A lot of the recent controversy here at Urban Indy has revolved around the unannounced road diet that Indy seems to have went on this year. During this construction season alone, a lane has been wiped clean and converted to biking facilities along 46th street, 62nd/Broad Ripple Ave, Shelby St & Madison Ave, Washington Street downtown, Capitol Ave and Virginia Ave;Â and those are just the ones that I can think of off the top of my head. In most cases bike lanes were striped along existing roadways and in the case of Shelby Street, a separated bike track was constructed.
Thinking about the displacement of cars in Indy and the potential controversy involved, I thought back to a prior topic andÂ popular topic that we debate here and that is the idea of light rail from Broad Ripple to Downtown. I know that I am not the only one who has looked at this route and in fact, I can tell you that at the highest transit planning level, it has been looked at and debated; although I suspect nothing will come to fruition in the near term nor when Indyconnect goes to the statehouse toÂ convince lawmakers to allow a referendum for transit funding. However, that can’t stop some of us from daydreaming about it.
Perhaps the most difficult portion of such a route would be College Ave between 38th street and Broad Ripple Village. I say this with the assumption that any line built would likely travel along existing streets since there are no real empty corridors to put a rail line in that doesn’t involve mass destruction of homes or existing biking & pedestrian facilities (Monon Trail)Â to make it happen. Broad Ripple Ave would be difficult as well and presents a real opportunity to be innovative with the design of such a route. Preserving the old auto-culture of the area and promoting the transit-based design of the village is a real challenge. This post will not tackle the village portion but instead, the College Ave portion of a supposed route.
As I often do, I looked at other cities and what they may have done to address similar design constraints. LookingÂ back at history is a key way to expandÂ upon the efforts someone else has laid the ground work for. One route in particular looks a lot like College Ave along this stretch and it is the MAX Yellow Line in Portland, OR. The Yellow Line is for the most part, a median running light rail line with a pair of north/south tracks. It was built in the median of Interstate Ave; a street that before the arrival of the train was similar in built form to College Ave.Â I looked to Scott Johnson (EngineerScotty)Â of Portland Transport for some history on the corridor and he had this to say,
A long, LONG time ago, N. Interstate Avenue was the route of US99W, and one of the primary arterials into the city from the state of Washington (the other being US99E, which ran down Union Avenue, nowadays called NE Martin Luther King Boulevard).Â It was made obsolete as an arterial by the construction of the Minnesota Street Freeway (I-5) a few blocks to the east, but it still existed as a highway (later decomissioned as a US highway, becoming OR99W) for quite some time.Â Eventually, OR99W was truncated to end in downtown Portland, and Interstate became a local street.
During its heyday, the route of OR99W was a four-lane urban boulevard (with left turn pockets at major intersections, but no continuous turning refuge); and no on-street parking–definitely NOT a pedestrian friendly route.Â In the old days, OR99W became a controlled access highway as it approached downtown (some of the rampwork is still there); crossed the Willamette River via the Steel Bridge (which then had two auto lanes per direction), and then continued south as a “freeway” (crude by modern standards) along the west bank of the Willamette via Harbor Drive, and then continued on south via Barbur Boulevard.
When the Baldock Freeway opened (the first section of I-5 through Portland, running from downtown south to Wilsonville), Harbor Drive was routed on that.
Eventually, the downtown Portland freeway network was completed–the Marquam Bridge and the Eastbank Freeway (I-5), and the Fremont Bridge and the Stadium Freeway (I-405), and Harbor Drive became functionally obsolete, leading to its eventual (and much ballyhooed) removal and conversion to a park (Waterfront Park).Â SW/NW Front Avenue (now Naito Parkway) became the main waterfront thoroughfare; the western ramps on the Steel Bridge were redesigned.
In 1986, the first MAX line opened, which used the center two lanes of the Steel Bridge to cross the river.Â Originally, these two lanes were shared with auto traffic (now they are exclusively used by light rail).Â In the 1990s, the construction and opening of the Rose Garden arena (where the Trail Blazers now play) and the development of the Rose Quarter area, immediately beyond the eastern end of the Steel Bridge, led to further restructuring of the road.Â But Interstate Avenue essentially remained a four-lane boulevard all the way from the Rose Quarter area to the Kenton neighborhood.
When the Yellow Line was put in, they simply replaced the center two traffic lanes with light rail.Â The result has been a much better pedestrian environment.
E Burnside Street east of Gateway was revamped in a similar fashion to make room for the eastside MAX–a four lane boulevard was turned into two through lanes (one per direction) and two tracks for light rail.
Â The final design of the Yellow Line included some parallel parking along the street but as you can see from a lot of the images, a lot of the route is now a single auto lane, a bike lane, the occasional left turn pocket and some parking here and there.
Could College Ave survive in a similar fashion? Could a corridor that is now 3 or 4 lanes in most parts with parking available along a large portion, be reduced to something that resembles the Yellow Line in Portland? Would residents living in single family dwellings along such a route stomach not being able to park directly on College Ave along certain portions? I know that there would beÂ upset folks, butÂ would the pain ofÂ short term citizen unrest be worth the potential windfall of aÂ median College Ave light rail design?
Â Certainley, each city compared here has its own uniqueÂ constraints. Interstate Ave, with history as a guide, was a much more auto oriented corridor in it’s past. College Ave locally, has a very storied transit past which is evident at any of the nodes such as 46th, 49th, 52nd, 54th & Broad Ripple Ave with the old mixed use style buildings still used to this day.
It should be pointed out that Indy is not Portland and never will be. However, it would be remiss to not explore the lessons that a progressive transit oriented city has pioneered as Indianapolis gears up for what could potentially be the next evolution of regional transportation.
Editor’s Note: Special thanks to Engineer Scotty of Portland Transport for the history lesson on the Interstate Ave corridor and to Dan Haneckow for allowing the usage of his fantastic photos of the Yellow Line. Both of them contribute to their community through their blogs which you should check out. Thanks guys!