This week I was able to finally get in touch with Ben Hunt and discuss the state of affairs in Indianapolis. We didn't talk about just bicycles although that is what he is best known for at least in non-music circles. Benjamin Hunt is one of the co-founders of Indycog, an enthusiast run Indianapolis based bicycle advocacy group. He is also the drummer for local band Maravich and former bass player for the now defunct post-hardcore (or whatever classification you choose) band, Brazil. Ben is a resident of the Fountain Square area on the SE side of downtown Indy and works in Broad Ripple at the Luna Music store at 52nd and College Ave. A daunting commute for someone who has chosen to go carless in the city of Indianapolis. You read that right, "CARLESS IN INDIANAPOLIS". A statement like that may come as a shock to some but Ben would tell you that he is one man living his chosen lifestyle. He still OWNS a car right now, but is planning on selling it soon and claims to have only used it twice this year so far. The almost funny part is that this post could have been titled, "Ben Hunt: Fostering Zero Car Households". It would have been in homage to a great article that really inspired my seeking Ben out. The article in question can be read at Streetsblog in which they explored the top 50 "low car" cities in the US. Indianapolis was obviously, NOT on the list.
I met Ben on a lukewarm March evening at the Luna store in Broad Ripple to snap a few photos and chat about the state of transportation in Indianapolis. To hear him talk, I would call him excited about the way things are moving. He told me that he once made a vow to leave Indianapolis by 2012 if there is neither a Major League Baseball team, or a robust mass transportation system. Well I'm pretty sure the baseball team is a bit far off, but the transportation system is well on it's way to being improved. This was something we chatted a lot about and I feel like after the conversation I found another kindred soul here in the city, striving for improved transportation options.
Ben was fresh back in town from Washington DC where he informally attended the 2010 National Bike Summit. So, we did not get to chat as long as we would have liked to. However, I was able to wrap him up long enough to answer some questions that I think you will all find interesting. The one take off I wanted to mention was in relation to the Bike Summit in which Secretary of Transportation Ray Lahood made some pretty bold statements surrounding bicycle, and walkable by extension, environments in transportation decision making. The statement should reverberate loudly in the coming months and years, "Today, I want to announce a sea change. People across America who value bicycling should have a voice when it comes to transportation planning. This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized.
We are integrating the needs of bicyclists in federally-funded road projects. We are discouraging transportation investments that negatively affect cyclists and pedestrians. And we are encouraging investments that go beyond the minimum requirements and provide facilities for bicyclists and pedestrians of all ages and abilities"
Q: First off, what do you do for or with, the Indycog? Founder?
A: I'm a co-founder of INDYCOG along with Chris Newgent. I handle most of the design/website duties and I also write and report on a lot of commuter topics.
Q: You recently attended the National Bike Summit in D.C. Can you explain a little about what you did and how it will impact your efforts with the Indycog?
A: We gained a lot of knowledge and perspective on what it takes to be an advocacy group for our city. Unfortunately I didn't have the opportunity to attend any workshops or speeches, but I was able to connect personally with members of many other advocacy groups outside of the actual summit. INDYCOG was not technically a part of the summit this year, but we plan to attend as representatives of Indianapolis next year.
Q: Did you take advantage of the mass transportation options while in DC, and if so, what is your opinion on their setup?
A: Not this time around as we took our bikes along for the trip and rode everywhere. I've used the Metro in the past and found it to quite useful... I generally find mass transit in other cities to always be useful in comparison to Indianapolis.
Q: You are striving to be completely carless. In Indy that is a tough obstacle. What have you had to overcome to become successful living in Fountain Square and working in Broad Ripple?
A: It can be tough go carless in Indianapolis if you live outside of the core of the city, but I've found that living in Fountain Square has been a catalyst to becoming car free. Obviously a bicycle is my main form of transportation, but I've also been able to utilize IndyGo as well. I feel fortunate that the bus service Indianapolis actually works for me, because for the majority of people with transportation choices in this city, it's just not an option. Working in Broad Ripple hasn't been much of a hurdle at all. The Monon Greenway is a great commuter artery and when the weather is poor or I feel like walking I'm able to take IndyGo route 17, which runs every 30 minutes. Getting to other areas of the city can be a hassle, but I tackle them as necessary.
Q: What is your position on fixed gear bikes?
A: Usually seated, slightly bent over and moving my legs furiously.
I own two fixed gear bicycles. I enjoy the efficiency and the simplicity of maintenance. I'm not anti-coasting or anti-brakes, but I do know if I were to give myself the ability to coast, I would.. a lot. As much as I enjoy riding bikes, it's essentially my only form of exercise.. so the idea of constantly pedaling is attractive to me.
Q: How far has indy come, and how far do we have to go in regards to growing as a bicycle-friendly city?
A: We are making great strides for such a car focused city. I think our greenways are a great asset, but they need to be more connected. When the bikeways plan and cultural trail come to completion it will be huge for Indianapolis. Combine that with a legitimate transportation system and then you'll see people not cringe when they have to visit or move here.
Q: What is your opinion on Indyconnect and its possible impact on daily commuting in Indianapolis?
A: I love it. I wish that everyone was excited about public transportation as I am, but it seems that most people can't see past their dashboard on it. The development and expansion of mass transit in Indianapolis is so critical to the success and future of the city.
Q: You play drums in a local band (I'm pretty sure about this but you can slap me in line if I am wrong). How does going carless impact your responsibilites to the band?
A: I play drums for Maravich (www.maravich.org) and luckily we practice in my basement and our guitar player owns an SUV and hauls most of our equipment around when we play shows. I've considered building a cargo trailer to haul them if it was ever necessary.
Q: Anything you want to expound on, please feel free!
A: We have big plans for INDYCOG in the near future so keep your eyes open!
Please take a moment to visit Indycog and see what they are doing for Indianapolis