Bus Rapid Transit Could be a Game Changer for Indy Neighborhoods

Indianapolis has largely succeeded in transforming its downtown from a sleepy no-man’s land to a place where people want to be. It’s not perfect, but it’s a downtown that can stand up among its peers. Throughout all of this focus on downtown, Indy’s neighborhoods have largely maintained a similar trajectory with regards to their built form for the past century. Broad Ripple and Fountain Square have probably seen the most new development, but almost every new structure has had to include a nod to off street auto parking. This raises the cost for development, increasing the square footage of the structure. Unfortunately, that cost also usually leads to developers cutting corners regarding design and materials for the structure.

The overriding fear with regards to new development in neighborhoods is that the buildings will keep increasing in scale as the city looks to add more residents. However, the real problem for developers right now is primarily that it is expensive to build quality smaller structures. Every nod towards the car means another curb cut and a lower quality project. Developers have to build taller and wider to get a return on investment.

Enter BRT:

Source: IndyGo

Indy has been missing a reliable, frequent transit service. This is what BRT will provide when it is implemented, starting next year with the Red Line. It will take some adjustment. Residents are encouraged to support local businesses affected during construction. I believe the change will be worth the investment. Infill development can once again be neighborhood oriented.

Editor’s Note: I’m going to turn comments on for now. Please be civil and respectful.

Comments 31

  • We’ll see. I think modern building materials are what they are. Cheap, temporary, and just good enough to get the financing, package it up, and sell it off to bondholders.

    Whether a new development requires parking or not, we’re not going back to the scale and quality facades of buildings erected before WW2. Hope I’m wrong, but even the Europeans aren’t building that way anymore, and they have more evidence than anyone of the staying power of that type of architecture.

    • I’m not saying they’re going to build with pre WWII materials. I expect a healthy mix of glass, concrete, brick, and stone.

    • What European cities are you thinking? They almost always build with 100% concrete or stone for the walls and then usually some kind of metal, tile or stone for the exterior. Of course it varies from EU country to country, but they build extremely well in most cases, some exceptions exist of course.

  • To accomplish what you are saying, the City would need to reduce parking requirements along the BRT line(s). Has this happened anywhere besides mile square?

    • Indy Rezone reduced parking requirements and creating mixed use designations meant for areas served by rapid transit

    • Indy Rezone includes MU-3 and MU-4, which are designed specifically for application around mass transit stations.

      MU-4 is like the Mile Square rule, no required parking. There are some limiting rules if a developer chooses to include parking (e.g. no primary or accessory parking allowed directly adjacent to the transit station).

      MU-3 has a blanket rule of 1 space per 900 sqft regardless of use, which is pretty low (e.g. the general rule for a bar or restaurant is 1 space per 150 sqft, office is 1 per 350 sqft).

  • Please explain to me why IndyGo couldn’t just simply improve service without a dedicated lane, stations stuck in the middle of College and Meridian, which are too narrow for this, instead of curbside pick up, and not using untested oversized buses powered by lithium ion batteries, which have never had real-world testing, and which everyone knows are subject to exploding?

    Do you realize that the above issues are the controversial portions of Red Line, and that none of these controversial issues are necessary to improving bus service? Do you also realize that IndyGo never considered any program to improve bus service using curbside pickup and no dedicated lanes? They could still have curbside kiosks to pay for fares, and they could still have signal priority, and could also use diesel or compressed natural gas buses, which cost 1/3 the price for lithium ion battery powered buses, so why tear up College and Meridian and wreak havoc with traffic flow, banning left turns and parking, anyway? Please explain the necessity, because I don’t get it.

    • I would say the proposed BRT system (with dedicated lanes) will not only make transit much more efficient…but also accessible to a broader demographic while spurring economic development in a more sustainable manner. It’s just the beginning (along with projects like the MONON & CULTURAL TRAILS) to promote better, higher density developments. It just seems to make sense for Indy to be more progressive with infrastructure improvements…which ultimately invests in neighborhood development more than automobiles. There are ways to introduce these more urban systems within our suburban, sprawling common/carcentricScapes. Indy (like any Midwest city) will continue to grow with density…and not everyone wants to live in a vacuum. Change is important & inevitable.

    • I absolutely love the side-effects almost more than the BRT itself: no left-turns, a little less parking, the traffic calming effects of reconfiguring College with a dedicated middle lane for the BRT, etc. I would strongly support all of those changes even if the BRT wasn’t a part of it. The fact that the above items are “controversial” among a very tiny, misinformed portion of the public is odd – but, then again, there are apparently people in Indy who also think roundabouts are the devil’s work. I guess the lesson here is that no matter how great an idea is, there will always be people opposed to it.

      • I guess the lesson here is that no matter how great an idea is, there will always be people opposed to it.

        Dead on, and in Natacha’s case, some people will oppose it no matter what argument is made in favor of it, or how many people vote for it, or whether the City-County Council enacts it into local law and budgets just because they don’t like the idea. It is pointless to keep trying to explain the benefits to such an opponent long after they are apparent to the rest of us.

        If I still lived in the neighborhood, I would welcome the loss of noise and diesel particulate from the standard IndyGo buses. Fine diesel particulate is especially implicated in lung ailments, including cancer, among people who never smoked. It’s funny that folks could ignore this constant and daily hazard while focusing on what happens if maybe someday an electric bus catches on fire.

        • Gee, no one has ever answered the question as to why IndyGo couldn’t just improve existing service instead of tearing up College and Meridian for dedicated lanes. Red Line isn’t ever going to go north of 66th Street, but original plans show that there was never going to be a dedicated lane for the proposed route from 96th to 66th, which is 3 miles. The Red Line was going to just run with other traffic, so why should the remainder of the College route, which is shorter than 3 miles, be burdened with a dedicated lane and stupid little bus stations stuck in the middle of the street? As to the alleged benefits of a BRT, just how much faster do you think buses could go through a residential neighborhood, anyway? Have you seen the O’Toole report? IndyGo’s own analysis finds that Red Line buses will average 18.3 mph. They currently average 13.6 mph, but auto travel averages 33.7 mph. So auto drivers will face increased congestion for a very small increase in mph for a very few bus riders, at the expense of lost parking, no left turns and massive traffic congestion.

          As to the diesel argument, most of the buses on College are compressed natural gas. The O’Toole report shows that the lithium ion battery powered buses cause more pollution than diesel or CNG powered buses. It’s just a bad idea, destined to fail.

          As to the alleged community support, IndyGo has made many misrepresentations of fact, such as the claim that 90% of college students would use the bus. Butler and IUPUI are too far away, but IndyGo claimed they were within 1/2 mile of the proposed route. How about all of that federal money that was coming, that would make it mostly free? Hasn’t come yet, and may never come. People most directly affected, such as homeowners and businesses, were the last to know.

          • An auto commute downtown from the Broad Ripple Area will not net you an average of 33.8 mph. That is pure fantasy. Google usually pegs it around 18-20 mph for the trip.

          • Ok, let’s just say that your 33.7mph is correct. The speed limit on College is 35mph, so given that people are stopping at a few stoplights along the way, most folks are going 45-50mph in a 35mph zone. Seems like some traffic calming could be a very welcome thing.

            SMH: TFW you are a lawyer advocating for more law-breaking…

          • Trying this again, since my last posts appear to have not been submitted properly. These numbers provided by O’Toole are horrendously mischaracterized. Let’s go to his report where he gives the numbers provided by IndyGo which related to the average bus speed down the College/Meridian corridor where the Red Line will run. So far, he’s got something right. Now let’s look at his auto number of 33.7 MPH. He specifically states that the number is for the “city of Indianapolis.” That’s a significantly different unit than was used for the IndyGo calculations, as the “city of Indianapolis” contains all of I-465 and portions of I-65, I-69, and I-70 (not to mention surface roads with a higher speed limit). When you factor in not only the higher speeds on these roads but also the high volume traveling at those higher speeds you naturally end up with an average that gets skewed higher.

            O’Toole was comparing apples to oranges and was just hoping we didn’t look closely enough to see that they’re two different fruit.

            Then, for interest sake, I took a look at what an average speed would ACTUALLY be for a morning commute (starting about about 7:45 am) from the corner of Broad Ripple Ave. and College down to the Statehouse. Long story short, the average speed was about 16.8 MPH – or about 1.5 MPH SLOWER than the Red Line will be. So again, O’Toole is wrong. He knew he was, but he was paid to come to a conclusion, not to give a detached analysis.

      • In short, it’s time for the rest of us to stop playing the opponents’ “but what about…” game.

    • The Red Line is a fairly small part of the the Marion County Transit Plan. Here is a link:

      Also, there are hundreds of billions (maybe over a trillion) lithium batteries in service currently (including every single cell phone) and a vanishingly small amount have ever exploded and caught fire. If you want to worry about something exploding and catching fire, you don’t have to look very far:

  • While I am excited for the prospect of transit along the Red Line corridor, I am really excited for the completion of BRT line along 38th St. 38th St, east of Fall Creek is in desperate need of infrastructure improvements, as large segments of the road either lack sidewalks or have small sidewalks in desperate need of repair.

    • Yes, Purple Line actually has more hope for transformational change in some areas in sore need of redevelopment (east of 38th and Arlington to Post, and north on Post to the CSX tracks), as well as adding necessary pedestrian infrastructure.

  • IBj reported a developer just bought a vacant lot just west of Collage, bet the Red Line has a lot to do with the purchase.

  • What we need is a bus line that has stops in front of all of the apartments that are located off of college ave. People in Indy do not like to walk. The bus lines would be crooked but much more efficient.

    I’m betting the new rapid bus line down College ave will not work. There are so many apartment complexes one to three blocks off of College that would benefit more riders if they put stops in front of them. So damn simple people, but then no one benefits off of the real estate boom on College.

  • Sorry to have missed this thread earlier. Karen, the BRT buses do not use lithium ion batteries. They use thermally stable iron phosphate batteries, the chemistry of which is fire safe. In many studies, and in actual use in Albuquerque, the batteries have proven reliable in extreme hot and cold temperatures, are not bothered by road salt, and do not explode when crushed or exposed to flames. The batteries have a 12-year warranty and 20-year life span, and can be entirely dismantled and recycled. See byd.com for more facts. BYD is making the Red Line fleet.

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