How Indy Could Invest In Itself

This the follow-up post from the one I wrote on October 22nd.

Indianapolis doesn’t have a lot of money to throw around at our various issues, and that money may be dwindling as I type. My number one money saving idea is simple: No more widened roads in the name of “improvement“. The phrase “If you’re in a hole, the first step is to stop digging” comes to mind here. But, consider that a widened city road:

Of course, most of this list this would go double for any possible brand new roads that may be in the works in the name of traffic flow. I’m not familiar with any at the time, but I don’t think it is out of the question either. I’ve always held a wary eye to the potential Holt Road extension just east of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, for example.

Especially on a limited city budget, every choice we make is also a different choice we are eliminating. Let us choose to not spend more money on what will eventually be another maintenance burden, and spend it on infrastructure like sidewalks, transit, bike paths, and street trees.

I’m open to other ideas that readers that may have for nuts-and-bolts style improvement in the urban core. Please mention them in the comments.

Comments 24

  • I would love to see Indy do something simple but very bold. Maybe getting rid of all off street parking requirements. Or a wholesale scrapping of most of our restrictive zoning codes from 1969. I know Indy Re-zone is coming out but I am sure it won’t go this far. It could really distinguish Indy as an easier city to invest in. To me this politically seems like an easier sell than increasing funding for mass transit. What are these things if not regulatory burdens to small business owners? Cut the unpredictable nature of getting an urban building approved and maybe we will have more small time developers looking to make incremental investments. These could be in areas of the city where problems with smaller lots are compounded by the fact that you’re not even allowed to build on all of your land (FAR ratios, setback regulations, open space requirements). After that of course you need to worry about providing more square footage in parking than your building has in the first place.

    • I agree Paul, that’s a major thing that could distinguish Indy and really bring back some of the wealth of place that was lost when we went head-first into auto-centric design. I especially think that what you said about a decrease in the approval process for new buildings is a huge one for getting a more diverse set of people in on development. Not only does this create a more diverse and antifragile built environment, but it also spreads the wealth more instead of concentrating it in the hands of large developers with mega projects. This piece [1] from the Strong Towns member’s blog really tells this story in a much better way.


    • I think this could go hand-in-hand with cutting loose the townships. Indy can’t really be truly urban till the urban portion can act without concern for the suburban portion.

      It blows my mind that downtown quality of life is wrecked by high-speed one ways that accommodate commuters that don’t pay any property taxes in the city. I know there has been some thought of a commuter tax, but right now, they have what they want (easy in, easy out) and pay nothing. Maybe if we turned the downtown “highways” back into streets, there would be a little more support from the burbs.

      • It blows my mind you keep bringing this up. Without the townships, downtown is not what it is today. And without them in the future, Center Township will most likely falter. My assumption is that Center Township is still subsidized by the outer townships (particularly areas of industrial land use) but it’s just a theory. I’d be interested in a study of the property taxes collected in all the townships.

        • I’d look at it as a spatial reasoning problem.

          In my (and most other) close-in neighborhood, how many linear feet of water pipe or asphalt or electrical line or most anything else is there per residence? Given the typical spacing of 5-20 feet between houses and houses 20-40 feet wide, the average length of water pipe running in front of the house is 32.5ft.

          In my friend’s neighborhood up near 96th St on the NE side, the ranch style houses are spaced 20-40 feet apart and the house itself is 40-50 feet wide. This means the average length of water pipe running in front of his house is about 75ft. That is twice as much infrastructure.

          A similar idea could be calculated for roads as well, comparing the number of offices and residences per lane mile in the Mile Square compared to the offices and residences per lane mile out in Pike or Perry or wherever. I’m sure it is double, at least.

          The bottom line is that downtown is not the hollowed out core it was back in the late 60s when Unigov was enacted.

          • I understand the argument and it holds water, to a point. That assumes that your residential property taxes will be paying for all that infrastructure, which it doesn’t. Especially in a state like Indiana, with property taxes, towns and cities depend on industrial and commercial properties to make ends meet. But, in our current environment, you still need the industrial properties of the townships. I mean, maybe Center Township could make it without the townships, but I suspect you would find much higher taxes. Continuing to argue that Center Township I think ignores that.

        • I’ll also point out that I don’t think that Unigov should never have happened. Indy did what it needed to do to survive at that time.

        • I beg to differ and believe the townships are subsidized by Center Township on non-taxed property. How much tax-free properties are located in Center Township that support the entire region and state? State government, Universities, Hospitals and Stadiums are a few that come to mind. Brings back a theory on why the Eskanazi referendum was supported so vigorously in in off election year. No other tax entity wanted a new major trauma hospital sucking revenue off their tax rolls.

          • There are a lot of non-tax producing properties for Center Township, and many of these are for institutions that provide services to the region and the state. However, doesn’t that help make my point? I understand what you’re trying to say, but I think it just further underscores the importance of the outer townships to the city. And while there have been population gains in parts of downtown Indianapolis, it is not enough to offset the many neighborhoods that are still struggling to return to their former glory. Center Township still has a ways to go but I’m encourage by its progress. In the meantime, we’ll all have to get used to being one big happy city!

          • I’m actually on the fence about agreeing with you that the donut townships support Center, Ryan, but I think some things need to be considered.

            So the question is, how many of those Center township non-taxable properties are driven by the non-Center township people.

            We’ll remove the State owned properties, because I think that is cost-of-doing-business for being the capital city.

            The Split (and other parts of the urban freeway) definitely benefit non-Center residents and would be voted for and supported by non-residents.

            Colts and Pacers would be supported by non-Center residents. My general feeling amongst downtowners is ambivalence.

            IUPUI is formerly a commuter campus and probably will still operate mostly as such for a while anyway. But they have had a big push to try to become a “real” university.

            Hospitals I’m unsure of since I don’t have a good read on where their constituency comes from.

            So back to my point in looking at each of these is to ask: How would downtown (or Center township) change their urban design and planning priorities if they could make independent decisions, outside of the purview of the townships? Outside the purview of the donut counties? Outside the purview of the state? These are important questions.

            I think one of the biggest things I’ve heard from downtown residents is that they would happily pay more in taxes for things like better transit, better infrastructure, better parks, more services for the homeless and others. The zeal fades the further you get from Monument Circle. I think decoupling the donut townships from Center township would go a long ways in helping the urban part of Indy be urban.

          • The difference between residents expressing a desire to pay for those things and actually ponying up when the time comes can be, and in Indiana usually is, large. And if Center Township would be decoupled, you’d have either much higher property taxes to support the needed services or you’d have fewer services. Neither of these approaches would sit well with your downtown residents. Once again, I think you need to evaluate the amount of property taxes, particularly industrial, that Center Township has versus the donut counties. My gut tells me that the donut counties are subsidizing the improvements occurring in Center Township, and have been since UniGov. Decoupling then would be potentially catastrophic.

            I agree that downtown residents might change their decisions or the decisions of downtown might be different if only done by downtown people. But would they have the finances to make any decisions?

            And as for the Center Township vs. outer township stuff, I am an outer township person (as are most people living in Marion County), and I would happily vote for increased taxes to provide better services. In fact, my taxable assessment increased by 10% last year, so I am paying more. And I’m happy to do so, if it means that I can support more public services. Maybe I am an anomaly, but I doubt it.

            I think the city is at the point where we have to embrace all the townships and try to target investments where it helps the city most. If that means that more investment goes into downtown than Perry Township, that’s fine with me. I don’t have a problem with it.

  • One thing that has been on my mind lately was a graph I saw of the number of fire vehicle runs broken down by the type of run.

    The basic premises is that fire runs have all but disappeared while runs accompanying an ambulance have but shooting way up. This increases fire truck maintenance, fuel costs, etc.

    Obviously, you have to pay the fire fighters to be around whether houses are burning down or not, but it seems like sending them on EMT runs is a waste.

    And certainly for any mayoral (or council) candidate, proposing fire budget cuts would be a campaign death sentence.

    Given Indy’s sidewalk issues, I was wondering if it would be possible to say, “Hey fire fighters, we will pay you the same amount, but your side job will now be building sidewalks, planting/watering street trees, etc.

    I’m sure this would upset somebody’s little kingdom they have set up in the CCB, but it seems like this could kill two birds with one stone.

    • Why don’t we start with let’s say No more public funds supporting the Colts and Pacers! Stop with the bike lanes that nobody uses. Indy is to spread out to get enough use out of them! What about the cost of the lane stripping for the bike lanes. Who ever thought it was a good idea to narrow MLK St from 30th street going South was (is) an complete idiot! When you come off the interstate and have to merge into stopped traffic make no sense.

      • I completely agree with your point about the Colts and Pacers. They’re businesses that don’t suffer from lack of demand. Let them stand on their own.

        But the second part – did you read the article? Indy’s roads are majorly overbuilt. Almost all of the roads should be narrowed and we should be filling in the vacant lots and increasing the number of people living in one area around quality retail, businesses and schools so that they can walk and not be forced to drive in their cars. Congestion in not something to fear. It’s a sign of success:

      • 100% agree on the Colts and Pacers welfare checks. Those teams have had the city over a barrel for too long.

        When you come off the interstate and have to merge into stopped traffic make no sense.

        It may not make sense to the person coming off the interchange, but it certainly makes a difference in the quality of life for a resident of the Flanner neighborhood who needs to cross the street or ride a bike to work downtown.

  • Here’s something I forgot to link on the article. Basically, anything that is listed on this webpage as an improvement is code for a street widening.

  • I’d be in favor of a delivery tax. Yes, a commuter tax could be good too but don’t forget the number of people who commute from Marion County to Hamilton County (it’s not small). A delivery tax would be a small percentage of the product delivered and could go to alternative forms of transportation. One of the reasons for all the interstate widening and exchange building is for the accommodation of freight traffic. Maybe a delivery tax will connect the dots for people between the products they receive the infrastructure that is required to delivery those products. And the tax could go to transportation forms that will promote transit riding, reducing bottlenecks for the delivery trucks.

    • I think the issue is that if you were to look at all the trucks in the downtown area, a very large percentage are on the I65/70 Split “just passing through” on their way to other long-range destinations. They bring noise, pollution, and congestion to the downtown area.

      This ignores the knock-on effect of infrastructure for all those trucks too. 65/70 takes up prime downtown real estate, divides neighborhoods, and removes property tax potential from the city.

      I’m definitely curious how a delivery tax would work and be assessed. Can you explain a bit further or give an example?

      I’d be all for congestion pricing, but I have a hard time believing that any Hoosier would stand for such an abomination as tolls and taxes. Also, we don’t really have much congestion because of our over-built environment anyway.

      • Well we are spending $36 million (as a state) on a project to widen 13 miles of 65 just south of Indy. Someone thinks we have too much congestion…..

      • While the downtown view of I-65 and I-70 is right, the corridor provides some of the only logistics and industrial jobs in the region. It’s a pretty critical corridor for the city, especially considering the near build out for Marion County and its competitive disadvantage compared to the donut counties.

        • Well, maybe not. The best hope for reuse of former big industrial sites is for more logistics jobs. Those plants tend to be located on rail lines and near highways. (I’m thinking in particular of the Citizens Coke plant on Pleasant Run; Navistar on Brookville Rd.; Ford on Shadeland & English; RCA at Michigan and Sherman; and a host of other, smaller sites.)

          Almost all of those sites are inside 465 and served by fairly close connections to I-65/70 on wide arterials, which are absolutely necessary to serve semis.

        • To address Ryan and Chris, I think removing the Split only would be a nice start. It has a precedent in that it has been shut down, what, three times for a non-trivial amount of time over the last ten years or so. This would remove through traffic (which should be on 465 anyway) and vehicles coming to downtown would be within a mile or so of their final destination.

          Most of those industrial and logistics spots would still be spitting distance from 65 or 70, so wouldn’t be all that affected. My actual preference would be to end 65 at MLK/16th and Raymond and end 70 at 16th/Mass and West. But in reality, let’s move one step at a time.

          When the Split lowering was done, INDOT put out a bulletin that said a 465 trip adds 2 minutes of trip time for 70 through traffic and 3 minutes for 65. Honestly, that is negligible. Less than a bathroom break and FAR less than a fuel stop.

          In totally related news, Vancouver just voted to remove the last vestiges of its urban freeway:

          • They might be spitting distance, but if the highways do not go through downtown, then what is the value to a logistics provider if they cannot receive goods from one direction and then move them, quickly, in another direction?

            I think the incremental approach could work, it would just mean you’d have to know the ramifications for your industries. For Indianapolis, I think it is too great.

            And kudos to Vancouver for removing the rest of the freeway. Albeit a small link and one that never connected because of a previous freeway revolt in the 1970s. Unfortunately, ours were connected and it means a harder conversation about removal.

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