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A Comprehensive Transportation Proposal for Central Indiana

Envision vast parkways where automobile traffic flows smoothly. Where congestion is a thing of the past and commuters can get to work with minimal interruptions from secondary streets. Imagine that you will never be mired in a traffic jam the likes of which north-siders who commute downtown currently experience on a daily basis.

If you are smiling as you envision this future, then you are the target demographic that Indiana GOP Senator Brent Waltz is attempting to reach with his recently proposed “A Comprehensive Transportation Proposal for Central Indiana“. The proposal is a short white paper outlining his refutation of the deeply studied and widely vetted Indy Connect proposal along with a vague 3 step outline for how he sees the future of transportation in Central Indiana.

Brent Waltz Step 1 Proposal (image credit: Google Maps)

Brent Waltz Step 1 Proposal (image credit: Google Maps)

Waltz’s transportation proposal only vaguely begins with a purpose and need, a statement that all major infrastructure expansions begin with, and jumps into the solutions as follows:

  • Step One – Resolving the North Side Traffic Crisis
  • Step Two – Bus Rapid Transit
  • Step Three – IndyGo Reform

 Step One – Resolving the North Side Traffic Crisis

In Step One, Waltz attempts to define the problem with north side traffic as a lack of capacity for suburban commuters. He claims that the north side lacks the multitude of commuter arteries which south side commuters currently have; State Road 37, Bluff Road, Meridian Street, U.S. 31, Madison Ave, and I 65. He aims to solve this problem not by addressing it with transit, but by providing additional automobile arteries for suburban commuters. Waltz backs this claim with,

“Anyone who has travelled [sic]during rush hour in northern Marion and southern Hamilton Counties knows that the traffic congestion is a serious problem, convincing tens of thousands of commuters in the short term to change their commute habits is an unrealistic goal.  While mass transit will play a part to the intermediate and long term solution (see Step Two), it is vital that a realistic and popular solution in the near term is necessary.”

In step 1, we see nothing about mass transit whatsoever. Indeed, congestion would be solved by adding capacity to existing roadways via widening them. As I read it, College Ave, Capitol Ave and MLK Blvd would be transformed into something that resembles either Binford Boulevard or keystone Parkway (Waltz suggests the final design being based on existing traffic flow and that they should compliment Binford Blvd / Fall Creek Parkway).  Additionally, he envisions the same solution being applied to Hendricks County and Hancock County as well as a corridor through Greenwood in an attempt to solve congestion. Waltz does not suggest how this is paid for however, concluding that a large value would be generated not only for suburban commuters, but for Indianapolis residents.

Step Two – Bus Rapid Transit

In Step Two, Waltz first lobbies against fixed route rail (ie: Northeast Corridor) claiming that BRT is cheaper, much more flexible and thus, should be the only rapid transit alternative that should be implemented. There is no specific mention of where these routes should go only mentioning that the University of Indianapolis has noted an interest in being a “node” in the system. Waltz seems to allude that this is an offer that U of I would build this node and thus this should be the system that is used to build out the BRT system. Indeed, several key destinations have been identified by Waltz as befitting nodes throughout the Indianapolis area and that they too should be tabbed to pay their share of expanding the system.

“Representatives from the University of Indianapolis have expressed an interest in constructing a bus rapid transit node at their campus. Their partnership should serve as an example for potential partnerships with other institutions. These nodes would provide a fast transportation alternative to key destination spots. It is possible that during peak times these bus rapid transit vehicles would have dedicated lanes as an incentive to use them by the public.”

Step Three – IndyGo Reform

Step Three takes us even further down Waltz’s rabbit hole as he now takes a shot at IndyGo concluding that since the current service is neither widespread nor frequent enough, that national experts should be brought in to design what they think IndyGo should look like if they were able to “start from scratch”. Waltz is nice enough to suggest that smaller buses should be used in off-peak hours to save on operational costs. I almost think that he is getting it when he wraps up Step 3 with the following passage,

“One of the more pressing questions must be the number of routes of IndyGo as well as the frequency of stops. These two metrics will determine both the quality of service as well as the cost of providing it. The balance that a reformed IndyGo establishes will be essential to its success.”

Waltz concludes that these three steps are by no means the final plan, but hopes that it will serve to continue the conversation about mass transit in Indianapolis.

Binford Blvd (image credit: Curt Ailes)

Binford Blvd (image credit: Curt Ailes)

Final Thoughts

I don’t even know where to start with this proposal. Frankly speaking, it reads much like an Onion column. The report has more holes in it than a block of Swiss cheese. There is no clear purpose & need for what appears to be another highway plan. Perhaps solving some peak hour congestion which frankly speaking, is minimal compared to other cities. Waltz never once lays out a revenue source for Step 1 where he proposes a massive expansion of the Central Indiana highway system. Those of you in the transportation trade know first hand the expense involved in this. At some point, money will need to be found for this. Furthermore, there is no lip service given to the social ills associated with such a massive expansion in roadway that would require the demolition of countless homes to make way for the wide boulevards being proposed. Waltz seems to spend more time in determining how the transit side of things should be paid for however, noting that our local cultural destinations, which we know to be the bulk of where transit trips originate (…ahem 60% of local transit trips are used to get to work, not leisure) should be the ones to foot the bill. He wraps up by all but admitting his distaste for IndyGo and their current plight, a lack of funds to provide the service he claims needs to be provided.

Perhaps the final conclusion to this conversation, economically speaking, is to simply accept that Indy Connect’s plan is the more favorable one. After all, the long range transit plan has been shopped for a number of years, studied, revised and studied and revised again by transit professionals which seem to already satisfy Step 3 of Waltz transportation proposal. Perhaps Indy Connect comes with a bit of sticker shock attached to it, but will there not be sticker shock attached to the final roadway expansion? Indeed, I recently wrote about the streamlining of a mere 5.5 miles of roadway on the northside which would be delivered with staggering price tag of $63 million per mile. An expansion on par with what Waltz proposes would far eclipse the amount being requested by Indy Connect. These are the sorts of considerations that seem to have been missed when Waltz was putting his plan together and I look forward to his solution to funding his plan.

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22 Responses to “ “A Comprehensive Transportation Proposal for Central Indiana”

  1. Adam says:

    If anything resembling Waltz’s plan ever comes to fruition, I’m leaving this state and never coming back. I cringed when I read about it in the IndyStar and I’m doing the same thing again today.

    • Jon Brewer says:

      Adam, I’ll call and see if they do a group discount on moving trucks. I live on Illinois St. Capitol does not and cannot be widened more than it is, which is already too wide. Take out a lane, put in a bike boulevard, and now you’ve created a long, safe corridor for commuters. Bam. Done.

    • Eric says:

      465 already ruined the metro area, this would just take that a step further.

  2. One can criticize Sen. Waltz’s plan, but at least it is based on people’s actual travel habits. The IndyConnect plan is the “build it and they will come” plan,” which as the studies show does not work.

    • Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the Waltz plan the one that Erika Smith recently referenced? While I know whose side she’s typically on, it would be hard to imagine anyone having as dirty of glasses as Sen. Waltz must have, if he really thinks that (to quote Smith) “the majority of the buildings along College Avenue are abandoned”. I guess we might as well tear down the remainder, right? After all, nascent revitalization efforts–and some pretty long-standing ones too–are just a lost cause. The real life of Indy is, of course, north of XXth Street. (Each year that XX number seems to get higher.)

      While schools will always be the tail that wags the dog, another overlooked factor that certainly doesn’t help neighborhoods like Fall Creek Place or Herron Morton in their revitalization process is that the majority of the north-south streets are high-speed arterials. People want good schools for their kids, yes–but they also typically don’t want to live on roads where the cars near their front yards can go 35-40 mph without legal consequence. And yet roads like Delaware Street (where this happens every hour of every day) are also scaled for pedestrian use. And houses are much closer to the street than in, say, Pike Township, which has dozens of arterials in a low-density setting.

      Which is it going to be? Back when Old Northside and Herron Morton were among Indy’s elite neighborhoods, the roads weren’t arterials that stretched up to Crow’s Nest and Meridian Hills (or even up to Meridian-Kessler) because those neighborhoods did not yet exist. But we’ve sacrificed a huge part of the desirability of these venerated near-north neighborhoods by reducing their streets to channels that lead to the burbs. While I agree with Paul that Sen. Waltz’s plan might reflect “people’s actual travel habits”, it offers no solution on how to accommodate people who might choose to live within the boundaries of the largest municipality in the state. In fact, it seems to embrace the same approach that helped turn Old Northside and Herron-Morton into afterthoughts 50 years ago–and exacerbated their decline.

    • ahow628 says:

      “at least it is based on people’s actual travel habits”

      So let’s go ahead and rip out Recess, the Upland tasting room, Jazz Kitchen, 20 Tap, The Vogue, and 100s of other restaurants. Then we’ll build a Binford-style boulevard and line it with McDonald’s and Taco Bell. Because then we can cover people’s actual travel AND eating habits.

      I know you don’t really think so, but people are happy to have alternatives (transit, bike lanes, local restaurants, cultural hotspots) to the status quo (cars, chain restaurants, Walmarts).

      • T Pauls says:

        “I know you don’t really think so, but people are happy to have alternatives (transit, bike lanes, local restaurants, cultural hotspots) to the status quo (cars, chain restaurants, Walmarts).”

        People are always happy to have things when the bulk of the cost is being subsidized by others.

        It seems we are no longer a nation that cares about the physics behind numbers, mostly related to debt, interest, and tax revenue. Lets just not raise taxes, write up the word “Bond” on paper, with the numbers totaling $10,000,000,000.00 and get fools to use their digital fiat currency to buy them. Then we can build whatever we want!

        • ahow628 says:

          “People are always happy to have things when the bulk of the cost is being subsidized by others.”

          I’m going to assume you are referring to roads, the most heavily subsidized form of transportation…

        • Adam says:

          “I’m going to assume you are referring to roads, the most heavily subsidized form of transportation…”

          Ha, I was thinking the exact same thing.

          People who advocate for car-centric land use patterns think they’re being fiscally prudent by having each person support his or her own transportation needs by buying a car, when that’s the farthest thing from the truth.

          Car-based land use patterns are incredibly ineffecient from the standpoint of the amount of infrastructure needed to serve a given number of people. The typical suburban housing development only returns a few dimes on the dollar of future infrastructure liability it creates in the form of property tax revenue. The only way you can afford to maintain what you’ve already built is to have developers build more, which then necessitates more new “growth”, and on and on it goes.

          Cities existed for a long, LONG time before the federal government started subsizing new projects and distributing gas taxes around. Cities had no choice but to be self-sufficient. Guess what? They weren’t car-centric. They were grid-based, walkable environments.

  3. JP says:

    “widening College” – over my dead body, and I am only half-joking.

    Curt- I know you want to present everyone’s viewpoint and warn public at the same time, but this “plan” doesn’t deserve attention it’s getting.

    • I’m with JP. Over my dead body, as well. And I mean that quite literally.

      This is an incredibly stupid plan, and I can’t imagine why it’s even being considered as though it’s a serious possibility.

      • ahow628 says:

        Just putting together a top-of-my-head list of restaurants, bars, and other venues that front College that I have or would visit, I could easily come up 50. With some time, I could probably work up a list of 100. Zero of those would exist if a 4-6 lane boulevard rolled through the neighborhood. Think about the ROW required for such a road. Now picture it between the new parking garage and The Vogue in BR. Something would have to give.

        Not to mention, hundreds of thousands in tax revenue that would be instantly evaporated by removal of property from the tax rolls and dried up consumer spending at the restaurants that closed.

  4. Chuck Mills says:

    These ideas are so ridiculous that they don’t even merit discussion.

    We have many truly wonderful and intelligent people helping to move the city forward, hopefully this is the last we’ll hear on the issue from the honorable senator from Greenwood.

  5. ahow628 says:

    Everytime Brent Waltz speaks, I cringe.

    Between this plan and that silly outer beltway, Waltz has to be one of the most out-of-touch politicians around, and that is saying a lot.

    Also, once again, why is a STATE senator giving his opinion on what is clearly a city (or maybe regional) issue? The extent of his involvement should be, “Hey, I live near there I support/don’t support this project.”

  6. Eric says:

    The sounds like a real piece of work. I’ve worked for Hendricks County and can tell you there’s absolutely no congestion problems since INDOT has overengineered all their roads. I love how congestion for north side commuters is somehow everyone’s problem as if transportation investment priority starts and stops with getting north siders downtown at the expense of everyone else. What a joke, visit a truly large metro area sometime and take notes.

  7. Heaping abuse on a guy who you hope will vote for your transit plan isn’t a great marketing strategy.

    This isn’t a comprehensive report, it’s a pretty release talking about his priorities and ideas. I for one think that unclogging the northside traffic mess is the top priority for the region. I would disagree with plowing commuter route through the North Side. However, INDOT did take a few hundred million in Major Moves money away from the I-465/I-69 northeast corridor (the replaced it with a band aid project called “Operation Indy Commute” that does do some good, particularly at the north end, but isn’t the long term solution we were promised). Perhaps Sen. Waltz could help get some of that money back.

    • JP says:

      Suggesting that this guy might some day vote for a reasonable mass transit plan is (A) insulting everyone’s intelligence and (B) not a great marketing strategy for your blog.

  8. Chris Barnett says:

    Maybe Curt needs to invite the Summer Transit Study Committee to a cook-out, after taking a drive up College from downtown.

    🙂

  9. Micah says:

    I find this proposal to be quite hilarious. Does anybody really want to waste any time thinking that this is an actual solution? Get real, people. Obviously this Waltz guy is bored. Why can’t we just go back to the basics and consider turning these 1 way corridors, such as Central Avenue, into 2 way streets again? Seems to be much better for our future neighborhoods. If people want to live out in the burbs and work downtown, then they can deal with $4+ gas and traffic jams. It’s their choice.
    Once avian: WELCOME TO A PLACE OF WIDE ROADS AND NARROW MINDS.

  10. TJ says:

    Seems Senator Waltz’ biggest concern is improving commuter automobile travel times from the far northern suburbs. His district serves the south-central part of the region in southern Marion County and Johnson County. Since Johnson County won’t be asked to vote on the funding plan and won’t be asked to pay for the planned transit improvements proposed in the Indy Connect plan – the Indy Connect plan and potential referendum isn’t really relevant to the Johnson County portion of his district. His district then – in terms of the part that is within the Indy-Connect referendum area – is Marion County’s southern Center Township and Perry Township – both areas that will benefit significantly from development of the Red Line BRT. He should be supporting this to help his district and should not be worrying about how to make the Hamilton County people happy. ps — with his lack of opposition to Waltz’ ridiculous, sprawl enhancing ideas, maybe the Urbanophile should consider renaming himself the suburban-sprawlophile. sorry if a little harsh, but I’m just saying…..

  11. Indyline says:

    Even though this guy wants to waltz in a bring up a plan like this, it may be more productive to try and work with him than against him. Especially since he does hold some power. Let’s try and educate him and the facts…

    We all know that suburbanization tends to be myopic and it’s our opportunity to tell him why. That being said, it does make sense in the short term view of things, that a suburbinite would want the most simple way to reach downtown. Has anyone thought about the feasibility of converting binford blvd to limited access road simmaler to what they did to keystone in Carmel, and then charging a friendly toll.

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