An unintended consequence of better bus service in Indianapolis

Most people hate to think. But if you think, you must make your own opinions.

I was thinking this morning and realized while waiting at the 9th Street Red Line station there’s a huge consequence to the Red Line.

It’s perhaps the biggest thing no one’s yet thought of written about. It’ll be hard to measure, and it’ll take years to fully unfold, but it’s big news.

People who ride the Red Line will talk to each other.

I know. It’s likely to start off small, but people who ride a bus regularly tend to notice other people. Those little conversations helping people along makes humans into people. Like the lady who everyone helps on and off the 25 each morning at 6:45 and 3:45 like clockwork. She had a stroke and has trouble getting around. But she walks to and from her doctor every day, and when it’s icy, people get out and help her up the curb.

The knee jerk reaction is “that’s impossible” or “that’s dumb”. Maybe, but if you think about it you know it has to be a little true. We’re all different when we’re waiting in line at the bank or grocery store than when we’re waiting in line in traffic. Once people get behind the wheel, the impetus is different. “Don’t touch my car. Hurry up. Get out of the way.” We become mechanized. Half machine in a bionic kind of way that’s useful in some situations, but has a cost.

People lament “kids these days” with headphones in. I’m always wearing headphones, but I’m always listening to audiobooks or podcasts. I can hear just fine and can strike up a conversation. This weekend a guy asked me where the post office was. Another asked me where the library was. On the Red Line lots of people chatted. At the station, I walked up with a lovely young woman who was curious about payment options. I saw another person I knew who worked nearby.

In a car, those interactions are gone. They are completely removed and replaced by the insulating tomb of metal, glass, and perhaps the radio.

People who move around cities without their cars become less mechanical and more human. Perhaps it’s a vulnerability, but I think it’s good for people.

We know more and more people are insular, lacking friends, and don’t see many people beyond their co-workers or passing customers with brief interactions. Generationally, we have fewer relationships than ever. Even people who think they get out plenty might, if they think about it, not have many conversations.

That isn’t healthy for people or cities. Nostalgically we long for Mayberry-style days where everyone is friendly and waves and chats with you on the street. But no one on Mayberry’s main street ever spoke to Floyd or Andy in the front seat of a car. They were walking around, visiting people and places.

If someone at IU or another school with a medical or psychology program could measure it, I bet we’d find people who get out of their cars more will, over the long term, show signs of being less agitated and stressed. We know this of bicycle riders — no denying exercise is good for people there. I bet there are similar benefits to getting around town with others through transit.

Yes, yes, someone’s complaining this is all unworkable or not for them. That’s fine. But smart cities give people options.

2 Comments

  1. I’m not sure most people hate to think lol, but I love the point about community that you make here. Shared transportation I(be it train, plane, bus, or otherwise) do provide the platform for unexpected connections and moments of serendipity. Service expansion like the Red Line hopefully will increase the diversity of the riders which in turn, will increase diverse people sharing diverse perspectives … a very good thing for our city.

  2. 100% correct, Justin. I have made many friends on transit.
    Transit provides stress relief: riding transit is a break, driving a car is hard work.
    The increase in walking to get to a transit stop at the beginning and end of the day is surprisingly accretive to fitness. My very pro-driving sister was forced by job change to use BART in the SF Bay Area. She is stunned at the positive difference it has made in her day on every level.

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