On November 3rd, 2011, the Indianapolis MPO published a document (click to open .pdf) titled, “Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) – Corridor Elements Workshop”. The document is an in-depth examination of the study about to commence on the East-West corridor (Washington Street) and the North-South corridor (Meridian/College/Madison).
As Urban Indy reported back in October, Indianapolis received a $2 million grant to begin study of both of these corridors. This document is the first step towards defining the study area, possible alignments, vehicles, stations and other required infrastructure. The document also covers operating parameters, overheads and the financial requirements of the service. To be clear, this document is a guide only. It will guide the study which is part of the requirements for obtaining federal funding for such a project. It should be note that no decisions have been made and these are simply educated selections that make sense for the potential project.
However, from a transit geek’s perspective, this is the first step to answering a lot of the questions we have asked at this site. What will the service look like? Where will stops be located? Will there be dedicated lanes? This document attempts to outline some of these questions that will be answered in the coming Alternatives Analysis (AA). The AA will define the best answers to these questions and those will be answered, ultimately, by the Indianapolis Regional Transportation Council with a lot of input from citizens and other elected officials.
Some of the coolest parts of the document are the possible stations which create many talking points. As you can see from the maps, station locations have been proposed at periodic points along the routes. Most are located near existing job/activity centers. While thestudy covers all of the BRT routes called for in the Indy Connect plan, the grant money is solely for studying N/S & E/W routes. It is those corridors that I wish to focus on with the remainder of this post.
First and foremost, I am pleased to see that the study examines a N/S alignment that travels from downtown to Broad Ripple. The proposed route closely resembles one that I have pointed out in the past in my lobbying for light rail (see map above for proposed LRT route vs job centers). The line would serve dense job, population and activity centers and create a valid rapid-transit alternative to the automobile. The southern portion of the line would travel along Madison Ave to the University of Indianapolis. Unfortunately, it would miss the heart of Fountain Square.
The E/W alignment, along Washington Street, would also serve what is today’s most frequented Indy Go bus line, the #8. It would provide service through the heart of the city and provide frequent service to Irvington, downtown and the airport. These are all key job and activity centers.
Design of these routes is also considered in this document. Federally funded programs stipulate that a significant portion of each route must contain “bus only” lanes. This answers some of our previously asked questions about dedicated lanes. However, the study points out the difficulty of this in some areas of the proposed routes. Managing frequent service in these areas will likely be a key metric of success once service is in place. Federal programs also stipulate that the buses must be branded differently than normal buses which for transit riders, will represent a new look most likely in the form of articulated buses with special paint.
Downtown circulators are also covered and would come online at the same time as phase 1 of the N/S & E/W routes. These routes are laid out as indicated on the map above and indeed, they would provide significant benefit for people who live, work or attend school downtown. These BRT circulators would serve IUPUI, Lilly and interface with the proposed NE Corridor commuter rail line which is also currently working it’s way through the EIS process. However, if federally funded, how would dedicated bus lanes in the tight confines of downtown work out? The document does not elaborate on those routes.
These questions, and many more, remain to be answered by the Alternatives Analysis that is set to begin study this year. Upon completion of the analysis, we will have a much more firm timeline on implementation and exactly how each service will operate, where it will operate and what the vehicles will look like. A couple final notes to remember. The timeline in the report does not take into consideration that a state transit funding bill was not passed. The routes proposed in the report are also simply that, proposed. The goal of an Alternatives Analysis is to define the best routes.