A recent epiphany came to me when I was debating how we advocate for transit improvements. Often times, as an advocate, its hard to easily craft a message that everyday citizens can understand; especially when we live in a time where nearly everyone alive grew up during the rise and golden age of the automobile. It is the only frame of reference that most of us have when it comes to thinking about how we get from Point A to Point B. Heck, I drive every day to get to work, to school, to the grocery and to the doctor. I grew up this way and while I advocate for transit improvements, the state of things here in Indy are so poor, that I cannot make it work for me. My work and school are over 30 miles apart and transit doesn’t serve my day job.
This week, Mitch Daniels announced that he would like to see the closure of US31 to complete the freeway-ifictation of the stretch in a shorter time frame and for less money. The logic is sound, and while it sounds extreme, there has not been a large outcry of dissent over the notion. Even Carmel’s Mayor Jim Brainard has gone on record as supporting this.
Here is the rub. Why is it so easy for roads? Why can we waive our hand and make such a sweeping change that will affect thousands of daily commuters and nary the word of dissent?
If the Indianapolis Star announced Monday that a light rail corridor would begin construction from Broad Ripple to downtown, people would be having fits. How would we get to work? How much does it cost? Indiana conservatives justÂ had a minor heart attack at the mere mention of such a thought. Â (take that!)
There is a double standard that exists when it comes to transit and frankly, it shouldn’t exist. Why does it exist? I believe it is because people, and Indianapolis is a huge offender, view transit as a luxury. Despite rising gas prices, road rage, excessive repair bills, insurance, car payments and the overall drag on a household’s economy, people still firmly believe that using a car to serve their transportation needs is the only way. Sure, it provides first person control and the ability to change your mind, but look at what you pay for it. If we applied this logic to all facets of our lives, we’d all be wearing $400 suits, eating Fillet Mignon and drinking expensive French red wine for every meal. I think we can say without a doubt, that the population of people living that way is very small.
Furthermore, how much has our built environment reflected this and what are the downfalls to this? Wide roads, long sweeping curves, bulldozed natural habitats? Cul-de-sacs that kill connectivity. Lack of sidewalks to provide safe places for citizens (and children). Gasoline stations. Auto repair stations. Drive throughs. Strip malls. Mega parking lots and garages which generate little or no direct revenue and are often subsidized by tax payers and whos admission costs barely cover the bonds issued to pay for the initial structure. Just look how much we have given over to our automobile dominated choices and how messy it is.
Folks, this is not sustainable. Its dirty. It fouls up our air and our water. It puts garbage into our drinking supply and sacrifices farm land and natural beauty.
In contrast, public transit offers an option that takes every single one of the above listed factors, and lessens it’s affects on our every day lives. Less parking lots. Less gasoline stations. Less wide roads and destruction of the environment. Additionally, the resulting built forms that are generally associated with transit stops are far more efficient. They are dense, provide efficient living options, create more tax dollars per land used, promote social interaction. I could go on. Diesel buses and trains are not free of contributing to dirty air and water, but they certainley cut down on it when examined per capita.
I am a dreamer. I have been called a dreamer. I am also a realist andÂ I never give up. I believe that there is a compromise somewhere in between these two models. The next time someone says a transit project is too expensive, just think about how much we pump into automobile related infrastructure and upkeep on a daily basis. You could be paying a lot less and supporting a more economical and environmentally sustainable mode of transportation. It is certainly difficult to equate the expenses of one mode to the other, but I believe I’ve made my point by listing some of the factors.