Wringing Efficiency out of the Red Line

Red Line Project Scope
Red Line Project Scope

Recently, I covered the study of the Red Line Rapid Transit Corridor. A short way of describing the Red Line is to say that is scoped as a north/south corridor that would travel from Carmel, through Broad Ripple and Downtown, to Greenwood. A number of alternatives have been proposed along the way.

The technology of choice will almost certainly be Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) as any sort of rail based technology will likely be too expensive on account of constructing in-street rails. That being the case, I thought I would go down this rabbit hole for an examination of how the chosen route might wring value out of not only the Red Line service itself, but other local bus service.

To begin with, an examination of current service will show us how closely it would align with proposed Red Line service. A number of highly patronaged routes currently exist in the near north Meridian Street corridor. The 38 & 39 which are some of the highest rated routes by boarding in the system run north from downtown, and along Meridian. Also, the 18 runs Meridian for a portion of it’s route. Close by, along Illinois & Capitol, the 4, 25 & 28 operate. Along Pennsylvania and Delaware, the 19 operates. As you can see, 7 routes run along a corridor of 5 adjacent streets. When Red Line service is finally implemented, it will likely be on one of these streets bringing the total to 8.

Possible Red Line Trunk
Possible Red Line Trunk

How might we bring some efficiency to this corridor by combining these bus lines into 1 or 2 corridors? In other cities where rapid transit systems operate, trunk lines are established where many bus or train lines converge on similar corridors. Rapid transit often operates on these, but local services duck in and out where their routes may be able to use the trunk line to decrease the running time along the route. Usually, trunks exist due to geographic constraints whether that be a river, a mountain, so on and so forth. In Indianapolis, a different condition exists. Geography plays a part, but not natural. Human geography drives this condition. Meridian Street offers a glut of trip generators from businesses, non-profit organizations, charter schools, apartment buildings, a community college, the Children’s Museum, etc.

“Could Meridian Street itself, through robust and dedicated guideway infrastructure, establish itself as a trunk corridor for rapid and local bus service? If so, what would that look like?”

Certainly there are some hiccups to consider. Bunching of buses could be problematic as local buses tend to create delays with riders paying as they get on board and would compete with Red Line buses which would most likely benefit from off-board fare collection services. So there are some things to consider with this. Would local buses service sidewalk customers while Red Line buses served median stations? And how would automobiles deal with this? Certainly, one can make the case that between Capitol, Illinois, Delaware and Pennsylvania that cars have orders of magnitude more lane miles to get in and out of the core. Indeed, most parking garages are situated along those blocks anyway. Still, the argument will be made.

I don’t have the answers, but a case exists to be made that a major trunk line on Meridian Street, from 38th street to downtown, could serve to move buses, local and Red Line rapid service, quickly along the corridor delivering a valuable service in a corridor that generates the lion share of trips in the region.

What do you think?

Comments 11

  • As usual, I disagree with putting rapid transit on Meridian anywhere. Keep it local bus service.

    First, the trip generators are skewed to the west of Meridian: The Children’s Museum, Ivy Tech, Methodist Hospital, Stutz, Gateway Plaza, State Government, Circle Centre, LOS, and the big cluster of downtown office towers south of Michigan are all on the Illinois/Capitol side. (The only tall exceptions are CCB, Chase, and Regions.) Almost everything located on the west side of Meridian has a back “main” entrance facing Illinois: Citizens Energy, WISH, MIBOR, London Witte Group, WFYI, Catholic Center, WRTV, Brown Mackie, Scottish Rite, (former) Safeco, and so on right down to the Circle.

    Secondly, Meridian carries upwards of 25,000 cars per day and lots of local buses. It would not be rapid. Ever.

    Thirdly, the Illinois-Capitol pair argument from South St. to 34th is exactly the same as the Michigan-NY argument on the east side: it could be first-class rapid transit with dedicated transitways, where the alpha street couldn’t afford to give up the ROW.

    As I’ve written many times, from South Street, I’d route BRT on the Capitol/Illinois pair north to 34th, across 34th & Fairfield to College, up College to Broad Ripple, across Broad Ripple Ave.*** to Glendale, north on Keystone to the Crossing, then let Carmel decide where from there…across 96th, 106th, 116th, 126th to Old or New Meridian, terminating at St. Vincent North or Clay Terrace.

    Except this routing skips the Transit Center in favor of a Blue Line interchange at Circle Centre. Not necessarily a bad thing. Think Washington Metro, with multiple large transfer points. And the Red Line would (most likely of any route) be serving direct one-mode commuters with service to destination points.

    ***I would, in conjunction with the BR Ave routing, remove cars from the Village core between College and Westfield (hat tip to Idyllic Indy’s New York St. transit/bikeway concept for the Blue Route), make Westfield 2-way, and move the bike lane to 61st, which would be converted to a “bike boulevard” between the Monon and Glendale. That sound you hear is the screams of the entire BRVA membership…

    • –>Except this routing skips the Transit Center in favor of split Blue Line interchanges at Circle Centre and the Convention Center with PNC Plaza in between.<–

      In other words, the tourist center of downtown.

    • I’m intrigued by your idea for Broad Ripple Chris. I wonder if it would be feasible and makes sense to extended the east-west portion of Westfield Blvd to connect with BR Ave east of the Monon somewhere around the Applebee’s to maintain a more direct route for cars or the BRT through the Village. This would prevent cars traveling the Westfield / Winthrop / BR Ave route from needing to cross the path of the Monon twice.

    • I stole your idea…and it was a good one.

      I agree on a straightforward Westfield route through the village.

      If I recall old maps correctly “Riviera Drive”, the street that starts east of the corner of Westfield, Westfield, and the Monon, used to run along the river to where the billboard east of Applebees is now.

      Of course, we could NEVER cut off Applebees from their riverside dining experience, could we?

      I was thinking that BR Ave needed to still convey people into the big LOR shopping center/Scotty’s parking lot, and Mickey D’s Drive-Thru French Fry Mchine.

      It’s late. Sorry for the sarcasm.

  • I do not understand how a bus service sharing the road with everyday traffic will be efficient. Maybe a separate bus lane at least? The rider-ship will not build if the buses are constantly clogged. Seems like a simple expansion to bus services rather than a progressive move for the city.

  • There’s never going to be an express bus running along Broad Ripple Ave. North of Maple Road, the options seem to be College or Meridian, and College makes more sense. What’s needed is a circulator that attaches Butler both to the eventual express and to Broad Ripple.

    South of Maple Road, you can make arguments for Meridian and for simply continuing it down College. I think Meridian wins because there seems to be a considerable push to link the express route to the new and improved Tarkington Park, which implies that the route will run Meridian to the south, and College to the north.

  • oh dear, where to begin? First, thanks to Curt for staying engaged with this process. Nevertheless, you’ve opened a can of worms. The questions are, what is this system trying to accomplish for this corridor and what’s the best way to achieve it? Multiple objectives include providing a convenient, comfortable, affordable and dependable transit experience for workers, students, seniors, shoppers and visitors; enhancing existing transit service and adding some new transit services like BRT. I’m all for doubling regular local transit service and I think a great deal of value and benefit can be achieved quickly and cost-effectively with this rather simple measure. BRT presents challenges and opportunities. The vehicles are longer than typical busses. Remember the articulated buses from 30 yrs ago that were all the rage? BRT revives this technology with some upgrades but limitations still exist: rotten turning radius favors a straight route; mechanical stress on the rear section foreshadows major maintenance woes. BRT makes fewer stops, requires either dedicated lanes and/or separated ROW and relies on transit stations for expedited boarding. Where on the Red Line will you find sufficient ROW to accommodate BRT needs for optimal efficiency? On the north side – Fall Creek & Keystone win hands down. On the south side – Madison Ave is about it. Both sections share a problem: which route to use to get out of downtown? I’m thinking light rail is out of the question in this market and this economy so I say use CSX route to get BRT out of downtown headed north. Green Line continues to Hamilton County and Red Line splits off onto Fall Creek Parkway and heads north on Keystone. Make Glendale a major transit stop (MPO had a plan for this a few years back but focussed on the Rural side -put it front and center on the Keystone side and achieve many of the same goals w/o upsetting neighboring residents. MPO Study) Problem is north of 96th St. Carmel has reconfigured Keystone so that creating separated lanes and transit stops will be a challenge. South of Maple Road I see more frequent service similar to what Sjudge said looping from downtown to Tarkington Park and back. Whether Ill/Capitol and/or Meridian is the route doesn’t matter – this doesn’t need BRT, just more frequent service and upgraded boarding stations plus a major crosstown on Maple Road as well as the Midtown Circulator (see below). There is no way on this green earth that we’re going to get College Ave. residents from Fairfield north to BRV to give up on street parking to accommodate BRT. Remember the hue and cry about bike lanes on BR Avenue (even on this blog)? Now envision taking away parking along College (and for that matter, good-bye to BRAVE bike lanes!) No thanks! Increase frequency not only n/s but also add the long awaited circulator (dating back at least to 2007 Walker Parking Study Walker Study but expanded since then by Midtown neighborhood advocates to include Butler & IMA to Glendale – or even a future transit stop @ 62nd & Allisonville.) Then there’s this business about Westfield & Riviera Drive. Fact is, Riviera Drive public ROW ends at edge of McD property. Paving enthusiasts connected the parking lots behind 5/3rd to make a shortcut – handy for cars, awful for potential spectacular view of White River bend which could happen if the trail connecting BR Park & Monon were ever implemented. As for messing with the Westfield corridor between College & Guilford – please don’t – we’ve been working for years to get that stretch modified from head-in parking to parallel parking as part of streetscape improvements for proposed Canal Esplanade project. BTW You’re never going to shut down auto traffic on BRAVE during the day – only late-night on Fri & Sat in summer. You want alternative e/w routes to BRAVE & Kessler? put in the 71st street bridge over White River and prepare for the howls of protest! : )

  • Maybe the red line should just head east on 38th from the near northside to Fall Creek and Keystone, and skip College Ave., Meridian Kessler and Broad Ripple entirely.

    After all, the garage will solve all of Broad Ripple’s “car problems” (parking and traffic), won’t it?


  • Going south, the BRT route should use Virginia and Shelby to U of Indy. From there it can use Madison all the way down to Greenwood. The northern part of Madison Avenue is in a 20 ft below grade ditch, with pretty much no interaction to adjacent neighborhoods. Shelby goes through the heart of the near south side. It has been the preferred routing for the south corridor when the audience was asked at pretty much all of the Indy Connect public input meetings. It might be a little tight, but, with fewer stops – and that segment only being about three miles long (south to Troy) – even if it is a little slower, it is worth it by being able to get to the growing Fletcher Place area, Fountain Square, Garfield Park – and to get right to the front door of UIndy.

    • I would argue that the section of Madison below grade with “no interaction to adjacent neighborhoods” is perfectly suited for BRT. Being below grade (in addition to dedicating a lane per direction) would allow BRT to operate very efficiently, while a median-positioned station with elevated walkways over Madison would immediately connect that whole area to downtown and the rest of the transit system. We’d turn something divisive into something connective — it’s absolutely perfect!

  • Why not both? I certainly agree that routing (Virginia/Shelby) is where the highest density is currently, but I don’t see a way to get transit that is rapid through there. If there’s a choice to be made, I think we have to decide whether we want to prioritize better service where the most existing and potential riders are today, or whether we want to build a transit line that is actually rapid and hope for it to spur development where it is not currently occurring (save for some non-market, government-funded projects). If Madison Avenue is a much better choice to provide the rapid aspect of the line, couldn’t we also provide frequent service on the existing route (22, I think) that already runs along Virginia/Shelby and have it connect with the Rapid line at Madison & Hanna?

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