🌪️ My new book is available for pre-order! Reserve your copy.

An open letter to the businesses of Irvington, Senator Aaron Freeman, and, in particular, Indy Cycle

Update: January 16, 2024

After publishing this piece and letting it float around the Internet for a couple of days, I heard from Scott at Indy Cycle. He, apparently like some others, signed up to receive more information about the Blue Line project. They support the project and were really only curious how people would be able to access their parking lot.

I don’t know if this means someone is maliciously construing the signatures for what amounts to an email newsletter or not. But I know the fastest was to trust a man is to trust him, and I take Scott at his word. This sounds like someone running around saying they’ve collected a bunch of signatures for an email list and misconstruing them as being for or against the project.

I hope someone that’s part of the Irvington business group takes the initiative to let everyone at the Statehouse know they’ve all been duped. Because as it’s said, “It would be a mistake to move too fast.” Nevermind this project has been underway in on way or another for seven years.

I have terrible luck with cars. For a while I had a Volkswagen that constantly fell apart, everything from the turn signal to the sunvisor. “It only has 150,000 miles!” people would say, but there it was, in pieces. “I’ll just buy a new car. That way it’ll just work.” Wrong. It was about September or October of 2011 that I went out to my garage and tried to start the car only to find the battery was dead. Randomly. With no warning.

That was about the last straw for me. No one likes it when things fail, but I really hate it. So I try to engineer failure out of my life by just opting out of things that are weak, break, or fragile. My solution was a bicycle. My logic was that of my grandfather’s: “I can see it, understand it, and I can fix it.”

I walked into Indy Cycle in Irvington sometime that fall and bought an all-steel Jamis Satellite road bike. I rode that thing over 12,000 miles in the next few years. I rode it so much I decided I didn’t even want the car anymore. So off it went. I paid off a little that remained on the loan and I was debt-free for the first time in my life except for my mortgage. What an amazing feeling that was, and it was all thanks to a humble bicycle.

But at the same time I was working through all this I started a part-time teaching job at Ben Davis University High School. At 13 miles one way, I ended up riding Raymond Street back and forth in the morning and afternoon twice a week. My students thought it was kind of cool. My principal thought it so amazing she saw fit to scold one staffer calling out last minute due to weather, “Well Professor Harter made it here across town on a bicycle and he’s on time.” Ouch.

This was at a time before Indianapolis had many bike lanes. There was the Monon, about 6 feet on Raymond Street, and I think something up on 75th street. That may have just been a rumor best I knew.

And the weather being what it is in the winter, biking on Raymond in the snow and ice seemed a stretch even for me. So instead I’d bike up to Washington Street and take the bus. “This is pretty okay,” I thought. It came regularly, always the same faces, always the same stop. And I’d throw my bike on the front of the bus, head over to High School Road, and bike a half mile up to BDU. The whole trip took a long while, but I’d put it to use reading or listening to podcasts.

Flash forward to today and I’m married in a one-car household. I do not drive much, however. I was doing my tax prep earlier and calculated I drove 1,698 miles in 2023. Every trip was far outside of the city to meet a client.

I drove to Avon today to meet a client for lunch. On the way back, just off the highway, the low pressure light came on. I got home, heard the hissing of air, and roadside assistance pulled it off later to find metal lodged in the tire. Not a nail, just a whole goddamn piece of metal.

I drive less than 2,000 miles a year and this is my luck. This ordeal could have been worse (or dangerous, considering the rain), but it will not be quick, cheap, or easy. It will require a trip to a tire dealer and dropping it off. But you know how I will get back to my house? The bus.

And after waiting a day or two and spending as much on one tire as what 6 bike tires cost, it will have cost us much more in time and treasure.

So while I walk around Irvington most days, lamenting the loss of trees and realizing this place is become ugly and unkempt, one can certainly see the value in not having to rely on a what are evidently very fragile cars.

But the bus is no perfect machine, either. I was on a bus recently that took off only to have the hydraulics fail. The worst that happened there was I got off and waited 15 minutes. It’ll take me 15 minutes just to limp the doughnut-car down to Firestone. For what it’s worth, I can replace a bike tube in 7-10 minutes for all of $8.

None of this is ideal (though I love my bike; I have never loved a car). But it is also easy to see that there is room for improvement. The roads are falling apart. The city is ugly and broke. And people are being killed by motorists.

So when IndyGo proposed three rapid transit lines, at least someone was taking action somewhere. I do not know, but I suspect if IndyGo did not have these plans the City would not likely consider repairing or upgrading Washington Street on the east side for another half a generation or more.

Why a transit agency has to deal with this kind of infrastructure work is damning enough, but it’s incredibly frustrating to see businesses in my neighborhood signing a petition to stop it.

There’s the bakery I sometimes went to that posted a “Keep Irvington Historic!” sign on their window. I looked at what the real issue was and it is evidently push back against the modernity of two bus huts out on the street.

“Well, their cookies aren’t very good anyway,” so I turned around and left and haven’t been back. And then I saw it on some other stores in town I never go to because I am not a woman or buyer of tacky things. “Oh well,” I thought.

And then I saw one at the Mediterranean restaurant and Lincoln Square. Neither of them are very good, either, unless you like $20 gyro wraps or feel like buying 1 egg for $1.50. So that sorta took me by surprise. But it made me sad because Mediterranean food is my favorite.

But then I saw that Indy Cycle — the local bike shop I have spent gobs of money at for years — has signed this petition. “This, surely, must have happened under the auspices of something I don’t understand.” And I still do not understand.

I understand Sen. Aaron Freeman’s motivation to pass bills in the Indiana General Assembly to stop IndyGo. He doesn’t live here and just wants to zip right through town. He’s a jerk about it, but I at least understand his motivation to be a jerk about it.

But a bicycle shop? Surely Scott knows people who ride buses very frequently ride bikes.

A lack of imagination, or what it’s like 4.5 miles away

The most frustrating part of living in Indianapolis is the lack of imagination. One doesn’t have to imagine the efficiency of Japanese trains or German rail. We only have to imagine what it’s like in Fountain Square, 4.5 miles away. Because the idea that somehow none of the infrastructure will fit is bonkers given that Washington Street is 2.5x the size of Virginia Ave. Or wondering, “Wouldn’t it be nicer for our diners if the street was quiet, like College Ave. is now?”

There’s the stupid argument that “this wasn’t built for transit,” but that is genuinely stupid on account Irvington was once the Geist of the whole state. Irvington 100 years ago was the best neighborhood with the highest income residents. And they put it here because there was a trolley line down U.S. 40 straight into Indianapolis.

I do not know why reasonable people can not just say what actually needs to be said in all this:

  • Businesses are terrified at the idea of losing a dollar and construction seems bad for business, even if it’s better later. So, the short term fear wins. This wouldn’t be any different if the City could or did decide to do a major project anyway.
  • IndyGo screwed up building the lines in the wrong order and too slowly. The Blue Line was always going to be cantankerous because it’s the longest. No one was ever going to opine about the Purple Line, so it should have always been last. And every year they let pass by is another year the General Assembly can agitate like a busted up washing machine.
  • The BRT lines are not at all faster than the fixed-route lines. I do not know why or how. Or at least they do not function that way here anyway. But they do provide significant traffic calming measures, which the City is not capable of providing itself. There’s also ancillary benefits to emergency vehicles being able to use the dedicated lanes.
  • Guys like Freeman are mad that despite having literally all of the roads in the City the reduction of a lane is “taking something away”, even if that public good is not really “his.” This is loss aversion, and it is strong.

I would be more amenable to compromises if the State adjusted the road funding formula to support Indianapolis more equitably, in turn allowing the City to reduce the size of Washington Street from it’s pre-interstate levels of traffic capacity. But that would not resolve any of these issues from anyone because, again, we apparently lack motivation, courage, or creativity. The City would fail to do what reasonable people know needs doing. I know this to be true because this City can’t even be bothered to dispose of wood.

I am exhausted by all this and it makes me want to move. I will still bike regardless. But for now, I can’t help but feel deeply hampered by businesses that either aren’t aware Irvington had the highest percentage of voter approval of any district in the county for the transit initiatives, that children have died, the city is broke, the street is ugly and loud and prohibitive of even so much as sitting outside, and through it all we can’t even pretend to imagine anything even slightly better to resolve even half that.


Want to know when stuff like this is published?
Sign up for my email list.

Photo of Justin Harter

About JUSTIN HARTER

Justin has been around the Internet long enough to remember when people started saying “content is king”.

He has worked for some of Indiana’s largest companies, state government, taught college-level courses, and about 1.1M people see his work every year.

You’ll probably see him around Indianapolis on a bicycle.

Leave a Comment