traffic while helping to revitalize this forgotten corridor.
  • It restores a semblance of the normal street grid around the interchange. The current DMLK Jr. becomes one-way-south and a new road is built for one-way-north, connecting to the current Northwestern Ave. near 16th St. The I-65 northbound off-ramp is realigned to 12th St. (the proposal incorrectly identifies this as I-70 West), giving it direct access to both DMLK Jr. north and south.
  • A roundabout is built at the intersection of 16th and DMLK Jr. The normally light-to-moderate traffic patterns, along with generous land available around this intersection make it an excellent candidate for the first downtown roundabout (Monument Circle isn't a true roundabout as you must stop before entering).
  • The large landscaped boulevard between north and southbound DMLK Jr. is a wonderful addition and should help immensely with the walkability of the area.
  • The Canal Walk is extended all the way to 16th St., albeit with a break at the expressway. Again, this should be a boon to this forgotten corridor.
One downside to this proposal is that it brings the I-65 off-ramps right to the doorstep of the neighborhood to the west of DMLK Jr. This will be slightly to the detriment of the neighborhood in terms of walkability, but I think this downside is balanced by the possibility of investment in the area as well as expansion of the neighborhood, with the addition of a public park along the extended Canal Walk.

(Aside: does anybody know the name of this neighborhood? If I had to guess, the housing style seems to date it to something around 1950.)

Now, contrast the "Triumph" proposal with the plan put forth in the winning "Gateway Circle" proposal:

This looks like a horrible mess, and I think it is. As I said, I'm no expert in transportation planning, but I find it hard to believe that this will work effectively during peak rush-hour traffic. As I understand it, traffic circles and roundabouts work well up to a saturation point, after which they become less efficient at moving cars than traditional intersections. This interchange sees a huge amount of traffic during morning and evening rush-hour and would likely saturate this design twice daily, leading to gridlock.

Even if my traffic analysis of this design is dead wrong (a distinct possibility), I can't get past the fact that this plan is arguably worse for pedestrians than the current situation. Between St. Clair and 11th St., there is one way for pedestrians to cross DMLK Jr., and that's the crazy, winding, raised pedestrian plaza. On top of that, this design is extremely wasteful of land. It exchanges copious amounts of pedestrian-and-environmentally-friendly green space in the Triumph proposal with impassable bi-layer roads.

I sincerely hope this roads proposal isn't inextricably linked to the Circle Truss gateway design. I'm not crazy about the truss, but I can live with it. On the other hand, I'm very much against this roads proposal.

As one final note, I've always wondered why a spur from the I-65 northbound ramp to Missouri St. doesn't exist, something like this:

It would be such a simple thing to do -- it's relatively small and no buildings would need to be acquired (certainly part of this lies within the current I-65 ROW). I'm sure businesses in the area, particularly Clarian, would be very supportive of something like this as it would greatly improve transportation through the Biocrossroads area. Any opportunity to improve connectivity across urban expressways should be embraced, especially one that would be as simple to implement as this.


Kevin said...

Back when these projects were under debate, I was able to review them at the City Market and give feedback. My feeling then, as it is now, is that the Triumph design is just what the area needed (minus the stupid statue). It seemed simple, and helped reinvigorate MLK and pedestrianize the area which is a barrier now.

However, I took one look at the Circle Truss, and gave it the worst grade of all 5 proposals due to the massive pavement barrier that basically extended the interstate a few blocks south. I was very saddened to see it was the one accepted for this reason (and I think the circle is silly looking). Obviously, you see how much influence I have in such decisions...he he he...

CorrND said...

I'm hopeful that the massive cost of building the Circle Truss realignment plan will deep-six it before it ever gets off the ground with INDOT (assuming it even gets to someone's desk at INDOT). In my mind, the ONLY good thing about that plan is that it calls for pushing the I-65 off-ramps underground, and that would be pretty costly.

The Triumph plan really only calls for one new off-ramp and would be dramatically cheaper. The other 3 ramps would only be slightly tweaked.

Do you happen to know how linked that roads plan is to the Circle Truss?

Kevin said...

I have no idea how much they are linked. But I have to think it's part of the plan.

This is a major problem of top-down projects. Instead of doing something elegant and simple that would help the neighborhood, they seek out the most expensive, elaborate one in a desperate attempt to put their stamp on the area.

Unknown said...

Right now I would just settle for a way to fix the NB MLK crossover and the merge from SB MLK to West St. If I have to look at a big flashing circle every day in order to get that intersection fixed, I'd be all for it. But you're right, that design on the circle truss map is just ridiculously complex.

thefens said...

I just want to point out a minor error: one does not need to stop before entering Monument Circle. I'm not even sure there's so much as a Yield sign at either of the Market or Meridian entries.

CorrND said...

thefens -- you know, you're probably right. I guess I just assumed there was one since I pretty much always have to stop on the way in.

But even if there isn't a stop on the way in, you have to through a traffic light on the way out, which negates the benefit.

In any case, my point was just that Monument Circle wasn't designed to be efficient at moving cars and I don't think it should be. People should drive slowly and take it all in.

CorrND said...

....or better yet, get out and walk around!

thefens said...

I agree with you in that I don't believe the Circle serves, or was intended to serve, the same purpose as your typical traffic rotary. I must point out, though, that there aren't any lights when exiting the circle, either, though there are lights at Meridian & Ohio, Market & Penn, Meridian & Washington, and Market & Illinois, which can cause back ups on the Circle. In particular, it seems I always have traffic problems because of the Meridian/Wash light.