Here at Urban Indy we wanted to give our reactions to the big IndyConnect unveiling and let our readers do the same. An in-depth review of the plan from Urban Indy will be coming later, but here is a collection of our responses after the initial press release. The plan is online at IndyConnect.org and represents the 25 year vision of the Indy MPO responsible for regional transportation planning.
I will be the first person to say that the latest unveiling represents a letdown when we were all looking forward to a light rail system to address economic development, regional vitality and increased mobility. Fresh off a trip to Portland I have seen the top of the mountain and it is awesome. However, here in Indy we have such a small share of transit ridership, that building support for a long term rail system is key. Implementing the latest unveiling while not shiny and sexy, will improve the system for existing users, pull in potential riders who are on the fence, and offer some incentives to those who would never use in the form of some congestion mitigation. This step up could build a great platform for the next generation long term transit plan. If Indianapolis can continue recent success in the business arena as it has for years now, this transit plan could compliment that success and in 20 years, when a successful transit share has been built, a much more robust rail growth plan could be hatched. The next step will be difficult in helping to educate people just why this plan has a silver lining that isn’t initially obvious.
Neither the original nor this updated Indy Connect plan is a perfect implementation of mass transit for Indianapolis. Instead, they represent a balance of the needs of the region with what is favorable to the low tax, low service culture of the Central Indiana Region. This disappoints mass transit and rail advocates because they know how good things could be, and how our region needs to have an eye on the economic, societal and environmental need for a proper mass transit system. This is not the proposal I would have put forth, but given the constraints on the Indy Connect team, I think this is a plan that brings our transportation system to an acceptable service level at a price point that has a chance for approval from the electorate. It’s far from inspiring, but it works.
While improving our bus system is a good idea, more bike and pedestrian pathways are great, and having some investment in rail and light rail is better than none, this plan doesn’t have enough “Indy” in it to truly reform one of our city’s greatest transit problems – a lack of “choice” riders, especially within our urban core. The proposed plan’s focus on serving suburban areas with the “coolest” forms of transit incentivizes suburban and exurban housing choices. Meanwhile, the people most likely to make the choice of utilizing transit options, those who are choosing to live and work in our actual city, are provided with an upgrade on a system that is not winning over new riders in its current iteration. The proposed IndyConnect plan is definitely an improvement, but it’s not bold, it’s not visionary, and – without a major branding overhaul of our bus system – it’s unlikely to spur significant improvement in the area of choice ridership. And, a quick query: why is this transit plan up for so much debate, while the much more expensive plans to upgrade bridges and roads, as well as expand roads, are not topics for public debate or analysis? Why do we evaluate “new” so much more stringently than we evaluate “old”?
I’m encouraged by the prospect of more frequent bus service in the areas which need it the most . The first release of Indy Connect had few specifics with regards to inner city connectivity, which this version serves to correct. I’m discouraged that the city is pulling back from the Washington Street light rail proposal, when most of us at Urban Indy were hoping that the city would add a College Avenue streetcar to the fledgling system. Eighty percent of the money goes to expanding roads and fixing bridges in the suburban areas, which (outside of needed repairs) is throwing good money after bad. Regardless, I hope that this plan will give the city the framework it needs to make future changes and improvements.
I’m definitely not anti-bus. From a pure transit perspective, we can do so much in Indy with the additional of express buses, circulators, and BRT’s. An expanded bus system can reach more people than rail.
I’m definitely not anti-rail either. There are situations that a street car, light rail, or commuter rail would be beneficial. Washington Street is a great example of a prime light rail/street car corridor.
The biggest issues with buses: how well the system is executed and operated; getting past the local stigma of buses; maximizing the use of technology; getting around the traffic congestion problems that plague our streets and highways; and encouraging development along bus corridors and around bus system hubs.
While transit oriented development will not be as great with a improved bus system, the potential is there if investment is made into stops and hubs where multiple routes converge.
As a multi-modal mass transit adovcate, I am particularly dissapointed with the updated IndyConnect plan. While a strong bus service is essential in any regional transit system, the BRT model that the IndyConnect team is championing has not been proven effective in significantly increasing transit ridership in North America. On the other hand, urban rail transit (light rail, streetcars) has. Ultimately, that is what we were hoping to see more of from the revised IndyConnect plan – real urban transit that encourages urban development and creates those great ‘places’ that can come it. Instead, any remnant of the word ‘urban’ was stripped away, leaving us with a mass transit system ‘vision’ that only sees Indianapolis as it is instead of what it could be. And in the end, this is perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the new plan. With a strong urban-oriented mass transit plan, Indianapolis would position itself as a region of transit oriented development, of urban places, and of sustainable transportation, something that would differentiate itself from the car-dominated culture of the Midwest. Instead, the current IndyConnect plan will set the city up for continued Midwest mediocrity, thus crippling its ability of becoming a bigger and better version of its current self.
For as much as transit has been discussed in the press releases and official statements, there is surprisingly little of it in the plans. No, this is a plan to fund highway construction. Other than some minor reuse of rail lines, Indy will still be missing a useful mass transit system and encouraging sprawl development. This is also a missed opportunity to change the outdated policies, lack of vision, and livability aspects that must be dealt with in the transportation realm. Instead of real city development, Indianapolis citizens will be sponsoring repair and extensions of highways that never should have been built to begin with. The MPO should plan for what Indianapolis will need in 25 years from now, and this won’t get us anywhere fast. With the majority of the population and the business community asking for a real solution, I say put the best plan on the table and don’t stop short.