Midtown Raleigh News

Raleigh leaders return from Indianapolis with idea for downtown bike trail

City leaders want to consider replicating an 8-mile downtown bike trail they saw during a three-day trip to Indianapolis earlier this week.

More than 100 Wake County government officials and business leaders returned from the Indiana capital Tuesday as the annual Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce Inter-City Visit came to an end.

Asked about what they learned, several Raleigh leaders raved about the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, which offers a bicycle-friendly connection between downtown sites and surrounding neighborhoods.

“It’s essentially an urban greenway throughout their downtown that features $2 million of public art and now is really serving as a catalyst for redevelopment,” City Councilwoman Mary-Ann Baldwin said Wednesday. “What they’ve really done is create this bike and pedestrian culture that supports what millennials are looking for.”

Downtown Raleigh isn’t so friendly for cyclists. While the city has an extensive greenway network, the nearest trail is six blocks from Fayetteville Street at Chavis Park. Cyclists on downtown streets often must rely on “sharrow” pavement markings to ride safely with traffic.

“They found a number of streets that were wider than they needed to be and dedicated some of that right of way for protected bike lanes,” Councilman Bonner Gaylord said. “There are a number of streets in downtown Raleigh that are wider than they need to be. I think that it’s worth having that conversation as a community about whether we want to pursue that investment.”

The Indianapolis trip also included presentations about the city’s transit programs, which are hamstrung by state legislation that effectively bans cities from building light rail. Instead, Indianapolis is pursuing bus rapid transit, where high-frequency buses operate in separate lanes to avoid traffic.

“In Indianapolis, the conversation was pushed by the corporate side from a human resources perspective,” Baldwin said. “They were having trouble getting personnel to and from work.”

Raleigh is also considering bus rapid transit, but many here continue to favor a plan that includes light rail.

The Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce has been making the annual trips since 1989, taking its members and government officials to tour Oklahoma City, Pittsburgh and Sacramento, Calif., in previous years. Past trips have led to ideas like the Raleigh Convention Center, the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts and Marbles Kids Museum.

This year, the chamber covered travel costs for two people each from the Raleigh City Council, Wake County Board of Commissioners and school board. Mayor Nancy McFarlane paid her own way, and the city paid $3,000 in costs for Baldwin, Gaylord and Councilman Russ Stephenson.

Gaylord said it’s “absolutely worth the investment” for six council members to attend.

“Trips like that are invaluable because we get to see the best of other cities and what ideas we can steal,” he said. “It gives us common ground for discussions going forward.”

Baldwin said the council also benefits from spending three days with other elected officials and business leaders. “It’s about building relationships among the business community as well,” she said.