There’s been a lot of positive press coverage of Indianapolis’ new transit center. Operated by IndyGo, it replaces the obvious lack of such a facility. In the bad old days of last week, everyone just stood around along various stops on Ohio Street.
There’s a lot of talk about the architecture, how slick it looks, and how it’ll be a positive asset for Indianapolis. Those things may all be true. I even kinda like that it sorta resembles a bus, because it’s subtle and almost like a secret. But like a lot of subjective things, there are other opinions. Plus, a lot of the press coverage hasn’t actually talked about what it’s like using the darn thing. It’s like a new restaurant opened, everyone reported on it, but didn’t bother to eat the food.
For all the talk about how this is a win for the city, let’s talk about the losers. Government projects can’t be done without making losers.
- At the opening ceremony, Congressman Carson said his grandmother, Julia Carson, whom the Center is named after, “…got the money [for the Center] through an old-fashioned legislative amendment.” In other words, pork. He added, “I wish we could still do that sometimes.” Depending on your views of paper clipped legislation, the losers here are either “everyone else in the country” or “everyone in the country”.
- The Center has a clear neighbor: the Marion County Jail. I’ve overhead many passengers this week noting the proximity of the jail and noting obvious jokes to just driving people straight into a cell. In all likelihood, however, the jail won’t be there forever.
- We all now have an extra building to support, despite the fact that Union Station is also still being maintained as a transfer point for Greyhound and some others. I get that IndyGo needed more space, but it sucks having such a great old building fall apart with no clear use.
- For anyone who lives on the south side and actually took the bus downtown to work, this is a clear loss. You come in on the southeast side and southern buses largely don’t go any further. And because the southeast corner of Downtown includes such attractions as the jail, bond offices, and parking garages, your commute just got longer, more expensive, or both to actually reach useful places. North side commuters, like everything else north-side oriented, still get a win. Their busses still travel through much of Downtown to get to the Center.
And the winners:
- People who do consistently transfer to the same bus every day. The woman who gets on in Fountain Square and travels downtown to catch the 24 to the southwest side is a winner.
- IndyGo, for being able to nudge more people into buying more trips and more expensive passes to cover that last 1-2 miles for users. This is likely a sore point for anyone who works or goes to the Government Center, IUPUI, One America, some Salesforce properties, and anything north of Ohio Street or west of Meridian at a minimum. Which is to say “most people who work Downtown”.
You can imagine where I am in this. I’m a loser, because it increasingly seems every time someone suggests an idea for route changes mine gets worse and worse. My 14 is now shorter, but the timing isn’t saved much for travel time it seems. Instead of moving around the streets of Downtown for 15 minutes I sit at the transit center for 10 minutes. And again along the route path 1-3 times because the bus runs too early too fast. Which makes it feel slower.
I also get the loss of being further away from my office (10th and Capitol). On a rainy or bad-weather day this almost guarantees I have to spend more on fares when I otherwise didn’t. The walk is now 10 minutes longer.
Kudos to IndyGo for having the thought of offering free rides this week. That likely cut down on a lot of upset users who haven’t quite realized the sting of being further away from things.
But let’s talk about the thing that really grinds my gears: the Center is incredibly pedestrian-hostile. The rain gardens are a good idea, but are at least 2-3 feet below street level. The Cultural Trail has some of these, but aren’t as deep. I have to imagine people falling into those things.
And then there’s the crosswalks.
See, you can’t make a facility super pedestrian-friendly when you have large metal boxes rolling around it. So if you get off a bus that pulls into one end of the facility, and you see the bus you want to take on the other, you have to walk the distance of half a block or two to get to it, lest someone scolds you like a child for not using the crosswalks. It makes me cringe every time.
Pedestrians will always take the shortest, most-direct path. Always. The Transit Center doesn’t facilitate either of those things unless you’re extremely lucky to park next to the right door. Once the volunteers and staff leave the Center, it’s going to be the wild west of people walking in the shortest paths possible to get where they need to be and roam around. Because that’s what pedestrians do, particularly when they have to get to work or meet a timeline. That’s what the staff does.
I can’t find the logic in how buses are organized, and while I imagine there is one, it’s not as easy as numerical ordering or direction they intend to travel. Which means it’s not intuitive.
And that’s if you can actually see the bus you want. Because the bay letters are small, and the display screens are small and hard to see in bright sunlight. You can’t see what’s down the platforms. The Center forces you into walking around aimlessly to find what you’re after or to quickly get into a routine and stick to it despite there being other options.
To give you an example of what this would feel like, imagine you’re standing on the Circle. You’re right by the South Bend Chocolate Factory. You see Starbucks to your right and want to go straight there. But you aren’t allowed to. You have to walk ¾ the way around backwards. That’s what the Transit Center feels like.
As another example, I got off my bus this week and stepped on to the platform. I know I have four options for getting up Illinois Street: routes 4, 18, 25, or 28. Or, I can take Meridian street buses 19, 38, or 39 and be a block further away. I just don’t know where those buses park, and no one’s bothered to publish a map so I can do my homework.
So I get off the 14 and I know I have mere minutes to find one of those other buses. The 28 is all the way at the end. I walk fast. I don’t make it. So I turn around. I see the 39 on the other end and across the pedestrian canyon that is the driveway. I walk fast. I don’t make it. I give up and turn around to see the 19. Not exactly what I wanted, but good enough. I get on. And sit for 10 minutes. We leave and go two blocks and sit another few minutes. You know what’s more infuriating and demeaning than seeing a bus leave just moments before you get there? Getting on a bus that isn’t moving anywhere. Even if we’re driving in circles I at least feel like I’m doing something. Sitting and idling is painful.
All the sitting, waiting, and guessing at what might show up and leave has reminded me that yes, IndyGo needs more buses to have higher frequency. But I’m not sure we can say the Center lives up to the claim of “making transfers easier”.
If I thought anyone cared about my recommendations:
- The signage for bays and departure times needs to be way bigger and way brighter, or at least flatter. I can imagine some older users probably can’t even read the signs when they’re standing right under them.
- Publish a map that shows what bays hold what buses consistently. So when I get off one bus I can know roughly where to look to see if a potential transfer is there and go straight to it.
- Give up on trying to corral pedestrians into crosswalks. I know the lawyers and insurance agents will have a fit, but I’m an adult. People jaywalk not because they’re criminals, but because the effort, particularly in bad weather, to use crosswalks is not at all conducive to logic and need. Especially in the winter when the driveway may have less snow/ice coverage than the sidewalks.
- Rethink some sign placement. There’s a sign near one crosswalk that says “Not a pedestrian crossing”. Then what is it? The sign that says “Transit Center Grounds Closed” stays up all the time, which seems confusing.
- An announcement system for folks outside would be helpful for all users, including those with vision problems. “Now leaving, Route 10, 16, and 28”, for example”. Or, “Arriving now, Route 12, 19, and 22.”
- Transfer passes. The lack thereof strikes me more than ever as a cynical money-grab. Pay $1.75 to go from Cumberland to the Airport. Or 7 blocks. That leaves a taste of bad value. And no one likes to feel like they’re being extracted.
Maybe I’m just the only person cranky enough to have problems with this. But I’m still glad to see some forward momentum on this. At least people are trying.