For the local cycling community, Johnson County provides a treasure trove of opportunities that few people have realized.
Lightly trafficked country roads stretch for miles through flat farmland and through heavily wooded hills in the Prince’s Lakes region. More than 20 miles of trails connect Greenwood.
At the same time, major roads have no bike lanes, and riding through busy cities can scare even the most experienced cyclists.
Throughout central Indiana, bicycling is gaining a greater foothold with the public. Bike lanes are being built on major streets, and trails through communities give cyclists a safe place to travel.
Though more work needs to be done protecting and promoting bicycling, support from the public is growing. Enthusiasts are hoping that in the next decade, more and more people see the value of cycling.
“We don’t have the seashore like California or the mountains like Colorado. People bemoan how flat Indiana is, but almost anyone can ride a bike in Indiana,” said Randy Clark, founder of Bicycle Garage Indy.
Today, fewer options exist in an urban and suburban setting for people to get around using bikes.
Changes have come in the way people think about getting around, Clark said. When he was a kid, people rode their bikes everywhere — to the park, to the store and to school.
Now, many schools are in locations where bicycling to class isn’t safe. Others have policies restricting it, he said.
“The market has changed. There are more older adults looking to extend their cycling into their older years,” Clark said.
Only in the past six years, with the support of Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard and civic organizations pushing for better cycling infrastructure, have major changes taken place.
More than 64 miles of bicycle-specific lanes have been built on Indianapolis streets, and 40 more miles will be created by 2015. An additional
59 miles of greenway trails have been used to connect all areas of the city.
Downtown businesses are encouraging more people to commute to work by bike, and the Indy Bike Hub offers showers and bicycle parking for people who do.
‘We continue to struggle’
This summer, the city’s first bike sharing program is expected to open. People will pay money to essentially rent a bike for a short time, returning it when they’re done to a station so someone else can ride.
The progress is encouraging, said Nancy Tibbett, executive director of advocacy group Bicycle Indiana.
“While at a local level we are seeing great progress in cities like Carmel, Goshen, Columbus, Indianapolis and more, we continue to struggle to achieve similar progress at the state level,” she said.
Indeed, Indiana as a whole still lags behind other states in terms of bike-friendly communities.
The League of American Bicyclists compiles a listing of states throughout the U.S. that cater to cyclists. Looking at legislation to protect bikers, infrastructure and funding for biking trails and education for the public, the organization scores every state.
Last year, Indiana was ranked 42nd. On a scale of 1 to 5, the state scored “2” in every category except for infrastructure and funding. In that category, it scored a “1.”
Some of the report’s criticisms were that Indiana doesn’t have any laws requiring a minimum of 3 feet for cars passing cyclists or laws restricting cellphone use in cars.
Indiana also doesn’t take advantage of federal money dedicated to bicycle projects and has very little state funding for bicycle programs.
‘Not stuck in the gym’
For enthusiasts, safety and awareness by drivers are issues that need to be addressed immediately.
“We don’t want people pushing us off into ditches and being mad for using the roads that we pay for, too, just because we’re going a little slower,” said Dan Catlin, Franklin cycling enthusiast.
Catlin is a longtime Franklin cyclist who jumped on a bike after injuring his ankle in an accident serving in the U.S. Navy. While running and jumping put too much pressure on the repaired ankle, cycling didn’t affect it at all.
Bicycling became a prime mode of fitness for him. He estimates he rides between 3,000 and 4,000 miles each year, and his wife and children have become fans as well.
“It’s a wonderful way to see the world. You’re not stuck in the gym,” he said.
As president of the Franklin-based Middle Davids Artisan Candles, he has integrated his love of the sport into his work. Every Thursday, Catlin hosts group rides around Johnson County from the store.
The store lets cyclists who come to the shop use the restroom if they need to and grab a water bottle for the road. Catlin keeps an air pump and some light tools around in case someone comes with a mechanical problem.
‘An oasis for cyclists’
For his efforts, Catlin and Middle Davids were honored by the League for American Bicyclists as a Silver Bicycle Friendly Business. It is the only business in Johnson County to receive the honor.
“We’re a little bit of an oasis for cyclists,” Catlin said.
Awareness and safety are still major concerns for local bicyclists. But Catlin is seeing signs of progress, particularly in Johnson County.
Franklin is working on trails that will link the entire city for cyclists. With a new interstate interchange being planned for Worthsville Road in Greenwood, bicycle paths will help link the east end of the county with the west.
“One day, it’ll be a legitimate, safe thing to ride from Franklin to Greenwood,” he said. “All I’m hoping is that, as we’re planning, we think about bicyclists, too.”
The benefits of those improvements will come not only to people on bikes but to entire communities as well.
Advocates tout the benefits of cycling, including a healthy population and reduced pollution. But the reality is that communities that have made commitments to bicycling are more appealing to residents and, by extension, businesses.
“To have an improved bicycle infrastructure means you want to live here. Particularly young and bright people. It has to do with an environment where young, talented employees want to come here and remain here,” Clark said. “If you have that, employers follow that.”