First, the good news: The Red Line has made the DOT’s budget proposal that will go before congress this year. If all goes well, construction could start next year on the first all-electric Bus Rapid Transit program in the country. This is big.
Naturally, there has a been a bit of pushback about this plan. The most common refrain mentions a support of transit, but that College Avenue should not be the route that the Red Line takes on the north side, and that it should be put somewhere else. There are a few problems that come up with this line of argument:
- College Avenue was the site of the last streetcar run in 1953. Putting the Red Line there is a symbol that after 60+ years, Indianapolis is finally going to include transit as an important part of the future of development.
- Meridian Kessler along College Avenue was designed from the start to be a streetcar suburb. Hence all of the historic neighborhood commercial districts that dot the corners every few blocks. These are often single-use or multi-use buildings that front the sidewalks, instead of sitting behind parking lots.
- There’s nowhere else on the northside that would serve transit in a better capacity. A part of this is the history that was mentioned, but another part is the underlying zoning of the streets. Most of College Avenue is zoned D-5, which allows for smaller lots and duplexes. And there are plenty of examples of each within the corridor. Here’s a good snapshot of the zoning map from the city’s public GIS data:
- Keystone Avenue is often mentioned as an alternative to College Avenue. After all, there’s plenty of space for dedicated lanes on a 6-lane road. Unfortnately, it would likely cost much more to turn Keystone into a useful transit corridor. First, it’s almost all single use commercial, with residential neighborhoods and apartments thrown in every now and then. Second, it’s littered with every hurdle that transit would have to overcome: parking lots, curb cuts, curb-adjacent sidewalks, utility poles in the sidewalks, Â and heavy traffic counts, to name just a few. Eventually, perhaps Keystone could also become part of the rapid transit system with the theoreticalÂ Orange Line, but it would take much more public investment.
- Not only is College good for transit, but so are the side streets, which are also dotted with doubles and houses on small lots. Most of them have good sidewalks. People from a block or two away can easily walk there to hop on the bus.
- College has parallel alleys with rear garages, instead of individual driveways along most of its length. This eliminates curb cuts, helping enhance its walkability.
I’m pleased to see the city have the chance to move forward with a serious dedicated transit line. One of the benefits to Indianapolis waiting until now is that instead of building commuter lines along low density neighborhoods and subdivisions, as was the fashion recently: Â we’ve learned that true investment will follow along the places that were built for transit in the first place. Let’s build upon this for the future of Indianapolis.