7 miles in Indianapolis

Think about your morning routine. If you’re like me, you wake up, get dressed, and head out the door to go to work. Your schedule will vary, of course. I get up early, and you may get up later. I don’t have to shuffle kids to school. You might have to. But the routine is steady. Only occasionally does something get in the way – like an illness or a dead car battery. How many of the 260 working days each year does that happen, though? For most, it’s probably only a few.

For another group of commuters, it’s likely most days. I’ve long lamented the wastefulness of cars and car culture. But there’s a reason why cars win and there’s a reason why self-driving cars have so many people excited for the future: it works way better.

My commute this morning, and last Thursday, and last Wednesday looked something like this:

  • Wake up at 5:30 a.m.
  • Out the door at 6. Walk 15 minutes.
  • Take a bus Downtown. Arrive at 6:40.
  • Walk across the street to grab a Bikeshare bike. There are no bikes.
  • Walk to another station. There are no bikes.
  • Walk to another station, 15 minutes later, get a bike.
  • Bike to the station nearest my office. There are no open docks.
  • Bike backward to dock at another station then waste another 15 minutes walking.
Pacers Bikeshare Empty Station

An empty Pacers bikeshare station

You can imagine how awful that is when the weather is lousy. This is all to go 7 miles.

At the end of the day this process is reversed on more occasions than not.

Bikeshare as transportation doesn’t work because bikeshare doesn’t work for anything buy playful jaunts on a whim. I spend more time walking to and from bike and bus stations than I do using them.

The broken Pacers Bikeshare app just displays a map

The broken Pacers Bikeshare app just displays a map

The Bikeshare people regularly say to check their app to make sure a bike is available or a dock. Except it doesn’t work and hasn’t worked for over a month. Plus, it’s ridiculous. You’re telling people, “Before you go to work make sure one of the five spots is open.” As if that somehow changes where your office is.

Cars cost a lot of money, and I think they cost more than they’re worth. Government regulations require ever-additional costs (backup cameras, for instance). But there’s a reason everyone immediately shuffles to get one in all but a few cities in the U.S.: you get in them, you go somewhere, and you go somewhere else, and you get stuff done. That’s what productive high-performing people do. They get stuff done.

If time is money, then the time wasted on this dance every morning is a tax. We try to fill it with “productive” work – like listening to audiobooks or podcasts, but you can’t read a book or type on a laptop while you’re walking. If I left my house in the morning when I was ready, at 5:45, I could be at work by 6:05. In other words, I could be at my destination in the time it takes to walk half a mile down the road. This is why self-driving car advocates are excited. You couple the speed of destination arrival with the ability to read a book or catch up on emails. Convenience always wins. If every morning was a driving disaster this conversation might be different. But that’s not a problem I encounter even if I did drive.

Nothing any mere mortal can do will change this. Cities aren’t magically going to increase their density so you don’t have to travel as far. This doesn’t matter anyway. Just look at my commute problems, where most happen in the city’s densest square mile. The Transit Plan addresses none of this, because it doesn’t matter if the frequency is higher if I still have to walk 15-20 minutes to get to a stop. The Bikeshare isn’t going to get any better because no one’s coming to work at 4 am to make sure everything’s in order by 6.

Using car share isn’t much different in problems than bike share. But the cost is bonkers, at nearly $6 for a one-mile jaunt thanks to Indy’s nation-leading rental car tax. $12 a day round-trip just to move a mile is insane. You might as well buy a car so you could go more than one place a day. And spending more on ride-hailing services like Lyft is even more expensive. I don’t, however, think self-driving cars will make Lyft and others cheaper. Just more profitable for the companies.

Before urbanists and cities can attempt to make this better, we must start from a few central points:

  • Everyone living in apartments in a city center isn’t for everyone in costs, availability, and life needs.
  • You must recognize people can’t build wealth if they’re spending it all on transportation, or in time waiting for it to work.
  • You can’t change where people have to go. That client meeting on the edge of town, the school on the other side, the grocery store with food you like and can afford, and the dog park all exist where they exist.

It’s also a little insulting to tell people everything would be better if they lived in $1,500+ per month apartments they rented for their entire life in the nicer, denser places.

Merged photos of Indianapolis then & now

In case you missed Round 1, go check out my first roll with this idea. Today, I have a few more. Again, I tried to make every effort to find the original sources, as most of these images are now part of the State Archives or Library of Congress, but it’s hard to find out exactly where.

The first comes to us via HistoricIndianapolis.com, which shows the damage of a tornado that swept through the east side of Indianapolis in 1929. Here shows a shot of east Washington Street: 

The second comes to us from the Indiana Historical Society, via IndianaHistory.org. It shows the former Marion County Courthouse being demolished in 1961. Marion County is one of only a few counties in the state that do not have a “traditional” courthouse still standing or operating within the county. Here you can see Washington Street and the City-County Building in the background of both photos: 

Next up is another via IndianaHistory.org, this showing the construction of the Federal Courthouse for the Southern District of Indiana (which covers Indianapolis south to the Ohio River). Known today as the Birch Bayh Federal Building & US Courthouse, the building was originally constructed to house a Post Office and Courtrooms in 1905. The Post Office is no longer there, but  US District Court and other US Government offices still operate there. Here, the courthouse’s first block is being lowered as a crowd gathers to witness the event:

Lastly is a view from Monument Circle towards west Market Street, again via IndianaHistory.org. I had to work with this photo more than any other because the Monument originally did not contain the elaborate fountain and stone work that surrounds it today, which makes it nearly impossible to take a photo from the same exact position today. Here I’ve taken the current-day photo and shrunk it to maintain the right proportions. In the old photo you can see part of the Statehouse and Circle Hall, which was originally used as a city government building circa 1857. This was also the plot for the original Governor’s Mansion, which was since demolished and used here as a grazing area for livestock, causing the area to fall into disrepair. Today, WellPoint’s headquarters are located here.

Marion County Can’t Afford Stamps

I received an email the other day from my mortgage company telling me they paid my taxes on my behalf. That’s nice.

The same day, later that afternoon, I received my tax statement in the mail from the Marion County Auditor’s Office. That’s not nice.

That means the county sent my tax records to my mortgage company in California and they had time to process it, pay it and alert me all before the same office bothered to mail me my statement all of 8.5 miles away. I don’t like that.

Then, inside my tax statement (which, thanks to Mitch Daniels, is at an all-time low and my taxes have dropped another 28% over last year. Thank you, Mitch) was a form that I was required to fill out so I could prove I lived in my home and qualify for my homestead deduction.

The problem is that they didn’t bother providing a self-addressed and paid envelope. They must think very highly of their residents. First, they assume people will open the envelope. Then, they assume people will read any of it beyond “how much do/did I owe?” and then they assume that people will not lose the form long enough to fill out it’s horrible layout, provide information no one knows (local parcel number, state parcel number and the last five digits of your driver’s license number. Yes, the parcel numbers are on the tax forms you just received, but I doubt anyone notices that) and then they assume people have stamps and an envelope laying around to send it back. No online system, no envelope and a crappy form.

I bet they get about 10% of those forms back. I’m hedging my bets that Monroe County will have the highest return rate in the state because most people there are probably renters because of IU’s proximity.

This, as Doug Masson often points out, is probably a feature. The fewer people return that form, the more people get kicked off their homestead deductions and the more their taxes go up, resulting in more income for the county.

As a side note, yes, I know that when my taxes go down my county gets less revenue to do things – namely, fund schools. And, quite frankly, I don’t give a rip. I don’t have kids and I don’t believe pushing money into the system would fix anything. If it did, we’d have fixed everything by now and we’d be living in an educated utopia. Some kids are smart, some kids are dumb. The smart ones will stay smart and do good things – like filling out that homestead deduction verification form. The dumb ones will stay dumb and lazy and do nothing of value to anyone except pay higher homestead taxes because they didn’t fill out that form. That’s evolution.

Courts Just Learned That People Can’t Live off Free

I got a jury summons to be on standby in mid-December. The entire week was nothing but, “I’ll schedule you for X, but I may have to move you to Z because of jury duty”, and “I’d like to, but I don’t know what I’ll be doing in 12 hours.” It’s a horrid turd called the “jury system”. I never got called, but it destroyed my whole week. It’s awful, woefully out-of-date and out-of-touch and I assume most courts everywhere are almost embarrassed by the lack of funds.

To add to the insult of being jerked around for a week, courts only pay a pittance for your appearance. Assuming you get called to serve on a jury and are selected, Marion County courts only pay about $40 a day. To cover the cost of parking ($12 a day) and lunch ($10), you can only expect to get a profit of $18 a day. People who make minimum wage net about $45 a day. You can imagine the concern for people who make, you know, anything above minimum wage.

Spare me the “it’s an honor” line – if it’s an honor, you should honor those serving with enough money to sustain themselves and their families based on a percentage of their daily gross income. At least when stupid crimes are involved for stupid people.

Evidently, the people of L.A. have had enough:

Spurned in his effort to get out of jury duty, salesman Tony Prados turned his attention to the case that could cost him three weeks’ pay: A Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy was suing his former sergeant, alleging severe emotional distress inflicted by lewd and false innuendo that he was gay.

Prados, an ex-Marine, leaned forward in the jury box and asked in a let-me-get-this-straight tone of voice: “He’s brave enough to go out and get shot at by anyone but he couldn’t handle this?” he said of the locker-room taunting.

In this time of double-digit unemployment and shrinking benefits for those who do have jobs, courts are finding it more difficult to seat juries for trials running more than a day or two. And in extreme cases, reluctance has escalated into rebellion, experts say.

After three days of mounting insurrection, lawyers for both the deputy and the sergeant waived their right to a jury trial and left the verdict up to [the Judge].

“We can’t have a disgruntled jury,” said attorney Gregory W. Smith, who represents Deputy Robert Lyznick in the lawsuit against his former supervisor. He called the panel “scary” and too volatile for either side to trust.

It was already ridiculous to think that anyone could afford to sit on a jury before the recession, let-alone now.