New Transit Plan for Indianapolis Emphasizes Frequency Over Splash

» With the exception of a relatively cheap commuter rail line, local advocacy group encourages the city to ramp up bus services and improve the customer experience.

Living in a big, dense, old city, it’s easy enough to criticize the decisions of policy makers in sprawling regions like Indianapolis, where a “generous” budget for investments in public transportation means spending one fourth of the amount to be dedicated to roads. But for a place where only 2% of people commute by transit, a long-term plan that does just that can be downright revolutionary. Outcomes — manifested in changing travel behavior and the densification of inner-city areas — depend on how it’s implemented.

After almost a year of outreach to thousands of citizens in the entire metro area, Indy Connect, a pseudo-public organization, released its report yesterday for 25 years of expenditures on roadways, bike paths, bus routes, and rail corridors. The recommendations are roughly similar to those unveiled in February, with $2.4 billion suggested to be spread over 25 years on transit and $8.4 billion on road expansion and maintenance. A tripling of bus service, the development of bus rapid transit, and the creation of a commuter rail corridor would require the implementation of a local sales tax. A light rail line once considered has been put on the back burner.

The local metropolitan planning organization is likely to endorse the recommendations in December.

On the face of it, Indianapolis’ new plan will provide valuable improvements for the city and its nearby suburbs. Average wait times for local bus service will be condense to just 10 to 15 minutes on most lines (down from 30 today), and most will continue to run on the weekends and late into the night — evidently not true in the past. Ten crosstown routes designed to bypass downtown would be set into play, as would fifteen express routes directly into the center. Four bus rapid transit lines would link the city’s most popular destinations, and a 38-mile north-south rail corridor would link Noblesville in the north to Franklin to the south.

This, however, is less than Indianapolis will need to expand transit mode share significantly. And it is less than those who participated in the process to define the plan suggested they wanted. As the charts below show, there was public support for significantly less roadway funding than the proposal advocates.

Nevertheless, the huge predominance of automobile-based commuting in the region may make impossible a situation in which more spending is committed to transit than to highways, such as in regions like New York or Washington.

But that does not mean that the Indianapolis transit plan as currently proposed is perfect. Indeed, though its expansion of bus frequencies will  increase the mobility of bus users dramatically, the proposal fails to consider radical and relatively cheap ways to ensure that all those expenditures on operating funds will be well-spent.

Most egregious are the routes that extend north of downtown to 38th Street: The plan would have local buses running on three separate roads — Capitol Avenue, Illinois Street, and Meridian Street — all within 600 feet of one another, run a bus rapid transit line on Meridian Street, and have express buses running on two of the three. In other words, customers would have a wide diversity of choices for where to pick up a bus, but would not be able to benefit from high frequencies due the fact that multiple bus lines run through the area and would be confused as to which bus runs where. Imagine an alternative: Between downtown and 38th Street, all buses headed roughly north-south would use a two-way segregated busway created in the median of Meridian Street, replete with dedicated stations. Anyone needing to hop downtown would know to go there to find a bus every five minutes or less.

But that points to another problem with this proposal: Though it suggests a network of four bus rapid transit lines — east-west along 38th Street; Keystone Avenue between Carmel and the University of Indianapolis; north and south along College and Madison Avenues; and Washington Street to the airport — it would provide only minor improvements for them over regular bus service. Only signal prioritization and fewer and better bus stops would be on offer, and frankly, these should be standard for all bus routes, not just the “rapid” ones. No one seems willing to take the step to argue for replacing car lanes with transit capacity, but when you’re talking about a region that is pledging to spend billions on road capacity increases, perhaps that’s not particularly surprising.

Frustratingly, the proposal recommends significantly delaying the funding and implementation of the proposed light rail line along Washington Street, the only really rail-ready corridor in the region because of its relatively higher densities. But light rail is considered too expensive here. Bus rapid transit would be built in its place.

Instead, Indy Connect suggests a 23-mile commuter rail corridor northeast from Union Station downtown to Noblesville and a 15-mile link south to Franklin. A northwest line to Zionsville would follow later. These could be built at a relatively low cost, since they would rely on existing rail infrastructure and have limited two-track sections. But their utility should be put into question because of their awkward station locations and limited service; though the plan promises “frequent stops in Indianapolis,” it is difficult to see how that will be achievable unless costs are increased substantially, and that will be impossible because of the limited spending available for transit in general.

The rail lines would terminate outside of the primary downtown core, miss the University of Indianapolis, and fail to serve many dense areas of the city at all. What if Indianapolis chose to take the funds it wants to dedicate to rail and focus them on bringing to all of its bus lines the improvements the plan would reserve to its bus rapid transit routes?

One of the bright points in its proposal is its focus on — and spending commitment for — bike and pedestrian amenities in all parts of the region, from the center city to the suburbs. This suggests that these forms of transportation, usually considered the sole domain of urbanites, are increasingly being recognized as good investments for every part of the country.

The sponsors of Indy Connect will have to make their argument for better transit convincingly and encourage the Indiana legislature to allow citizens in the nine regional counties to vote on a tax increase to pay for local contributions to the projects. They face a major potential critic in Governor Mitch Daniels, however, who has repeatedly stated his hostility to raising taxes. In an era of continued economic recession and austerity-minded politicians, that may be unlikely.

Image above from Indy Connect.

51 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • I think the reality on the commuter lines is that you’ve got to figure out how to get the suburban counties on board with a regional transit authority and regional transit tax. Hard to do if they wouldn’t be getting much service.

  • It’s tough being a rail advocate and living in Indy. What Aaron says is true. This system takes the inequities of the region and seems to be able to build a plan that may actually be able to vote in. It serves existing riders, and with better bus service, will pull in those on the fence.

    Does it miss big on the economic development potential with light rail? Sure it does. It’s the most disappointing exclusion. Maybe this is how things get off the ground here.

    • Nathanael

      If Indianapolis builds passenger rail of any sort within the next decades, I will be very surprised. I expect it to be one of the last major cities in the US to do anything.

      Please prove me wrong, though. :-) Perhaps if there’s some passenger rail in the capital, it’ll crack the generally anti-rail attitude of the southern half of the state.

    • Wad

      Curt, it’s tough to be a rail advocate in Indy because it’s not Indy’s time for rail service yet.

      This plan on bus-emphasis service is a good start, because you have to build a solid ridership base before a rail service is warranted.

      Any kind of rail service — commuter or urban — requires ridership that warrants the capital expenditure. Take development out of the equation. We can’t count on it for at least a generation, and unless you have a tax regime like Portland’s where you can directly capture the upside of development money, there’s little point in having a showcase train system.

      Charlotte and Phoenix have a good template for how to grow a transit system. Both cities had a transit tax that spent the near term investing heavily in bus expansion, then putting in light rail years down the line.

      • There isn’t a single US city that provides a good template for how to grow a transit system, except maybe Washington DC. For a low-density city with extensive postwar development, the main examples for how to do things well are in Canada and Australia. BRT should look to Ottawa and Brisbane, LRT should look to Calgary, and so on.

        • Wad

          Not even Washington, D.C. would be a good template for other cities to follow. WMATA is BART with standard gauge or MARTA with white folks. It didn’t improve upon the 1960s-era planning that went into the system. (A complaint of D.C. residents is that the speed comes at the expense of wide stop spacing in the urban core itself.)

          As Americans, the best we could possibly hope for is the Rumsfeld doctrine. The government we have, not the government we want, is as good as it’s going to get in the US of A.

          How can we possibly get a Canadian or Australian quality of system in the U.S. when our political choices are limited to one party that’s spooked by government while the other is captured?

  • The LRT line is okay – the corridor is good, especially on the east side. The eastern terminus may be about a block east of the natural end in Cumberland, but that’s a very small deal. I’m not sure why on the west side it goes to near the airport rather than the Speedway, though.

    The commuter line is good if and only if the plan is to run it like an S-Bahn and not like an American commuter line with conductors who punch tickets.

  • OceanRailroader

    I’ve been though this city and it’s packed to the gills with cars. One of the wildest things about it is that Interstate 65 is packed to the gills with cars in a 100 miles in all drections around it.

  • Sean

    Yes, it is unfortunate that this holistic infrastructure plan is auto and bus centric but it has to be that way in order for the doughnut counties surrounding Indianapolis to vote to increase their taxes to pay for it.

    There is strong support in the private sector of Central Indiana for this plan. Local business leaders have been pushing it for awhile, and most sane residents of the metro area understand the need to invest in transit to ease congestion on local freeways even as they are being expanded.

    • Wad

      Is it legal in Indiana to offer varied tax rates to the doughnut counties, or do all members of a transit district have to contribute an equal amount?

      If the outer counties don’t expect much inbound or outbound use of a system, they could pay less to get less transit services than Indianapolis proper.

      • Max Wyss

        A common and proven model would be for the towns to participate based on their stop-departures. This is the sum of the scheduled daily departues from a given stop in the town over all stops in the town (meaning that a town has 10 stops with 36 departures each, it will pay for 360 stop-departures.

        This looks to me like a pretty fair distribution model, as it depends on the actual service provided to that town.

        • STIF taxes each of the eight constituent departments at a different rate based on how rich and transit-served it is. Paris and Hauts-de-Seine pay the most, the other two inner suburban departments pay less, and the outer suburbs pay the least.

          Does ZVV assign taxes based on stop-departures?

          • Max Wyss

            The contributions of the towns (Gemeinden) to the ZVV are indeed basd on stop-departures.

            I forgot to mention that a bus stop-departure costs less than an S-Bahn stop-departure.

            I am also not sure whether the night network counts in (because the CHF 5 surcharge for the night network makes it pay for itself).

  • Sean

    Also, it should be noted, Mitch Daniels is not in favor of any STATE tax increases, but I doubt he would stand in the way of local communities voting via referendum to raise their taxes to pay for enhanced infrastructure.

  • David Keddie

    My parents live in Indianapolis and I spent a summer there in 2004. The commuter rail proposal to the north side was already in the papers then. Downtown Indy has a couple nice public spaces, including the older stretch of war memorials and the newer canal that runs by the state capital. The main university is IUPUI with ~30,000 students rather than U of Indy with 5,000 and it seems ignored in this plan, though it’s essentially walking distance to the downtown.

    It must be one of the least transit-oriented cities in the country with one of the least hospitable environments for transit. I saw one study were it was dead last among US cities for transit share with a 0.2% share (judging by all trips perhaps?). The entire metropolitan area is one or two story buildings on vast lots that continue right up to the tiny collection of skyscrapers and government buildings in the downtown. Half the downtown is surface parking including just across the street from the state capital building. Free parking can be found just two blocks west of the state capital next to the river and paid parking for a couple of bucks underneath the center city mall. You can drive from one end of the metro area to the other on the surface streets in half an hour, and their definition of congestion is laughable to a New Jersey resident. The people and community are great (again compared to New Jersey) but the built environment is a concrete and asphalt strip mall from one end to the other. Even the punk kids have to hang out at the strip mall Borders. It’s cities link Indy that make you yearn for New Urbanism.

    Indy is in desperate need at even one or two vital, pedestrian oriented areas. I can’t imagine why they don’t create restricted bus lanes as the roads throughout the downtown as they are many lanes wide but still easy to cross on foot because traffic is so light. Land is as cheap as it comes though and available in every direction which I think is why developments such as the canal have not led to more than token development.

    I would be interested to see a map of job concentrations as I think that the northside suburbs of Carmel and Fishers might have more jobs, though in a pedestrian-hostile pattern, than the downtown.

    Thanks for the post Yonah

  • Johnathan Doe

    I live in Hancock County, near Cumberland. I take I-70 from Mt. Comfort to downtown for work. I can tell you that I will not be voting for this tax grab. If it was just about buses, I might vote for it. There is no way I am going to vote for a tax increase that doesn’t give me a rail option. This plan seems to be all about getting Hamilton County folks to downtown, two time a day, M-F. The entire rail portion is nothing more than a transit planners dream. It isn’t needed, and I serious think it would be a complete waste of money. I would rather they buy eight nice buses, line them up at some mall parking lot, and have them leave at rush hour. Have one leave every 15 mins. I guess buy enough to a point to where the last one is leaving, one or two are back from the initial run. Then go park the buses, and when it is time to go home, have them stage somewhere downtown.

    They can try to bribe me with bike lanes, walking paths, etc., but I’m not going to vote for a tax increase where I pay the same tax rate as someone in Fishers, yet they get not only expanded bus service, but also a rail line. I discussed this with my co-workers today and there are four or five anti-tax hike folks on board already. They all live in Marion County. They have the sames issues I have: Why do the richy rich folks get all the bells and whistles? If the school referendum votes are any indication, this thing is DOA.

    • Nathanael

      Sigh. Why call a somewhat questionable scheme a “transit planner’s dream”? Doesn’t sound like a dream to me, or most of the other transit planners. A dream would be something like the Denver Fastracks scheme.

  • George

    I don’t understand any of this. Indianapolis is a big sprawling city with a population of San Francisco spread across an area the size of Rhode Island. There are very few dense job centers. Obviously downtown comes to mind, with the Indiana Government Center housing the entire state government in two huge buildings. Broad Ripple is the main hangout in the Northside, but that’s really a Potemkin village. IUPUI is probably one of the most sprawling college campuses in the world; there is no defined center – it’s all just random buildings scattered around parking lots. Meridian Street is an important north-south corridor but it’s not really dense at all. Indianapolis is really not a good city for transit. You can’t force this down people’s throat. I’ve always said – to build a transit system in these types of cities, you have to build two systems. One in the city and one in the head. The latter of those is just about impossible for Indy.

  • Tanner

    Everyone can agree that there is bad traffic on 69. Yes, something should be done. But it shouldnt come as a cost to everyone surrounding Indy who will never use their rail system.

    Not to mention the comfort factors involved here. Yes, some people will use the rail system. But, this isnt Chicago, NY, etc where parking is EXPENSIVE and limited. There is tons of cheap parking in downtown Indy. Parking that puts you right up to the door of your workplace.

    Why would I ride on a train to save a little time but then have to walk several blocks in ice and snow, freezing temps or 90 degree heat with 100% humidity? When I can drive my nice car with AC, heat, comfort, and my mp3 player right up to the door of my office? I wont. Most people in Indy wont. It will simply be a waste of tax payers dollars. If there was a lack of parking and parking was expensive it would be a different story.

    Yes, its a good idea and may need to be done (in some areas). But how many people will a rail system benefit vs how many people’s homes it will reduce in value, business it will force to close or more, or people it will force to relocate?

    If a rail system is going to be put in, the one area it should be done is from the airport to downtown. Talk about a positive for people coming here for sporting events and conventions. How many people from out of town would really go to Fishers or Noblesville anyway? Sorry, but why should I be forced to pay for their rail system when I will never use it?

    • Matt

      Tanner, you make some good points about the reality of development in your city, but some of the other points just cannot stand. You do realize that access to frequent rapid transit lines *increases* property values, right? The main criticisms we have in Minnesota are from those who are worried about gentrification forcing out poor people from neighborhoods with new rail stops. Secondly, I bet you only personally benefit from 1% of all the lane miles in the state of Indiana, so surely you are indignant that you pay for those lanes too, right? The reality is that new infrastructure costs the public no matter if it is lanes or tracks. Your city has developed in the way it has due to massive federal spending on freeways to the suburbs. Every lane addition, suburban interchange, etc is a subsidy of sprawling development. Doesn’t it therefore reason that we should invest equally (at least) in responsible development in urban/infill areas? After all, land use follows transportation investment.

    • Adirondacker12800

      If there was a lack of parking and parking was expensive it would be a different story.

      With a bit of patience and perseverance parking is free in Manhattan and Chicago. People take the train in, people who have cars at their disposal, because the train is faster. People, with cars at their disposal take the bus! … the “bad traffic” part of driving into downtown makes the train attractive.

      • FG

        My neighborhood fills up by day due to commuters driving to my train station for cheaper fares (or living somewhere with poor access to the train via bus) and more frequency. But it is possible, if harder, to find free parking downtown (Chicago).

    • Parking can be restricted. When Calgary made the decision to build light rail, it also started to restrict downtown parking, developing parking lots for commercial or residential uses. This both made the trains more competitive and densified the core.

      • David Keddie

        I’m not sure how you would enact parking restrictions in a downtown like Indy’s without just encouraging employers to locate in the suburbs. Indy is already extremely decentralized from an employment perspective and has abundant inexpensive land. Has Calgary’s downtown increased it’s share of employment in the metropolitan area? I think of the example of Portland which has achieved a huge revival of people living downtown but seen static to negative job growth in the central business district, with employment growth located in the suburbs (or in more business-friendly low-cost places like Indy). Indy is not Manhattan with industries that thrive on physical proximity that make the vastly higher costs worthwhile.

        • I’m not sure Calgary’s increased its CBD employment share, but it’s increased absolute CBD employment by a lot.

          • David Keddie

            I hadn’t looked at Calgary before and it seems to have done the best job in North America of building a low-cost light rail system that goes where people want to go. However, it’s in the midst of an oil boom which has made it (according to Wikipedia) the fastest growing region, along with Edmonton, in the world in recent years. I expect that the government could place a variety of burdens on business and and still have massive development both in downtown and suburb, maximizing every available transportation option. With 112,000 downtown jobs out of 650,000 total jobs it’s certainly respectable but not necessarily inconsistent with normal distribution between core business district and suburbs in newer, primarily car-oriented cities.

            My concern is that a lot of the policies proposed to encouraging dense, walkable development and reduce car use, such as land-use restrictions and disinvestment in road capacity, also have the effect of making a city less competitive economically. I remember reading one comparison of Portland and Indy that explicitly pointed out how Portland’s rising cost of living, driven by land-use restrictions, has made it uncompetitive with more laissez-faire cities like Indy. I’m personally eager to encourage people to choose more dense living and at a minimum to make it legal in the face of zoning, but I find it harder to support or see the effectiveness of policies that just drive growth elsewhere while raising the cost of living. I’m reminded of this each time a friend moves from New York to Houston and is surprised to discover how much they prefer it just because of how much farther a dollar goes. That includes some who I thought would be diehard Manhattanites. How do we encourage transit-oriented, walkable neighborhoods without driving up the cost of housing and discouraging employment growth?

          • Calgary’s LRT developed beginning in the early 1980s, at which time there was an oil bust. Although Calgary itself is economically dependent on oil, the LRT system has grown both in good times, such as 2003-8, and in bad times, such as the late 90s.

            The cost of living issue is a complete red herring. An island surrounded by mile-wide rivers whose suburbs are fully developed to a distance of 50 miles isn’t going to have cheap land; this is independent of what transportation system it uses. Transit-oriented Zurich is not abnormally expensive, not relative to its high income; auto-oriented Los Angeles is. That alone should tell you that there are more things going on than just living costs.

            If a region is growing very quickly, then it probably developed relatively late. Since almost all transit in the US comes from prewar legacy systems, those regions will not have much transit use. This tells you more about the competence of modern US transit planning than about the effect of land use on city growth. Outside the US, this pattern isn’t observed: Tokyo is Japan’s fastest-growing prefecture, followed by its suburbs; Paris grows slightly faster than or slightly slower than France’s other major cities, depending on which data source you use; Munich is Germany’s fastest-growing major urban area.

          • David Keddie

            The reasons for the relative growth rates of cities are complex as you say. However, land-use has a profound impact on both city growth and the cost of living. I’ll reference an article by Paul Krugman from 2005 pointing out that the housing bubble was made possible by the ‘zoned zone’ where the building of new housing is more difficult, and so housing prices and cost of living experience price spikes and bubbles.

            http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/08/opinion/08krugman.html?_r=1

            And a follow up by Krugman this past year on how Phoenix and Las Vegas also suffered from restrictions on the low-cost creation of new housing in response to demand:

            http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/01/06/desert-bubbles/

            As to Manhattan specifically, despite being an island surrounded by developed suburbs there is no reason for the cost of housing to be any greater than the marginal cost of adding another floor to a high-rise. The cost of living in Manhattan has been greatly inflated by rent control and land-use restrictions. Rent control is the favorite target of economists of both the left and right, but I’ll link to this analysis by Ed Glaeser and Joseph Gyouko:

            http://www.manhattan-institute.org/html/cr_39.htm

            Don’t get me wrong, it’s by no means the transportation system that makes a city more expensive inherently. There’s every reason why the typical American suburb could be more compact and walkable without driving up costs. I’m all in favor of the elimination of Euclidian zoning with it’s separation of uses and restrictions on density. However, the converse implementation of zoning restrictions on the development of greenfields, while perhaps desirable from the perspective of encouraging or compelling densification, does have the impact of driving up housing prices and the cost of living, not to mention enabling housing bubbles. Certain cities such as New York, London, Paris and Zurich are home to high valued added industries and have vibrant urban landscapes that attract wealthy residents and workers despite costs, or with salaries that pay for those costs, but most industries and residents are more sensitive to the cost of living.

            My concern is that we employ persuasion to advocate for easy changes to zoning and design that would allow a more walkable and transit-oriented urban fabric, rather than impose regulatory burdens that drive up the cost of living in the hopes of forcing people out of their cars and single-family homes.

          • Krugman is not an urban economist. He gets a lot of credit for calling the bubble, and for calling how the recent stimulus unfolded, but he was just looking for excuses to bang on Bush. Glaeser, who actually is an urban economist, has explained how growth itself can cause bubbles, which is what happened in Phoenix and Las Vegas. In the US the bubble’s ground zero was the desert, not New York or Boston; in Europe it was Spain, not growth-restricting Switzerland.

            Glaeser’s argument about Manhattan rents is true. The issue, which he mentions in his paper, is that it’s very hard to get a building permit in New York. It’s not just zoning – Manhattan allows you to build much more intensely than any other part of the US, and for the most part waives all parking minimums.

            The policy Calgary has used to encourage transit is not the same as what is done in Portland. There’s no urban growth boundary around Calgary; but the outward transportation development consists of LRT and arterial roads and not freeways, there aren’t downtown parking minimums, and the city prefers to develop downtown lots instead of keeping them for parking.

        • Wad

          David Keddie wrote:
          I’m not sure how you would enact parking restrictions in a downtown like Indy’s without just encouraging employers to locate in the suburbs.

          The question is not whether it is bound to happen. Any form of change in policy will do that.

          You would first need to take some measurements to gauge what effects the policy will have.

          The status quo has obviously failed to stop employers from operating in the suburbs. The question is whether altering the urban form will make things worse in Downtown.

          Some of the things you can measure are baseline values of Downtown Indy land use. What is the average square-foot price of land now? What is the vacancy rate of commercial space? What is the average amount of time a vacant space stays on the market?

          There’s still more work to do, because these numbers have to be compared with a time value or space value. A time value compares those metrics with a similar time-frame in the past. This is needed if the goal is economic development or to determine whether the area is in distress.

          A space value would be to compare downtown Indy with other major concentrated employment sectors in the metropolitan area using the same measurements. This will show whether if is a cost-push or value-pull factor in land prices and vacancy rates.

          Downtown Indy can enact parking restrictions if it has the economic leverage. If land prices are high and vacancy rates are low or short in duration, it would succeed.

          You might think the best case would be the opposite, when land prices are low or vacancy is high and long. That’s likely not the case. This means the area is less desirable and marginal to begin with, and such a regulation only makes it less desirable.

  • David Keddie

    Just as a point of interest, there is a monorail line that runs from IU hospital to Methodist hospital to the northwest of downtown, with a stop at the northern end of the canal. I visited a friend’s architecture firm on Mass Ave just northeast of downtown. They’d rehabbed two 19th century buildings into an innovative office space. There’s a small amount of gentrification just east of that in Lockerbie square. However, they essentially feel like isolated colonists for the new urbanism in the midst of a sea of asphalt. The old buildings that they rehabilitated seem to be some of the only buildings left anywhere in Indy from before 1950. Whatever made up the old compact urban area dependent on streetcars and interurbans seem to have been bulldozed.

    The prime area that the city and state have targeted for urban revival by building cultural facilities is between the recently developed canal that runs from the river and turns north behind the state capital and N. Meridian street which runs along the war memorial parks that end in the newly expanded beautiful city library. The canal is lined with museums, sports facilities and the NCAA headquarters and hall of fame. There’s been a tiny amount of housing development but the place is even more desolate than a strip mall. Indy is in need of a few more intrepid urbanists willing to get a critical mass going for a true neighborhood.

    The city hasn’t helped matters by making the convention center, downtown hotels and circle center mall all connected via overpasses. It means that the main draw for visitors in the downtown is specifically designed to free everyone from ever having to set foot on a sidewalk. In the frost belt I suppose there’s some incentive to that, but it takes it’s toll on city life.

    The relatively higher density areas through which the theoretical light rail would pass are also some of the high crime areas, presenting an obstacle either to approval or possible development. You can also see from some of the response to this post that any plan subsidized generally by the region that focuses on serving the northside suburbs, which are both the richest area and the center of the explosive growth of Indy, would be voted down in a heartbeat. If Fishers and Noblesville want a commuter rail line to get them to Colts games or the odd symphony concert then they’ll need to pay for it themselves.

    • The monorail you’re talking about isn’t really public transit. There was an article on The Urbanophile about it a while ago, showing how you can’t even access it from the street, only from inside the buildings it serves – i.e. it pretends to be public transit, but isn’t.

  • David Keddie, you paint an awfully pessimistic view of Indy. You should come back out here and visit. We have much more than the bad things that you stated. Lots of good things happening here.

    Unfortunately, it looks like we have a lot of trouble in even getting this thing on a ballot next November.

    http://www.indystar.com/article/20101110/NEWS18/11100332/Reluctant-lawmakers-may-hold-back-metro-Indianapolis-transit-plan

    • David Keddie

      I mean no disrespect to Indy which is a wonderful city, and don’t doubt that my impression could be missing out as I’m really just a visitor to the city. My density and walkability standards (snobbery?) is the result of growing up in one college town and living in another with easy access to New York and Philly, which is perhaps an unfair standard to apply elsewhere.

      Which neighborhoods should I visit the next time I’m in town? Where do you find good things happening in the realm of living, walkable urban living?

      • Broad Ripple springs to mind first. It has a great village feel and is very walkable. Plenty of entertainment options.

        Fountain Square is another good node SE of downtown that is very arts oriented. Mass Ave (which is really downtown) has seen some very good redevelopmnet as well with plenty of options to walk and due for a very long stretch of blocks.

  • Sean

    Wow, as someone who spends A LOT of time in Indianapolis I can tell you that it absolutely is not a glorified strip mall. It is no less dense than Columbus, Ohio, or Kansas City, Missouri. There are several corridors in the metro area where rail would work well. There are also several relatively dense commercial and residential clusters throughout the metro area that would be well served being connected by an integrated transit system.

    • David Keddie

      I’m not trying to denigrate Indy, which is a city with vastly more affordable housing and favorable business climate than New York, no doubt the reason that it’s the sole frost belt city with growth rates similar to those of the sun belt.

      Which dense commercial and residential clusters would you point to? Are there clusters outside the downtown that are walkable with density and design friendly to transit? I think of the EPA standard of 30 residences/acre to support bus service with 10 minute headways. My experience of the northside development is that it is quite low-density and not particularly accessible to pedestrians and transit users. My parents live on the southside which is certainly a glorified strip mall though also certainly a wonderful place to live, you just can’t walk anywhere outside the subdivision.

  • Sean

    J. Doe,

    Hancock County has less than 60,000 people- it is not big enough to warrant a rail connection into Indianapolis.

    The counties that need to buy into this plan are Marion, Johnson, and Hamilton. That is where the congestion is and the money would be spent.

  • Sean

    There would be several stops in Marion County on both proposed commuter rail lines. This isn’t a subsidization of the suburbs- these lines had to be included to give Johnson and Hamilton Counties a reason to vote in favor of a tax increase to help fund the numerous BRT lines in Marion County.

    In a relatively low-density city such as Indianapolis, you cannot put the cart before the horse. You have to start with a frequent and reliable bus system before moving on to rail.

  • Chris

    David, there are many transit-ready (pre-sprawl urban and streetcar-suburban) neighborhoods in the pre-Unigov city limits of Indianapolis. The near east side has around 6-10,000 people per square mile with areas of higher concentration.

    Sean rightly points out that there are probably two corridors that would support light rail or streetcar: one east-west, and one north-south.

    CBD job count is often said to be 90-100,000. Indianapolis-Marion County population is about 900,000, so that’s pretty good job density. In addition, there are two major universities (IUPUI and Ivy Tech) with 20,000+ students each at the edge of downtown. Also, there are the aforementioned Clarian hospitals plus the “county general” (Wishard) clustered near the colleges.

    Re the Speedway: there are far more convention visitors to Indianapolis annually than race visitors, so it makes a lot more sense to connect the convention center/hotel district downtown to the airport.

    Sean, “stops in Marion County” on the commuter rail line are meaningless because there’s nothing along the line except a mall and the state fairgrounds. The concentration of residents, jobs, and everyday trips is further west and south of the proposed line.

    Whoever said the suburban rail serves only as a commuter tool is exactly right. And it is one that will have only a negligible impact on congestion (its primary selling point): 150,000+ cars per day use the leg of I-70 that connects to the east and northeast sides. Currently, an inexpensive motorcoach service has a few hundred riders per day. For them, we’re going to build a train line and claim to relieve congestion? When we have thousands of people already riding buslines in the north-south and east-west corridors (where streetcars originally ran)?

    Further note: Meridian Street is only 70 feet wide south of 38th Street. It could not support dedicated lanes for buses and still carry anything close to its current 30,000 cars per day. The Capitol/Illinois one-way pair are both much wider, and just a few hundred feet west. They would actually serve the downtown office concentration, the Statehouse, and Methodist Hospital much better than anything running on Meridian…which loops through Monument Circle right in the middle of downtown.

    • So does that imply that the busway should be a dedicated bus lane each on Capital and Illinois, also collecting the routes that are presently slated for Meridian?

      Is the northbound to the east or to the west of the southbound?

      And could they be opposing bus lanes, to prevent motor traffic incursions?

      • Chris

        Bruce, exactly.

        The northbound (Illinois) is to the east of the southbound (Capitol). It is (maybe) 600 feet from Meridian to the “inbound” side of Capitol, scarcely a 2-minute walk.

        Oppposing bus lanes would take away the non-rush-hour curb parking lane and require engineering around some busy left-turn boxes (at I-65, 16th, 29th/30th, and 38th).

        Indianapolis developed one-way pairs in the 60’s, which prevented construction of more urban expressway radials and crosstowns. There is only a 3/4 inner loop, connected to four radial legs. There are two E-W one-way pairs, and two and a half N-S. The “half” used to be an opposite-direction bus-only lane, but in the 1990s much of its length was returned to two-way traffic for all.

  • Chris

    More elaboration: Meridian’s whole ROW south of 38th is only 70 feet wide. That includes two 6-foot sidewalks and two six-inch curbs right against pavement. Pavement is 57-58 feet; there is a parking lane where there isn’t a left-turn box.

    There is really no possibility to widen, because the built edge of low-to-midrise buidlings is actually pretty close to the ROW in the older sections, on the order of 8-15 feet back of ROW edge. This includes a number of National Register properties plus the Cathedral that is the seat of the Indianapolis Catholic archbishop.

    The street handles 30,000 cars per day, along with 6-9 buses per hour each way. I realize that isn’t high for a large city, but it’s just about as high of a “traffic density” (traffic count/lane miles) as there is in Indy.

    BRT, LRT, or streetcar would work far better on a one-way pair with already-synched signals, given that the cars aren’t going away anytime soon.

  • Chris

    Oops. It’s Meridian’s ROW south of 25th, not 38th, that has the width I described.

  • JOHN ENGLAND

    The “people mover Methodist-IUPUI Hospitals” is not a monorail, but resembles it, in a public – private partnership (if you consider NGO’S like state u.’s to be the private part). Something I have tried to promote w/little interest is a quick, cheap, shovel ready expansion of that system to IVY Tech N. Meridian campus (3 miles) and then perhaps to the derelict Winona Hosp. at 34th -Meridian area along the proposed Life Science Corridor. An optional later add on would be IUPUI to downtown skyways. Use the existing car(s), maintenance, parts, security, dispatch, etc. Overstreet running means no condemnation, prefab pillars mean quick work, etc. I guess it is too cheap for “real” transit people to consider.

    • Stop flattering yourself. The problem with this line is not that it’s too cheap, but that it doesn’t have public street access. It’s more like a horizontal elevator than like a transportation system.

  • JOHN ENGLAND

    Skyways downtown don’t have direct street access either without modest design changes. And many of the users for the “monorail” are already connected to IUPUI, Methodist, IVY TECH, the proposed Health Science Corridor, etc. Stops for elevated systems or public access elsewhere are cheap – point is a useful basic system to start up a better program than an extremely underfunded bus system. Dreams of hordes of commuters coming from Hamilton county just doesn’t do it, especially as “downtown” is also called Carmel.

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