Category Archives: Uncategorized

Doing laps around the “Circle City”


My hometown of Indianapolis has been a logically designed community based on traditional geometric shapes ever since it’s designer Alexander Ralston first put pen to paper. Monument Circle (source of the ‘Circle City’ nickname) sits at the heart of the original mile square, with a radiating street pattern extending outward from there, though it becomes more grid-oriented in the midtown areas. Later, an outer loop (not circle) was created by Interstate 465 and a near perfect oval was constructed for high-speed excitement and adventure in the suburb of Speedway. Because of Monument Circle and the I-465 outer loop, the motor speedway was not the only place you could do laps in and around Indianapolis. You just could not do them at 230 miles per hour.

Ralston Plan - Source:

As a young person, I found the grid layout rather boring compared to the winding streets elsewhere. For the longest time, Kessler Boulevard and Spring Mill Road were my two favorite streets because they had curves in them. In the end, I realized it was not the street pattern that bothered me, it was the lack of topographic change that was more of the problem. The big advantage of the city’s spatial form, you rarely if ever got lost.

Now that I have not lived in Indiana for many years, I find the city’s original spatial form to be inspired. However, the nickname of Circle City may have been co-opted by its rapidly growing neighbor to the north.

Today, if you want to do laps in metropolitan Indianapolis, the place to do them is in the burgeoning northern suburb of Carmel (2011 est. population of 85,000). The City of Carmel has the distinction of having more roundabouts than any other municipality in the United States – more than 80 built or planned at last count. By comparison, the suburb of Greater Lansing where I live has less than one hand’s worth. Compared to Carmel, we have only stuck our pinky toe into the whirling roundabout waters.

Because of Carmel’s documented leadership in roundabouts, the Transportation Research Board (TRB) held its third annual International Roundabout Conference there in 2011.

The advantages of roundabouts are numerous. A few of them are cited below, many of which are also included in a very useful brochure the city has published:

  • Roundabouts keep traffic flowing, which is much more energy efficient than stopping, idling, and starting at traffic signals.
  • Roundabouts force the vehicular traffic to slow down considerably at intersections which improves safety for pedestrians and cyclists and allows for freer movement of non-motorized traffic.
  • Despite the higher up-front construction cost,  roundabouts are much more cost effective over the long haul.
  • Repairs from accidents that occur in roundabouts are less costly.
  • Injuries suffered in accidents in roundabouts are less severe.
  • Roundabouts prevent head-on collisions.
  • Roundabouts are much more aesthetically pleasing, especially when landscaping and artwork are incorporated into the center island – a requirement in Carmel.

Roundabout on the western edge of downtown Carmel

Are roundabouts perfect for every intersection – of course not. Some intersection have insurmountable natural or manmade features. But as Carmel, Indiana has proven, they can be successfully employed in a variety of locations, even expressway exits (see photo above from the Keystone Parkway in Carmel). Kudos to Carmel, Indiana for being an innovative worldwide leader in roundabouts.

–Rick Brown


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Filed under architecture, Featured, Good Ideas, sprawl, Uncategorized, Urban Planning



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Have You Returned Your Census Form Yet?

Have you returned your form yet?

Take a look at the Census Bureau’s interactive map – how does your neighborhood compare?

Urban areas tend to lag behind in their Census count.

Here’s an interesting Census-related story from The New York Times about the anticipation surrounding the count in New Orleans. “Ever since this city was full of water and nearly empty of residents in September 2005, the true size of New Orleans has been a matter of wild uncertainty. Even today, population estimates can swing by the tens of thousands.”


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The Rust Belt: Seeking Refuge in Bowling?

Thanks to Rust Wire reader Mark Golbach for pointing out this quirky but interesting map from the Floatingsheep blog:


What do those little dots represent? The relative concentration of listings of bowling alleys in the Google Maps directory, the Floatingsheep tells us, which are heavily concentrated in the Rust Belt. The highest index value is in the Detroit suburb of Southfield, Michigan.

Like the folks at Floatingsheep, however, I have no idea what this means. Interesting though.



Filed under Featured, regionalism, Uncategorized

City Steps in South Oakland

RustWire recently reported on Step Trek, the annual hike of Pittsburgh’s city steps. The popular narrative surrounding these steps tells that the outdoor staircases were built in the pre-automobile era, and were the main route for walking to and from work. The emphasis is usually placed on the bygone era aspect.

I went exploring a set of city steps in the area of South Oakland on Sunday, and found ample evidence that these steps are very much in use today. And, as Kate mentioned in her post, these steps are indeed actually city streets. Below is the intersection of Romeo and Frazier Streets.

city steps are actual city streets

The steps pictured below have been repaired by a wooden stair insert, filling in where the original concrete had broken off. This seems like the kind of fix made out of necessity, not for historic preservation.

wood fix

A house at the top of Romeo “Street” has one of the most spectacular views of Pittsburgh I have yet to encounter. Two young men sitting on the porch there told me that the forested hill here has sculptures throughout it, placed by local university students. But more impressive, they said, was a shrine above Frazier Street, overlooking the highway below. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find the shrine. Maybe next time.

Oakland City Steps

Oakland City Steps 02

-Andrew Moore


Filed under Public Transportation, Uncategorized

Seeking Guest Bloggers

Like to write?

We want to hear about promising initiatives in your town.

We want to hear first-person accounts of the fallout in Detroit.

We want to hear about why you moved back home.

So many great photographers have stepped up. Are there any writers left out there without blogs?


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Braddock, Pa. Mayor Fetterman Wins Primary

Despite some criticism and a tough campaign, Braddock’s unconventional mayor won in Tuesday’s primary, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

He captured 294 votes to his rival’s 103 votes.

“Mr. Fetterman’s detractors were vocal in their criticism of him, accusing him of trying to become ‘Braddock’s landlord,'” the Post-Gazette reported.

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