Big changes are coming to the Monon Trail in Carmel. Mayor Jim Brainard is set to announce $23 million in updates to portions of the Monon Greenway, including one-way streets for motorists built on either side of a widened trail redesigned to accommodate increased bicycle and foot traffic.
A press conference to announce the changes is set for 10 a.m. Feb. 7 at Carmel City Hall. At the media event, the city will release more precise cost estimates and several images to show what the project could look like upon completion. The city will also present the construction timeline and how the project will be funded.
The big announcement comes months after the Carmel Redevelopment Commission hired Danish design firm Gehl to study how the Monon could be redesigned to accommodate years of growth. Brainard said an expansion is necessary because of current overcrowding that is expected to worsen as the Midtown development takes shape. Midtown includes more than $150 million in mixed-use development planned along the Monon between Main Street and City Center Drive.
An influx of businesses along the trail could mean a large increase in trail users, and Brainard said it’s time to change the Monon’s feel in certain parts.
“We’re taking the Monon and turning it into an urban trail through the city center so it’ll have a different feel and flavor,” he said. “It’ll be a lot like the Cultural Trail in Indianapolis.”
A continuing challenge of increased trail use is accomodating many different users with their own paces and agendas. They include seasoned cyclists who want to ride at speeds of 20 mph without stopping. There are casual bicycle riders who ride at slower speeds, often with children in tow. Pedestrians include mothers pushing strollers, dog lovers walking their pooches, runners training for a marathon, couples walking home from a dinner date and teenagers checking their phones as they walk home from school. Each is going a different speed and has various levels of awareness.
“We have to make the trail comfortable and safe for everyone,” Brainard said.
Approximately 66- to 130-feet of right of way are available for the city to work with along either side of the trail, depending on the location. Gehl has suggested creating two distinct neighborhoods: one from City Center Drive north to Main Street and another from City Center Drive south to the Japanese Garden.
Brainard said the finalized plans include a wider path for the Monon with room for both cyclists and pedestrians, two one-way roads for motorists to visit soon-to-be constructed businesses along the Monon, a possible park along the street and two cycle-track paths along the sidewalk near the one-way roads. The cycle-track paths are designed for local pedestrian and bicycle traffic while the widened Monon would be primarily for faster cyclists and those covering longer distances.
The changes to the Monon come after decades of growth of cycling and pedestrian pathways throughout Carmel. When Brainard became mayor in 1996, almost no bike paths existed in the city. The Monon Trail was built in Indianapolis in 1999 but wasn’t expanded into Carmel until sometime between 2001 and 2002.
Now in 2016, Carmel has 188 miles of trails.
“The Monon Trail has been the best thing ever for our City Center,” Brainard said. “All the amenities are connected. It has done wonders and the Arts & Design District would never have developed the way it has without the Monon.”
Brainard said the city is also considering adding more east-west streets between the Monon and Range Line Road at some point to create shorter city blocks and improve walkability. Compared to a downtown such as Indianapolis, it takes much longer in Carmel to go from one block to another. Gehl suggested most city blocks should only talk two to three minutes to walk and be about 700 feet long. Carmel blocks can take five to 10 minutes and be as long as 1,700 feet.
“It also improves safety,” Brainard said. “There are 70 percent less traffic fatalities when you move to shorter city blocks.”
Gehl also made recommendations about improving access for pedestrians and cyclists along Range Line Road, although that plan hasn’t been finalized, Brainard said.
Range Line Road will look dramatically different in the next three to five years with roundabouts being built at almost every intersection from 116th Street to just south of the Carmel Arts & Design District. Bike paths and new medians are on the way as well. Some vehicle lanes might be eliminated.
For years, Brainard has said he’s thought the center turn lane is unnecessary. Because drivers heading in both directions can turn left from this lane, many people call it the “suicide lane.”
“We can have fewer lanes and still have room for on-street parking and multi-use trails,” he said.
Gehl has also suggested a street car or trolley to provide local public transit in the Midtown, City Center and Arts District areas. It could be a line or a loop with about nine or 10 stops and take about 30 to 45 minutes to finish. Brainard said this is not meant to replace any mass transit plans in Carmel, since those typically focus on getting commuters to and from Carmel, Indianapolis and Westfield. The street car is designed to get people to work once they’ve gotten off mass transit or encourage employees to get out for lunch instead of just ordering in.
“It’s not time yet, but maybe several years down the road we can look at it,” Brainard said. “We’re planning for years in the future.”