Since the unveiling of Indyconnect’s long term proposal on Monday November 8th, those of us who were advocating AND EXPECTING light rail transit, are left to pick up the pieces. What we had been hoping for was light rail transit that would be implimented along Washington Street. Traditionally, light rail has been a GREAT motivator of economic investment in communities along it’s route. This fact, and this fact alone, was what most people were hoping for with Indyconnect’s intial plan of LRT along this route.
However, this was not to be. Due to the current economic climate, coupled with an anticipated pushback from fiscal conservatives across the region, planners opted for BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) in it’s place. From a shear mobility standpoint, BRT WILL address the needs of people wishing to travel from place to place using this service. It could arrive every 10 to 15 minutes using a dedicated transitway located in the median of Washington Street. It is unknown at this point when this particular system could be constructed. BRT systems that have been introduced in other cities have usually cost orders of magnitude cheaper due to the lower amount of infrastructure needed to impliment their service.
However, what BRT gains in price savings, it gives up in the form of what it is: A bus. No matter how you dress it up, it is a bus. BRT usually comes with improved stations that resemble light rail stops with raised curbs, fancy covered stops and some sort of public art to accenuate the areas and try to create “place” for people waiting on the bus. However, perception of buses is likely the sole contributor to the lower amount of investment that crops up around these routes. Rail, due to it’s static nature, tends to give potential developers peace of mind in knowing that the train is always going to be there now, and in the future.
With these facts in hand, what can we look forward to from a Washington Street BRT line? A quick examination shows that BRT has been operating in several major cities in America for some years now. Boston has the Silver Line. Cleveland has the Healthline and Everett, WA has the Swift BRT line. All 3 use varying types of infrastructure dedicated to insuring the buses get priority through dedicated lanes and traffic signal priority. They all operate special types of buses that differentiate them from the typical low boarding bus that we are used to here in Indianapolis.
Provided that the region can get this plan onto a referendum and voters approve it, future modifications of the Washington Street BRT line convert it to a full light rail system. However, this would not happen until 2030 some reports say. Can we hope that development will put this in it’s pocket and go ahead with development along Washington Street’s BRT line in anticipation of full conversion to LRT? One can only speculate at this point.
The other BRT routes suggested in the plan seem to point to a version of BRT that is not quite as infrastructure dependent as the Washington Street line. The 3 other routes specified, would likely rely upon signal prioritization and perhaps some bus only lanes at key intersections that allow buses to bypass traffic. However, we will have to wait and see what planners have in store for those routes. Whatever the case, BRT ultimately represents a compromise in technology for the benefit of fiscal conservatives, and the detriment of potentially better economic investment along it’s route.