So what is going on with the Blue Line? Right now, alternatives are being measured against one another. At the foundation, is an analysis of the current IndyGo Route 8 service. Currently benefiting from 15 minute headways on a portion of the route, the 8 forms the bedrock of IndyGo’s patronage. It runs back and forth along Washington Street from Meijer on the east side, to the Indianapolis International Airport on the west side.
Blue Line service is scoped to duplicate this route with a rapid service that would provide quicker travel time, frequent service (7.5 or 10 minutes at peak times) and may or may not contain dedicated lanes to accomplish this.
As part of the alternatives analysis, the study team will evaluate everything from alternative routes, possibly on 10th street to different technology. The most likely technology to be applied will be Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). The capital costs of constructing a line are in line with the tax increases being sought by lawmakers at the statehouse. Technology alternatives would include upgrades to current service or light rail. Light rail, I am sorry to report, will likely not make the cut due to the large cost of constructing the entire line; the line would be approximately 25 miles long.
When I explored the Red Line, the basis of evaluation I used was the location of jobs. Indeed, many jobs lie along the Meridian Street corridor, so it is an easy evaluation. However, the Blue Line does not benefit from the same distribution of large job centers along the corridor. Sure, it would converge on downtown and drop riders in the core where the largest density of jobs exist, but outside of that would not serve a tremendous amount of jobs.
So, why does the current #8 service perform so well? For this, I looked at the latest census results and used the population density maps provided with the study. You can see in the map to the right, (dark parcels being the most dense) that the #8 benefits from riding through the most dense population centers in Central Indiana. As such, Meijer and Washington Square Mall on the east side are among the largest trip generators. This tells us that people are using the #8 to get to the store to pick up the necessities. Conversely, on the west side, the airport generates a large number of trips as well. Whether this is an indication that airline travelers are using the service or whether workers are using it (FedEx operates a major distribution hub there) is unclear. One this is certain though, it is interesting that some of the largest trip generators in the system are located at the extreme ends of the route being evaluated.
There may be some that argue that 10th street may also be a good candidate for rapid transit. 10th street also has a large patronage and was recently awarded more frequent service with the upgrades last month. Now, the #10 operates on 20 minute frequency (a boost from 30 minutes). Boarding data also supports this as a number of large trip generators exist on 10th street along the east side as well as the medical district on the near west side.
It will come down to many factors in determining the final route, the technology chosen, and the treatment given. Will the Blue Line operate strictly on Washington Street? I believe any diversion off of Washington Street would only serve to slow down the service offering little advantage over current #8 service. Additionally, light rail would be nice, but there is little money available for this option with the tax increases being asked for at the statehouse. Lastly, dedicated lanes would be nice from a place-making point of view. Having median boarding stations, dedicated lanes and traffic signal priority would go a long way towards declaring to the rest of the region that rapid transit deserves first class treatment. However, a final analysis could determine that dedicated lanes for the entire route may not be needed and that queue lanes at signaled crossings would suffice in offering a service that is truly rapid and improves running time over current service.
Stay tuned! Final alternatives should be available later this year.