As promised, when significant visual changes occur, I will be here to post some new photographs showing the changes. I stopped by on 4/26/2011 and snapped a few photos in the late afternoon of the latest progress. I do not know what all of this structure functions as, but it looks a bit like railroad ties to me at this point in time. Wishful thinking I suppose.
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.
I met my wife in late 2006. We got to know each other quicky and before long, I had asked her to marry me. I met a woman who likes to travel. A LOT! So when it came to planning our wedding, travel was incorporated. Sure, people travel for their honeymoon, but for their wedding?
Our best laid plan eventually landed us in Italy where we were married in June of 2008 in the Tuscany region just south of Firenze (Florence). At that time, I was not as psychotic about sustainable transportation as I am today, however, I was still smart enough to know that driving in Europe is expensive, difficult and at times, scary. My short experience with driving there, netted me a ticket for driving down one block worth of pedestrian zone in Firenze to the tune of 90 euros. It was also the only time we rented a car while we were there. In hindsight, we probably didn’t need to either.
The rest of our trip was spent riding the Italian version of HSR, TrenItalia. We landed in Rome, took the short skip from the airport into the city and hopped a high speed train for Venice. That afternoon, we arrived in Venice. We spent a weekend there, and then travelled back south to Firenze, again by TrenItalia. We spent a week there seeing the cultural spots and exploring further out from the city center on foot where the locals are more numerous and the tourists aren’t which, by the way, also comes with a proportional drop in the price of goods being sold. As far as urbanism goes, Firenze was a fantastic place to visit. Dense development everywhere, and walkable streets. Of course, it’s a tourist town and the center of a historical arts movement so not to be compared to a place like Indianapolis. But still a pleasure to experience and take lessons from.
The last part of our trip took us to southern Italy and the Amalfi Coast, a beautiful stretch of Mediterranean coastal towns. We spent 4 days there and also travelled the majority of the route there by HSR to Salerno where we hopped a coastal bus to our final destination. We flew back out of Rome after travelling there by intercity rail which was not quite as fast, but cheaper and absolutely PACKED with more regional citizens.
It was a fantastic experience. The train rides were comfortable. We got to see lots of the country side and I got to avoid more traffic tickets by avoiding the pedestrian zones. After watching Obama’s State of the Union address last night, and listening to his rhetoric regarding his HSR vision for America, I thought it only fitting to describe my experience with HSR; one I would call a pleasurable one. If you’d like a more technical overview of the Italian HSR network, click here for the wikipedia page.
A couple of weeks ago, Mayor Greg ballard announced a green infrastructure project which would be located on Ohio Street in downtown. The stretch of sidewalk to be improved (and in this case, improved is the proper term) is between College Ave, and Park Ave. This is the same block that contains the newly, and recently featured here (and here) Nature Conservancy.
The project addresses what for many cities today, is a glaring problem. Stormwater runoff management. This specific project aims to tackle this issue by replacing concrete and pavement, with permeated pavement and a rain garden. This is the first project of it’s kind to be built in the Indianapolis area in regards to permeable pavement. (at least that we know of). Permeable pavement is a type of pavement in which it allows water to pass through while still performing what we all expect pavement to do, which is support cars, pedestrians, skateboards, etc. The other component of the project, is a rain garden. I was able to get my hands on plans from the city of Indianapolis and put them on display for everyone here. Once completed and in operation, this should remove 1.2 million gallons of storm water annually; or 90% of the runoff generated in this area.
While concrete and raingarden construction has been completed, the city plans to add the vegetation in the spring which will consist of a myriad of plant and tree life. Everything from dogwood trees, to hydrangeas to clover to other assorted perennials and ornamental grasses.
Taking a look closer, the site plan reveals two areas where the curb is broken to allow water to flow into the rain garden itself, located in front of the property owned by Buchanan.
This project represents a step in the right direction in our city’s approach to storm water management. While it still doesn’t solve the larger problem of an environmentally equitable, system wide storm water management plan, it represents more symobolism in this block that the rest of the region could learn from.
For a 5 page .pdf of engineering plans, click here.
In the fall of 2009, an infill development on the west side of downtown Indianapolis caused a stir with local urbanists. The DiRimini, or as it was called early on, Sarajo Commons, was set to take an empty lot on N. Capitol Avenue. The project is targetting IUPUI students and potential downtown dwellers. Finally, someone was stepping up to fill in one of the many vacant lots on this side of town. The parcel in particular, was located along 733 N. Capitol Avenue, a former grassly lot that had sat vacant for years.
When the initial plans were submitted to the Metropolitan Development Commission, the project looked like a win. Frontage to the street. Proper scale. Lots of windows and plenty of decoration to flesh out the buildings public faces. And located in the rear, would be parking. By all measures, a successful looking submission for this parcel. The massing is particularly strong for a small structure. 5 stories along Capitol Ave.
Fast forward 7 months to present day and a casual observation of the new development will tell you immediately that something has went wrong. The project we have recieved only vaguely resembles what was submitted to the city last year. A comparison of the recent photographs to the submitted plans shows a lack of windows. 3 stories instead of 4 along St. Clair. A massing at the corner of St Clair and Capitol that wasn’t submitted into plan, and what appears to be a moving of the upper floor into a previously open area on the roof. And while the actual construction shows what appear to be painted on stripes across the faces, the submitted renderings show what appear to be outcroppings which serve to break up an otherwise flat face that we see today on site. The renderings show what appear to be shadows under these stripes which would seem to indicate some sort of protrustion. The lack of windows is likely the largest deviation I can see that has caused a vast change of vision.
How did this happen? How could a plan that started as a promising project get turned into something that is a ghost of what was planned? Others have apparently asked the same thing. Construction has skewed so far off plan, that a work stoppage order was issued on September 9th by the Department of Code Enforcement (RE: Case #VIO10-101658). The description for this case is as follows:
FAILURE TO COMPLY WITH REGIONAL CENTER PETITION 2009-REG-029 CONDITIONS # 1, 5, 7 AND 8 AND FAILURE TO COMPLY WITH IMPROVEMENT LOCATION PERMIT ILP09-01774
Currently, the City of Indianapolis is working with the developer’s attorney to mitigate these issues. Work has since resumed on the interior as well as some drainage infrastructure but exterior work is halted pending reinspection which, according to the city’s website, is on September 28th.
Urban Indy will continue to follow this issue as it hits close to the heart of many area urban advocates.
Updates on 10/6/2010 via the IBJ: What do you think? City seems to be hedging on “NO”
If you are one of the few who have followed my writing, then you know I penned a fairly strong blog on my own site (follow the link to read) a number of months ago when it was announced that IPS was aiming to sieze property adjacent to IPS School #58 on the east side of Indy. It caused an uproar with urban enthusiasts here in the city for good reason. First off, siezing people’s homes so that a parking lot could be constructed is sacreligous for an urbanist. Not to mention all the associated downfalls of this from environmental water issues, to the social implications as well as taking 7 paying properties off the tax roll in the neighborhood.
I sent a fairly terse letter to the IPS school board at that time and recieved a reply from Annie Roof, who was one of the discenting voters when this issue was posed to the board at the time. She thanked me for my input and asked that I attend the public meeting that will be held regarding this issue. Well folks, the time has come and tonight is that meeting. It will be in the Board Room of the John Morton-Finney Center for Educational Services, 120 E. Walnut St. Unfortunately, I will not be attending since my Calculus grade is pretty important and I have a quiz tonight. However, I will be sending another letter to the board that closely resembles what follows after this paragraph.
I wanted to take this space to highlight a few things that IPS could do when it decides to finally send the shovels to IPS #58. Instead of mowing down homes in an act reminiscent of the interstate construction days of the 1950′s these suggestions offer alternatives that are considered socially responsible, urban in nature and altogether a better use of the land available to IPS #58.
First off, if IPS is going to add some facilities to the property where the parking lot currently exists, they should look at 54th & College Ave in our own community. There lies the relatively new Fresh Market. It is a new supermarket that was constructed in a space with many of the same constraints facing school #58; namely how do we find parking for our peoples? What they did was innovative for Indianapolis. The first part of their construction was to build the super structure in a way that would accomodate rooftop parking. In essense a parking garage on top of the building. The footprint of the Fresh market is roughly that of the parking lot adjacent to school #58 and it appears that there are between 40-50 parking spots on the roof of their facility. IPS could look at the same way to accomodate teachers parking on top of a new structure that they wish to build on the existing parking lot.
Next, the loading and unloading of buses. This appear to be done in an alleyway on the east side of the school. A simple way to make loading and unloading safer, would be to move this to the west side of the school, along Linwood and directly onto the sidewalk in front of the school doors. The current parking setup along Linwood, places cars along the west side so that southbound drivers can park. Changes could be made that moved the allowable parking along Linwood to be on the eastside of the street, so that northbound drivers could use parking along the curb. Mark off the area directly in front of the school as bus only parking and call it good. Since buses unload on their right side anyway, students would depart the bus directly onto the school’s property.
These two suggestions both represent one tried and true method of solving parking that is currently at work within our community, and another that represents decades worth of practice in unloading children at schools. Both accomodate what IPS wishes to accomplish with #58 and avoids the social, environmental and tax zapping elements with the currently proposed process of dealing with the current facilities of IPS #58.
This past Monday, I had the pleasure of attending Wine & Canvas night in Carmel with my wife. Their Main Street (downtown) seems to be rapidly urbanizing. For a burb located 15 miles from the regional CBD, they are doing well. This photo is of a statue on the sidewalk on West Main Street. If you are an advocate of things urban, it really is worth your time to go walk through the Main Street area. There was another development coming together that doesn't quite ruin the scale and doesn't look like your typical EIFS clad mess of garbage.
This past Sunday, my wife and I had the last minute pleasure of attending the first pre-season Colts game. It was a hot August Indianapolis weekend. We witnessed a great performance by the first team, and then a mediocre performance by the Colts “B” team.
When we decided to make our way out of Lucas Oil Stadium, we left by way of the north gate which lies on South Street and gives you a grand view of downtown Indianapolis’ skyline.
If we back up for a second and take a look at what is going on in this area of downtown, we should go back a few years when planners decided to build a new stadium. This also included the renovation and expansion of the Convention Center; a place that could be considered one of Indianapolis financial main arteries. The renovation included moving into some of the space made clear by the demolition of the RCA dome.
If you happen to witness the current on going construction from Maryland, Capital or Georgia Street, the design represents a modern looking and attractive structure. One could see it from these sides and proclaim that even while it is a low profile structure for a CBD, it will get the job done in a somewhat attractive manner.
Then you look at what is going on from South Street, and by extension, the North Gate of Lucas Oil Stadium and it looks like Ford or General Motors moved in and constructed a parts manufacturing plant. There is nothing but an entire block of two stories of aluminum siding. My wife made this comment, and I couldn’t agree more.
Digging into this, I found that Ratio Architects covered the design as well as a couple of other local architecture firms Blackburn Architects and Domain Architects. I attempted to research on each of the architect’s websites what they may have been involved with, but Blackburn’s website cited that they were involved in some of the interior design and Domain’s website was so difficult to navigate, I closed the browser after 5 frustrating minutes.
How could this have happened? In looking at how comparatively good the rest of the expansion is looking, how was one of the most visible facades of the convention center allowed to turn out this way? Was this part assigned to the design “B” team like the remaining 3 quarters of the football game I witnessed this weekend? I have spent about an hour’s worth of time trying to dig into the available information on the web to see if there is anything covering the exterior, but there does not seem to be that level of detail readily available.
I hope that eventually I am proven wrong and that something will be here to replace what looks like the side of an automobile parts manufacturing plant. Is this the face that we want to show to the people who will be attending the Super Bowl here in 2012? Granted, there is plenty of good looking skyline, but a two block long corrugated aluminum wall is going to detract from that.
Some other ideas for sprucing this up could involve some sort of Indianapolis themed mural. Maybe some sort of foliage along the CSX viaduct that travels adjacent and in the foreground would help to distract from the plain appearance. At this point, I am spitballing. As always, comment is welcome and if someone in the know has something to add to this, please comment on it so that the rest of us will know.
Editor’s Note: This post is referenced in an IBJ Property Lines Blog post located here