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?
The week of June 13th was an exciting one in Indianapolis. The Broad Ripple Parking Garage was announced. CIRTA launched a campaign to build a transit coalition to present to state lawmakers. And the City announced the 16 Tech Technology district that would be anchored by a redeveloped Bush Stadium. On the surface, the 16 Tech proposal looks like a positive one. An underdeveloped neighborhood with a culturally rich past gets a boost from the city while urban thinking residents are appeased by the presence of pedestrian and bike friendly infrastructure.
Indeed, The Technology Trail should be a fantastic addition to what is currently a very dead stretch of road. The addition of a linear park will also be welcome; throw in storm water retention in a quasi-natural method and urbanists have one foot through the door in supporting this. Additionally, a long-time decrepit structure is repurposed with medium (low?) density residential and greenspace to boot. However, upon further examination, I have a few questions that would make THIS urbanist feel better about the proposed development. Melissa Todd with Develop Indy was kind enough to answer some questions for me.
Q:What will happen to IUPUI owned parking lots? How does the city plan on using space that is already used by IUPUI for off-campus parking as well as Herron School of Art facilities?
A:We have worked closely with all levels of IUPUI, IU, & IU Medical School in the development of this plan, and they are very supportive of both the overall concept and the specific elements. The Herron building will undergo a major expansion this fall that will include the IU building immediately to the north. We have worked with the IU in house architect to coordinate this expansion with the Indiana Streetscape work. In the short term the existing IU parking lots will remain
Q:Will IndyGo shelters be “spruced up” and/or covered to fit in with the new design?
A: We anticipate new Indy Go shelters and planned for them along Indiana Avenue in the plan. It is further anticipated that the design of these shelters would be different to fit into the general theme of the project.
Currently, transit only makes a cursory visit to the proposed tech district area. This is likely due to the fact that there is really nothing there now. The 5 bisects the district and offers great service between downtown and the 16 Tech area. Also, the 25 & 10 offer walking distance stops for potential visitors and residents to get to and from the area. However, I was let down when I read Develop Indy’s brochure, and the only mention of public transportation came in the form of the Clarian (now IU Health) People Mover. Those of you who are locals know the laughable status of that service. Why would Develop Indy mention this limited and out of the way service, yet fail to mention IndyGo or local transit at all? Being located to the most dense concentration of employment of jobs in the entire state should merit at least a mention, but nothing. Perhaps a nice shelter for the 5 route at 16th & Montcalm St will match new streetscape? With the addition of 1201 Indiana, and The Avenue, transit boardings are likely to get a boost in this corridor.
Q: Will the Technology Trail ever connect with the Cultural Trail?
A: The two trails were designed to complement one another and it is certainly possible, based on the current design and would be welcomed, but no decision has been made about this.
Q:Helix Park does not get a specific mention in regards to when potential construction could begin. Is there a plan for this or is it included with the streetscape?
A: The plan is for Phase I of Helix park to start construction in 2013, and the City will own the land for this section of Helix park when construction starts. The entire area is currently being rezoned by the City. Tamara Tracy is the principal planner for the City on that effort.
Q: According to google maps overhead view of the focus area, there are currently a glut of industrial uses and/or vacant land. How are the owners of this land going to be compensated?
A: We will work with land owners to acquire additional property as the development progresses. There are no plans to exercise eminent domain.
Q: Is there some sort of master parking plan being developed to handle increased parking demand once developers start building in this location?
A: As the project progresses in the development cycle structured parking will be encouraged and required, which will be covered in the rezoning documents.
Q:Public transit does not receive much of a mention in the Develop Indy literature/brochure. Is there any thinking about how to further promote usage of IndyGo to future residents and business tenants?
A: The plan was centered around the concept of more convenient connections of all types: walking, biking, and mass transit. We contemplated and planned for the possibility that one day IU Health may want to extend the monorail system through Helix Park. We are talking to IPL about electric plug in station in the development.
Q: Is there a plan to relocate the long line of tall utility poles that are located on Indiana Ave? They seem unsightly and if the streetscape is aiming to beautify, I could see them being relocated underground or something like that.
A: The utilities will be buried north of Milburn Ave along Indiana Ave.
As I mentioned before, Helix Park looks to be an innovative and gravitating public space that is currently taken up by an industrial space and a freight railroad spur to the CSX line which also bisects the 16 Tech district. How could the CSX railroad have been utilized to further sell the district? Indyconnect’s long term future paints a line directly through here on the map as a means of running rail transit to the far NW metro area. Perhaps in the future, frequent service could be offered to the 16 Tech district by means of this railroad. But that is getting ambitious.
Taken as a whole, there are still a lot of unanswered questions. In addition, the videos, animations and renderings for this district look nice. However, and as I always seem to gravitate towards, transit never got a mention and I wonder how the dense renderings provided will ever be achieved without a large amount of automobile parking devoted to it by way of a parking garage or surface lot. One can already see that there are nearly 500 parking spaces planned with the Bush Stadium renovation. While I am pleased to see an otherwise underutilized area of downtown get pushed to the forefront, it pains me to see a disconnect between land-use and transit. If Indyconnect’s vision ever comes to fruition, perhaps demand for parking can be lessened in this area and developers of future parcels will recognize this. For the time being, this urbanist isn’t 100% sold. Let me be clear, I WANT 16 Tech to succeed, I just hope that we have learned enough to avoid this….
Earlier this year, Chicago elected a new mayor; Rahm Emanuel. Upon entering office, he wasted no time going to work on his campaign promises of improving mobility for citizens. Among his first visual changes, were the introduction of a new cycle track along a half mile stretch of downtown street; Kinzie Ave from Milwaukee Avenue to Wells Street.
Upon being in office for only a few short weeks, Emanuel has demonstrated his firm commitment to transportation alternatives.
When you look at what “IT” actually was, bike lanes were striped to create a reasonable barrier between motorists and cyclists, soft bollards were installed, driveway and street crossings were painted a recognizable shade of green and in a short couple weeks worth of work, a fantastic new public space for cyclists-only was created.
What’s more, the symbolic nature of this new, and for Chicago radical bike infrastructure, underscored the take-no-crap approach that our big city mayors should be taking when it comes to tackling innovative transportation issues.
What does this have to do with Indianapolis? Locally, there is a project similar in nature that is taking shape on Shelby Ave on the city’s southside. This bike track, the first of its kind in Indy, will connect the Fountain Square terminus of the Cultural Trail with Garfield Park via the Pleasant Run Trail and by doing so, create a more connected bike trail system. Taken together, this will represent many miles of dedicated, separate, biking facility for cyclists with which to travel. The track on Shelby is now under construction however, it produced significant push-back from the residents of the Fountain Square neighborhood during early public meetings; most notably in the form of residents complaining about the loss of automobile parking.
I inquired to Molly Deuberry at DPW and she sent me pages of data on the project. In looking at the plans for the lanes (click to open .pdf), innovative practices are evident. 2 way (or Contra-flow) bicycle right of way, 12 foot wide right of way (for both lanes) in some places (normally 10 feet), as well as what appears to be a glut of unique wayfinding signage to indicate the Cultural Trail as well as the Pleasant Run Trail, are just some of the new features Indianapolis cyclists will be subjected to once this project is completed by November; the lanes themselves may be open sooner.
The Rebuild Indyproject has repaved a lot of downtown’s streets over the past year. Notably absent in restriping efforts have been bike lanes on Michigan and New York. Furthermore, a huge opportunity to place painted bike boxes that give cyclists priority and also make the street safer for them could be implemented at key intersections such as New York & West Street or Michigan & West Street. The Shelby Ave bike track shows that the city is willing to design & build innovative bicycling infrastructure, so it makes me wonder, will the city take the Rebuild Indy opportunity to do that in other places like Michigan & New York? Only time will tell.
In conclusion, I think while Indianapolis is taking great strides to improve cycling facilities for residents, there are places that could be greatly improved for very little amounts of money and political capital. The Cultural Trail is arguably one of the most innovative cycling projects in the country and Mayor Ballard’s commitment to adding bike lanes is admirable. However, where are the bike boxes? Why aren’t we seeing more bollard separated lanes? There are places where some of these improvements could be cheap to do and would create a much safer area for local cyclists, and by extension, drive more wide spread usage. As I started the post with, Chicago’s new mayor has already taken great strides in a short amount of time. Will Indy be playing catch up to Chicago in terms of innovative cycling infrastructure?
Editor’s note: HUGE thanks to Steven Vance for usage of Chicago’s bike-track images. Steven writes his own blog Steven Can Plan as well as Grid Chicago. Both of these are worth the time spent, so check them out. A complete analysis of the Kinzie Ave project including partial financials as well as more photos can be seen on Grid.
When one mentions that they went on vacation to Myrtle Beach, SC, visions of complete streets and urban design do not spring to mind. For years, I remember friends who’s parents took them to Myrtle Beach on summer vacation. I had never attended until recently, when my wife proposed that we take a summer trip there. I am a major lover of the beach, and sunburns, so it did not take any amount of arm twisting.
We spent 5 nights just south of the major N/S split along Ocean Blvd, so we were front and center for what I observed to be the changing of a familiar built form; that being one that gives over priority to the automobile. Indeed, for decades towns like Myrtle Beach have promoted their long and skinny cruise strips. Every year people make the trip to places like this and other coastal Atlantic cities to cruise up and down the strip looking for a relationship on the quick or to show off their ride. And while that draw has not changed, something that has is the amount of space that they are given to do it.
As you can see from the photographs in this post, a major effort is underway to implement bike lanes (check) add pedestrian islands to facilitate easier crossing (check) and widen sidewalks for the large number of foot-traffic (not complete, but getting there). Additionally, one who is well versed in the subtle styling ques of modern urban design can see attention to detail in the form of lower mast lighting. Narrow lanes for cars. Wider sidewalks with paver styling ques.
They have even started lengthening their boardwalk south of it’s location by adding a concrete pathway that is also accompanied by shade structures periodically located. Under these, vendors sell ice cream, lemonade, shaved ice and other similar refreshments. An effort to rebuild the dunes adjacent to the beach was also ongoing as signs in some places advised pedestrians to stay off of them.
The transition is not complete however. One can still see in many places wide automobile travel lanes, narrow sidewalks and the old-style high-mast street lighting. Perhaps the city has exhausted it’s budget and is waiting on coffers to replenish so that the transition can continue. Even along the concrete boardwalk extension, I could see where it appears that they left the design open for the next phase of the path.
Additionally, and something that impressed me, is that you can tell that the civic leaders in power know how to manage tourists. We made many walks to the Boardwalk’s central gathering park where a new, large ferris wheel is located. Every time we visited, there was some sort of programmed event taking place. Whether it was a concert, street performers or what not, there was always some sort of buzz being generated by officially planned events of some sort. It was ironic to me that the same week that I was there, the Monument Circle Design Competition was releasing their top 12 submissions. Urban Indy’s own Greg Meckstroth is one of those finalists and his submission proposes more programmed events on the circle. In a single moment it made so much more sense to me.
We also made a trek to the old Air Force base which has been turned over to a redevelopment commission. What has transpired there hints at a new urbanist colony in the making not unlike others that have cropped up around the country. I was able to visit Celebration, FL a couple years ago and this redevelopment felt similar. Dubbed the Market Commons, a vast commercial and residential complex is opening up on the old grounds. There feels like a town center area with fountains and restaurants located there. Additionally, many residential units are housed in the same buildings with living areas being located over the restaurants and retail shops. However, the biggest downfall that I observed was the vast amount of parking.
There were many surface lots as well as two large multi-story garages. It appeared that they at least tried to quell this by adding greenery to the garages. One can almost chalk up the amount of parking to the small nature of the Myrtle Beach area; wikipedia lists the metro area as containing 324k residents. Even considering their size, they had a somewhat impressive amount of transit lines that criss-cross the area. However, the routes that are there, are still pathetic in their overheads. Even during the week, they are listed at 1 hour between arrivals. Additionally, the service’s website lacks a good system map. I witnessed a lot of transit buses while there, however we did not use any on account of being able to walk to nearly all the destinations that we intended on visiting; except the Market Commons area. Maybe it is this tourist nature that has drawn overheads to such a lofty level. Whatever the case, if we HAD chosen to ride, we would have been stuck in the same slow traffic that cruise traffic was creating. It was much nicer to walk and experience the environment anyway.
In conclusion, I would say that the town is headed in the right direction at least in it’s tourist areas. Outside of the immediate ocean Blvd area, there were lots of multi-lane surface highways in addition to the freeway par highways that funnel people in and out of the region. Additionally, the transit service could use some smart thinking in how to focus usage around actually moving people around the cruise traffic while still providing good access to people staying in the resort areas. Perhaps a hybrid sort of BRT with passing lanes or something. My wife commented once that it would have been nice to have a trolley that ran up and down the strip in it’s own right of way to get around on. Additionally, I wonder just how much the locals use the service. I saw a lot of empty busses…
What started as a squeak in November has turned into a low roar. What is this low roar? The dying gasp of transit projects across the nation. In case you have not noticed, there is a bit of political turmoil going on here in America. It seems that no one is immune to the affects of the recent election. Regarding transportation, the problems started when NJ Governor cancelled the ARC project that would have increased commuter train access into NYC. Then, Wisconsin and Ohio’s new GOP Governors rejected Federal funding that was awarded to the previous administration for High Speed Rail. Florida’s Governor also recently turned down over $2 billion in federal dollars for a true HSR that would have connected Tampa and Orlando despite repeated assurances that the state would not be on the hook for ANY cost overruns. The Florida case truly defies logic in that private companies were assembling bids for constructing and operating, at their expense, the balance of said line. I also read a column out of Cincinnati last night, that their new GOP Governor is rumored to be deciding on cutting nearly $50 million in previously committed state funds to the streetcar project there which is set to break ground any day now; a project that it’s state DOT deems one of it’s potentially highest return on investment.
What do all of these cancellations have in common? They were cancelled by GOP lawmakers bent on balancing their state budgets which are in the red or forecasted to be in the near future. Any Democrat, Libertarian or Independent can get on board with that. However, when budget balancing becomes the priority, why are transit projects always the first to get the axe? In Cincinnati, there was a recent “finding” of nearly $800 million for the extension of I-74 across the east side hinterland of the metro area. Why isn’t this being axed? Wisconsin has billions still in the budget for freeway expansion. Why hasn’t that been cut? I even read a ridiculous claim out of Chicago where suburbanites are fighting amongst themselves about sidewalks in their neighborhood where one person went as far as to claim that the concrete lobby is advocating for this. Really?? Here at home, US31 is slated to become a freeway north of 465 in the very near future. I-69 is currently underway despite funding shortages. Neither of those have been put on the back burner for the state’s bottom line.
Furthermore,at the local level, our House of Representatives have passed the next state budget out of committee with an 18% cut in transit funding. An amendment has been authored to restore this funding but will not be resolved until Democrat representatives end their standoff and return to finish business for this session. This is another truly puzzling case particularly since House Ways & Means Chairman Jeff Espich (R-Uniondale) recently stated on WRTV-6 local news, that he regards transit funding as a local issue, “Local transportation is really a local responsibility.” I find that ironic since he has not given HB1372 a proper listening which would give local lawmakers the tools with which to solve said local transportation issues.
There is also some rhetoric being thrown about by conservatives that paints the recent explosion of public transit, bicycle and pedestrian improvements and “livability” legislative action as a UN ploy to socialize America. These are based on unfounded claims and really serve to enflame the issue beyond the economics and real person benefits that can be realized by simply offering an equal outlay of potential transportation choices. As the 2010 census results roll in, it has become obvious that cities and neighborhoods who have invested in these improvements are now enjoying the rewards of their hardwork.
Finally, when I look at the current climate, I see state controlled highway projects getting priority over all others and being placed close to the sacred cow as defense spending is. IE: it rarely gets cut when budget balancing occurs. For transit activists, this should serve as a red light when lawmakers suggest that the Federal government should be giving transportation tax dollars straight back to the states to spend as they see fit; an argument I stood up against in front of Congressman Todd Rokita (R-4th District) at the recent surface transportation hearing in Indianapolis.
For those of you who keep up with the topics described above on the national level, this is all old news. For you local readers, I hope that this has informed you a little bit about what is going on around the country.
In 2010, Mayor Greg Ballard used bonding capacity against equity in our water/sewer utilities as well as future rate increases to fund a program that is called, Rebuild Indy. The first injection of funds came in to the tune of $55 million. It was used to jumpstart the program and largely includes resurfacing streets, repairing some sidewalks, and constructing a trail on the NW side of Indianapolis by adding a trail from Cold Springs Road to Kessler Boulevard along Michigan Road. A couple of weeks ago, $32 million more in projects were announced. Some bridge reconstruction work is planned for Meridian Street across Fall Creek as well as the Morris Street bridge over the White River on the city’s south side.
Much more work is said to be planned when and if the “sale” of the sewer/water utilities to Citizens energy is approved through the IURC who is currently deliberating on the matter. The announced sum that the city would have to spend on infrastructure (including what has been spent already) would be $425 million.
I have inquired repeatedly to the Mayor’s office about what the rest of the projects would entail and even received some off the record information regarding some specific projects. However, there doesn’t seem to be a clear intent to release all the planned on projects that Rebuild Indy plans on tackling. I’m sure there is political headache at risk for such a move.
However, and what should concern most of us living within Indianapolis urban neighborhoods, is what are planners REALLY going to do with this money to preserve and improve the quality of life for residents? The Mayor’s recent State of the City address pointed out the need to focus on our inner city neighborhoods. The census recently opened our eyes that suburban flight continues unabated in the Indianapolis area except where we have created pedestrian friendly environments. Urban Indy author Greg Meckstroth recently tackled this issue. Although there have been a few projects of noteworthy pedestrian mention such as the Michigan Road trail, the first round of Rebuild Indy projects have largely focused on simply repaving our existing roads, and restriping them in the same fashion despite repeated attempts by not only myself, but those of IndyCOG to improve our bike lane designations downtown. Furthermore, a project in my own neighborhood this summer had a Rebuild Indy sign posted and when the sidewalks were repaired, it could be debated whether or not they were repaired at all. The project aims to add bike lanes however, once the weather warms which will be a welcome addition.
Personally, it concerns me that the status quo of road design is not being examined in the least and we are borrowing money from tomorrow, to simply repair areas that in 5-10 years from now, will suffer similar breakdowns. With Complete Streets type of projects taking place in our city (Meridian/Westfield & 10th Street SB Legacy) and world class projects such as the Cultural Trail in progress, the bar has been raised. As residents, how can we not demand more for our invested dollar?
Perhaps I will be proven wrong and there is a vast plan of adding NEW sidewalks through neighborhoods that don’t currently have any. Perhaps there is another Georgia Street project lurking in the weeds that hasn’t been announced yet. Perhaps our side streets where cars speed through can be calmed so that the city has a fighting chance of attracting families with children to live in the neighborhoods that they lie within. If so, I will drop my criticism and get on board. As it stands though, I fear we are on board to spend a lot of money on projects that have an opportunity to tremendously improve the quality of life for Indianapolis’ residents, but which fail to do so.
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.
For years, a dilapidated structure has sat on a triangular patch of land on Indianapolis’ northeast side. The property bound by Binford Blvd, Allisonville Road and 45th street named Keystone Towers is a structure which for all intents and purposes, has turned into an eyesore. It is abandoned, behind on property taxes, vermin infested and rumored to be deteriorating on the interior portions. It is covered in graphitti, and also rumored to be home to many squatters.
Recently, local media announced that the city had taken over posession of the property and the most popular rumor is that this place will be demolished, and the land offered up via RFQ by the city for redevelopment. Local discussion forums have already erupted arguing the merits of tearing the place down and starting fresh, to rehabilitating the standing structure
I have included a site plan of the area with the two towers lined in red and the property itself marked in green. Binford Blvd is basically a limited access highway to the east and not worthy of any sort of driveway leaving Allisonville Road as the primary entrance route and 45th street as a secondary entrance.
So…. if you had a say, what would YOU do with this site?
Indiana House Bill 1354 was read on January 18th 2011. The bill as proposed would require INDOT to include “complete streets” guidelines into INDOT’s approved design manual. A summary of the bill, along with it’s travel through the legislature, can be read here.
When I first read about this, I pumped my fist in the air. Finally, someone has gotten to the lawmakers and a plan is in place to start moving forward in a progressive fashion. However, upon further examination, it appears that there may be a gaping loophole in the middle of the bill. There are stipulations that allow INDOT to wave complete streets policies in the event of:
- (1) pedestrian or other nonmotorized usage is prohibited by law on the highway, street, or other roadway that is the subject of the project or part of a project;
- (2) the cost of incorporating complete streets guidelines for the project or part of the project is excessively disproportionate to the benefits, as determined by the department; or
- (3) there is a demonstrated lack of present or future need for complete streets for the project or part of the project.
It is the 2nd bulletpoint which worries me the most. There is no criteria for justifying whether or not a project is excessively disproportionate to the benefits. If we leave it up to INDOT, history has shown that ALL complete streets guidelines are disproportionate to the benefit, or else they would already be included. Now, there are times when it may be hugely prohibitive to include items that may make pedestrian life simpler. If that is the case, a robust justification should be given by INDOT. However, the bill should carry with it some guideline for justifying this instead of leaving it up to the existing highway department. If that is the case, then it is the opinion of this writer, that we will be no closer to complete streets in Indiana, then we are today.
If you feel the same, I urge you to contact your state representative today and voice your concerns. It probably wouldn’t hurt to contact Nancy Dembowski (D) 17th District.