The past year and some change has been an exciting time for transit in Indianapolis. I feel like we may be moving from the decades of study, study, study to something actually taking place. Proof of that is the current undertaking of the NE Corridor AA/EIS which is also accompanied by a land use study which will not only strengthen Indianapolis’ bid to get federal funding for the project but also lay out a plan for what we would like the areas around the stations to look and feel like.
As of late, both the Republican and Democratic mayoral candidates have been supportive of improved mass transit. Both have been very vague about how that mass transit should LOOK deferring to the ongoing study of the long range transit plan and how to pay for it; a matter which will hit a key milestone in the upcoming state legislative session. However, one thing that both candidates have been clear about is that whatever plan is adopted into a funded plan, it should be regional in nature. I asked Melina Kennedy in a recent meeting with her team, just what IS regional transit? Her reply was that whatever transit plan is put into place, should engage all the surrounding counties within the region; something that Indyconnect has done.
Within the same breath, I attended the Urban Summit at the IMA which served to air out a lot of ideas about the Indianapolis region; transit being one of the key topics. One of the speakers on stage, John Schneider from Cincinnati, talked about the Cincinnati Streetcar and pinpointed an interesting notion. We all talk about improved rail transit, bus rapid transit and local bus service. At the same time, we talk about how stations along rail corridors can serve as magnets for robust urban themed development in the form of multi-story buildings, retail, residential and reduced parking. Indeed, we talk about all these themes quite often here. One thing that often gets swept under the rug, is how increased mobility in the form of the aforementioned rapid transit, can actually lead to a reduction in people travelling around the region; that the very areas we advocate be created around rapid transit stops could serve to keep the people who are attracted TO them, from travelling AWAY from them.
I suppose an introspective look at this tells me that I have been a little lax in mentioning this notion, but it is 100% true. I think it is a paradigm I see in my head and accept that everyone understands this already. This behavior also has a term attached to it and in the transit world it is called, “The Trip Not Taken”. It is also often used as a term to describe the automobile trip eliminated by transit. For you readers NOT from Indy, this notion may be easy to see since you may experience it on a daily basis. But for those of us in Indy without quality rapid transit, it is a foreign lifestyle. The vast majority of us get in a car to go where we need to. Want to go to Broad Ripple? Sure you can take the 17 if you don’t mind waiting 45 minutes for it to show up. Sometimes we take bikes, but even I am guilty of using an automobile for the majority of my trips. There is simply no service established that I can use to move around as quickly as I need to from work, to school and back home. Corridors such as the Monon, the Cultural Trail, bike lanes, etc help to speed bicycle trips but even for me, riding across the county is not a time saving option. For localized trips though, it is a form of an auto trip not taken.
So what do we use quality rapid transit to get to, once these new urbanized station locations are created? If we don’t work around them, we use them to get to work or to visit oher exciting station areas. I have blogged at length (here, here) about the importance of connecting the existing job, population & activity centers. The major ones being downtown Indy, Broad Ripple & Carmel (along US31); Carmel qualifies as a regional transit destination for those of you keeping score.
I guess the point of the blog post is that we shouldn’t lose track of what we are all trying to create. We are likely to hear a lot of rhetoric from our mayoral candidates about regional transit, but what will regional transit deliver? Would it be nice to have half a dozen light rail routes across the region? I can say 100% that it would be convenient, a great service and also a bragging point for the city. But in the end, we should also think about what we want to create around these stops which are great spots for our residents to live, work & play in as well as keeping an eye towards building (or rebuilding) areas to be conducive to these themes as well as environmental justice. Can we create these themes in all parts of the region; urban & suburban? That may be the next conversation for Indianapolis once we figure out how to pay for regional transit.