Open thread: How to change thinking on transit in Indy

Could Light Rail someday look like this on Washington St?
Could Light Rail someday look like this on Washington St?

This week, I had a couple of conversations with people I would classify as people who think like I do. By that I mean, they are constantly thinking about how to improve transit for Indianapolis by using the limited resources that are available. In that respect, it is simple for me to strike up a conversation about how a study may be going or hey, what do you think about a rapid transit corridor along ______.

However, when I strike up a conversation with someone who does not think about these topics very often, I am struck with just how to properly go about it. For most citizens who live in Indianapolis, thinking about public transit conjures images of people waiting for long periods of time on a bus to arrive followed by another long wait for a transfer. To advocate for a system such as this to someone who does not use it is difficult. Painting a rosy picture of how that could improve if a tax is implemented can be even tougher.

I personally find it comforting to craft up a blog about how light rail might look along College Ave. Or how a proposed BRT line isn’t really BRT at all. It is easy to talk to most of the people who visit this site, because most of you come here with a preconceived notion that these are the topics that we are discussing. But when I step away from this website and start talking to friends, family or co-workers who may not recognize the value in what we write about, I am often left stuttering and trying to translate things like “TOD”, “Trip Not Taken” and “walkable neighborhoods” to people who’d as soon hop in the car and go get groceries versus jumping on a bike or bus. As an advocate, choosing the easiest message can be difficult and may not seem like the most logical way convince someone to choose transit over their car.

It got me thinking, how do YOU handle this conversation? Another open thread, for a slow moment on the site.

Comments 13

  • It is a tough topic with a lot of people. Is always interesting to me that the same people that are resistant to this conversation, will go on vacation somewhere touristy where they walk and bike to get everything they need all week. Yet wouldn’t consider doing the same thing at home even occasionally.

    $4/gallon gas should help the conversation too- especially if you break it down to a per-mile cost and look at what the trip expense really is.

  • That is the easiest message I use. Asking someone how much they spend on gasoline, insurance, oil changes, tires, etc.

  • Insurance, oil changes, tires, etc. is a fail argument, Curt. People do not think about those things as “variable” expenses because they’re part of the overhead of owning a vehicle.
    Transit advocates must accept that in Indianapolis, we have to have cars in order to have more than minimal choices of where to live, work, shop, eat, and spend free time. Trying to argue from “first principles” that we would have better choices and better lives with better transit just won’t fly. For most people, that’s too far a leap; they “see” gritty urban life along the El with trains rattling by every few minutes.
    So I think we have to argue from actual incremental cost and convenience, as well as the secondary argument of the demonstrated urban revitalization spin-off effects of rails in the street.
    In other words, the message has to be organized around “how could you drive less and reduce your gasoline and parking cost?” instead of “your car is killing our world–get rid of it!” or even “look how much you spend on owning a car, you could save all that money instead”.

  • perhaps if we had fewer politicians using large pocket books to lie about and downplay transit benefits we could truly begin a beneficial dialogue.

  • I am a medical student so much of my perspective focuses on patients and how they are well or poorly served by public transit. My conversations with non-public transit users start with a story about how I love my bus / bike commute and then a second story explains how making “the system” better (in a multitude of ways) is the right thing to do for those who cannot afford a car and a suburban commute but still have important needs like getting to the doctor / hospital. Many of the people with whom I speak aren’t yet ready to jump on the public transit bandwagon but they do understand mercy and social justice. Being reminded that there are people who are already using and who really do *need* Indy’s mass transit *right now* opens the door to considering the importance of funding and development–even if it doesn’t get my conversationalist partner on the bus.

  • I think, as bloggers, some of us have a tendency to get wrapped up in our pet issues and we just assume that the at-large non blog reading public shares the concern.

    Often, outside of regular commenters and readers, people who write for non-traditional media get little feedback. The best responses I get aren’t from irregular blog readers, but when I overhear some people at the coffee shop or at the city-county building discussing an issue that I’ve extensively written about. When I was at a McDonald’s on the north side once, I joined a group of senior citizens who were talking about the then-proposed City Market revamp. One of them commented “Didn’t we just do this a year or so ago?”. Another time, at a Panera Bread, I had a friendly exchange with a couple of people about the sale of the water utilities.

    As for the topic of mass transit, I think what needs to be done is to get one section of town using mass transit (or really, anything not a car) for most of their travel needs. Take those that live downtown as the first group. Get them riding their bikes, get them walking, get them on the bus. Have IndyGo offer a special bus pass that only goes on the downtown districts, similar to the Red Line.

    If we had a halfway decent bus system, I’d say it’d give public transit a better impression in the public eye. But since we have a halfassed one (through no fault of those running IndyGo), people see mass transit as inefficient.

  • This turned into a slightly long post, but sadly I talk about this issue way too much and probably annoy those around me that do not feel as strongly as I do. Here are some of the things I have encountered speaking with mostly 20somethings about a rail/streetcar line from broad ripple to downtown.

    –The proposition of being able to get back and forth from downtown/mass. ave. to broad ripple is often times enough to get people that haven’t thought much about the issue to say “yeah that would be awesome.”

    –mentioning options and positive side effects helps, such as saving the city market/ old MSA space by offering a stop on Alabama St., and transit oriented development bringing people back to marion county(which in turn would improve city revenues without raising taxes).

    –For the pro-business and anti-tax crowd (along with those people that just think Indy is great how it is, who cant see any obvious benefits from MassTransit) I usually go with mentioning:
    1) that density= higher tax revenues at the same rate (often I have to explain the concept of 4-6 stories paying 4-6 times the amount of taxes as 1-story, as simple as it sounds it is lost here in Indy);
    2) Most successful downtown’s, ones that aren’t obsessed with tourism/conventions like us, all have rail lines connecting to their airport, seems like a no brainer here for the CIB which could kick-start the network in the name of “attracting conventions”;
    3) constantly repairing and building roads is MUCH more pricey than mass transit, often I will quote the $110million repair of one sam jones overpass, which could’ve paid for the proposed railline by itself, yet nobody questioned the price tag to taxpayers for the road…..
    4) Brain Drain! Young professionals are passing up our city left and right to live, work, play, and pay (higher) taxes in cities that offer car-free lifestyles. Nationwide, companies are responding by locating headquarters and offices where these young people want to live. In my opinion this is the most important benefit MassTransit can offer, but sadly we wont see the benefit because the young taxpayers supporting mass transit won’t be here until it exists (chicken and the egg).

    It clearly will take foresight and possibly unpopular decision making to make even only 2 lines a reality (airport to downtown, downtown to broad ripple), but if they can get off the ground, both locals and newly attracted residents will show their support (hopefully) to whomever steps up to lead the political charge (lets not forget there are still stimulus funds available for streetcar lines that will match our local funding!)

  • RyanLitherland wrote “…I will quote the $110million repair of one sam jones overpass, which could’ve paid for the proposed railline by itself, yet nobody questioned the price tag to taxpayers for the road.”

    Let me add that the Sam Jones Expressway is nearly obsolete at this point with the new mid-field terminal and it’s own gargantuan interchange off I-70.

    With transit funds going nearly 100% to roads in Indiana and Indianapolis examples such as the Sam Jones may show those skeptical how much can be done by redirecting a small piece of the pie.

  • I’m generally a lurker here because I enjoy reading and learning from folks who are knowledgeable about some of the issues I value. But, I’m a management consultant, and reading this post and some of the comments make me think you might also try another approach.

    Talk with people and find out what they value about neighborhoods, the quality of life they value, and what’s important to them … then connect appropriate elements of their story to the perspectives you want to get others to hold about transit. In other words, if we listen to others more, they often will teach us how to sell them on what we believe passionately.

  • This painting is very big and stands close to the entrance of IMA. To be viewed properly you must not arrive at the IMA grounds by automobile. If you are downtown it is about four miles away. By walking at a pace four miles per hour it gets you to IMA in one hour. MLK St. is safe enough in the daytime. IMA is free today and open until five. This a mission.

  • In the late 1970s and early ’80s local alternative transit advocates held an annual event called Hike Bike and Bus Week. The slogan was “Meet People Face to Face Instead of Bumper to Bumper.” This picks up on Jeffrey C’s comments about talking w/ people. That was the whole focus of the event which included awareness campaigns like mass bike rides, panel discussions at Central Library, etc. all with the idea of getting people to talk w/ each other about transportation options. Fast forward to 2011… It was great to see IndyGo & IndyConnect & Indiana Citizens Alliance for Transit on Monument Circle Friday for the Bike to Work Day. Great crowd, lots of conversation and a clear demonstration that people are interested in getting out of their cars. (nice weather helps!) Some kind of Hoosier Transit Spring is in order – launch a summer-long alt transit promo on Earth Day lasting until Halloween. Get businesses to underwrite bus passes for their employees, and/or install bike racks/lockers & showers on-site, sponsor “how-to” events (how to make sense of the IndyGo route stytem, how to commute by bike, how to use IndyGo’s bus bike racks, etc.); set up bike-pooling rides where commuters meet at select locations to ride together to work/school.

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