Guest Post from Nick Ison: Sustainability and Connectivity: Values that move us

This is the 3rd post in a series of guest posts in support of increased transit access in Indianapolis. The first 2 can be read here and here.


In 2005, I moved from Indiana to attend college in Boston. Next came Philadelphia and Princeton to pursue a job and a masters degree respectively. When I returned to live at College and Kessler in 2014 though, I was anxious. Big east coast cities have a lot to offer a young professional, and I was worried that Indianapolis wouldn’t stack up.

What I quickly found, however, was just the opposite: when friends from New York would call and complain about “the grind”, I found myself talking about how hospitable and friendly Hoosiers were. When former colleagues in Philadelphia and DC complained about apartment prices and traffic, I talked about living in an affordable house with easy access to Broad Ripple and the Monon Trail.

In fact, besides the absence of a good cheese steak place, the only thing Indianapolis lacked was adequate public transportation. Riding the T in Boston or SEPTA in Philly was about more than just saving money on a car (and the related parking, insurance and maintenance costs). It was about making a place I loved less polluted and congested. It was about getting to know my neighbors and sharing a ride with them. It was about feeling engaged, about feeling connected to a place and its people.

I understand that change is difficult, that it takes time and resources and even some sacrifice. For me though, and for countless millennials like me, living in a community that values sustainability and connectivity is essential. If Indianapolis is going to continue to be a place that attracts and retains young professionals, these values must be reflected in our transportation system.

Comments 15

  • I really hate blogging but I think its important to stay engaged with this debate. I see four basic problems with this post.

    The first is that millennials are not “countless”. They comprise about 80-100 million of the US population, less than a third, and not much more significant than Baby Boomers or GenXers. A lot of the justification for this transit plan is based on research about the current values of this single, still maturing, generational group. Just like all of their predecessors, as millennials age and start families, their values and priorities will become less uniform. Let them become home owners, have kids with extra curricular activities, faced with steadily increasing property taxes and ask them again about public transit in their value proposition. And don’t forget connectivity and sustainability are NOT the concerns of poor unemployed millennials, the major groups that this plan is supposed to most benefit.

    The second problem is that millennials do not constitute the majority of our future population. It is ONE generation, with ONE set of largely untested ideals and values. We also have no idea what the values of the post-millennial generations will be. As we all live longer, it is incumbent that we balance our public policies between the needs of multiple generations, not just the predictions for less than one third. We are not going to experience the mass exit of previous generations from civic life. I am a mid range GenXer at 42. We currently have the most purchasing and political power so public planners would do well to pay attention to us. We are going to be contributing, healthy, and vocal, for at least another 40 years.

    If we are generalizing for the sake of argument, it is true that millennials currently report placing a high premium on connectivity and sustainability. But it is also true that GenXers like myself and my wife place a much higher premium on our time, individuality, and freedoms. We did not grow up with our faces planted in tiny glowing screens seeking social connectivity to validate us. We never wanted to trend. For us even fast buses impose limits because it creates too much familiarity. We grew up knowing that the journey was the destination.

    The third and what I believe is the most important point, is that proponent’s arguments refuse to measure the reasons why a person moves to Indy vs. why they would not. Every person chooses to live here for diverse and individualized reasons. While some millennials may not desire to live in Indy for reasons a periphery as a transit system, I suggest that there is a greater number that choose to migrate or return to Indy for more direct reasons such as the low property and business tax rates that has turned us into a nationally recognized entrepreneurial hub, our world class STEM focused universities, our relatively low crime rates, and our affordable, quiet low density neighborhood that exist within an easily drivable distance to the major employment centers. To this point, I know a number of people that will be selling their homes on College and the surrounding streets because they prefer to live in less densely populate areas. Also, I have yet to meet an immigrant tech guru that chose San Fran, or Austin, over Indy just because of the bus system, or vise versa. If you know one, please introduce me.

    What’s challenging for me is that I have a highly educated, professionally diverse, well traveled friend group. Almost all of us have lived or traveled abroad and have lived in different US cities for extended periods. Many of us are military veterans with deep roots Europe. We are the last group of people that you would call, “backwards or scared of change”; the terms that many proponents, especially on this site, use to describe anyone that opposes this plan. Yet none of us EVER brings up transit as a reason we chose to stay, leave, or start business in this city.

    Lastly, sustainability is very subjective. Even accepting the most extreme views on climate change, it is quite clear that automobiles are rapidly evolving to reduce their negative climate impacts. I average 30 mpg city and got 40.4 hwy driving round trip to Chicago this weekend, and no, I am not in a hybrid. That is nearly double the premium gas milage from the same model just ten years ago. I am sure a regular on this site is going to say, “Well it’s great that you can afford a new car but everyone can’t”, let’s remember that history strongly suggests that in ten years cars like mine will be very inexpensive on the used market. For new cars we can assume that in a few short years the average mpg combined with the extended life of cars will make individual car ownership so inexpensive that public transit actually become a detriment to sustainability. It’s like no one has ever heard of Tesla.

    I guess my point is that non of this is objective. It is not about this route or that, how much we send or not. It is about the type city we want to live in. Unfortunately it is often forgotten that there is a silent majority that has lives by a different value proposition than millennials and that our decision cannot be based solely on the their choices.

  • Sorry, really sleepy. Last paragraph edited below.

    I guess my point is that none of this is objective. It is not about this route or that, how much we spend or not. It is really about the type city we want to live in. Unfortunately it is often forgotten that there is a silent majority that lives by a different value proposition than millennials and that our decisions cannot be based solely on the their choices.

    • Robert the issue isn’t that creating a BRT transit line will shift the entire city and all of it’s so called “values” over to millennial driven high density whatever. It is that the current balance is so skewed in the direction of the automobile there is no room for anyone else’s values or way of life. We can strike a decent balance in the transportation system between walking, cycling, transit, and driving. Right now in Indy as it has been for years the car dominates. Your responses show how deeply ingrained this entitlement and expectation is that EVERYTHING must be spent of the personal automobile. The overall effect of driving in the city will be negligible. People can’t afford to even give up 1 lane even when we are adding a transit lane that will have a HIGHER capacity to move people. Like it or not we pay for our transportation infrastructure out of our general taxes here. We should build an equitable balanced system that ackowledges the strenths and weaknesses of each form. Cars are an incredibly useful tool however they also consume incredible amounts of space, are generally expensive to operate(compared to cycling/walking), are responsible for the a large number of deaths due to accidents, pollute, and force permanent negative changes on city design. 50% of trips in this country are under 3 miles, it is a waste of resources to construct a city where a $30,000 2 ton vehicle is required to ferry people on these trips because we have excluded all alternatives.

      Also cars are not going to get that much cheaper to own, they are still a burden. I save money by fixing my own car. This is becoming nearly impossible. This is not just an anecdotal observation. Follow the right to repair movement to see where things are trending these days in this regard.

      • I’m not sure that cars are more expensive than bikes or public transit. Once you make the purchase; up until this year every car I ever owned was under $5000.00 or about 150/month. Once you add the increased taxes and saved time cycling and waking could actually be equally or more expensive. Or at least so close that the difference isn’t that drastic. They don’t even necessarily increase pollution more.

        • I don’t think you have much of a case to claim that cars are cheaper than bikes.

          Also, if you look at less car dependent societies you will find they spend less of their money on transport.

          • If you ride a bike for regular transit you burn more calories meaning you need more food. The additional food can costs more than gas. You are also just passing on the pollution to agriculture to produce more food.

            Example, I used to ride my bike 7 miles door to door to work. I burned about an additional 300 calories each way than I did driving. When I got to work I was starving and if I did not eat before I rode home I could not make it. Replacing those calories cost me a small meal, usually a cup of yogurt and maybe hand full of almonds at approx $2 each way or $4 day. I could rive the same 14 miles a day for $2 in gas. Even if you add the insurance once you calculate how much I made per hour and how I reclaimed that time I actually saved money. Sure there is the sunk cost of buying the car but that is worth the investment to assure time savings and freedom.

            To your second point, they may but they are smaller denser populations. Indy is not that and many of live here exactly for that reason.

          • This line of reasoning reeks of desperation. You can purchase apprx 2,300 calories of rice for $1. Not to mention the average American consumes more calories than they need to.

            Sure there is a sunk cost……. Glossed right over that one……

            The car only means freedom because we have built ourselves into this situation.

  • “Silent majority”, eh? Seems like familiar rhetoric. Transit is an economic driver, if the whispering majority of Americans could only put their hopes in that.

  • Calories of rice? We can also clean our bums with a water hose like they do in the Middle East but most of us choose toilet paper. While we are being austere let’s cut out the boozing and sex for pleasure to save calories.

    His reasoning sounds fine to me. Even if you take in the appropriate calories for your body and lifestyle the extra work of cycling for a commute requires more. Are we really going to argue basic energy usage here?
    And who is to say what the appropriate amount of calories are as long as you are healthy?

    The point of my post was to suggest that we stop trying to view this debate in absolutes and understand that at its core it’s really a debate about different lifestyles and value systems sharing space.

    • The value of sharing space was also my point.

      So is it about cost effectiveness or luxury? You balk at the mere suggestion of eating rice.

      Our bodies do not use more energy than an internal combustion engine. In fact, not even close.

  • @Robert Evans III and Rance Lee

    What are we talking about here? Let’s not lose the forest for the trees. If you disagree with the idea that our public transportation system should be improved and upgraded for the 21st century, then I would argue that you are less “highly educated, professionally diverse, [and] well traveled” as you think you are. There is no reason that public services as important and necessary as transportation infrastructure are should be neglected any longer.

    You say that we “have no idea what the values of the post-millennial generations will be. As we all live longer, it is incumbent that we balance our public policies between the needs of multiple generations, not just the predictions for less than one third.”

    So essentially that logic works both ways, on the side of people for an improved transit system and on the side against. Car-centric development has been almost unanimously favored in this city/MSA since the last streetcar ran through the city in the 50s. Where’s the equity in that?

    Sure, most millennials will probably leave their apartments and more dense living situations as they grow older, make more money, and become grumpier. They’ll probably move to the suburbs and buy a house that sits on a big lot and contribute further to the unsustainable land market and infrastructural inefficiencies caused by suburban sprawl. But right behind them will be a generation of individuals who *might* balk at the idea of living in a city like Indianapolis when it becomes their turn to leave their parents’ nest and look up from their “tiny glowing screens [where they’ve done nothing besides] seeking social connectivity to validate [themselves].” Equity is key. According to your logic, we should cover all our bases for the future.

    There are transient groups of people in the housing market, always have been. Whether the millennial and DINK “back to the city movement” is sustainable or not is a moot argument. When those millennials reach peak grumpy, they’ll leave their trendy apartments and move elsewhere, and when those DINKs get too old, they’ll move to a nursing home, only to make room for someone else. Then again, maybe they’ll stay. Perhaps the silent majority is remaining silent because they know their interests will prevail in the end.

    To me, the structure of this “pro/anti transit improvement” argument is similar to that of Black Lives Matter/All Lives Matter. Yes, in the grand scheme of things, all lives (all transportation infrastructures) matter, but that’s not the point. Where’s the equity? Why the singling out?

    What do I care anyway, I’m moving out of Indy in a week.

    • No one is arguing against improving the transit system. It is THIS plan and using THIS funding source. I actually grew up using the bus here so I know you can actually get all over the city with it. I just do not feel like its my job to pay excessive tax dollars for others to get around.

      But here is another question. Why is it okay that corporations are exempt from paying business taxes on this but private citizens are not? Especially since so much of the reasoning behind this is that businesses need employee?

      • But you are arguing against transit. You’ve said you don’t like this and offered no alternative. This would be a very comprehensive, usable plan that targets former transit corridors that have some good density. It would be fast and comfortable. It would cost the same at the fare box as the current system.

        Also, when you say excessive, what exactly do you mean? Let’s say you make twice the Marion Co median income, so about $100,000/yr. You would pay $250 in taxes toward this transit plan. In what world is that considered excessive?

        “Why is it okay that corporations are exempt from paying business taxes on this but private citizens are not? Especially since so much of the reasoning behind this is that businesses need employee?”

        Because that is how the legislature set up the current tax regime. There is this tidbit though:

        Robert, you’ve been here talking nonsense about the Red Line for quite a while now. Not sure why you keep coming back with more nonsense even when you are called out for said nonsense.

        • Excessive is a matter of value and for me $250 a year for something I will never use and will reduce the positive experience I have in my neighborhood is excessive. I’d rather put that in my retirement fund, but a new gun, or vacation with that.

          The question is WHY was the legislation written like that? It was lobbied for and I’m sure partially written the Chamber which reps businesses. It just seems unfair to me that corporations can optionally pay for it via this non profit but receive the most direct benefit, not to mention naming and sponsorships, and since its a nonprofit probably tax breaks for it but the rest of us have no individual choice in it.

          Ahow-How is expressing opinions nonsense? It’s called a discussion of differing opinions over a policy issue. And what does calling me out exactly mean? Sharing your opinion? It’s like you think we are on some third grade playground. Grow up.

      • You already pay for the transportation of others to get around on our socialized roads. People just think it’s individual spending because you ALSO have to provide your own car. How can you oppose transit on that principle while calling for equity?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *