Anyone see the latest IBJ has hit the stands? I will refrain from analysis of any kind at this point and simply point out a couple links for catching up on the first volley in the Indianapolis Streetcar debate.
IBJ Story: http://www.ibj.com/backers-seek-support-for-2mile-streetcar-line-downtown/PARAMS/article/29171 (requires subscription)
Downtown Indianapolis Streetcar Corp: http://indianapolisstreetcar.org/home.html
Read up. I am sure that we will see more information on this before too long.
The past few weeks have been exciting regarding the completion of a short portion of the Cultural Trail along Washington Street in downtown Indianapolis. The reason for the excitement, was the expedited method with which construction was completed at the apparent request of the Conrad hotel. Many local talking heads have discussed the issue here as well as the Skyscraper City Indianapolis Development forum. Some local property managers and owners whom have been affected have even weighed in on the issue which highlights just how touchy people have become about this portion of trail. Not only that, the fashion in which portions of the SE leg into Fountain Square have been delayed have reached the local mass media at WTHR, WISH TV8 & IBJ all last week.
At it’s core, the argument seems to be a large group of people who see the trail as an urban amenity that should be given full right of way to operate how a trail of this nature should; that being pedestrians and cyclists getting full priority on the trail. On the other hand, it appears that the Conrad has brought a big stick to this fight and wants to retain valet parking rights in front of it’s hotel on Washington Street, and on the trail itself. Indeed, last week as the trail was completed directly adjacent to their front door, they began taking full advantage of the opportunity to park on it. You can see in the two pictures that I have posted in this column indicating the valet’s apparent lack of regard for the existing sidewalk itself as well as the vehicles parked in what would be a blocking manner, if the trail were fully open for business.
I have contacted the DPW on this matter, and according to Director of Communications Molly Deuberry,
”Here is the city’s statement/position on the Cultural Trail and the Conrad. The Trail is not open yet and we are working with the Conrad to finalize details on what the operation of the Trail will look like…. cars are permitted in the pavers right now and after a final plan is agreed on, that will dictate how operations proceed after the trail is open.”
It seems all the huffing and puffing going on right now between folks for full cycle and pedestrian rights and the apparent actions being taken by the Conrad are still up for debate. It should be interesting to see how this resolves itself once the Central Corridor is completed. For now, we continue to watch and wait.
An interesting debate has been raging over on the Skyscraper City Indianapolis Development forum for about 4 weeks now. The debate has centered upon the design of the Cultural Trail’s Central Corridor as it passes in front of the Conrad hotel. For the uninformed, the Conrad has been using the sidewalk along Washington Street and in front of it’s hotel for years now as a staging spot for valet parking. It’s common to see a high end automobile sitting on the sidewalk at any point in time.
With the arrival of the Cultural Trail came the notion that perhaps the Conrad would be moving their valet elsewhere. Indeed as trail construction moves forward, their valet has been moved around the corner and onto Illinois Ave. However, it is marked off with red traffic cones indicating to me at least, a temporary respite from the old location.
What does this mean for the future of valet parking? Will the Conrad be permitted to park on the Cultural Trail and in the process setup a potential conflict area with pedestrians and cyclists who wish to use the trail? Will the valet be moved long term onto Illinois? Will the design of the trail be modified to allow both to coexist within the limited amount of street space that exists here? Rumor has it that the Conrad wants to retain the space along Washington Street for valet parking. This notion seems baffling in the context of the trail since it is a “world class” bike & pedestrian urban trail. Why would a hotel, a purveyor of quality temporary dwelling for people, be so bent on maintaining a presence on the sidewalk for automobiles when a potential economic delivery machine is being built, quite literally, at it’s front door?
In the photograph above, you can see what the final design for this space is going to be. According to the information that I was given, the lane closest to the curb will be used for valet drop off and staging leaving the trail itself devoid of potential contact between a cyclist and an upscale automobile’s fender. I have read conflicting information elsewhere stating that there will be perpendicular parking for the Conrad.
Whatever the final decision is on this project, one fatal conclusion can be drawn. Why did the Cultural Trail (or someone else in the ultimate decision making position) pander to the whims of the Conrad, a high end and obviously financially well off business, while much smaller local businesses located along the East End of Mass Ave and Fountain Square have to endure months of seemingly no progress in construction at their front doors? I sought comment from Tom Battista who owns property both along the east end of Mass Ave as well as the Fountain Square leg of the Trail, “We midwest car dependent people are taking away lanes from cars and giving them back to pedestrians. The way Portland moved interstate 5 across the river in the 70′s and gave the riverfront back to the people. It is a pain to deal with closed streets and limited access to our tenants but the long range is what we should focus on. It will be worth it.”
One interesting footnote. Is the Conrad paying for anything here? Are they “renting” the space on the trail for parking? Another member of the blog pointed out that at current parking rates, and given approximately 7 spaces worth of parking space at $1.50 an hour, it could be assumed the parking revenue for these spaces would generate $45k a year. Is the Conrad paying this? Or is the Conrad’s valet parking being subsidized by taxpayers?
When Indyconnect unveiled its first proposal for a long range transit plan for the Indianapolis region (February 2010), many people were happy about what had been included in the plan.Transit backers were thrilled that light rail transit was planned along Washington Street from the airport to the east side. Finally, vocal advocates (myself included) had something to look forward in terms of getting real urban rail here in Indianapolis. This plan was rolled out to the public and while many in Indy wanted to see more light rail in the form of Broad Ripple to Downtown, or some sort of route that mixed with Mass Ave and Fountain Square, it represented a step in the right direction; a significant step towards lowering overheads on current buses, increasing bus coverage and speeding it up along key corridors. The addition of 2 commuter rail lines was also included. It also unhappily painted a lot of new expanded roads on the map. This plan was shopped to the public for 9 months after which significant citizen input was collected.
Then, the second round of Indyconnect was planned and public meetings held. These started in November 2010. By then, a better fiscal picture had come into focus. The Indyconnect planners studied the potential revenue inputs, weighed them against a number of possible tax increase scenarios and finally, offered a recommendation based upon those fiscal constraints combined with public input and advanced planner knowledge of potential transit services. The map that was released was vastly changed from the prior version. Portions of bus routes classified as “Express” in the February report had been converted to a form of “Bus Rapid Transit” along portions of their corridor; while still retaining some express routes on other corridors. BRT’s inclusion was a large change and provided some initial excitement that was later tempered by the news that this would not be dedicated guide-way BRT. Furthermore, and by far the biggest omission which stood out like a sore thumb to residents of Indianapolis was the elimination of light rail along Washington Street from the airport to the east side in the first 25 years of the plan. The plan introduces BRT along Washington Street in an early phase and then converts to LRT beyond the 25 year time horizon of the plan. Indeed, light rail had been removed from the 25 year plan altogether in what organizers chalked up as simply not enough money. To add insult to injury, the 2 proposed commuter lines had been significantly lengthened from the plan’s first version.
How was this allowed to happen? How could months of input and a loud voice (at least from urbanist’s perspectives) about adding MORE light rail for Indianapolis turn into no light rail at all? The answer lies within the numbers that the “business community (or private sector)” used to determine what the fiscal realities for this plan could be. Initially, a sales tax had been discussed (click link to open task force report). The prior plan would have taken somewhere between $10-$15 a month per household for those counties who opted into the plan based on voter referendum. State legislators have been cool on this plan altogether unfortunately, but have also bristled at the idea of a sales tax to cover expenses for the plan. Planners have given more attention to income tax as a primary alternative, without eliminating tax increment finance (TIF) districts and public private partnerships (PPP) as contributing sources of revenue and expedited implementation.
Furthermore, a recent event held by IndyHUB called, “Indy Talks, Leaders Listen” exposed a rough ballpark figure. Ron Gifford, the new leader of the Central Indiana Transit Task Force, asked attendees of the Mass Transit breakout what they would like to see. Light rail from downtown to Carmel? Light rail from the airport to the east side? Bus rapid transit? Commuter rail? Obviously, most in the room raised their hand as willing to pay for this. The other shoe dropped when Mr. Gifford stated that all of that included into a 25 year plan, could require a 0.7% annual income tax. (or $350 annual in taxes on $50,000 salary).
The current Indyconnect long range plan, if given the chance to be adopted, could be funded using a 0.3% income tax increase; and thus the reason why light rail was cut from the initial plan.
MPO Transit Vision Document
Another small tidbit of knowledge that is worth knowing is that while the final adopted map (2nd map in post) is included in the MPO’s Long Range Transit Vision Document, it was not always so. Being the sleuth that I am, I had checked in on this document early on and a different version of the “transit vision” map was in it. Included on the map (3rd map in post) in that version was more BRT for downtown, more potential light rail (Broad Ripple to University of Indy via DT) as well as a longer envisioned Washington Street route and additional future bus routes. I was told that the reason this was removed from the current vision document was its non-approval by policy makers. However, it DOES demonstrate that the heads of Indyconnect heard what we were saying and at least drew the lines on the map. Indeed, if you read the entire document, it spells out what the future could look in Indianapolis. The proposed BRT lines being switched to light rail or streetcar and additional commuter rail lines being built.
So where do we go from here? Many people are obviously unhappy that the plan was stripped down notwithstanding the fact that we have not been given an opportunity to vote on it. First off, we as citizens need to urge our lawmakers at the state level to get on board with allowing a tax referendum to occur for this plan. There are currently grassroots efforts underway among local transit advocates to adopt a resolution of support to present to lawmakers in the 2011 legislative session. Urban Indy was the first organization to adopt the resolution (click to open .pdf) and the effort is currently building steam with many noteable organizations signing on to support a referendum to voters in 2012. Getting a referendum is the largest hurdle of them all at this point in time. Second, how do we lobby for more funding to make the longer view parts of the MPO vision document happen sooner? How do we get the Indyconnect planners to bump that 0.3% figure up to 0.5% or more so that practical light rail or streetcars for Indy are a potential reality in our lifetime?
I ask you, our readers, is an income tax who’s monthly amount is equal to what a half a tank of gasoline costs, worth the potential transportation impact?
For my part, I am all in.
On March 31st, I authored the first post on the Georgia Street progress. This is the newest update and the photos were taken on April 19th. We can see that backfilling has occured against the structure in the ground.
Additionally, some new concrete pieces have been placed and there is a large pile of other concrete columns that look like they are going to be placed soon. Once there is more significant progress, I will post another update. For now, check out the photos and the ones from Update 1.
As a citizen of Indianapolis and a major supporter of mass transit, it should come as no surprise that I am always thinking about how we can pull off a successful light rail system. When I think about the key components that would create the best first step, there are many things to consider. First off, we must define the key characteristics of a transit line that will make it succeed:
- Connects activity centers
- Frequent service
- Be on the Way
I have given a lot of lip service to the benefits of a Broad Ripple to downtown light rail service. Many people when asked where a light rail route would make the most sense in Indy also come up with the same answer. Geographically at it’s core, a Broad Ripple to downtown service would connect activity centers and connect dense neighborhoods that are on the way to employment centers. It is the other three criteria which, if mishandled, would make a route of such proportions a pointless endevour. So it is these three points I intend to examine and bolster in this post.
As I pointed out in my initial summary, a route that connected these two activity centers would provide access for thousands of people to thousands of jobs. If a primary goal of light rail is economic development and environmental justice, a route like this would take thousands of vehicle miles off the road daily while successfully transporting people to their jobs. Thousands of jobs lie within walking distance of a potential route that connects these two activity centers.
Rapid service must be offered so that a reasonable commuting time can be acheived. Why spend the money if the resulting service offers a travel time that is woeful in comparison to taking a car? Knowing that this is a priority can also assist in picking an appropriate travel route. Limiting mixed traffic operations and road crossings where possible will insure that the most rapid service can be offered while still providing as many stops as possible to promote development near stations and reach as many dense population centers as possible. Finding that mix can be the most difficult part of designing a route.
If people are expected to abandon their cars and use transit, then a worthwhile level of service must be offered. Why won’t people wait for 30 to 45 minutes on a bus or train? Getting across Indianapolis in a car can be done in a half hour at a majority of times of the day. Thus, offering a service that arrives every 15 minutes or sooner must be designed. Anything more, will be the inflection point at which people opt to grab the keys when they leave for a trip.
The Proposed Route
Shown at the top of this post is a map that I created for my post, “Why Route Matters” from this past February. In that post, I laid out the basics of why a north/south route through midtown would provide a better return on investment compared to the NE Corridor currently under study by the MPO. Given the constraints that I have laid out above, lets look at the available geography afforded to the north and near north side of Indianapolis. Possible candidates for right of way include existing streets, private property and elevated tracks over existing roadways (ie: Clarian People Mover). In selecting the best route versus cost required to purchase right of way, existing streets offer a fantastic right of way. First, there is minimal need to purchase land from private property owners. Second, if the goal is to supplant cars from these areas, what better a way to do it then putting a train in place? Replacing cars with trains offers what may be the most politically difficult “sell” when it comes to planning a light rail system. However, that debate could be an entire post of it’s own. Furthermore, elevated tracks have become a thing of the past in most modern designs. Elevated tracks create barriers much like freeways do and are also unsightly and expensive.
I will divide my proposed route into multiple portions examining key focus areas. The lower portion will examine the Capitol & Illinois corridors. They provide excellent paths to the downtown job & activity centers. The upper portion will include a short jaunt on 38th street that would lead to College Ave. and ultimately Broad Ripple Ave/62nd Street.
Capitol & Illinois are currently one way streets with 3 or more lanes for autos. Does asking for one lane for LRT upon each of these corridors seems like a good compromise between providing reasonable automobile access as it currently exists and creating an option for rail transit? I believe that they do. Furthermore, a route that utilizes these streets provides virtually front door access to the thousands of medical jobs from 16th street on south; an area poised to grow as an employment center thanks to the construction of the Neuroscience Center at 16th street and future investment via the Biocrossroads innitative.
38th Street Portion
The 38th Street portion would utilize a short jaunt across 38th street between Capitol & College Ave. The least invasive way of doing this is by way of a median running transit route.
One station along this corridor would privide access to a number of apartment complexes as well as shopping centers and other locations in the neighborhood. Again, this is an area with a number of lanes in each direction in an existing wide right of way. Is asking for 1 dedicated lane each direction for this short portion asking a lot?
Perhaps the crown jewel of transit for Indianapolis could be summed up as the College Avenue corridor and Broad Ripple Avenue. Contained along these two corridors are the best preserved legacy of the streetcars of yesterday. At many intersections along College Avenue, from downtown to 62nd street, are existing or relics of past dense retail nodes surrounded by dense housing. Broad Ripple Village is the top node of them all boasting a complete strip of shops still standing up to the street itself. Various apartment developments dot the surrounding area providing a dense retail and residential neighborhood. It is this dense form of yesterday that combines with the automobile culture of today that creates the toughest sitution to shoehorn light rail of some sort back into the mix. College Avenue itself is a 4 lane automobile corridor with parking along both sides for much of it’s length. It is also a busy automobile corridor. A rough dimension to describe it’s width is 55′ between existing street curbs. Finding the right balance of dedicated right of way for transit and automobiles is a huge challenge. So how might we approach this opportunity to excel? One approach is to try shoehorning two dedicated lanes in the median as I proposed for 38th street. This could create some difficult situations for island platforms and could also lead to a reduction in automobile right of way making this a politically dicy proposal. It is the opinion of this author that this idea would not be a bad one. However, I live in the reality that weening people off of cars is going to take some compromise.
College Ave Solution
Taking a page from the Bus Rapid Transit dictionary, comes the notion of mixed operation with traffic with demand lanes at major street crossings. The number of potential stop lights from 38th street to Broad Ripple Avenue are 7 if we include the one at Broad Ripple Avenue. Traffic normally flows reasonably well along this path except at traffic signal crossings. Finding a way to manage rapid transit movement at these intersections could be a key opportunity to mixing trains with autos and still have an opportunity to offer a premium rapid transit service. Another option could be to only operate these demand lanes during peak commuting times giving lane priority to light rail. Locals should be used to what switching traffic patterns look like by travelling on Fall Creek Parkway during peak commuting times. There, the middle lane is changed in the mornings and evenings to give an extra lane to the direction of majority commuters; southbound priority in the morning and northbound priority in the evening.
By doing this, existing automobile traffic lanes could be maintained with a minimal obstruction while still being able to offer a premium transit service. In the end, negotiating something for transit where nothing currently exists, cannot be seen as a large request given the potential benefits.
Broad Ripple Ave Solution
The other difficult portion of a northside rail route is Broad Ripple Ave. In the early days of streetcar usage, Broad Ripple Ave. was the home of a street located rail in both directions where automobiles currently travel. If you have ever visited the Village on a warm summer day or a weekend, then you know that automobile congestion is already a difficult issue. How do we solve this? Part of the problem today is the search for free or cheap parking. Now that the parking meter deal is in place, this should help aleviate congestion. A large majority of all traffic congestion is caused by people circling the block (link to Primer on Parking) looking for available parking. With the new meters in place, turnover should increase and people looking for parking should decrease. If the reported parking garage is to be realized, then congestion for the village could be a problem of the past. However, for the purposes of this case study, I will assume that the existing congestion will remain.
In that respect, I offer the center lane which is currently reserved for turning, to be converted to a 2 way dedicated transit lane. This could be used by trains and by buses travelling through the village. It would only be 1 lane through the most dense portion of Broad Ripple Ave from College Ave, to just east of the Monon where some sort of 2 lane dedicated service could be installed that either uses the median or shifts automobile traffic in some fashion. An alternative to the single center transit lane, can be seen as the dashed line in the graphic. A 2nd lane could be added via this route to facilitate a true 2 way transit path through the village neighborhood. While this could hinder rapid transit through the village, it could also offer access to the side streets of the village with the added benefit of a 2nd dedicated transit lane. It should be noted that any transit lane that traverses the Broad Ripple village is likely to be subject to heated debate as business owners and residents are quite proud of the built environment. Anything that might upset that is likely to be a hotly contested debate. Finally, extending service to the Glendale area could provide what I propose be the only park and ride facility for such a transit route. There are ample surface lots on the property of the old Glendale Mall (now turned Target anchored shopping center) that could be used as park and ride for north side residents wishing to commute downtown for their day jobs.
Have I presented an air tight case for a northside light rail route? No. However, I think I have presented a fair assesement of the geography and some possible solutions to one of the tantalizing rail routes of our region. If done correctly, a rail route through the midtown area could capture thousands of daily vehicle trips, provide economic development potential along old streetcar routes, provide access to jobs and activity centers for thousands of residents as well as conventioners/tourists who visit the downtown area as well as potentially relieve congestion. This case study also highlights a route that could set Indianapolis down a path that could stimulate the rehabilitation of multiple neighborhoods along it’s route which are currently bearing the brunt of disinvestment thanks to suburban sprawl which the recent census has indicated is still on a runaway pace in this region. My analysis also suggests a route that is 100% contained within current automobile right of way; a notion which has not been taken up very often in America. Phoenix, AZ has come the closest with nearly the entire portion of its 20 mile light rail line running along existing auto right of way. This case study is not an airtight one, however it is one that I believe truly offers an ENOURMOUS potential to outperform any commuter rail or BRT route currently drawn on a map by Indyconnect.
Special thanks to fellow Urban Indy writer Graeme Sharpe for some concepts applied in this case study
The Cultural Trail is moving full speed ahead in the Fountain Sqaure area. I had a rare opportunity to witness some daytime infrastructure work in the city yesterday and snapped some pictures. If the pace of progress in this area is any indication of how quickly it will be finished, shop owners should not have anywhere near the level of headache that businesses on the East End of Mass Ave had when the trail was being constructed there over the past two years. I will dispense with the words, and leave you with some photos. One final thought, it was sad to see the old streetcar tracks being exposed by this demolition work. It is a shame that there isn’t a project actively moving forward that would restore these to Indianapolis’ streets.
The Georgia Street project in downtown Indianapolis is pushing full steam ahead right now! I figured that since we cover the mundane and complain about the smallest of things that we should also be celebrating projects that stand on their own as great projects. To that end, I intend to try and keep pace with the Georgia Street project as it unfolds over the next several months. With a timeline that slates its completion before the Super Bowl, progress will be swift. With that, here is the first update to the project!
On February 15th, I was able to take some night shots. Above, you will see the vantage point from Georgia and Capitol looking east. You can see that preliminary work had been done at this point including utility relocation and some early pavement tear up.
Yesterday, I was able to stop by on my way to school and take advantage of some fantastic lighting to take the next two photos of progress. As you can see, in the past 5 weeks a lot of progress has been made. Pavement is gone for the most part and has been replaced by a huge hole in the ground. Some concrete forms which I assume are part of the drainage system are in place. At this rate, street level construction should be upon us just as the warm weather sets in for the year. This is all I have today, but check back regularly to keep up.
For quite some time, the intersection of Delaware and Merrill Street in downtown Indianapolis has been subjected to some particularly gnarly looking construction. What has been identified by the Indianapolis DPW as a “sanitatary sewer bypass” currently masks what will soon become the site of a rather transformative streetscape project. The DPW aims to transform Merrill Street from an eyesore of a street, to a walkable pedestrian path that will include artwork, green infrastructure, and LED lighting. The path will meander from the eastern Lilly campus, westward under the CSX viaduct to the other Lilly buildings located in the Illinois Street area.
The DPW expected the project to go to bid in late August to early September 2010, and since then, the sanitary sewer bypass work has been wrapped up; or appears to have been. I wrote about the sewer project here last summer. It also appears that this project is being bid through the State instead of DPW.
I have been unable to track down much more information about the project since last summer and my emails have went unanswered from the DPW, although I think the person responsible has been quite busy.
I recently ran across a project on Kevin Parsons & Associates website that appears to be the project set to take place in this space. I have attached the picture from the project page.
This should be considered a win for an area of downtown that is littered with parking lots or dilapitated looking architecture. Along with the coming North of South project, this will be a nice addition.
EDIT: I have recieved some new information regarding this project from the DPW. I was contacted after this post was made. I am awaiting a newer rendering of the project but have found out that the local match for this project was provided by Lilly. The project should break ground in August or September with a completion date of Spring 2012.
Edit #2: I finally received some new renderings from the DPW regarding tihs project. I have attached a couple below.
When does perception become reality? When a preconceived notion trumps all logic and becomes the first thought associated with a specific topic. Why is it then, that “light rail” seems to be the favored quarter when it comes to alternative transportation modes? Last week, I tackled the first half of why we perceive light rail to be superior to commuter rail when I wrote about, “Why Route Matters for Indianapolis”. In that post, I highlighted that it isn’t neccesarily the mode that gets you there, but where a transit route goes that drives ridership gains.
So…. why light rail?
If we base our decision on the facts alone, we can determine that LRT offers advantages. Service frequency, ease of use and closer station spacing all combine to create a propensity to choose LRT over all other modes when given a choice. Additionally, when compared to a bus, statistics have shown that LRT draws more riders than comparable bus service. Furthermore, one of the advertised benefits of LRT over bus, is that it’s static locating of rails in the ground promote incentive for private developers to build near station areas. This type of development (often called Transit Oriented Development or TOD) typically offers a denser living environment due to it’s lessened need for automobile parking. Private development within urban areas is a KEY economic development opportunity and often one of the main political reasons for choosing “light rail” over all other modes of transit. Another perception and a hard one to battle, is that LRT technology is new. The compact nature of LRT operating within urban environments creates the image of an efficient and “fun” mode of transportation to utilize.
Why NOT bus?
The bus’ main competition is the automobile since they both share the same right of way. Given a choice, statistics show that people would rather drive than use a bus. Case in point. IndyGO recently released their 2010 year in review. In the report, they indicated that 116k people rode the IndyGO Express lines last year. To contrast this, I searched the Indianapolis MPO website for their traffic count maps. I zeroed in on the stretch of I-69 that was measured between 82nd street & 96th street; a comparable geographic region for where the IndyGO Express line services. The count? As of 2002, 107k traffic counts. PER DAY. Similar ratios can also be observed by comparing daily IndyGO city bus numbers with daily traffic counts in the urban core. The bottom line is that people are voting with their choice in mode of transportation. Additionally, I cannot cite one development in the Indianapolis region that was chosen because it was located along a bus line. Of course developers will mention the route’s precense, but it is highly unlikely that a route was a primary factor in locating a property development.
Why or why not commuter rail?
Basically, this boils down to level of service. Commuter rail typically provides a quality of service similar to light rail, but a frequency that makes it difficult to utilize. The example set by other cities can provide a picture of what we might expect from commuter rail service in Indianapolis. Portland’s WES (Westside express Service) runs every 30 minutes during rush hour on weekdays. WES provided an average of 1180 daily rides in December of 2010. Minneapolis’ Northstar, according to the website, only offers 6 inbound trips per weekday, 1 of them in the afternoon, and those in the morning are close to every 30 minutes. There is service on the weekends, but it is greatly reduced. Northstar carried 710,400, an average of 1946 per day in 2010, it’s first year of revenue service. Even in Chicago, METRA, which could be considered a service leader in midwest commuter rail service, offers a sporadic level of frequency on it’s electric line (south). Unless planners consider offering better service for the commuter routes in Indianapolis, 30 minute headways could be reasonably expected.
Regarding Private Development
Perhaps the greatest measuring stick, is when a politician can get up in front of a group of his peers, local or foreign, and tout the benefits of living in their city. Regarding transit investment, the first place that comes to my mind is Portland and their streetcar. According to the latest data that I have seen, the downtown Portland area has benefited from $3.5 billion in economic development in the form of condos, retail, etc within 2 blocks of their streetcar route. The leaders in Portland point to the streetcar as the single biggest motivator for rehabilitating an entire district, now called The Pearl. If I could point out a case that clearly makes the case for frequent rail service as an economic driver, this would be it. The development did not result from a bus, nor was it low frequency commuter rail. It was light rail/streetcar type of service that created a perception that there was an opportunity for private business to invest in the community. Obviously, Portland’s civic leaders grabbed onto this opportunity and the ride continues to this day.
Circling back to Indianapolis, one of the key reasons for Indyconnect’s existence, is that it is will give people in the region another tool to create wealth. This can come in the form of equitable travel to employment, activity centers or property development areas around stations. This is not a bad thing if the creation of that wealth generally benefits everyone using it. So what if some developers make some money…. we get a good transit system to use right? At it’s core, providing these opportunities has the chance to increase the quality of life for people who choose to indulge in said opportunities. It is for this reason, why arguing for “light rail” is a valid topic of debate and also why route matters. One last thought to close on this matter. Fellow Urban Indy writer Graeme Sharpe recently put together the above graph, depicting the amount of subsidized lunches that are provided to some area schools. This is one possible barometer of the economy present in those geographic areas. Put plainly, Noblesville HS is closely aligned with the NE Corridor while the other 3 are located along the Washington St corridor.
If we are trying to create economic development options, are we doing so in the right places? You decide….
If I have leaned a little too much on Portland for some of the conclusions, it is for good reason. The recent census figures pegged their growth at 10% over the last 10 years with a glut of that occuring in the inner core. Furthermore, TriMET provided nearly 100 million boardings in 2010 compared to 8.5 million in Indy. For a city that is comparable in a number of way, it is hard not to use their example to frame our story.