Green Technology: Green Gateway

March 29, 2016
Butler University revamps street with porous bike path & rain gardens

About the author: John Hazlett is team leader, integrated planning, for Williams Creek Consulting. Hazlett can be reached at [email protected]. Sarah Evans is project designer and marketing coordinator for Williams Creek Consulting. Evans can be reached at [email protected].


Butler University is a liberal arts school located in the heart of Indianapolis. Nestled among historic residential neighborhoods just two miles north of downtown, the university provides access to many local attractions and recreational destinations via the Canal Towpath Trail on the western boundary of the campus. On its eastern border, Sunset Avenue serves as a gateway for university visitors to the famed Hinkle Fieldhouse, home of the Butler Bulldogs basketball team, and serves as a primary transportation corridor for vehicular and pedestrian traffic connecting the campus with the surrounding Butler-Tarkington neighborhood. 

In partnership with the city of Indianapolis’ RebuildIndy infrastructure program, in 2014, Sunset Avenue was redesigned based on a Complete Streets approach to accommodate pedestrians, bicycles and vehicle traffic. In addition to multimodal transportation elements, including new sidewalks and the first porous bike lane in Indianapolis, the streetscape design incorporates green infrastructure to manage storm water within the right of way and reduce the volume of storm water discharged to the nearby White River and combined sewer system. Almost 8,000 sq ft of linear rain gardens line the western edge of Sunset Avenue, buffering pedestrians from vehicle traffic and utilizing native plants for filtering pollutants. These rain gardens are hydraulically connected to the adjacent 5,500-sq-ft porous asphalt bike lane. 

A new charter bus stop was created at the point where Sunset Avenue turns eastward toward Hinkle Fieldhouse, serving as a focal point at the edge of the Student Recreation Complex and the fieldhouse and encouraging a future public transit connection. As part of this current loading/unloading area and the associated pedestrian plaza, the project utilizes permeable pavers and rain gardens to manage and infiltrate storm water from the right of way and Hinkle’s parking lot, the largest concentrated area of impervious surface on campus at more than 3 acres. Additional placemaking elements incorporated into the design include 42 new native street trees, decorative crosswalks and high-efficiency LED full cutoff streetlights. 

Green Features

This project utilizes Complete Streets principles in a major urban university setting and demonstrates how private and public funding can be leveraged to create projects for maximum impact. Both the Complete Streets principles and public-private partnership aspects of this project can be replicated in other neighborhoods by prioritizing capital improvement projects in areas that have similar street conditions and by using community outreach to determine which neighborhoods are receptive to Complete Streets principles. Project design and construction costs were split between the city of Indianapolis and Butler University, and Butler’s maintenance crews will continue this partnership by maintaining all green infrastructure project elements located both in the right of way and on private property. The project design included development of an extensive operations and maintenance manual to ensure future project success.

Features incorporated into the project’s design further the university’s and city’s social sustainability principles. Accommodating pedestrians and bicyclists through traffic-calming measures makes the streetscape safer for multimodal transportation while enhancing Sunset Avenue as a gateway to the campus and adjacent neighborhoods. The design utilizes the Complete Streets Ordinance, passed by the Indianapolis City-County Council in 2013, as well as Butler University’s commitment to improving the world through its participation in the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. Economic sustainability principles are incorporated by providing residents better access to campus businesses, including ground floor retail being constructed as part of a new parking garage fronting the northern portion of Sunset Avenue. Environmental sustainability is heightened through encouraging carbon-free travel via walking and bicycling, as well as reduced storm water runoff and carbon emissions by keeping storm water out of the combined sewer system and the nearby White River, the largest waterway running through the heart of Indianapolis. 

Maximizing Sustainability

Sunset Avenue also demonstrates how green technologies can be used to enhance a streetscape while reducing the impact on the city’s air and water. A large portion of the project area discharges directly to the White River. Rain gardens and the porous asphalt bike lane trap and filter pollutants that would otherwise make their way to this major waterway. The remaining project area north of 46th Street is in a combined sewer area and the majority of storm water entering this system ultimately gets treated and discharged at one of two wastewater treatment facilities in an energy intensive process. This project keeps storm water out of the system through the use of green infrastructure elements, further reducing the carbon impacts of Butler’s operations. Additionally, the project utilizes high efficiency LED street lights to reduce electricity use and includes new trees to further improve area quality. The new streetlights are full cutoff fixtures that help reduce light pollution in the surrounding area while providing better lighting and improved safety for the Sunset Avenue streetscape.

Campus Impact

The project drains approximately 143,447 sq ft or approximately 3 acres of impervious surfaces. Based on the design engineer’s storm water model, the project’s green infrastructure elements will reduce runoff by up to 50% compared to pre-construction conditions for the 100-year storm event. The project team has inspected the green infrastructure elements after significant rainfalls to ensure project success. Bike lane use is being monitored informally by Butler staff.

The project has improved economic conditions with a new charter bus stop to connect Butler to the larger community. Prospective students, placing a higher priority on sustainability and climate resilience issues than ever before, will be attracted to Butler University as a result of the project, creating retention and enhancing the city’s tax base. Improved social conditions have resulted from encouraging pedestrian activity and neighborhood interaction through the addition of new sidewalks, rain gardens and bike lane. The project has improved environmental conditions through the introduction of native plant species in the rain gardens, new trees and storm water management features that mimic nature by treating and infiltrating storm water where it lands. 

Williams Creek Consulting served as the green infrastructure expert on the Sunset Avenue Gateway project, providing civil engineering design and landscape architecture for the permeable paver bus plaza, rain gardens and porous bike lane. Project partners include Butler University, the city of Indianapolis, Butler-Tarkington Neighborhood Assn., First Group Eng., Williams Creek Consulting, DB Eng., Milestone Contractors and VS Eng. 

“The Sunset Avenue Streetscape not only illustrates the city of Indianapolis and Butler University’s commitment to sustainability, but enhances the safety, appearance and experience for students, faculty, staff and visitors walking and biking on our campus,” said Rich Michal, executive director of facilities at Butler University.