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“It’s not right,” he said. “And, it looks bad.”

The statistics don’t assign blame, but they do come to a clear conclusion: Indianapolis has a problem. The city’s fatality rate of 11.9 deaths per 10,000 cyclists is the 10th highest out of the 50 largest cities. The national average for these cities is 4.9 casualties.

Still, the case for cycling is almost unassailable.

The health benefits are indisputable. Cycling is better for the environment than a carbon dioxide-emitting car. And it reduces urban clutter - a rack of 10 bicycles takes up less space than a single parked car.

There’s an economic argument as well. Cities with strong cycling communities have reported business growth in areas connected by bike paths, according to an Alliance for Biking study. And Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard insists that these sorts of amenities are key to luring the next generation of worker - although this line of reasoning isn’t as easy to quantify in economic terms.

The policy problem with cycling has to do with the infrastructure itself. Indiana’s cities weren’t built with bicycles in mind, and the two city councils are increasingly wary of how quickly the two mayors are trying to change that.

For developed areas, adding an on-road bike lane or a bike path means shrinking the roadway available to cars or expanding the public right of way into someone’s yard. For a true Hoosier, it’s like asking if they’d rather lose an arm or a leg - they’d rather the government leave their properties and their roadways alone.

In this, Carmel had an advantage over larger cities. When Brainard took office in 1996, much of the city was undeveloped. So through strict planning rules, Carmel coaxed developers into creating a bike-friendly transportation grid as new neighborhoods and commercial centers were built.

The city’s earliest efforts focused on its trail system, following a countywide alternative transportation plan that was first laid out in the 1980s. A rail-to-trail project is in some ways more palatable than retrofitting a street, but it, too, was met with resistance. The city had to acquire right of way deeds for more than 240 lots, because in many cases, the old railroad bed had reverted back to its original land owners.

Brainard recalled one protester who drove around the city with a sign on his truck that kept a tally of how many properties the city had condemned.

“Rail trails were somewhat unproven at the time, so there weren’t a lot of examples that we could point to that people would believe made them really good to the community overall,” said Carmel City Council member Ron Carter, a longtime advocate of cycling. “It’s easier now to do it - and there’s much less opposition, certainly.”

Today, the Monon Trail stretches from Downtown Indianapolis to Westfield and hosts more than 1 million visitors each year.

But now both cities face a new challenge - how to connect older areas to new bicycle infrastructure.

Carmel’s transportation plan maps out the design specs for every road in the city, though not necessarily the way forward.

Theoretically, as roads come up on the city’s maintenance schedule, they would be reconstructed with either on-road bike lanes or multiuse paths on either side of the road. But some council members are worried that if the plan is followed to the letter, residents will be forced to give up huge chunks of property for bike facilities they may not want.

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