Chelsea Schneider, Municipal Innovations Specialist, Aim

South Bend leaders set out to rethink the role streets play in the community, and the city’s innovative Smart Streets initiative was born.

The project restored two-way traffic across more than eight miles of the city’s streets. Now, all downtown streets carry their fair share of traffic, instead of motorists cutting through the city on a highway-like system.

Community leaders say the changes go beyond traffic patterns to boost the urban core’s vibrancy and restore a city-like feel to Downtown South Bend. The revitalized street network includes wider sidewalks and streets with shorter crossing distances, along with roundabouts, bicycle facilities, street trees and public art.

From the improvements, a growing number of businesses cite Smart Streets as a factor in their decision to locate or renovate properties in the downtown area. City officials estimate those investments already exceed $90 million.

“When we choose to make public investments in the streets then businesses feel more confident making a private investment taking advantage of those streets and taking advantage of the foot traffic and vibrancy that it brings to downtown,” South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg said.

The former set-up, which relied on one-way streets, helped people “evacuate downtown” at the very moment South Bend was working to repopulate downtown, Buttigieg said.

“We’re trying to make sure we have a streetscape that supports city life,” he said. Now, South Bend’s street network supports chance encounters, and the increased foot traffic is good for economic development.

“We know for downtowns to be more vibrant you need residential development to take place, you need more retail development to take place, and you just need more active users of the space” said Jitin Kain, South Bend’s deputy director of public works.

The project earned South Bend statewide recognition for municipal innovation from Accelerate Indiana Municipalities (Aim) at its annual Ideas Summit.

“Citizen expectations are high and municipal leaders are constantly looking for new and innovative ways to meet those expectations,” Aim CEO Matt Greller said. “The City of South Bend has taken innovation to a whole new level with their Smart Streets program. It’s amazing to see how this thoughtful approach is bringing new life to the city’s downtown.”

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