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Blue Line Recommended Alternatives Accepted

For the better part of the past year, the MPO has spearheaded an alternatives analysis of the Indy Connect Blue Line, a proposed rapid transit corridor spanning Indianapolis from the east side to the west side through downtown.

Blue Line Recommended Alternative (image source: MPO)

Blue Line Recommended Alternative (image source: MPO)

Urban Indy has reported periodically on the Blue Line when public comment periods have been announced. (see prior reports here & here). This week, the Indianapolis Regional Transportation Council (IRTC) Policy Committee voted to accept the final recommendations on the Blue Line.

When the process started, the goal was to refine alternatives for 3 major criteria:

  • Route & Stations
  • Mode & Operations
  • Features

The composition of these criteria include a number of factors such as whether the recommended alternative would be Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) or Light Rail. Dedicated lanes or mixed traffic. Frequency & duration of service. Ticketing mechanisms. Station designs, etc. So without further ado, onto the Recommended Alternatives!

Blue Line Recommended Station (image source: MPO)

Blue Line Recommended Station (image source: MPO)

Route & Stations

The map pretty much tells the story. Initially, the Blue Line would operate on Washington Street from Meijer on the far east side, to Tibbs Ave on the west side. Stations would be located at intersections with major north/south arteries providing critical places for riders to transfer. The street itself would not face any major changes. The recommended alternative promotes mixed traffic use for the entire route, stations located on sidewalks and que jump lanes at strategic locations along the route which can accept them.

Mode & Operations

The mode (or vehicle) of choice for the Blue Line is BRT. Light Rail was likely ruled out early in the process not for it’s design merits but more for the funding forecast available for transit in central Indiana. BRT vehicles would be branded differently than the current IndyGo fleet and would likely be articulated 60 foot buses of some sort similar to those now running on the current route 8 and 39. Current riders will appreciate the recommended service span and frequency as well. Weekday service would run from 5am to midnight with varying frequency depending on the time of the day. Early morning and late evening service would be 30 minute frequency but through the day would be 15 minutes (same as existing route 8). Afternoon rush hour would operate on 10 minute frequency.

Blue Line Recommended Mode - BRT (image source: MPO)

Blue Line Recommended Mode – BRT (image source: MPO)

Features

As we have reported in the past, stations would be the only locations where riders would board and de-board the new service. Tickets for riding would be purchased at vending machines located at each stations as well as accepting other forms of payment like today’s service. The stations themselves would resemble a much nicer version of today’s covered shelters with digital boards indicating the amount of time until the next bus would arrive.  Additionally, the buses would pull up to elevated boarding areas where people in wheel chairs could easily roll onto or off of the bus.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts

So what’s next? Funding is needed to bring this project to fruition. Those of you keeping score in Indianapolis know that the region is lobbying the state legislature for the authority to raise local taxes to do this. Estimated costs for constructing the recommended 13.5 mile alternative, come in at $87.4M ($6.5M per mile approx). Annual operating costs are estimated at $11.5M.

Blue Line Recommended Running Way (image source: MPO)

Blue Line Recommended Running Way (image source: MPO)

The final recommended alternative for rapid transit on Washington Street has come a long way from what was proposed in the initial Indy Connect report which would have brought light rail service in the median from the far east side, all the way to the airport. And what about the airport? Some of you may be asking what happened to service to the terminal. Planners considered service all the way to the terminal and indeed, there are a number of jobs located there that support service. However, for the initial phase, rapid service was not recommended all the way the airport. The report does include some recommendations about reducing, but retaining, the current IndyGo route 8 with lower frequency for the east side, and increased service for the west side that would fill this gap in service. Additionally, the free market is already supporting an express service from the airport to downtown which would be impossible for Blue Line service to compete with based on trip duration. However, a later phase of the Blue Line could extend service all the way to the terminal.

The executive summary and full report can be viewed at the Indy Connect site.

23 Responses to “ “Blue Line Recommended Alternatives Accepted”

  1. David says:

    Soooo, this is just the existing 8 bus with fewer stops, and very slightly increased frequency for an hour or two each day. How is it rapid transit if it runs in normal traffic without so much as signal priority? And what exactly are they going to spend $87 million on? Maybe I havent been paying enough attention to this to have set my expectations appropriately, but this is a huge disappointment.

    • Curt Ailes says:

      I did not report on every single nut & bolt of the report, but if you look through the executive summary, you will see a significant decrease in travel time. Furthermore, there is signal priority at several points along the route that will give buses a chance to pass cars, such as we see today at Delaware St and Washington downtown.

      I encourage you to look through the report. even the 17 page executive summary provides a lot more data. I can’t cover everything in a short space, otherwise we would just copy and paste the report directly.

  2. Localurbanite says:

    This is such a waste of money. They couldn’t even give it dedicated lanes? This is some of the most dense area in the whole region.

    • Curt Ailes says:

      If you refer to page 12 of the executive summary, there is a nice chart and explanation of why spending money on dedicated lanes would provide very little benefit.

      Also, a pie chart on page 3 shows how the current #8 operates, and what percentage of a trip each event causes. For instance, 58% of a trip is free flow time indicating that current traffic flow is not a huge delay. Furthermore, the delay share is listed. 16% is intersection delay while 6% is “non-intersection”. 20% is boarding time.

      So decide what you want to cut down on. Station dwell, intersection or non-intersection? Spend the money on getting through stop lights and speeding up boarding (handled by traffic light que jumps and off-board fare collection) and the result is a much quicker trip.

      Breaking it down even more, traffic signals and stations are cheaper than building an entire dedicated guideway.

      The data is hard to refute, but it is there. I was initially skeptic as well noting how nice it would be to have dedicated lanes like Cleveland or a median LRT, but based on the data and financial constraints, it is difficult to justify dedicated lanes for what amounts to “Look at me, here I am, looooooove me!” (as nice as that might seem)

  3. Shayla says:

    I think the recommended alternatives are what best fit Washington street now when considering the amount of traffic, the amount of pedestrian traffic, the areas that have the most transit oriented development potential, and the overall cost of the budget. I have read through the recommended alternatives for the red and blue lines and I also listened to the webinar. One thing we must accept is the budget that will be passed with the transit bill, if it ever reaches a referendum. Local income taxes cannot be raised more than 0.25 percent instead of the originally 0.3 percent. While forcing a tax increase on S corporations will possibly help make up for that 0.75 difference, 25% of the operating budget has to be covered by fares. From what I have heard from directly talking with members of the MPO and IndyConnect at the transit meetings is that they do not want to have to raise the fares dramatically. Therefore they have scaled down what they really wanted to do.

    Let’s keep in mind that it doesn’t have to stay this way, just because this is the beginning plan. This transit initiative is through a phased approach. Once the blue line is up and running in 2019, the success in ridership and T.O.D. will allow for them to expand the service to the airport and make a dedicated bus lane. Unfortunately, they cannot afford to do this initially, but they have to start somewhere. The truth is, this plan should have been created and implemented 15 years ago, and by now we’d have LRT along Washington street and the other proposed corridors.

    Regarding service times, 4:30 am to 12:30 am on weekdays, 6 am to 12 am on Saturdays, and 8 am to 10 pm is much better than what is currently offered. Plus 10 minute increments in rush hour. and 15 min. increments during the 9 am – 8 pm period is considered rapid transit. The definition of rapid transit is 15 minute frequency. Therefore, the line is rapid transit for most of the day, and that is better than the 20 minute frequency we have now on weekdays only. My hope is that there will be opportunity to extend the weekend hours during events (i.e. sporting events, concerts, etc).

    Regarding fare procedures, since they are probably not going to have ticket vending machines at every station, it’s reasonable that people will be able to purchase a ticket on board. I am leery though of the percent of fare loss the system may incur during crowded periods. I’m not for sure how well a fare checker can maneuver through a packed vehicle. When I brought this up at a transit meeting, one of the representatives said that studies have shown that the amount of fare loss from “fare jumpers” as they’re called is so minimal that the costs outweigh the benefits regarding having fare checkers or building actual enclosed stations with barriers.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that much of the budget will go to the red and green lines. So if the blue line has to be put on the back burner for the initial phase, so be it. Like I said, we have to start somewhere and grow from there.

  4. Indymoon says:

    So what does this city get for $87.4M? Bigger buses, fewer stops and no airport access? I’m not trying to be negative but really just want a better understanding. This thing will have to be “sold” to the public.

    • Curt Ailes says:

      We get a service that is more frequent than the current service.
      We get a service that runs earlier and later.
      We get a service that is much quicker from Point A to Point B.
      We get a service that provides this improvement in the place where current ridership is heaviest thus supporting the data that tells us where the need is greatest.

      Why are you hung up on the airport? Because there is no seemless ride out there? In the future, you would need to take some sort of transfer downtown anyway. Or if you already live downtown, take the shuttle service. Or a #8, etc. Why invest in a line to the airport, a single destination, when the route to get there does not support the investment (of very limited resources $$) at this time?

    • ahow628 says:

      Just to clarify on what Curt said, there is the Green Line that picks up at stops littering downtown (including most of the hotels and a number of big employers). It runs every 20 minutes and costs, I believe, $7. You can pay onboard with a credit card. It is about a 20 minute ride and drops you right at arrivals at the airport. Very convenient.

      • Chris Barnett says:

        Not any more. The only option currently is the #8.

        • Indymoon says:

          Curt,
          First, I’m a supporter of mass transit just trying to understand what’s proposed.

          Your original post says the estimated cost is $87.4M and operating costs of $11.5 million. I assume the first figure is a capital cost estimate, which to me means structures, lane modifications, and maybe larger busses. Your response of more frequency and extended service hours would not require any capital investment except perhaps more busses. I have now read more of the report and the answer to my question (I believe) is better shelters, stations and signage along the route. IMO $87.4M seems like a lot for that and the general public may have the same impression.

          Regarding the airport comment, the proposal lists the airport as part of future service. Route 8 currently includes the airport and, based upon the Boarding data shown on page 3 of the Executive Summary, the airport has the most boardings of any stop along the route west of downtown. So I was surprised it was not included. Also, it’s not clear to me if Route 8 is eliminated and if there are other alternatives to get to the airport. Based upon other comments, I’m not the only one confused.

        • ahow628 says:

          Wow, I thought it had been given a stay of execution. Guess not.

          • Curt Ailes says:

            True, the Green Line is now gone, but a privately operated service now runs the same route.

            http://goexpresstravel.com/indy_express

            The full report also includes a section on the current condition of the pavement along this route. Some of the capital expenses included in this study cover repairng the roadway. This is something that will also benefit non-transit users.

          • Jim says:

            I never knew about the Go Express shuttle service. What a great thing! Why is this not discussed more often, a private company providing a great transit service for a very reasonable price? This service doesn’t require raising taxes for everyone in the area and provides an efficient service. If Indy got more things like this, we wouldn’t need as much public-public transit and could have a very healthy mixture of public and private-public transit.

          • ahow628 says:

            Saw the current Green Line and it looks completely identical to the IndyGo version. It is $10.

    • Shayla says:

      http://www.indyconnect.org/pages/Public-Meeting-Materials/

      For anyone who has not seen the full plan please go to the above link. Different phases of the plan are at the bottom of the page in pdf form. The recommended alternatives do not say there won’t be airport service. The airport expansion will come after the initial phase is completed. In the mean time, riders can take the EXPRESS bus, which is apart of the initial phase, from downtown to the airport. People can also transfer to the #8 from the blue line at Tibbs Avenue.

      Regarding the cost of the project, I guess the only way to sell the public is to show comparison between what other BRT systems in the U.S. cost and what other light rail systems of the same magnitude would cost. With that comparison, one must include how much local funding contributed to the plan. Charlotte and St. Louis have light rail, but then again they also approved a one-half cent sales tax increase. The transit study committee here already determined that sales tax increase wouldn’t be a feasible option. The EmX BRT line in Eugene, Oregon is 4 miles long and cost $25 miles to build. Kansas City’s Main Street MAX line cost $21 for 6 miles. Both of these systems received 80% of the funds from the FTA. Thirteen miles for $87 million doesn’t seem bad when you consider that the representatives at each meeting have said the figures quoted for the whole project are a high-end quote, meaning they don’t anticipate it costing more than that.

      References:
      http://www.gobrt.org/eugene
      http://www.kcata.org/documents/uploads/MAX_Fact_Sheet.pdf

  5. John says:

    This doesn’t appear to be a BRT at all really, just a city bus route that is receiving modern technological upgrades. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is a step in the right direction (something IndyGo needs most certainly), but is it really going to attract a whole lot of new riders? I’m sure those that use the route now will be impressed with the improvements, but apart from a modern bus and modern bus stops it won’t LOOK any different and may have a difficult time attracting many new riders. If the new service can really stick to the proposed reduction in travel time then it may have a chance.

    • Shayla says:

      Well it worked in Kansas City and Eugene, OR. We have a similar demographic to Kansas City. I believe the T.O.D. that will result is what will attract new riders, as it will attract jobs and new employees to the area.

      • Jim says:

        “I believe the T.O.D. that will result is what will attract new riders, as it will attract jobs and new employees to the area.”

        I’m just curious how you believe it will attract more jobs to the area? Is this something you can reasonably prove or just a hunch? If a hunch, I’m really curious as to why you have the hunch.

        • Shayla says:

          I’m going off of comparisons of economic development that has occurred in other cities from their newly added transit lines. Obviously transit was not the single factor in any of these cases, but it was a significant factor. As I’ve said before, if it happened in other cities, why wouldn’t it be able to happen in Indianapolis. Here are some references I’ve read on the subject:

          McMahon, Jeff. (Sept. 15, 2013). Bus rapid transit spurs development better than light rail or streetcars: Study. Retrieved from http://www.forbes.com/sites/jeffmcmahon/2013/09/15/bus-rapid-transit-spurs-development-better-than-light-rail-and-streetcars/

          Government Accountability Office. (July 2012). Bus Rapid Transit projects improve transit services and can contribute to economic development. Retrieved from http://www.gao.gov/assets/600/592973.pdf

          Hook, Walter. et. al. (Sept. 23, 2013). More development for your transit dollar: An analysis of 21 North American transit corridors. Institution for Transportation and Development Policy. Retrieved from http://www.itdp.org/documents/ITDP_MORE_DEVELOPMENT_924.pdf

        • ahow628 says:

          In addition to what Shayla said, you can look locally at the Cultural Trail. Virginia Ave was a wasteland between Downtown and Fountain Square, even 5 years ago. Now it is booming and continues to expand.

          I know it isn’t transit, but it is all a result of the traffic in the area. A BRT line would bring similar traffic and development.

  6. Shayla says:

    For those who believe that this isn’t a wise investment because it doesn’t meet the gold standard for BRT (which no BRT system in the U.S. does), please look at this article for reference. Sure, it will take at least moderate support behind the transit, but this can work.

    “When ITDP ranked transit systems using its in-house BRT standard, it found little connection between that score and the size of a TOD investment. In some cases a quality transit system produced big economic gains: Cleveland’s HealthLine held a silver transit quality rating and led to $5.8 billion in TOD investments. In other cases that link didn’t hold: Kansas City’s MAX bus and Portland’s streetcar didn’t meet even basic ITDP standards but still produced $5.2 billion and $4.5 billion TOD boosts, respectively.” (Jaffe, 2013)
    Reference:
    Jaffe, Eric. (Sept. 2013). The Surprising Key to Making Transit-Oriented Development Work. The Atlantic Cities. Retrieved from http://www.theatlanticcities.com/jobs-and-economy/2013/09/surprising-key-making-transit-oriented-development-work/6992/

  7. Shayla says:

    I’m guessing you didn’t see the implementation regarding the current bus routes and future bus routes. Go to http://www.indyconnect.org and select “the plan” under one of the tabs and then choose “public open house materials”. At the bottom of the page you’ll see the pdf for the increased bus frequency plan. Fixing IndyGo will be the first portion of the plan as soon as it’s passed on the referendum.

  8. Shayla says:

    With the constraints on funding, they are probably forgoing a dedicated transit-way for the blue line initially because part of the red line will have a transit-way and because the Green line is going to require the most funding. Sometimes you can’t have it all at once. You have to settle with piece by piece. Given though, if they looked for private investors and didn’t mind IndyGo being indebted, they could possibly have it all at once. But one of the representatives told me they don’t want to go that route.

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