Transit & the High Cost of Auto Orientation in Indy

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Final vote meeting details: February 27: Full-council meeting – vote on final adoption (7:00 p.m. in Public Assembly Room)

I want to first call your attention to contacting your city councilor, especially if you live in a district where your councilor hasn’t made up his or her mind yet about the transit plan. Tell them that we need this transit improvement plan and that now is the time. We can’t afford to wait another tens years to start improving our mass transit in this city.

There’s no doubt that in Indy, we love the automobile. There are many times when a car is a very good mode of transportation and there are many times when it is not. For decades, Indy has bought into the US national dialogue that has promoted car-first city design. Other than the crumbling roads and our city’s favorite pastime of dodging potholes, getting around Indy in a car is pretty easy. It’s close to being one of the easiest of the medium/large cities in which you may find parking. However, is this a good thing for Indy? Does catering to the car, first, at the expense of all other forms of mobility, really make for a stronger city? I submit that it does not and actually has the opposite effect of making us vulnerable.

First, let me refer you to an excellent and straightforward article from the founder of the non-profit Strong Towns containing some simple property tax analysis that he did in his hometown of Brainerd Minnesota. In this article, Chuck Marohn compares two parcels of land that are very close to being exactly the same size and with only one city block that separates them from each other. One property has buildings that were built decades ago in a non-auto-oriented manner with mixed-use. It’s a collection of traditional style buildings that have active uses but are far from their prime from years ago. The other, a brand new (at the time of the Chuck’s article) Taco John’s complete with a convenient drive-through. Chuck then proceeds to show the tax revenue comparison between the two parcels. At the time of writing, the run-down mixed-use parcel outperformed the new Taco John’s in direct property tax revenue by 41%. With the article updated to show more recent comparisons, the run-down mixed-use parcel rose to outperforming the Taco John’s by 78%! This is real tax revenue that this city desperately needs. Not only did the old form outperform the new, but the city isn’t even collecting taxes from the Taco John’s until 2033 because of “economic development” incentives. What kind of madness is this?

The same comparison could be made (stay tuned for a real comparison done like this in Indy) in Indy. Designing everything for the car, instead of balancing our modes of transit, is going to bankrupt our fair city. One can make quite a strong argument that this pattern of design has already effectively made Indy financially insolvent. The potholes, crumbling infrastructure, abandoned buildings and forgotten neighborhoods exist primarily because we’ve focused our city design on being car-first instead of people-first and not primarily because DPW or the leadership aren’t capable of building and maintaining good roads, bridges and sidewalks.

So you may ask, how does this apply to the current transit plan that is set to be voted on by the Indy City Council on February 27th? Put simply, effective mass transit allows for our city to design in a people-first manner instead of being stuck designing in a car-first manner. This means being able to vastly reduce the public subsidies to building new structures because the most expensive parts of these developments are usually parking for cars. It means collecting far more tax revenue without having to raise taxes to pay for extremely expansive and expensive new car infrastructure. It means designing the public realm such as sidewalk areas, plazas and such for people which adds to the vibrancy and love of this city. Who lives in Indy or visits Indy and says something like “I love this city because there’s so many roads”? But people do comment when public transit is beautiful, safe and effective, when being on foot or bike is a pleasure and feels safe, and when there’s more local shops, restaurants, attractions, street performers, food stands, etc around. Transit enables all of this at much more sustainable financial levels. Car-first design has never been shown to create this kind of city since it simply takes up too much space and costs too much money to pay for the sprawling infrastructure. However, even as we shift to designing for people first instead of cars first, the added revenue to the city even improves the roads and bridges that already exist directly improving the lives of those who must drive still.

Therefore, it’s very important that you contact your city councilor to make sure that they support this transit plan. It’s certainly not a perfect plan by any means, but good infrastructure results from incremental phases. This first phase is excellent. Getting the Red and Blue lines built are very important as they connect the most walkable and dense areas of Indy to each other without requiring a car or additional parking. Increased frequency on some existing bus lines are very important. Buying new buses instead of used buses from other cities is very important. Enabling IndyGo to have a dedicated funding stream is very important to making it an effective service for existing and new users. There’s a lot of pent-up demand for good mass transit in Indy and it will make us collectively wealthier, but it will also make us personally wealthier. Just imagine what you could do with an additional $8000 per year (AAA calculated yearly average cost) from being able to get rid of a second car or even your primary car. There’s so many better things you can do with that money and time spent worrying about your car.

If you live in a district with a councilor that is voting against the transit plan or hasn’t publicly stated their opinion quite yet, please make sure to contact them today.

Next week is currently scheduled to be the final vote by the city council. Consider attending that meeting to show your support for the transit plan. And to reiterate, this is not a perfect plan. It’s a very good plan that will get Indy onto a much more fiscally sustainable path of creating a more vibrant city for people first and not for car first. There will always be a place for driving a car in Indy, but this mass transit plan will go a long way to providing all of us many more options for getting to where we need to go in a safe and enjoyable manner. I look forward to seeing you for the final vote next week and celebrating a stronger Indy through better transit!

Final vote meeting details: February 27: Full-council meeting – vote on final adoption (7:00 p.m. in Public Assembly Room)

Comments 35

  • Yes, contact all councilors and make sure they know exactly what they are voting for, because the plan changes all the time. Routes have been shortened, implementation depends on funding. Now they even want to establish a private fund from private donors, just to be able to keep above water. They are taking TIFF funds, DPW and Transportation funds to the tune of $18 million.You know, the DPW that might use that money for infrastructure. These routes and extended service won’t start tomorrow for the weary rider. You will be stuck waiting 30-60 minutes for a bus for months or years to come. IndyGo has never figured out how to serve the public by just running buses more often and improving routes. That would be too easy and call for common sense.

    • You do realize that running busses more often is part of the tax increase? All of the opponents constantly called for that INSTEAD of the tax increase. Apparently ignorant of the fact that running more buses costs more money.

      • Irrational disbelief of facts seems to be a hallmark of civic discourse today.

        You’re right, it all boils down to this: if we give IndyGo more money, they can improve routes and run more buses more frequently.

        It has taken 50 years for IndyGo to be starved of cash to this point, and it will take a 5-10 year FUNDED plan to build it back up.

        • There was a time when you could get a transfer on the bus. What ever happened to that simple concept?
          IndyGo is starved of cash due to poor management and nothing else.

          • So the built form of the city that has been pursued since WW2 including but not limited to urban highways, parking requirements, minimum lot sizes, street widening, etc. In short we have aggressively built this city for the car at the expensive of walking & transit.

            So we have created a city that requires a car to traverse in any meaningful way….What do you suggest we do with people who can’t afford a car??? So too bad?? Is that a policy that will result in more upward mobility in this city? What are your solutions?

        • In the mean time the poorer folks get to wait till the RED is built before they can get their upgrades. Sure, north of 38th to Broad Ripple is so disadvantaged.

          • Transit is for everyone. To make a better transit system, there has to be a safe, clean, effective and modern network in place. It will serve so many disadvantaged people as well as well off people. Why is this a bad thing? This is normal in so many cities around the world and in the US. Scott, have you ever taken good mass transit anywhere before and had a positive experience? I highly recommend a several personal experiences with it. It’s a tough thing to appreciate the benefits of with no personal experience. This is exactly what changed my mind into becoming a huge mass transit advocate.

      • If the Transit Plan passes the Council, does anyone know when the increased schedule for existing routes will go into effect? Will it be a gradual increase in frequency or is IndyGo planning to go full service on X date?

        • Depends on whether they get the federal grant for the Red Line. “Local System Expansion” is projected for 2019 if they get the money. It’s pushed to 2021 if they don’t.

          What is frequently misunderstood when people suggest that we should do local improvements before/instead of the Red Line is that the expansion plan depends on the Red Line as a central, rapid north-south trunk. Many lines will be rerouted from radial into crosstown routes that intersect the Red Line, where you’ll transfer to head downtown quickly (or transfer to other routes along the Red Line).

          Really, nothing can happen until the Red Line is done. If IndyGo doesn’t get the federal grant, that delays the Red Line, which delays the local improvements.

          • This is one of the most important points I’ve heard mentioned so far Chris and one that I haven’t seen highlighted as much as it should be. One of the biggest reasons the current system is ineffective is precisely because it’s a radial system – everything must flow through downtown. The ability to have transfers at real stations and not just a sign on a wood pole makes a huge difference!

            To convert this image to driving, imagine if every car/truck had to route through downtown to get to Carmel having started at Broad Ripple. That would make zero sense, enough to make driving untenable.

          • There are currently north/south routes. What does the RED have to do with any of this. This is all a ploy to get the RED with smoke and mirrors.

          • No, Chris, that’s just another IndyGo line you bought. There isn’t any rational reason why system-wide improvements can’t be made without Red Line, because people who depend on the bus need it now, not years down the road. They don’t live on College Avenue in Meridian Kessler, either.

            And, contrary to IndyGo’s claim, there is no reason to believe that the federal money will ever be appropriated. Red Line’s federal funding is dead. The public was never told that their taxes would be increased to pay the construction cost of Red Line–instead they were told that it was a “done deal”, and that all taxpayers would have to pay for was operating costs. Wasn’t true then, and not true now. The referendum results were the product of false promises.

            Also, there’s no reason for the median, bus stations stuck in the middle of College and Meridian, or for a BRT to go down College Avenue at all, as it is a residential, not commercial street, and lacks density. The reason for College Avenue, as a member of the MDC has admitted, is to protect the investments of developers–not to provide transportation.

          • Wait Natacha thinks that residential areas are inappropriate for transit? You really can’t make this stuff up.

            Also, as for density the Red Line without a doubt runs along the densest parts of Indianapolis – you could not have chosen another North/South route that does this better.

          • Absolutely Paul. For those who haven’t experienced good transit in other cities many times, it’s hard for this to be as obvious as it is to those of us who have. I used to be 100% against all mass transit until I experienced it firsthand for 3 months in a much smaller city of 250,000. They had 2 fully automated subway lines and excellent bus service. It was such a pleasure, my first real experience getting places without a car, that it completely changed my mind on it.

      • No, I’m not ignorant!! I’m talking about College and the RED. More buses more often instead of the RED on College. Get it??

        • I’ll take that 1 step FURTHER, SCOTT!!1! My tax $$$ shouldn’t be spent on bringing CRIMINAL ELEMENTALISTS into our wonderful neighborhood. We all know who rides busssses! Take a hint people, DJT won and theres no appetit for this kind of reckless commie spending! Not even 50% of REGISTERED VOTERS wanted this!!! Not voting is a NO, everybody knowss that!

        • What do you want me to confirm? That I actually UNDERSTAND how these corrupt commies at IndygoStealYourMoney are simply using our WONDERFUL neighborhooood for SOCIALIZED ENGINERRING???? Why does this SOCIALIST site want our neighborhood to be different than it was in the middle of the last centery? We didn’t have all this strife back then! Yes, I’ll confirm that I am the ONLY person outside of Natacha who understands this WORLD!!!

      • Yes Paul. Just drop the RED LINE!!

  • I’m not sure why people are coming here trying to convince us that the current IndyConnect mass transit investment is a bad idea. We’ve been calling for something like this for a decade, and we’re excited to be less than a week from final passage at the Council. Here’s my first post on the issue in 2007. My thoughts have basically remained similar over time, although I’m much more excited about the potential buses than I would have been back then. I’m willing to look at data and change my mind when the facts change, but I haven’t seen anything to tell me that mass transit investment isn’t necessary for Indy.

    • This. From an “iron cross” of streetcars in 2007 to the current BRT backbone proposal…IndyGo has made do for a decade on what amounts to “duct tape and baling wire” fixes. It’s well past time to properly fund the system.

      • Absolutely Chris. We have the worst rated, least funded system of any metro area with over 1 million people. I think that should be a huge nudge to us that we’re not even matching the nation’s status quo here…we’re outright failing ourselves.

  • Scott and Natacha
    Sitting in a tree
    Wanting no mass transit
    For them or for thee

    • OK Harold. How many times do I need to explain that it’s the RED LINE I don’t like?
      Jim, you mean to tell us that without the RED that the entire project will just crumble? You can’t just run buses more frequently and get the same results?

      • Yes you can run buses more frequently and No, it will not be the same result.

      • As Paul said, yes you can run buses more frequently and yes that would be much better than what we have now, but I agree with him – IndyGo has an huge image problem that it needs to overcome. It’s been vastly underfunded for decades, as have most of our nation’s bus systems. There’s a stigma attached to the plain old bus, which I’m not saying is deserved or is not deserved. A BRT line is an extremely cost effective and modern solution that looks like a light rail system without the crazy per mile expense. They’ve been hugely successful in South America where they were first invented and are now also very successful in Asia and Europe and probably other parts of the world. We need to do things right in Indy and given that the state banned light rail for now, this is the highest quality, most effective way of upgrading our mass transit and making it desirable and effective for everyone to ride and not just a stigmatized charity service.

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