Last week, CIRTA went public with it’s message focused on building a coalition of transit supporters. The effort includes a spot on their website to sign your name to a petition as well as a means of organizations crafting a resolution of support for dedicated transit funding in the upcoming 2012 Legislative Session. As I posted about a couple weeks back, Urban Indy passed the resolution on April 12th, far ahead of the public roll-out of the current effort.
What does this all mean? It means that we are all banding together with a common message to our state legislators: Give us the means to pass a dedicated and substantial funding source for mass transit. If a law is passed, it could mean a referendum to vote on the proposed Indyconnect plan rolled out late last year, in the 2012 general election. It would also likely lead to the creation of a body to plan, build & operate such a system although the details of such a body are still fuzzy.
For now, building a large group or supporters who are all on the same page will be pivotal in urging our state legislators to move ahead a bill that would allow us to vote on a transit funding source. Do your part, and please, sign the petition.
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.
As I have posted about before, the Indianapolis MPO is in charge of transportation planning in our region. Their governing region extends into other counties around the region. A federally mandated charge of theirs, is to keep a long range plan on hand that fiscally constrains our region’s transportation expansion over a 20 to 25 year period. Everything from highway and street planning to transit planning is included. It is updated every few years formally, and informally here and there. Until recently, there was no transit, at least in large part, included in the plan. That all changed when Indyconnect broke on the scene. Today, the MPO released 3 volumes of draft documents on their website pertaining to the 2035 long range plan. As a transit activist, the most interesting document, was the 3rd Volume named, Transit Vision Plan. You can open the document by clicking here. Its 40 pages long.
Contained between the covers of this document, are some interesting pieces of information. The document lays out a vision of transit expansion that encompasses a realistic set of projects that could be included within the current 25 year long range plan. The first few chapters capture this in detailed form painting a picture of bus, light rail and streetcar expansion. There is a rating system attached that assigns a value to each potential project and labels it by name. The most surprising appearance, is a system of circulator type routes in the downtown area that are labeled as bus routes that could potentially be switched over to light rail or streetcar technology after the current 25 year plan’s recommendations are implemented. That is where reality sets in, and the most favorable projects are presented; which closely matches the plan announced in November 2010 by Indyconnect, and in which Urban Indy offered some critical analysis of.
However, the document does provide some hope to local transit advocates that our planning body received the message loud and clear when it came to urban transit improvements. There are renderings included which show streetcar service along Mass Ave in downtown Indianapolis. The highest ranking project on the list of aforementioned projects, is a circulator from lower downtown to IUPUI which would likely be implemented as a bus route and could someday be switched to a streetcar mode of transportation.
There is also significant language included which talks about remediation of Union Station downtown prior to the opening of the first commuter line. The consultants estimated $100 million would be required to fully service Union Station. As I have pointed out REPEATEDLY, there is a need to make this a modern facility that encourages people to want to visit. It makes me smile to know some thought was given to this. There is also space devoted to the remediation of the Belt Railway after the opening of the second commuter rail line; a topic that was touched upon here at Urban Indy recently as well.
Also of note is the downtown transit center that has been much talked about and studied since 2006. In this vision, the planners see a transit center located where the post office facility is located on South Street directly across from Union Station. It would handle 20 buses and facilitate transfer between routes and modes of transportation. There is also a vision of transit spines running north & south on both sides of downtown. One corridor would encompass Capitol & Illinois while the other would use Pennsylvania and Delaware as it’s spine. From each, a branching network of buses would serve the downtown area.
One of the most significant and yet not as visible pieces of the puzzle is touched upon quite often as well, and that is transit supportive land use zoning. Each project would have a check mark of items before coming online of which supportive land use patterns is a part of. This is something we have talked much about at Urban Indy, and which is at the crux of all dense land development.
The picture painted in the plan is quite rosy once totally implemented. While we sit and wait on the state legislature to decide if we should be “allowed” to vote on a tax increase, all of these ideas shall sit and wait. Without any sort of funding, they remain merely a vision and cannot be included in the official adopted long range plan. Without funding, these transit improvements can only be talked about.
I will end this with one last thought. If you study the map I have included, you will notice that N/S light rail has been added to the map travelling through Broad Ripple, south along the Illinois/Capitol corridor and to Indianapolis University. This is a logical path for transit in the region which should arguably be included in the near term plan, but is also an expensive project. The last piece to take with us, is that these plans are always under revision, and should public and political sentiment change, or other funding sources be found or created, more capital intensive projects such as light rail could take shape within the current adopted plan. To review the Transit Vision Plan draft version and read the details even more in depth than I have provided, click here.
Last week, I profiled 22nd Street and how the surrounding neighborhood is poised to benefit from the controversial NE Corridor line in Indianapolis planned in the Indyconnect proposal. This week, I will focus on the neighborhood roughly centered at 71st Street & Binford Blvd; the second area in my series of nodes along the line that fall within the Marion County. The rail line would be the first rail transit of any kind in the Indianapolis area since the interurbans were dismantled. The neighborhoods I am focusing on, have already begun some sort of station area planning as part of a neighborhood revitalization plan, or make good sense to be considered for such.
71st & Binford Blvd
This neighborhood is located on the NE side of Indianapolis just inside the 465 beltway, and centered roughly at the intersection of 71st street, Binford Blvd, and Graham Road. Currently as it exists, the area is awash in car oriented development. A large parking lot fronts a Kroger grocery store. 3 gasoline filling stations/convenience stores dot the area and a number of drive through restaraunts and banks exist. The rail line traverses adjacent and to the west of the area and on the other side is traditional appearing suburban sprawl. Along the east side of the tracks, a number of light industrial facilities exist and appear to be for the most part, occupied. Bordering the east side of the area, is Binford Blvd which is a 4 lane throughway, with a grass median. On the east side of Binford Blvd, are more car oriented drive thru businesses as well as a large strip mall which is also for the most part, occupied. Merely looking at an aerial of the neighborhood, you can see how much pavement there is, and how much land is not being used to it’s full potential.
The good news, is that the neighborhood has realized this. In April of 2010, in co-operation with the Indianapolis MPO, the neighborhood group named Binford Redevelopment & Growth (BRAG), published a master plan for addressing the current form of the neighborhood. Within the document, which is 176 pages long (click here to open in a new window) they outline a long term plan of remediation buoyed by the NE Corridor rail line. The plan’s primary recomendations center on the concepts of land use, transit area design, streetscape design, pedestrian and bicycle connectivity & park and open space allowances. Within the plan, a light framework is proposed upon which to go after these plans, including how to get funding, when to impliment, and what can be done in the meantime while money isn’t available.
One thing that the plan recommends is using a catalyst of some sort to leverage momentum into positive development. The announcement and progress in constructing the NE corridor rail line would go a long way towards giving these plans a bump forward.
Looking back at the plan, the centerpiece would be a transit stop located just south of 71st street. The entire plan revolves around a 1/4 mile distance as the crow flies from the station. Some locations lie just outside this, but not far. All recommended planning would take place directly north, south & east of the station with the suburban form to the west retaining it’s current form. In indutry terms, this would be known as a “transit adjacent development” (TAD). Similar to a Transit Oriented Development (TOD) but due to it’s adjacent geographic location, it cannot influence AS MUCH as a TOD would. The suburban form hinders efforts there. Developers will need to work hard to make the most of the station’s location since it doesn’t travel directly through the center of the neighborhood.
Still though, the plan offers up recommendations that border on a vision that most urbanists can be proud of. Dense form, pedestrians as the dominant form, transit as a supportive land use and connectivity for all those wishing to visit the area. They do not lend a blind eye to the automobile acknowledging that this area was built with the car in mind, and that this shouldn’t be changed for the most part, as Binford Blvd will reamain a through-fare for the foreseeable future.
The last part of the puzzle recommends a pedestrian bridge over Binford Blvd located near 71st street. The current streetscape makes it a very risky task to cross Binford Blvd, and the neighborhood recommendation would be a structure that creates a gateway for motorists, and provides a safe crossing for pedestrians that creates a sense of place, and of safety in using it.
This document represents a fairly robust station area plan that developers of the rail line can use when it comes to positioning a station in this area. Early indications point to this as a likely place for a stop along the commuter rail’s route from Noblesvile to Union Station. A lot of investment will be needed if this plan is ever to come to full recommendation, but it represents a positive vision for the long term success of the neighborhood. A lot of parking appears to have been retained, but the key point to make in regards to that, is that it appears as if the planners looked at a shared system of parking where adjacent businesses share parking, a key component in cutting development costs, and traffic congestion. If the rail line were to be shelved for some reason, there still seems to be enough energy in this area to create peedestrian oriented development. A sidewalk has already been constructed at 62nd street almost all the way to Binford Blvd, and on the neighborhood’s website, a current innitiative of theirs is to build a robust system of sidewalks. ALL urbanists can be proud of at least that. The rail line however, could be the key piece of the puzzle in attracting a robust growth in pedestrian activity and the creation of a village atmosphere that people all over Indianapolis will want to visit.
This morning I woke up, and there was a wonderful link sitting in my email inbox. It was a link to the Overhead Wire, and an outside analysis by them of the Indyconnect plan. The Overhead Wire specifically took on the NE Corridor and compared it to the Capital Metrorail in Austin, TX. In their post, they compared how the Austin line skirts the downtown area. Since Austin’s commuter line opening earlier this year, it has been the target of repeated criticism about how poor a design it is and that it is a major display of political letdown. Sound familiar? If you live in Indianapolis, all you have to do is surf over to the Indyconnect webpage, and see where the NE Corridor line is routed; because it’s headed down the same road to where Austin already is. They even created some decent graphics comparing the two lines.
Indianapolis – Left Yellow is the University, Middle Yellow is Downtown, State Capital and the red line is the commuter rail.
Austin – Top Yellow is University of Texas, Bottom Yellow is State Capital and Downtown
They wrapped up by suggesting a route where rail should really go.
Oddly enough, it looks like a graphic that I posted last week in a freight study released in September. You can see plainly enough that the same yellow line was drawn on the map.
But as is the case, there simply isn’t enough money to make this a reality right now. Essentially, we get a short term political win, and long term struggle for those of us pushing for the implimentation of rail in Indianapolis proper. I posted about this same topic in March back at my own blog comparing what could happen. I want to send a thanks to the folks at The Overhead Wire for lending an opinion on this. This post is a lot of what they said, and my hopes are that locals can be exposed to this outside opinion.
Over the next five weeks I will profile 5 possible neighborhoods poised to benefit from the controversial NE Corridor line in Indianapolis that fall within the Marion County portion of the line. The corridor in focus is one proposed by Indyconnect, and would originate at Union Station in downtown Indy, and terminate in downtown Noblesville, on the region’s NE side. It would be the first rail transit of any kind in the Indianapolis area since the interurbans were dismantled. The neighborhoods in focus, have already begun some sort of station area planning as part of a neighborhood revitalization plan, or make good sense to be considered for such.
In 2009, an iniative was launched to explore revitalization of an area that borders the Monon Trail and lies between 16th street, and 30th street. The inniative, named the Indianapolis Smart Growth Renewal District Partnership, looked at the history of the neighboorhood and formulated a plan to revitalize it from years of decay that currently plague the area. The area’s history is industrial in nature resulting in a number of brownfields, and by extension, urban blight. Many properties, commercial and residential, are abandoned and have been cited as trouble spots by the city. Crime, rumored disease and lack of property upkeep have been pointed out. Those that currently live in the neighborhood have displayed a willingness to be involved in communicating how the future should look.
The plan centers on 22nd Street & the Monon Trail where The Project School is currently operating inside of a rehabbed warehouse, embodying the spirit of the plan. Future plans call for remediation of the brownfields in the area in the form of parks or pedestrian gathering areas and transit oriented devlopment surrounding transit stops in the area. One proposed stop could be located at 22nd street; however planners advocate for up to 3 stops in the area. Whichever area is slotted as the neighborhoods hub, connectivity to the rest of the area is key in promoting the revitalization.
The Indyconnect plan is not clear yet on how many stops will be located in the area. Due to it’s commuter rail status, building enough developer support will be key. Typically, “light rail” offers headways of 10-15 minutes and more frequently spaced stops which are obviously more attractive than “commuter rail” service of generally 20-30 minutes and station frequency generally measured in MILES rather than feet. The fact that the NE Corridor is new, should be promoted as a reason for attracting property developers to the area.
Another fact that will be pivotal in making sure that mixed incomes are addressed equally, will be city involvement. Most developers, left to their own devices, will plan higher income developments hoping for a large payoff. Most developers refer to this reasoning as “market demand”. As we often see, market demand doesnt drive urban property development as said private developers claim. In most areas of America where transit oriented development occurs, mixed income neighborhoods are constructed at the urging of city planning departments and political will. Another portion of this plan which speaks to me, is that many schools are located and planned for. This is another area where private development typically keeps it’s hands off the table. Insuring that public & private schooling is properly connected, will be a key responsibility of the city when it comes to promoting proper development patterns.
As you can see by reading only a few pages of the report (which is 122 pages), the neighborhood revitalization plan is 100% based upon a rail line being built through the middle of the area. Without the transit line, the plan would likely be changed. You even get the sense that the planner’s have hung their entire case on this notion. What will happen if the line is not built? Will the neighborhood continue to fall into disrepair? Will another plan be hatched? Where will funding come from? As such, energy is building in this neighborhood soley because a transit line has been announced to someday travel through it. Any changes that might jeopardize that energy should be closely examined by planners and addressed accordingly with stakeholders.
Next week’s post will center on the region loosely defined as “71st & Binford Blvd” where a neighborhood group has already published a station area plan based upon the same NE Corridor line.
Last night I had the opportunity to finally attend one of the Indyconnect Round 2 meetings. It was a little different from the Round 1 meetings, in that it was more of a community meeting where one could sign up to stand and comment or ask questions. I was near the end of the roughly dozen people who stood up and commented or asked questions. There were many interesting questions, but the overwhelming theme was: “What happened to light rail on Washington Street?” The answer that officials on hand gave was that it was purely a financial decision. The support is obviously there, but the budget cannot support it.
I made a couple of pointed inquiries at the meeting and also this morning, regarding the Washington Street BRT plan. My initial question revolved around how Indianapolis could successfully transition an existing BRT line into a light rail corridor and keep the share of riders that it had built up. Ottawa, Canada is struggling with this issue right now. Years ago they developed a robust BRT system and at this point, it’s downtown sections are so congested with bus traffic, to construct a LRT guideway would literally snuff the existing bus riders. A similar condition could also hamper efforts to convert Washington Street BRT to LRT years in our future given that LRT is planned for an alignment along the median of Washington Street to replace what would have been a perceived transit-way for buses.
However, when I dug into the matter I discovered details not readily apparent in recent Indyconnect release literature. What planners were tasked with falls significantly short of the general expectation for BRT, something I examined in my post last week . What we can expect out of a Washington Street BRT is similar to Kansas City’s MAX system. I did a little digging and found a nice post from Metro Jacksonville (sort of the Urban Indy of Jacksonville, FL). They did some investigating of the KC MAX line and have a nice report online if you want to read about it.
In case you don’t want to check it out, the overriding opinion is clear: Kansas City’s MAX system is NOT a real BRT system and it’s lack of infrastructure investment has not spurred ANY DEVELOPMENT WHATSOEVER along it’s 6 mile route. Ridership has risen 50% along the route which in itself is commendable, but in terms of attracting economic investment, there has not been anything substantial to speak of.
Essentially, what we are getting is a dressed up bus to run within the constraints that exist today. There will be some traffic signal priority given, with fewer stops so that true express bus service is offered. That is commendable and will provide significant mobility to those choosing to ride. However, that word, “choose” is the crux of this article. Will people choose to ride this bus? No one can say and it is this fact coupled with the lack of infrastructure investment coming with it, that will hinder potential economic investment along Washington Street, as well as other BRT routes being considered in this plan.
Local developers do not expect this to catalyze much development. The lack of heavy investment in infrastructure does not represent enough certainty when it comes to raising money to invest in new projects along these routes. Additionally, the time until LRT would be implimented hinders any sort of developing plans for this in the short term.
Essentially, Indyconnect planners traded out Washington Street light rail for even longer commuter rail routes representing limited investment in transit along the city’s most heavily trafficked local bus line. Why have our planners taken a known and existing line and scoffed at it, in exchange for a rail service which will offer less return on investment due to the potential for low ridership along commuter lines? Simply put, it’s much cheaper to rebuild old existing freight rail lines than it is to invest in new technology along Washington Street. Potential development along the Nickel Plate line is apparent inside of Marion County. No one can argue that. However, this is something that will need to be developed, and commuter rail service typically does not offer the frequency with which to stimulate optimum investment along its corridor.
I struggle to advocate in this manner right now. Mostly, because I find it commendable that our leaders realize the need to grow bus ridership. I also follow other planning blogs that say, “Don’t quibble over the mode, only the route!” However, light rail investment attracts a higher ROI compared to bus, or commuter rail. Investment means new jobs and dense development patterns. In a city sorely lacking any sort of efficient transit oriented development, light rail on Washington Street would be a virtual overnight success. If the extensions of the NE and S commuter lines were returned to their prior planned termini and a plan hatched for Washington St LRT in the final approved version, investment would already be in the conversation; something that Mayor Ballard touted when the original plan was announced last February. An alternative could offer a compromise if TRUE BRT were to be constructed with a dedicated and seperated ROW and robust stations that provided the appearance of long term stability to citizens of Marion County. Much like what I showed from Cleveland in last week’s BRT post.
Peer cities would recognize our leap of faith in embracing either of the new technologies and would position us along with other cities we are commonly grouped with economically, most of which have robust transit systems with an expanding rail (or true BRT) component. I urge Indyconnect and the associated personal to rethink this oversight, and take a chance on something considered progressive and an almost guaranteed success.
Kansas City MAX photos from Metro Jacksonville
I was tooling around in my regular search for things related to light rail and Indianapolis yesterday and discovered that Indyconnect has created a “NE Corridor” specific portion of their wesite. Contained within, is a more detailed exploration of the process, and the documentation required, as it moves forward. Currently, as I have recently reported, there is an Environmental Impact Study (EIS) being conducted on the alignment from Union Station to Noblesville, in the Nickel Plate right of way (ROW). HNTB is the private contractor who is conducting the study.
One of the newest documents on the site, is a draft version of an “Initiation Document”. Contained within, are 32 pages of details that sound a lot like what we have seen over the past decade regarding the NE Corridor. However, also buried in those 32 pages are some somewhat inspiring details.
A lot of talk since Indyconnect’s initial plan, was the absence of streetcar or lightrail that would directly serve North Meridian Street and the Broad Ripple neighborhood, both located north of downtown Indianapolis. Advocates have suggested streetcar or light rail technology on College Ave, Meridian Street, from Fountain Square to Mass Ave to Broad Ripple, or any combination of those. Many of the reasons center on the employment centers located along Meridian Street or the “connecting places ideal” in regards to Fountain Square, Mass Ave and Broad Ripple.
To those of you readers who may have been some of those talking, take note. HNTB, the MPO, etc. have heard the noise. Contained within the Initation Document is the following text (located on page 22 in the Alternatives section):
Recent transit system planning work and Indy Connect public comments suggest that improved transit service on arterial streets near North Meridian Street and North College Avenue could be an attractive strategy for serving the neighborhoods and activity centers on the North Side of Indianapolis. This suggests that the travel markets intended to be served by increased service frequency and closer stops near downtown in the ConNECTions preferred transit alternative and the CITTF recommendation may be better served by BRT or LRT services in these arterial corridors. The detailed alternatives will explore the feasibility of stations in this area, recognizing that complementary (and potentially more service-intensive) transit service might be provided on arterial streets further east. This service could provide an important connection between the Northeast Corridor and other north side activity centers. The design team will coordinate closely with the IndyConnect transit system planning process as this transit service is defined in the MPO Long Range Transportation Plan
While this does not specifically lay down any sort of plans or even suggest that they WILL, it does let us know that they are listening. We also have a bit of time until the NE Corridor EIS findings are available to the public. If I understand the letter of the law, any text regarding other alignments NOT part of the NE Corridor, will likely not be allowed as part of the overall NE Corridor EIS based on how federal funding is handed out.
As for Indyconnect? They will have some more meetings this fall to tighten up the long range transportation plan and my advise if you want to see streetcars or light rail on Meridian, College or other places is keep beating that drum…
In February of 2010, the city of Indianapolis made an exciting announcement. Mayor Greg Ballard announced that a task force had been formed a year and a half prior to study the long term future of transportation in the Indianapolis area. They coined this marketing blitz, Indyconnect. This wasn’t simply public transportation, this was public transportation, automobile transit, pedestrian and bicycle access as well as issues regarding freight travel on rail and freeway. What followed, was a series of public meetings that engaged the public on the initial plan and asked for input on what the final plan should be.
A long winded analysis of the plan could be undertaken at this point. To save space, and your attention, I will take this opportunity to examine why rail is a reasonable goal for Indianapolis and why the NE Corridor is a poor choice for the first line to be constructed.
Detractors of rail based infrastructure developments will argue first that rail is expensive and that Indianapolis is not dense enough for it. They would also be correct. Rail IS expensive. And Indianapolis when examined at the county level probably isn’t dense enough. Cities across the nation have shown that if not handled responsibly and in a timely manner, construction and implimentation of the operating services can get out of hand which lead to delays and added expense. See: Austin, TX or Norfolk, VA.
All cons being said, there are pockets of Indianapolis that are perfectly suited for rail transit. It is commonly accepted that while rail upgrades do not always (and in most cases don’t) solve automobile congestion problems, what they do, is give options to those who wish to live without a car, or who cannot afford one. Indianapolis is a HUGELY auto dependent city. In the long term, it can be argued that providing choices for people that do not increase our dependance on foreign oil is prudent. It can also be argued that for long term environmental health, that auto-centric thinking should probably be scaled back to reduce greenhouse gases.
There are also a host of other justifications that rail supporters will give from improving health to the expense of automobile based development (ie: parking lots, low density strip malls, suburban sprawl, etc). I could go on for thousands of words citing studies that tell of the large expense of parking lots. The large expense of building and maintaining roadways that serve low density suburban populations, etc…
Analysis of routes
The NE Corridor however, represents an initial step in the wrong direction. To take a que from the Overhead Wire regarding Austin, TX, “What are they thinking??” From a purely political and logical point of view, it initially makes sense to give in and agree that the NE Corridor study area has been beaten to death. People sort of accept that it will go there, and politicians won’t fight this without pressure. There is currently an Environmental Impact Study being undertaken (EIS) that will determine the feasibility of this route, and it’s associated impacts. The expense involved in running rail for 15-25 miles (depending on the end points) will be HUGE. Examining the social point of view, the people living in the burbs have shown by voting (quite literally) with their wallet, that they LIKE buying cars.
The line if built as planned, will travel where CSX freight trains travel in the DT area. Then, it would travel through vacated neighborhoods like Martindale that are starting to see a resurgence of growth thanks to federal intervention. They will travel through SOME dense areas north of here and just when it begins to reach the southern Broad Ripple sphere of influence, the task force has agreed that all day service should stop about 10 blocks south at 38th street.
Conversely, if planners decided that the Washington Street light rail were to be constructed first, immediate impact could be realized. First, the agreed upon route travels through the densest areas that the Indianapolis region has to offer, perfect for rail transit’s target demographic. Even IndyGO rider numbers justify this claim based upon numbers from their #10 route (Washington Street). Additionally and behind closed doors, higher up public figures involved with Indyconnect have agreed that private developers are more interested in the economic development opportunities along both the east and west side proposed Washington Street Light Rail line. Public sentiment also matches the will to extend light rail to the airport.
If planners decided that the Washington Street line offered more merits compared to the NE Corridor and chose to construct that alignment first, the completion of the NE Corridor EIS would not neccesarily mean that construction would need to immediately begin. When the EIS is finished and published, a Record of Decision (ROD) will be written. When this is decreed, it is lasting. There is no shelf life on an ROD.
There are likely to be many battles fought over this issue when the cards are on the table. I know personally, that there are already advocacy groups going against the NE Corridor as the first rail line to be constructed. From an enthusiasts point of view, rail offers some great, and lasting, economic development opportunities as well as long term economic vitality as an attractive amenity. It is seen as progressive and it departs from a long history of automobile centered policy decisions.
Editor’s note: Citizens can debate the merits of how far any of these lines should go and back it up with plenty of data as well. My hope is to keep this discussion to one alignment versus another for now.
"Better know your history!" Zoli Téglás - Ignite
I was able to get my hands on a study that was done in 2004. It is named, "Downtown Indianapolis Railroad Relocation Feasibility Study". It is a 90 page, 2mb document (click here to open) that is 0ut of date but still considered good reading in my opinion. The study explored the rail belt that detours around the downtown metro area. I have attached a map to make it simple. The study reads more like a history book which is what I think makes it an interesting read. The belt has been on the ground for quite some time. It was built in the late 1800's and shows its age. You can spend some time going through the 90 page document to familiarize yourself if you wish. What was explored in the study was relocating the current through freight traffic to the belt starting and ending at the points shown on the map. By doing so, the consultants indicated a long list of benefits that include primarily the following: Protecting downtown Indy from hazardous materials, opening Union Station for full passenger utilization, possible removal of the viaduct dividing downtown and opening up the new land then available for further development, increasing travel time for through trains and overall increasing the capacity that the Indianapolis area can handle in terms of freight traffic. They estimated the cost at the time, at nearly $100 million to construct two full tracks with crossings and an advanced electronic signal & switching system. The old belt currently still sees duty although very limited due to it's condition which limits top speeds. The benefits to Indy would hinge on negotiating with CSX to relinquish ROW along the current through lines to the City of Indianapolis.
Why is a study that was issued in 2004 and is outdated due to the closure of some important industrial sites seem worth mentioning at this point? Because recently, the topic of rehabing it appeard in the CIRTA meeting minutes. I have not been able to track anything down in regards to current work being done surrounding the beltway, but it is a curious observation with so much commuter rail talk swirling around. The text of the NE Corridor AA/EIS information even spells out the possibility of on-street light rail from the 10th street through downtown. One can draw their own conclusions but raising $100-$150 million to relocate a freight line doesn't happen often.
It makes me wonder, are city planners talking about bypassing Union Station altogether in their implimentation of light rail? Union Station itself is in bad shape but is still utilized by Amtrak. Coupled with the Indygo Downtown Transit Center studies (the first of which in 2006 called for usage of the post office located south of Union Station), are planners attempting to skirt the usage of Union Station, and by extension, negotiations with CSX (which I would imagine come out costly no matter what the consusion) to reach a final plan? This would be a bold move when it seems nearly ALL rail plans that have been ventured over the years, involve some sort of usage of the station which resembles nothing short of a demilitarized zone... If I may be so bold, and I was, I created what a potential light rail system routing that doesnt utilize Union Station, could look like. I made use of Capitol & Illinois which are one way north/south avenues and have been mentioned as desirable paths of utilization. Inbound and outbound lines are differentiated by color, and the east/west Washington Street LR alignment is shown. CSX lines are in light gray. The NE line would still use the Nickel Plate but would depart onto 16th street and across to Capital/Illinois on its way in and out of downtown. The South line, I thought would use these same streets to get to Meridian outside of I-70 and then reconnect with the Louisville & Indiana RR ROW headed south for Greenwood. I may be a little off the wall with this idea, but apparently it's not too far off the mark. The Transport Politic reported today that Seattle is trying to apply these same ideas, albeit on a much longer scale, to a light rail line in their city. If it is true what they say about cost savings, then this is more ammo to suggest similar on street service here. In a perfect world, high speed rail could some day pass through Indianapolis funded in large part by federal dollars. If Indy could display its willingness to promote local rail transit by building a good network of street LR then the coming of HSR and associated infrastructure improvements could be funded by federal tax dollars. In short, a win-win situation. Like I said, perfect world....
I have not really spent much time disecting the Indyconnect bus related improvements. In studying the plans, expanded bus service is being proposed outside of the existing routes inside AND outside of Marion country. Outside of Marion County would represent a robust growth in service for Indygo, the local bus transportation provider.
A good hub would take into account existing bus lines, plus proposed expanded operations, into account. With the Indyconnect plan now being peddled, I can imagine any notions brought up in 2008 when the current study was started, could be reconsidered based upon the introduction of specific rail routes outlined.
I contacted Indygo in regards to the status of the HNTB study, and spoke with their director of procurement about the topic. He reported to me that the study is full speed ahead but was unable to share specifics at the moment. He passed me along to their Marketing Dept contact who told me, "We're still actively trying to identify the best location and plans for this project. The study continues. Several sites have been identified but we're working with FTA to explore the options."