Indianapolis Streetcar Plan: Guest post by Greg Meckstroth

Greg Meckstroth writes for the Urban Out website.  He has been gracious to share his vision with us.

Earlier this year, the IndyConnect plan was released that set a vision for Indianapolis’ mass transit future. From the onset, I have been critical of the plan’s suburban orientation and its focus on commuter rail. While such improvements are certainly needed and heavy and light rail should be a part of the IndyConnect plan, what I believe is missing is urban transit options such as urban circulators that cater to non-commuting travel and allow for urban and transit-oriented development to occur along the lines. For a detailed critique of the IndyConnect plan, check out this post, and for specific ideas on urban transit improvement ideas, check out this post.

If Indianapolis is to become a bigger and better version of its current self, the city must provide a world-class transit system that caters to multiple users, not just suburban commuters. On top of that, developing a mass transit system around peak hour use (rush hour) is as efficient as Wal-Mart planning parking lots for peak use (day after Thanksgiving). Thus, a plan focusing on urban transit that caters to trips occurring at all hours of the day (trip to the grocery store, bank, haircut, other daily needs) instead of 2 hours a day would increase the likeliness of the system’s success and be a better investment for taxpayers.

After talking about this topic for the last six months and complaining to all willing to read or listen, I have finally taken the time to put together a plan for an urban transit system in Indianapolis. The plan below outlines a 6 phase, long-term approach to implementing an urban transit system in Indianapolis. Essentially, these are the routes I believe will best capitalize on what urban Indianapolis has to offer, on where urban redevelopment can easily occur, and on where high density populations currently exist. As always, click the image for a larger view of the plan.

Phase 1 – Downtown Loop: Meridian St. – South St. – Delaware St. – Michigan St.
I believe an urban transit system should start here because a downtown streetcar loop would act as a base for all urban transit to build on. Plus, there is great development/redevelopment/infill potential along Delaware Street, nearby Alabama Street, and around South Street. Also, this loop will connect the active southern half of downtown with the underutilized northern half of downtown and all the great public spaces located there. Finally, the incredible amounts of conventioneers and tourists downtown year round provides an immediate ridership base.

Phase 2 – North Meridian Street: Extension from Michigan St to 38th St.
North Meridian is perhaps the most urban, densely built corridor in Indianapolis outside of downtown. There is a lot of potential for dense, mixed-use development and infill along North Meridian Street up to 38th Street. Also, numerous institutions including the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis is located along the corridor. Thus, a streetcar line off the downtown loop and extending up to 38th Street would be perfect for North Meridian Street and allow the corridor to develop into an urban thoroughfare with transit oriented development.

Phase 3 – Mass Ave to N. College Ave Extension: From Mass Ave. to College up to Broad Ripple
This leg of the urban transit system would most likely be light rail or a high-speed streetcar. Along Mass Ave. and N. College Ave. there exists great potential for infill development in areas where people desire to live. Plus, this extension would connect downtown to Broad Ripple, urban Indianapolis’ two largest regional centers. A route along College Ave. would allow the numerous commercial nodes located here to develop into significant transit oriented development centers around light rail stops.

Phase 4 – IUPUI Loop: Michigan St. – University Blvd. – New York St. – Delaware St.
A streetcar loop through IUPUI would tap into a large population base that is highly likely to use mass transportation. Thus, this loop would allow IUPUI to become a more urban-oriented campus, shed its commuter campus label, and see significant infill urban development along Michigan and New York Streets.

Phase 5 – Fountain Square Extension: Virginia Ave. to Shelby St.
A streetcar extension to Fountain Square along Virginia Avenue would tap into an urban population base that is likely to use mass transit. Plus, there is a significant amount of infill development potential in and around Fountain Square, an increasingly desirable area to live that is in need of high density residential development to reach critical mass. A streetcar line connecting the Square to downtown would allow for such development to occur.

Phase 6 – 10th St. Extension
A 10th Street streetcar extension would be the final phase of an urban transit system for Indianapolis. This extension would serve some of the city’s higher population density areas. Plus, the corridor presents a significant amount of pedestrian oriented commercial redevelopment potential that would be easily developed around a transit system. Finally, a streetcar line along 10th Street would take advantage of the current attention, progress, and energy along the corridor surrounding the Super Bowl Legacy Project. A streetcar could be marketed as a continuation of the ongoing revitalization of the Near Eastside.

I look at this plan as a conversation starter, something that is draft form, something that can act as a platform for an urban transit system in Indianapolis. Hopefully these types of ideas can be refined, polished, and eventually be included in the IndyConnect plan as a priority transportation improvement. I truly believe urban Indianapolis and the city’s future would be better for it.

Comments 17

  • I do like your thoughts on providing a comprehensive plan for downtown/ Midtown dwellers. I still think the College Avenue line should be the NUMBER 1 priority in this particular plan. Connecting Broad Ripple to Mass Ave. makes the most sense as far as density and the vitality that already exists within the two districts. Plus College Avenue is in close proximity to the NE line which, in addition to a ramped up bus service, will accomodate a larger and much more diverse population. However, for this first phase to work as an efficient system—the Downtown Loop, new bus service, Airport Link and the NE Corridor Line all need to be developed in conjunction with the College Ave Line. From this ambitious first phase should Indy be able to branch out to other areas because of the investment put into livability of Downtown and Midtown—not the suburbs.

  • i’ve seen this map before on a search for light rail in indy, unless they do something with the interstates downtown i would have to put fountain square last as far as the plan above goes.
    also, running down mass ave won’t help when it comes to having predictable stop times along the college and 10th street lines.

    here is a google map of my idea for on-street light rail, this with my other map (if you’ve seen it) i think will help indy grow stronger down the road.

  • Kyle, I actually dig that LRT network idea. I was a bit skeptic of the last plan you posted since it primarily travelled on freight lines and in areas where development would be difficult and serving existing population centers would be hard…

    but this plan isnt bad.

    Greg’s idea really services some readily available population centers though. All those routes serve already thriving auto traffic corridors, and travel through areas that are ripe, yet currently not being developed.

    • well the other plan would help in the redevelopment of brown-fields around the freight lines and could provide for faster trip times in certain parts of the city (where it is grade separated) then if it had to follow on the street where the chance for accidents go up, i’m sure most have seen the video on youtube of drivers not obeying traffic signs as a light rail train comes by.
      i will admit that the green line would most likely see the least amount of ridership and could move to on the street and head towards fountain square then south on shelby to u of indy

      i just wish that google maps had an easy way of making bulls-eyes for 1/4 and 1/2 mile area around the stops…to better show coverage of the lines

  • IMO the most important line is the one not on Greg’s plan: the east-west Washington line, especially the part that runs from the Airport to Eastgate/Irvington (ideal) or Downtown (stripped down).
    My second priority would be a single north-south line whose core would run from Eli Lilly and Wellpoint (South & East) west to some combination of Illinois/Capitol/Meridian, north past Ivy Tech and The Children’s Museum to 34th or 38th, east to College, and north to Broad Ripple. That line could be extended to Glendale and Keystone Crossing or Castleton (north) and Fountain Square/UIndy (south).
    These lines would serve already-thriving TRANSIT corridors, which I think is the key to light rail in Indy.

  • Chris, I think an east-west Washington line would be great for light rail. My plan tends to focus on urban circulator lines (streetcars) with the exception, perhaps, of College Ave, which seems perfect for light rail. I think the N. Meridian corridor has the most potential for redevelopment. There seems to be a lot of existing built density around the area and plenty of parcels ready for infill.

  • We probably agree more than disagree, Greg. My attitude is formed somewhat by recent visits to San Diego. One day around lunchtime I drove through the Gaslamp Quarter and Downtown, and it was just amazing…cars, people, and trolleys all coexisting in a densely developed area.
    But what I don’t get about their trolley system is that despite the proximity of Downtown to their airport, the streetcars don’t go there. Nor do they serve popular tourist destinations such as Balboa Park (Zoo).

  • I know it’s a bit out of our realm of similarity, but Florence, Italy recently built it’s first light rail line. It runs from the train station to a SW suburb bypassing most of the cultural things that a tourist city like that SHOULD be funelling people to.

    But the underlying theme was that it seems to serve the people who live there really well. To that end, San Diego really makes sure that the lines they have serve the population to get them around. Sometimes doing the right things, doesnt SEEM like doing the right thing.

  • I’d say that ny light rail should go further south than Fountain Square and/or the Lilly complex AND include an east-west route, as Chris Barnett suggests. I would hate to see transit development perpetuate the priveleged position that the Northside often occupies in our city.

    • I like the FS line, but I would like to see it go all the way to Raymond and maybe beyond down to UIndy. Lots of development potential there and Garfield Park.

      From FS, you could run a line east on Prospect to Sherman or Emerson someday,.

  • I’m just musing here, and please feel free to correct me if I’m wrong, or validate me if I’m right. It seems to me that streetcars would be better-situated for areas that are heavily developed along the entire way — such as downtown, or the North Meridian corridor. Conversely, light rail would be better situated for moving medium distances between densely heavily developed areas, where the in-betweens would not be particularly developed. So, it would make more sense to put light rail along College Avenue connecting Broad Ripple and Mass Ave, rather than a streetcar.

    In that same vein, I’d very much like a streetcar along 38th Street from Lafayette Square to the Fairgrounds, but we’d have to carefully cultivate the Lafayette Square region to support walkable development.

  • Greg – thanks for inspiring all this transit brainstorming and speculation. You’ve obviously struck a chord with all of us. There is a good combo solution for what should go where (lightrail vs streetcar) and definitely a reason to use a combination. After reading all the responses, I do think we can figure it out. Andrew – glad you mentioned 38th from Lafayette to the fairgrounds – The Art Museum is a destination and we must figure out a good way to connect from downtown. The key to all is a connected system that works ! While I like the idea of phased in streetcar lines, lets not forget the bus system that could solve some of these connection issues. Thanks this is why we need to keep working together on all this.

  • I love things rail, but am smart enough to see that rail transit will not work in Indianapolis, it does not have the population density nessessary to support such a sytem. What would really work better for Metro Indianapolis would be a BRT system

  • That’s a generic statement Jim. Can you provide some facts to back up your claims? Define “enough density”? Define why BRT would be better? Explain how BRT solves the problems of deteriorating neighborhoods and creates incentive for people to move into the areas that Greg has stated could benefit from rail transit.

  • I disagree with Jim that Lightrail won’t work in Indianapolis. The problem I see is the mere vastness of our city. In order to catch the train to go downtown many people would be outside of walking distance to the train and would have to drive to the train. It is hard for me to see a train system broad enough to really provide most people in the city and burbs a convenient alternative for work commutes and getting around town. Where the rail would make the most sense is connecting downtown, speedway, and the airport or connecting downtown with broad ripple, Keystone at the Crossing….Example: Someone who lives in Noblesville can go shopping at Keystone at the Crossing, catch the train downtown to shop or eat and then return to Keystone at the Crossing and drive home.

  • I don’t know if Jim in Denver is correct that Indy doesn’t have the density to support rail, but I’m a bit skeptical. While I’d agree that a well-designed rail line could certainly help spur urban revitalization, I don’t think it’s the be all, end all, or a panacea. Many vibrant urban neighborhoods in other big cities don’t have rail transit, but rely heavily upon frequent, convenient bus lines to many destinations. Is it not a little odd to focus on making the leap from having a woefully inadequate bus system to investing billions in rail lines without any incremental improvements to the bus system?

    Having said that, I’d much rather see frequent (including late night) transit service on Washington and College (whether BRT, LRT, streetcar, or whatever), before seeing the Northeast Corridor develop through underpopulated areas with limited or difficult redevelopment potential.

  • — The current growth of Indianapolis seems to be in it’s suburbs. Somehow this needs to be capitalized upon. Especially since the Indianapolis street grid has never been flushed out much past the 38th block in any direction. It is a miserable task to get in or out of Indianapolis on any day for mfg, sales, delivery, or service people, plus what mother wouldn’t wish to put the kids on the trolley and run down to the Children’s museum for the day, or the Indian’s game for the night. History shows that the State isn’t interested in spending the kind of highway money necessary to connect it’s suburbs together, much less connect the suburbs to the city itself, thus some kind of a Trolley might prove viable, since it will have little competition from the autos. Just food for thought, Kyle.

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