On July 13th, 2011, the Indiana Utility Regulatory Commission approved the lease of the water utility to Citizen’s Energy. While this has been debated vigorously over the past year and a half locally, what it means is that when it goes through, over $425 million will become available to put towards Rebuild Indy; a program that I have given praise to as well as been highly critical of.
The crux of why I have been critical, is that none of this money has thus far been diverted, at least in principal, to addressing our horrendous transit situation. Indeed, Indyconnect has done much to address this yet with no means of putting shovels in the ground, the receipt of this much money could provide an excellent opportunity for the city to step in and help fund some of the innitiatives. What the Rebuild Indy program HAS done for transit thus far has come in the form of new sidewalks along existing bus corridors as well as funding bicycling infrastructure which also appears in the Indyconnect plan. However, no real money put towards replacing aging IndyGo bus fleets, addressing the large expense of advance engineering & environmental studies for some of the BRT, rail and light rail routes hinted at in the Indyconnect plan. These tasks can be funded separate of the fact that funds for building and operating them have not been found yet and themselves are significant costs associated and required for their implementation. How about throwing some money IndyGo’s way for a real time GPS tracking system? This is in the works, but will not be funded until 2013 per current plans. Additionally, funding a study of the belt railroad relocation could be a good use of the funds. Furthermore, there are a lot of streetcar systems being planned or are under construction in many of Indianapolis’ peer cities.
Would taxpayers find the use of Rebuild Indy funds put towards projects like this a good use of the money? While not as glamorous in appearance as say a newly paved road or a greenfield sidewalk, this funding could go a long way to making Indyconnect a real possibility or to funding a downtown streetcar circulator route. Even though I have laid out a number of suggestions, there are plenty of other mass transit related items that are just as worthy of expense as another road being repaved.
If you agree with any of this, I encourage you to not waste any time and click on the link on the right hand side of Urban Indy. Contact your City Council representative and voice your opinion. Devoid of any real portal for communicating this to the city, your representative is the best pipeline to providing input on this subject.
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.
My recent summer vacation took my family to Myrtle Beach, SC. By virtue of good fortune, and a wife who is accepting of my psychotic civic activism, we were able to spend a morning in Charlotte, NC to take a ride on the Lynx light rail line. The Lynx (or Blue Line) is a modern light rail system that opened in 2007 and operates daily on low overheads.
At this point in my advocacy, I consider it a treat to be able to ride a light rail train. So when we arrived, I was very excited to be able to experience the service. I had my camera at the ready! As we were approaching the elevator to get from ground level to the platform level, a train was pulling away. We took the elevator up, crossed a walk and then the tracks to a ticket kiosk. A speaker announced that the next train was set to arrive in 8 minutes. This was nice to hear! We didn’t even have to check a schedule, the next arrival was in a manageable amount of time.
We spent that 8 minutes taking photos of the platform, the adjoining parking structure (which has a playground on the roof). Before we knew it, the train was ready to pull out of the station and we were on board heading for downtown Charlotte. The time was near 11am.
The train was sparsely populated when we left the outermost station, which is on the I-485 beltline. However, two stops in, it was starting to turn into a standing room only environment. The closer we got, the more packed it got. There were people of ALL ethnic backgrounds on the train. A predominantly black population was on board, but many Hispanic and whites were aboard as well. I spoke with one man who asked if I was local and told him I was from Indy. I asked how he liked having the train and he commented about his broken car and how the train is a godsend for him to be able to ride. Another woman commented that she was anxious for the extension of the existing line to the NE side of the region.
We did not get off on any of the stations along the way but I managed to step out of the train and snap some photos of property surrounding the stations along the way. The outer stations have more park & rides compared to the inner stations. In fact, the two outer stations are solely park & ride. There seemed to be little indication that TOD had taken hold around these stations. However, the closer to downtown the train travelled, the more TOD seemed to be getting a toe hold. Additionally, less parking lots surrounded these stations compared to the outer stations.
We reached the downtown transit center station which was the next to last station on the line. This station let off in the heart of downtown Charlotte next to where the Bobcats play. In addition to that structure, there is a large bus station at ground level adjacent to the light rail tracks. At this point in time, it would be proper to note that a lot of the trackage in downtown is elevated above ground level thereby eliminating interaction with automobiles. Some of the outer stations are aligned this way too, but not all of them. There are a lot of stretches between stations that run at ground level.
We took a moment to use the restroom inside there. Then, we took a short stroll around downtown and landed on the ground floor of the Wells Fargo tower where a vast food court was located. I had a fantastic veggie burrito at what I think was a local establishment.
After lunch, we went to the 3rd street station to wait on the next outbound train. We waited about 5 minutes on the next train to arrive and when it did, we boarded to head back out to the 485 park & ride. The train was PACKED as we stepped on.
We had to park the stroller my son was in and hold him. I stood and my wife sat with him. This was around 1:30pm and I was pleasantly surprised to see the train so packed. The further we got out towards the 485 station, the more people got off.
When we de-boarded the train, the sun was shining and we were able to return to our car which had not been vandalized or otherwise messed with which was nice to see. Being in an unfamiliar location, one never knows what to expect. We took a ride up the road adjacent to the line, South Blvd. In this area, the road and adjacent properties reminded me of N Keystone Avenue here in Indy from say, 38th to 62nd. Wide, ugly and lots of auto oriented development. It may be this type of environment that has been the hardest to influence by the light rail route.
In hindsight, it would have been nice to spend more time investigating other stations to get a feel for how the TOD has developed around some of the stations. I blogged about the Lynx line last year over at my personal blog based off of web-based research. It would have been nice to be able to walk around the developments, but my vacation was more important and we were over 3 hours from the beach. I was looking forward to unplugging from my day job and the blog at that point so we decided to make our way to the coast. I consider the experience of riding the Lynx to have been a beneficial one if for nothing else, the experience. It was rapid. There were short overheads. The trains were cool and comfortable and the transit advocate in me continues to want to smack the ignorant who say that light rail doesn’t work and we don’t need it.
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 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
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.
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.
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.
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.