Planners present rails with trails options at community meeting


In the crowded lobby of the Roy G. Holland Memorial Park building April 8, residents with concerns about the potential removal of the Nickel Plate Rail Line through Hamilton County wrote their worries on posters, examine maps and heard a presentation by Jacobs representatives. Jacobs is a Dallas-based urban design company.

Meghan McMullen and Chad St. John, urban planners with Jacobs, presented the different ways the existing rail line can be used with the proposed Nickel Plate Trail.

The Hoosier Heritage Port Authority, which owns the Nickel Plate Corridor, announced in February 2017 its plan to remove the railway along a 9.2-mile stretch from 96th Street in Fishers through Noblesville to build a pedestrian trail. Soon thereafter, the Save the Nickel Plate community group was launched.

At the April 8 meeting, supporters and members of the group came out in full force to hear the presentation.

McMullen said there are several options to consider when looking at how the corridor can be developed and enhanced, which include doing nothing, having just a trail or just a rail, or having both, which was the primary topic.

“The Nickel Plate Corridor is a big regional asset,” McMullen said. “This section covers 37 miles, from downtown Indianapolis past Noblesville and actually goes all the way up to Michigan City. It comes all the way through downtown Indianapolis and around (Bankers Life Fieldhouse and Lucas Oil Stadium), and then it connects over to Union Station, which could really connect a lot of people to big employment centers and tourist destinations. A lot of access for the region is happening along this corridor, and right now, it’s just not being leveraged.”

McMullen said rails alongside trails are a win-win for the region and are not uncommon nationally. She said there are approximately 160 examples in 41 states that have something similar.

“They’re popping up in cities all over the place, and more cities are planning for them,” McMullen said. “Charlotte (N.C.) is a city doing this very well. What you’ll see is a light rail and a trail that are built very close to one another. One thing they’ve done that really upholds a lot of the ideas in the Fishers (trail) proposal was incorporating a lot of public art and spaces for play. They were able to do it with both (rail and trail) in the same right-of-way.”

St. John said Jacobs is working on similar projects in Dallas, San Antonio and Fort Worth, and that the idea of rails and trails together is very flexible, with the ability to run a trail parallel to the railway, either immediately adjacent with and inside the right-of-way, side-by-side with the trail just outside the right-of-way, or separated with adjacent properties but still in close proximity.

“We can have it all,” St. John said. “You can have rails and trails together connecting into existing facilities across the region, and it’s a placemaking opportunity.”

McMullen ended the presentation by telling attendees how they can get involved by signing a petition and contacting elected officials. Jacobs’ urban planners will release a vision study later this month and are planning a feasibility study in the future.

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