I have been thinking more about this map that I posted last week that features Indy’s transit system in 1945. The map is a bit unclear in my photo, so I will explain it for you here.
Red lines are the streetcars
Black lines are trackless trolleys
The difficult-to-see green lines are buses.
One thing that really jumps out to me is that Indianapolis’ grid actually looks like a city, instead of the jumble of disconnected areas that we have currently. Another thing to notice is that there are very few regions that are more than a few blocks from a transit line of some sort.
Urban Freeways were a contentious part of the Interstate Highway Act, for obvious reasons. They were prohibitively destructive to neighborhoods. Much has been written about that. However, I wonder how much we appreciate that they also disrupted the logic of the street grids enough to further discourage transit.
It’s easy for a transit promoter like me to rip on the interstates without looking at the benefits. Indy does have a working downtown core that has rebounded after being nearly abandoned in the 1970’s. I guarantee that without the interstates, even more businesses would be located in the suburbs. However, with the interstates, it’s easy for commuters to bypass urban neighborhoods without much trouble, while the people who are left behind continue to struggle.
Growing up in Fort Wayne, we often talked about the city being like a donut. All of the items necessary for living were located on the periphery, while the downtown was nearly empty of people and services. However, in Indy, we have a reverse donut. A decent downtown, surrounded mostly by places that have seen a long period of disinvestment.
I don’t pretend to have answers for solving all of our problems in urban neighborhoods. And I’m certainly not suggesting that we should remove the interstates and start over. However, I believe that we need to look at how we got to this point.
As a final point, the map I mentioned at the beginning of the blog also contained a suggestion to watch this film. It’s about an hour long, but worth the time.