Lower Cascades road options to be heard by Bloomington city council

On the north side of Bloomington, there’s currently no dedicated non-motorized pathway between Miller-Showers Park, up the Old SR 37 highway through Lower Cascades Park up to Cascades Park.

On Wednesday (July 26), Bloomington’s city council will get a presentation from planning and transportation director Scott Robinson with four possible approaches to that situation.

No vote on any proposal appears on Wednesday’s agenda.

The four options are sketched out in a memo from Robinson to the council.

One of them is labeled the “no-build” option, which means that cyclists would share the roadway with cars the way they do now, and pedestrians would walk in the road or else beside the road, where there is no improved surface.

The other three options are: closing the road to automobile traffic and dedicating the existing roadway just for non-motorized use; constructing a non-motorized path that is separate from the roadway; or converting the road to one-lane only for automobile traffic and the other lane for non-motorized traffic

On Saturday in Lower Cascades Park the “no build” option was the overwhelmingly preferred approach for the crowd of around 85 people who had gathered in the Waterfall Shelter to express their views.

More than a dozen people spoke in favor of keeping the whole road open. The most common theme for commenters was that access to the roadway should be equal for all kinds of road users.

Former city councilmember Chris Sturbaum led the group in a chant: “No Build! Amend the plans! No Build! Amend the plans!”

The part about amending the plans was a reference to the city’s comprehensive plans and transportation plans. According to the city’s transportation plan,  which was adopted in 2019, there’s eventually supposed to be non-motorized connection between Miller-Showers Park through Lower Cascades, which would then go all the way to Bloomington High School North.

Robinson’s memo indicates that if a decision is made not to build some kind of dedicated non-motorized pathway through the park, those plans should be amended.

At Saturday’s meeting, the only person from the public who spoke up in favor of a dedicated bicycle and pedestrian connection was Greg Alexander. He noted that the non-motorized connection to Bloomington North High School pre-dated the 2019 transportation plan as a part of the city’s overall planning—that’s been a part of the plan for 20 years, Alexander said.

Alexander has an 11-year-old son, who had bicycled with him to the park that day. He told the group: “This plan was 10 years old when my kid was born. And it still hasn’t happened.”

Looking ahead three years, Alexander said, “He’s going to be 14, and going to North, and it hasn’t happened.”

Before his speaking turn, Alexander had also piped up when Sturbaum was reading aloud a written statement from Charlotte Zietlow, who could not attend Saturday’s event.

Alexander shouted out answers to some of the rhetorical questions in Zietlow’s statement.

Zietlow (read by Sturbaum): What is the problem here? Is it going to make people healthier? Is it going to make them happier? Is it going to make movement easier?
Alexander: Yes!
Zietlow (read by Sturbaum): Why do we have to do this now?
Alexander: Why wait?!
Zietlow (read by Sturbaum): Secondly, what is it going to cost?
Alexander: Almost nothing!

When it was his own turn at the mic, the crowd had some answers to some of Alexander’s rhetorical questions. Alexander said, “And when you guys were kids, most everybody walked at some point from high school. Is that totally wrong? Can you tell me that I’m completely full of crap there?” Several voices responded: “You are!”

Still, the crowd gave Alexander a round of applause when he wrapped up his remarks.

On Saturday, the one other voice in support of closing the road was a city councilmember—Isabel Piedmont-Smith.

She was one of three councilmembers who attended—the others were Sue Sgambelluri and Susan Sandberg. Sgambelluri and Sandberg did not speak. Andy Ruff, a former councilmember, and who is almost certain to be returning to the council in 2024, was also there. Ruff is one of three Democrats on the ballot for the three at-large council seats, and there are no opponents.

When Piedmont-Smith took her turn at the mic, she said she would not be stating a position for or against closing the road.

But one attendee called out, “Why won’t you? You’re on the council!” Piedmont-Smith responded by saying, “Because I’m looking out here and I see pitchforks!”

Piedmont-Smith eventually did relent, saying, “I guess it’s pretty clear to you that I’m seriously considering voting in favor of making that road safe for pedestrians and bicyclists—by closing that particular, and only that, access for cars.”

Piedmont-Smith said she wanted to take a turn at the mic, only in order to clarify what she felt were misleading statements about the impact of the proposed road closure. Several speakers had described how access to the park would be cut off.

Piedmont-Smith said that if the roadway is closed at the proposed points, “You will still be able to park just as close to the amenities of this park as you can now. … You can come from the north.”

One attendee got clarification that what Piedmont-Smith meant was to take Kinser Pike or North Walnut, and approach from the north. Another attendee called out his assessment of those options: “That’s a pain in the ass!”

Also responding to Piedmont-Smith’s point about access from the north, was David Canfield, who is the husband of Saturday’s event organizer Carole Canfield.

On a scenario where the road is closed, David Canfield called the accessibility from the north just “theoretical.” Canfield said, “Accessibility is more than just physical ability to get somewhere. It’s also distance.”

Given the location of the park on the north, the great majority of Bloomington residents who want to drive to the park have to come from the south, east, or west, Canfield said. That means they’ll have to go considerably out of their way, compared to going directly from the south, he said.

Jami Scholl led off the comment period by listing out several reasons why the road should not be closed. Among them was the access to the natural area of the park for those with mobility issues. Scholl also noted that the Lower Cascades Road is one of the only ways to get into town on days when Indiana University is hosting a football game. Scholl also said that access for emergency vehicles is better, if the road would remain open.

Scholl, as well as some other speakers, indicated that keeping the road open would better address the current situation of the several unhoused people who make use of the park. Scholl said that some people already feel threatened by the presence of unhoused people living in the park.

Robinson’s memo mentions the issue of the unhoused in the context of emergency services: “People experiencing homelessness frequently use various areas of the park as shelter. Other users of the park also may need emergency services. This issue is similar to other parks in Bloomington.”

Two representatives from Bloomington mayor John Hamilton’s office attended Saturday’s meeting—soon-to-be deputy mayor Larry Allen, and chief of staff Josefa Madrigal. Now an assistant city attorney, Allen takes over the deputy mayor job starting July 29.

Asked to say a few words at the end of the gathering, Allen said that no matter what option the city council chooses, the city will be making significant additional investments in the park.

To achieve the dedicated non-motorized connections to the north, one option previously championed by the administration was a one-lane scenario, where one lane would be dedicated to non-motorized traffic, and the other for automobiles.

The one-lane option was presented to the city council in 2018, when Hamilton asked for approval of a total of $10 million in bonds, to fund several different projects, including the 7-Line dedicated bicycle lane.

As a part of the 2018 bond package, the Lower Cascades non-motorized connection—as a one-lane closure option—was pegged as a $2.1 million project. That project was not built, but a pilot road closure was done.

The pilot closure of the road, not just one lane, but rather the whole road, started in March 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The pilot closure was controversial.  In 2021, when the parks staff wound up recommending to the board of park commissioners that the road be permanently re-opened, some of the same residents who were lobbying against the road closure then, are organizing against the closure now.

In 2021, some of  those residents were surprised that their advocacy had been effective. About the decision not to close the road, Carole Canfield said at the time, “I’m actually just kind of speechless.”

In 2021, if Hamilton’s administration had pursued a permanent road closure, the idea had been to put the decision about closing the road in front of the board of public works,

This time around, the idea seems to be that the city council is the right public body to make the decision. Whether that decision will be made through an ordinance, or can be enacted through a simple resolution, is not yet clear.

City council administrator/attorney Stephen Lucas has informed The B Square that the one-lane option, which would make the road one-way, would require a city council ordinance. That’s because it would require updating Title 15 of local code, which has a table of one-way streets—which would mean enacting an ordinance.

About the other options, Lucas wrote in an email, “I’m still trying to work through what mechanisms would be required or appropriate for the other alternatives (especially closing the road to vehicular traffic).”

Photos: Lower Cascades road closure meeting (July 22, 2023)

23 thoughts on “Lower Cascades road options to be heard by Bloomington city council

  1. Oh great. Another terrible road project is being proposed by the city.

  2. “ More than a dozen people spoke in favor of keeping the whole road open.” The road is currently not open for most people, it is open for car drivers only. It’s certainly closed to the people and children using the park who want to cross to the other park facilities.

    1. I ride my bike through the park several times a week. There is VERY little car traffic in that area and it should be very easy to cross from one side of the road to the other. If anything, put a signalized crosswalk in similar to the one on Country Club Road where the B-Line crosses.

  3. I think they should compromise by leaving the Cascades road open to car traffic, and closing Kirkwood to car traffic instead.

  4. For the first time since I have been reading the B-Square…, to me, it seems like some very important and sincere statements are missing from this article and a lot of space was given to an antagonistic, out of order and aggressive participant.

    And considering the differences in City Council Piedmont-Smiths position and many of the speakers and participants… there were some impolite and negative responses initially towards her, and then as more speakers spoke, many admired her courage to show up and listen, and a rousing round of applause was given to her in the end by almost the entire group for her being open and showing up.
    A genuine appreciation was given to her by many.

    I think that’s democracy at its best and I wanted readers to know how this unfolded.

    (May it be noted that she was the only opposing view holder that showed up from city government. The mayor was supposed to be there, and instead, sent his new deputy mayor.
    No members from city Council that are for the closing were there except Ms. Piedmont.
    Thank you, Isabel Piedmont.)

    It appeared to me to be a situation that became respectful and compromising as a listening group…as democracy and hearings can be at their best.

    Many people that use the park regularly do not want road closure and attended this meeting.
    It seems that sharing the road and modifying it completely in order for bikes, pedestrians and cars to use it safely is the democratic solution

    Thank you for your attention.

    1. from the very start, Mrs. Canfield explicitly established that the order of the event was one of cheers and jeers. i participated in accordance with the same orderliness as the other participants. i was disappointed to see that the boomers had yet again chosen the cheers-and-jeers format for the “town hall”, but i’ve seen enough of boomer cheer-and-jeer events to know how to participate appropriately and in accordance with the norms of such an event.

      may i ask you a question? do you use the park regularly?

    2. having sat on it for a day, i’ve come to agree with you in faulting Mr. Askins for failing to cover other speakers more thoroughly.

      i didn’t take notes, and i wish he had mentioned two things i hope i’m remembering correctly.

      didn’t someone say “the kids are always saying ‘ok boomer’, but i think we are ok boomers.” ??? did that really happen? i think that’s newsworthy, and helps show the way that the debate was framed by its organizers and loudest participants.

      and did anyone mention how much they love taking their grandkids to the park? i don’t remember anyone saying that, but surely *someone* must have said it? if it really didn’t happen, i think that’s something that should have been pointed out.

  5. there were two things about this event which were particularly disappointing to me.

    first is the myth of consensus. i’ve interacted with many members of this crowd in many different ways and yet they still uniformly portray people who want this street to be safe for kids as outsiders, aliens, unworthy of consideration because they are not of us. even with me sitting right there, they insist that i don’t exist or that i am an unwelcome invading force. i understand wanting different things than younger people but the othering of young people is only destructive.

    a lot of people do want a safe and connected bike and ped network. when the city sends out surveys, we speak up. when they host public meetings, form task forces, or bring items up for a vote, we show up (but in small numbers — it is so hard to organize renters, students, parents of children)! opposition is one thing, but to say that we aren’t bloomington is (sorry to swear on your blog, Dave) complete bullshit.

    second is the straight up dishonesty. when i asked if these guys had walked and biked to school when they were kids, i already knew the answer. it’s a well-known statistical reality — about half of boomers regularly walked or biked to school when they were kids, which is in stark contrast to today. in the 1960s, unwalkable neighborhoods were an innovative novelty, rather than the suffocating norm that they’ve become.

    but they were outraged, they wouldn’t admit that this thing which is almost forbidden today was common in their own childhoods! we should be arguing about the future but they can’t even be honest about their own pasts.

    for an overtly nostalgic group, they don’t grapple with history very well. it would be bad enough if they wanted to preserve 1960s bloomington forever, but truly, they have accepted all of the worst modern developments (car dependence, sprawl, segregated suburbs) and simply oppose progress. but most of all, they oppose recognizing the humanity of young people.

    1. I drove on the road that runs parallel to the Karst Farm trail today and noticed several places where the trail and streets Intersected. The B-Line also has several of these intersections. There are bike paths all over town where cars and bicycles share the same pavement.
      Cascades Road is a low volume road. Perhaps a signaled crossing might be a cheap compromise.

    2. I have lived in Bloomington since birth (1952). I walked to Rogers School from my home on East Side Drive with the help of an adult crossing guard on High St. I served as an assistant crossing guard there in 6th grade. I was driven to Binford in 7th grade , and walked home. I moved to Park Ridge East and was bussed from there to University School – walked home on the RR tracks – about 2 – 3 days per week weather permitting. None of my friends rode bikes after age 10. I did ride a bike (not to school) from age 16 – 18. We rode our bikes frequently on public roads where cars traveled. – our only choice. Third Street was 3 lanes near the malI. I now drive a prius and have a “car free” day each week. I will not ride a bike in Bloomington. I support traffic calming, permeable sidewalks, and dedicated bike lanes (please – let’s use less concrete every where in Btown – sidewalks, bike lanes, buildings) as well as safe street crossings especially near/in parks. I do/will not call anyone names in a public meeting and although I am a boomer, I would appreciate it if this is not the only way you identify me – or assume my actions are due only to my age.
      I grew up in a different Bloomington and feel lucky to have done so. Change is constant, but I hope children growing up in Bloomington today feel as lucky as I do to have grown up here.

      1. Why won’t you ride a bike in Bloomington? I highly recommend it. If you’re uncomfortable with your balance or the strength required, you could try an electric bicycle or tricycle. (I am a Gen-Xer who rides an electric bike)

  6. I was born and raised in Bloomington. And from the time I can remember, we visited the park alot. It has been used for Family reunions to Bday party’s . And baby showers. And everything went good. Sure the way into and out from both directions is a challenge some times. But Cascade park is a Bloomington Landmark! And if you start changing things up. It will get right back to being a challenge again yrs from now. So why change it? We all have maneuvered it all these years and have made it work.
    If you close the road completely. Im afraid your homelessness will get worse. And how would emergency vehicles be able to get down in there for either ambulance service or authority service to make it safe for everyone to enjoy the park.
    And to make it a one way, will just confuse everyone. And could cause more wrecks then has been recorded with the road the way it is now!
    Please don’t take our park route away!!

    1. i’m glad the park has been an important part of your life. it has been a big part of mine, too. my wedding was at the Waterfall shelter.

      you ask, “why change it?” and i think that is a good question. anyone asking for a change should be willing to answer that question. i hope you will forgive me for it, but i am going to answer that question.

      the biggest reason is the city doesn’t have any good bike&ped connections north of the bypass, at all. there is a narrow sidewalk on one side of Kinser Pike, with an extremely dangerous crossing of the bypass, and that is it, that is the only ped facility north of the bypass that connects to the rest of the city. 20 years ago, the city identified this problem and selected Cascades Park as the facility to provide the first quality connection, and reaffirmed that decision about half a dozen times since. once we have one good connection, we can work on making a network up there by connecting to Cascades. but without that first connection, it’s impossible to build a network. the most pressing need is a connection to North highschool. that’s crucial because highschool kids are old enough to get around independently, but many don’t have access to a car (and the ones that do have cars cause all manner of mayhem).

      but one of the biggest reasons for me personally is related to something you said, “We all have maneuvered it all these years and have made it work.” that’s not exactly true. i am a stay at home dad, and i do not have a car. so when my kids were little, every day we made an outing on foot. from the time my kids were 2 years old, they could easily walk 3 miles, and i live just over half a mile from the south end of the park.

      several times, exploring the area around Miller-Showers park (the retention pond between N College and N Walnut), we wound up going up the sidewalk on the south end of Old 37. we would get as far as the bridge under the bypass, and then we would turn back. we walked a lot of places without sidewalks but 0.8 miles without sidewalk or shoulder is too much for us.

      we enjoyed shouting at the underside of the bridge and listening to our echoes resonate, and then we would turn back. sometimes, i would put them in a bike trailer and tow them to the playground. it was nervewracking to share the road with impatient cut-through drivers, while crawling along with my overloaded trailer, but it was the only option open to us. because of this difficulty, we went very rarely.

      that all changed in march of 2020, when the city began the pilot of opening it to pedestrians. my oldest was just learning how to ride a bike, and immediately he was able to bike all the way to the park. the interactions with aggressive and threatening motorists abruptly ended. even my wife, who is not the biggest fan of “active transport”, would walk them up to the playground on weekends. and that wasn’t even the best part — i was actually surprised to find out the south half of the park is *awesome*! when there aren’t cars around. we would walk all over that place, we found picnic tables and bridges that we had never imagined before. and it was so peaceful and serene. we did see a lot of other people but none of them were in cars, so we didn’t need to be afraid of them, and we could see them smile, and we would holler greetings across the creek at eachother.

      during the summer of 2020, i also biked on it alone several times a week, as a relaxing rite before the sun set. i would always see people out on a stroll, couples holding hands in the street, people playing in the south part of the park. and most especially i would always see joggers, mostly undergrad-looking people. people who live in the apartments between 17th street and the bypass could easily jog from their front door right to the extensive cascades trail system, and they actually did it.

      in spring of 2021, i sat out for a a couple hours to perform a traffic count, and i saw a pinnacle that is very rare in USA today. i saw two “tween” (about 12 years old) kids out biking, without parents, *and they didn’t come back*. they weren’t just tooling around back and forth…they went to the south end of the park and kept going! they were experiencing transportation autonomy at a young age. i’m sure you’ve heard the cliche, “when i was a kid, i would leave the house in the morning, drink from garden hoses all day, and not come back until dinner, but kids these days don’t even get off the couch”? well these kids were living the dream of the kind of childhood that just isn’t possible these days!

      two kids is a small step, but first steps have to start somewhere.

      then they closed it to pedestrians again. my kids hardly ever go. they are much stronger cyclists now, but they still don’t like the feeling of a driver tailgating us through the park, which *ALWAYS HAPPENS* even if we go 18mph the whole way. i hate the fact that the moment we go over the last speed hump and it turns back into a regular city street, every driver floors it and does an aggressive pass on us, venting their frustration at having been asked to drive slowly in a park where kids are playing. we never walk there. it’s been more than 2 years now since we last played south of the creek crossing. i haven’t seen any jogger down there since, either. and i certainly haven’t seen any unaccompanied minors taking one-way trips.

      the park as it is today, and has been most of its history, simply isn’t working for all users.

      1. Hello
        I read your response to my message, and I agree with you on everything you have said.
        I know when the park was created. Bloomington wasn’t near as big S it is now. And traffic wasn’t so massive and foot happy!
        And I know what it is like to be flipped off, or told off as they pass me. Because I pull a goose neck horse trailer. And I always have someone riding my trailer bumper. Or pulling out in front of me, not wanting to follow me. And I have to slam on my brakes. And they don’t understand that you cannot stop a ton truck with 3000 lbs plus in the trailer behind it on a dime!
        It has been awhile since I have been through Cascade Park. But I remember the road being no bigger then a Billy goat path. So I agree that there is no room to walk, jog or ride bikes.
        And know their is a hillside on alot of one side of the road.
        But isn’t there anyway they could build a lane on the side where the shelter house is located and creek?
        Does the city own that park? If they do? They could make that happen if possible?
        I’m not a smart construction person. But I have eye balled things and seen it. And it worked out.
        I’m not completely apposed to the one way idea. But I know it would take alot to get use to for people who have drove that road for years to get use to. And could have several accidents because of that reason. And I was thinking about the kids or adults that possibly could get hit till it is known.
        I would never want to see anything taken from anyone. Because it is everybody’s park.
        And Iam a substitute teacher. And I agree 100% that kids should be outside. And not sitting inside playing video games all the time. I was also a 4-H leader and volunteer for over 15 yrs. And love to see kids out riding there bikes and scooters. And enjoying what God made for us to enjoy!
        So yes I agree with you. But I just don’t want to see the road completely removed. Because I have had back surgery and have nerve damage in both legs. So I couldn’t walk down and back. I have a disabled hang tag so I can park close.
        But let’s both hope they make a good decision on what they can do for us both.

      2. thanks Melissa. if i understood correctly, you were talking about a path on the west (other) side of the creek. that is one of the four options the city is considering, which director Robinson called “New Multi-Use Path/Trail”. it’s kind of the default that i think was assumed to be the plan for most of 20 years now.

        the problem is, it’s super expensive to build (and to maintain, since it’s directly against the creek). it’ll involve some significant dirt moving and stabilization. and it hasn’t happened yet. so if that’s the way forward, then we’ve got at least another 5-10 years, maybe another 20, of waiting. so while we’re waiting, who is priority? do peds go without a facility just because that’s how it’s been done? or do drivers lose a facility because we recognize the priority of peds?

        planners are recommending this because the transportation plan says we will prioritize pedestrians, but obviously that hasn’t been city practice so far. bureaucratically, this is a big test of whether the council meant it when they voted for it. who will come first? who will wait?

      3. It’s been that way as far back as I can remember. Hurry up and wait!
        They forget they work for us. We are the ones who pay they’re salary.
        I hope one day everything gets figured out.

  7. If part of the pressure to close the South section is for better bike access, take a look at the North section. There’s a perfectly bike-able trail that parallels the same road, yet you rarely see any bikes on it. Apparently they prefer the same road that they want to close elsewhere.

    1. I rarely see bikes on any of side paths and bike lanes that the City has built. I prefer riding on side streets with less car traffic than using bike lanes on heavily traveled streets. If the City feels the need to build bike lanes, they should be on the side streets, NOT on busy main streets.

      1. For me, I look for a lack of stop signs and being able to avoid interactions with cars. So Hunter Avenue and Kinser north of the bypass, even though they are both marked as bike routes, are pretty much out of the picture. But the 7-line is pretty great. Separated bike lanes on the main streets would be ideal for both my criteria.

    2. it’s not for the spandex and carbon fiber bicycle crowd you see holding 15mph in the street even on the uphill. it’s for kids, slower riders, walkers, joggers, hikers, explorers, players.

  8. Admit to only skimming the comments section for my name or the Chamber’s. I was not in attendance nor have an opinion on the proposal.

  9. I used to live in this park. I have attended Buddhist services there. The park is historic. Park structures were built in response to the Great Depression with local limestone. The road itself was the original SR37 entrance to Bloomington. It has waterfalls. It is the geological demarcation of the Norman Uplands and the Mitchell Plain. The cement factory was a historic limestone quarry. Etc.

    It seems to me that what is going on is that do-gooders are executing their nanny-state agenda to control and regulate everything.

  10. The city “processes” its runoff through the Miller Showers Park retention ponds (north of 17th between College and Walnut) and then discharges that filth into Cascades crick. Small wonder they want to block people from seeing that.

Comments are closed.