On that story about opposing Indy’s Red Line

The Indy Star has a story up right now about opposition to the proposed Red Line. Proposed is a key word because nothing but planning and some grant proposals have been done yet. No one’s torn up a single inch of dirt on this thing.

For those of you not following along, the Red Line is a change from the current IUPUI/Downtown Red Line circulator that will be ending this year. The new Red Line is a proposed electric Bus Rapid Transit line that would, eventually, span almost all of Indianapolis’s north-to-south corridor from Carmel to Greenwood.

The initial chunk is a line stretching from about halfway up Marion County in Broad Ripple south to the University of Indianapolis. So about half way up and down from Downtown.

It would also be America’s first and largest all-electric BRT line (that’s actually World Class!). BRT differs from traditional buses in that they’re designed to move faster. There are fewer stops, people pay in advance, they look more like trains than busses, and they have dedicated lanes.

And therein lies the rub.

Northside residents who live near College Avenue have attended meetings and circulated an online petition to voice concern about the Red Line electric buses that would run as often as every 10 minutes from 66th Street in Broad Ripple to the University of Indianapolis on the Southside.

They are worried the route will devour parking spaces, consume turn lanes and entice drivers to speed through side streets to avoid  caravans of lane-hogging buses.

All for an eco-friendly, mass transit service they fear may attract few riders.

To be fair, Indianapolis is not a transit-centric city. But this reminds me of a conversation I had years ago with a counselor at IU when I said, “How come there aren’t more classes at night so working adults can complete degrees after work?” The response: “We have a more traditional student population that goes to class in the day.” Gee, you think if you at least offered something else that maybe people would do it? Turns out, they offer a metric ton more evening classes now. Same here: we’re not a transit city because IndyGo’s current operations to most people are unpalatable, with 60 minute wait times on most routes most of the day and few cross-town options.

But we know what ridership does on lines that aren’t 60+ minutes. They go up. Because on high-frequency lines that IndyGo now operates, like 8, 10, and 39, ridership is way up thanks to 20 minute frequency.

I don’t need to talk much about the planning aspects of this. Kevin Kastner has you covered there.

But there are a few lines I want to point out. First:

But some skeptics say the project would unnecessarily make over the streetscape of a booming residential and business corridor on College north of 38th Street, and they fear the Red Line could be a boondoggle that car-happy Indianapolis residents will rarely use.

Someone in a comment said they wanted to know what “booming corridor” that is. This is where semantics matter. If I said, “College north of 38th”, you think: “Poor black people.” If I said, “College, along SoBro (South Broad Ripple)”, you think, “Oh, the trendy place all the restaurants are going to.” It’s the same corridor. One just makes you a little more racist than the other.

Also: no one is “car-happy” in a Volvo. Go knock on the window of anyone sitting at a light anywhere in this city and ask, “Are you happy in your car?”

You’re “destination happy”, because you like having control of your time. No working Hoosier relishes their car payment. No one.

Next:

But the detractors find those estimates overly optimistic, given the city’s historic love affair with car travel and relatively congestion-free streets. They note that the College Avenue bus lines and other lines that run through the Northside, such as the No. 18 Nora and No. 19 Castleton, are often empty or half-full.

“Other than rush hour, that College bus runs empty all day long,” McGuire said, adding that expectations of new dwellings to “create ridership” are far-fetched. “Are they going to pull 11,000 riders out of midair?”

Is the bus half empty or half full?

Also, I hereby declare not one of these people can EVER AGAIN complain about 465. Ever. Not 69, not 70, not 65, or even 74 or 31 or 36 or any of the other dozen highways coming through here. Not ever. Because you are “car-lovers on congestion-free streets.”

And back to those “half empty busses”. You know what I see on my way to work in the morning, and on my way to lunch, and on my way home? Most of Downtown Indy’s 35,000+ parking spaces are empty.

This isn’t about which is better: cars or buses or bikes or walking or monorails or hover boards. This is about what kind of city Indy can be. It’s either a city that invests in efficient mechanisms to move people and save them money, or not. Because even if the estimates of $13/house/month to cover ALL of the other proposed IndyConnect expansions is off by 100%, it’s still $5,600 cheaper, on average, than owning a car per year. Mitch Daniels’ (you remember him, right? The adult we had before the doofus we have now?) biggest goal in his governorship was “raising the average earning of Hoosiers”. Would you like an extra $5,600 in your pocket ever year?

Otherwise you’re saying it’s fine to pay a bunch of money so you can afford to get to work. You’re saying there are enough people living here already, no one else needs to move in. You’re saying it’s fine that you have to drive your butt half a mile down the road for bread. You’re saying it’s fine that you never speak to your neighbors or walk across the street or let your kids play outside because the cars are there. You’re saying you’d rather College Ave. been a 45 MPH speed scape that lets people get out of town than a 30 MPH zone that supports businesses that in turn support your property value.

This is about recognizing there are better ways to build a city that save people money, their health, and their property values (is there a city that introduced a transit line that lowered property values?). It’s about recognizing that building all of the car infrastructure is just as dumb as a lot of other things cities build. Parking lots that sit empty, garages that look awful and create heat islands with no value beynd car storage, and roads that have fallen into disrepair because we built too damn many are dumb. It’s dumb that every person needs 2 tons of steel, aluminum, and plastic to move them 20 minutes down the road every day. Do you realize that every one of Indy’s Culural Districts, the places people really like, are really shitty towards cars? Parking in Fountain Square is awful. Mass Ave.’s parking is crap. Broad Ripple’s isn’t great along the strip. Could it be that when you take away all the car storage, it makes it a better place to actually walk around and be in?

It’s also dumb to say you don’t want or need this because you don’t want or need it. It’s like saying I’ve never been to Columbia City, Indiana, so let’s not pay for the roads to get there.

I’ve not once ever been inside Lucas Oil Stadium, but I pay for that, and I didn’t sign a damn petition about it.

I’ve never watched a race at IMS, but I didn’t complain about noise when I lived on that side of town.

Because that’s what nice people do.

I seem to remember people saying the same things about the Pacers Bike Share, and that’s done well. BlueIndy is still a thorn in people’s sides and it’s reported they’re having better success at this stage than they did in Paris.

No one’s coming for your damn parking spot, and even if they did, there’s literally about 50,000 more leftover.

Indianapolis may have figured out transit without it costing much at all

It’s no secret to anyone I don’t care for cars. I don’t think most people most of the time need a car to do most things. I think busses, bikes, and just plain walking are all better for everyone, at least in an urban environment. Rural communities are a different issue.

So I take great interest in IndyConnect and similar initiatives to bolster funding for IndyGo, add more busses, and connect the region. I’ll be the first person to vote in favor of commuter taxes or some sort of regional taxation so people in the suburbs whose livelihoods likely wouldn’t exist without the city still have some skin in the game, particularly when they all work in the city. Remember, “you can’t be a suburb of nowhere”.

Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard is charging ahead (see what I did there) with Blue Indy, an electric car share program that’ll have stations at 200 locations across the city. This could be big, if done well. So far, I have some reservations.

Blue Indy is a private French-owned company and they’re getting ratepayers to Indianapolis Power and Light to foot most of the bill. After some haggling, it seems IPL customers will pay an additional 28 cents a month. Twenty. Eight. Cents.

Of course people are mad about that, but seriously? 28 cents? Here, make it 30 cents and just buy new cars when they run out of charge.

Regardless, we all pay 28 cents a month and we get these neat little electric cars. The goals here from the Mayor are two-fold:

1. Decrease Indy’s dependence on foreign oil and fossil fuels and
2. Increase Indy’s use of multi-modal transportation options

It’s that second item that catches my eye. Indy’s a car-centric place, and if you can get people to give up their own cars or drive less in their lousy old cars, we can get people interested in alternative transit options without going whole hog, so to speak.

I spoke to some of the people at Blue Indy’s first station downtown at Washington and Meridian. They’re planning 25 initial stations. They include:

  1. Washington and Penn
  2. The Convention Center
  3. City Market
  4. Monument Circle
  5. Ohio and Penn
  6. IND Airport
  7.  IUPUI’s Student Center
  8. Mass Ave
  9. Broad Ripple
  10. Fountain Square
  11. City Way
  12. Illinois and Washington
  13. City-County Building
  14. White River State Park (the zoo, museums, etc.)
  15. Statehouse
  16. Ivy Tech’s Fall Creek campus
  17. South Broad Ripple (can we lose the “SoBro” now? Please?)
  18. Irvington
  19. Butler
  20. University of Indianapolis
  21. 86th and the Monon
  22. Fashion Mall
  23. Castleton Mall
  24. Glendale Mall
  25. Victory Field

Some interesting places there, but sadly, not a lot of residential places. Irvington strikes me as a great spot, IUPUI, 86th and Monon, and South Broad Ripple — all places IndyGo doesn’t reach with a ton of ease.

Prices are slated for $5 for 30 minutes, plus a modest membership fee each year. But so far, I have some problems with this.

The cars aren’t equipped with bike racks, and they’re so small you could never fit one inside. A Blue Indy rep says they’re considering outfitting 1 out of every 5 cars with bike racks. Without them, this means you’ll either have to bus to a station or walk to a station. Or, I guess, bike and leave your bike there?

What I wish, however, was an emphasis on more residential locations. I live along Michigan Road and the closest initial station will be in Broad Ripple, which is a 20 minute bike ride away. But without bike racks I’d have to bus and to move across town 10 miles is about a 90 minute bus ride. Not convenient at all.

But this is an excellent way of supplementing bus and bike infrastructure for people who need to bounce out to a suburban county for a few hours. Or, once the Downtown transit center is done, realize the bus is running late,, you’re in a hurry, and there’s a car.

It’d be useless if you worked all day every day, but sometimes I have to zip over to Avon or a few weeks ago I had to get up to Noblesville. To get to Noblesville I could bike up Michigan Road, take the 86th street bus east to the Fashion Mall, pick up a car and go for a few hours and come back and do it all in the inverse — so long as the bike racks are there or there’s a very safe place to park my bike. You’re only charged for the cars so long as it’s unplugged. The meter stops the second it’s plugged back in somewhere.

Most people will look at it as a useless thing that takes up extra parking spaces, but if placed strategically it could be a savior for the “Oh crap, my car won’t start”, or, “I can bus to dinner, but how do I get back home after 11?” or, “I need to get to Greenfield, but there’s nothing to get me there except a car from the county line where the bus stops.” It supplements the existing limitations of Indy’s transit system, connects the region at an affordable price, and since they’re electric, it’s cleaner than gas. Once IPL stops burning coal in favor of natural gas at their Harding Street plant, it’ll be even cleaner.

It’s a uniquely Indianapolis approach: public and private partnerships, making use of what we already have technically and culturally, and without costing much money at all.

Car Storage

A story in today’s Indianapolis Business Journal indicated that the city of Indianapolis is considering building 3 parking garages to accommodate 16,500 more cars near Downtown. This does not include the proposed parking garage being planned for the Broad Ripple area.

Currently, Indianapolis has about 70,000 spaces around downtown, including spaces built to accommodate the oft-stressed IUPUI area, which has 16,781 spaces between lots and garages. All of IUPUI’s spaces are publicly-owned and constructed at a cost to Indiana taxpayers. 8,337 of those spaces are designed just for students, meaning faculty and staff take up almost half of the available spaces at IUPUI. There are over 30,000 students enrolled at IUPUI.

Figures based on the average cost of constructing a new parking garage indicate that in 2008, U.S. garages cost about $15,000 per space, or $44 per square foot. That’s a lot of money just to hold a car. Parking lots cost anywhere from $250 to $500 per space, depending on their location.

All that car storage takes up a lot of valuable real estate, too, causing city centers to be consumed by largely useless, ugly, concrete walls so people can walk a few short feet to their destination.

Considering the cost to the public to build large roads, parking garages either entirely publicly funded or abated with public tax grants, parking fees people pay, meter attendants, and other public infrastructure for car storage like signage and meter maintenance (now partially covered by a private operator in Indianapolis), that’s a huge sum of money. Even one garage that, on average, costs millions to build, is somehow seen as “okay”, despite it costing the average US city just under $6 million to do so.

The average student at IUPUI pays over $250 an academic year to park on campus, or about $25 a month. Similar rates apply to people who work downtown and have to pay their own parking costs. Dennison Parking operates a facility that charges $40 a month for non-guaranteed daily parking at their facility on South Meridian Street.

The entire IndyConnect plan would cost a person earning $50,000 just $10 a month to build and maintain a system. The average household in Marion and Hamilton County would pay about $120 a year for a system that would allow us to stop building ugly blocks for car storage, and instead allow people to get to the business of actually getting around town quickly and efficiently. The cost of three parking garages would roughly cover the cost of operating IndyConnect for one year.

Which means that the amount of money that Indianapolis is going to spend, without much of a peep from the public, is enough to operate an entire transit system that would catapult Indianapolis into the echelon of “cities with great mass transit” for a year. That’s just in public money that the city somehow “doesn’t have”. Outside of the public coffers, the plan would have to be funded largely by tax dollars on a recurring basis in a way that garages presumably don’t (beyond maintenance).

So, for the average schmuck who’s married with a kid or two, where both parents work, they’re willing to spend, on average a third of their income each year based on US Transportation Bureau statistics on cars and “car stuff”, like maintenance, gas, insurance, and parking fees. Or, $25,000 a year for an income of $75,000. As opposed to spending $120 a year in taxes, plus bus/train fees of $60 a month for a total of $1,560 a year (for two people).

Tens of thousands of people willingly pay $25,000 a year when they could just pay $1,560. Talk about an economic opportunity. Wouldn’t you like a third of your income back?

Most people in Indianapolis are one person in a car going to work, then going home. If you’re married, even losing one car to allow mom the use of the transit system while Dad takes the car to run a bunch of errands and then pick up and drop off the kids somewhere would still be a savings of $12,500 a year. If you’re a single parent with a kid or two, you can still enjoy the savings by using the car less in instances where the kids take the bus to school and you take the bus or train to work. Imagine saving just half the money you spend now per year on gas and oil changes. That would also extend the life of your car, or allow you to purchase and maintain a cheaper used car that you use less. For virtually everyone except elderly old quadriplegics in Indianapolis, everyone stands to save thousands of dollars a year.

For all those students going to IUPUI who spend untold amounts of car expense, they could instead invest that money in their education. Even not paying for a parking permit could cover the cost of several textbooks (or one big one if you’re in med school).

Cars are, for most people, a drain. They are not an asset, as an asset should retain or grow in value. They’re generally used for only transporting one person around, they pollute, they’re expensive, very few people like their car or their commute, and they’re an antiquated way of thinking about transit that we’re seemingly stuck with because of years of city building and construction that centered around the highway and the suburbs.

The City of Indianapolis is about to construct big boxes useful for nothing else but cars, while everyone sits around and wonders where all the money went, why they’re out of money themselves, and why they have to sit on the highway for so long every morning and night just to get to work. And not one public figure has drawn the connection that maybe it’s time we start diverting the money we do have to smarter ways of getting around. A reduction in waistlines, pollution, ugly and expensive lots and garages, and the convenience of knowing that even if you kept your car and one morning it doesn’t start, you still have a clean, safe, secure way of getting to work is not a bad thing.

IndyGo Losing More Money

It’s no surprise that IndyGo, Indianapolis’ pretend mass-transit system, sucks. Among most lists of transportation systems in large cities, Indy ranks around 99 or 100 on a list of 100. I’m of the belief we either fix it up or shut it down. The turd we have now is just embarrassing.

The Star has a take on it:

That’s because the two-year budget bill moving through the General Assembly would cut state support for mass transit by almost 18 percent. IndyGo would have to absorb an $8 million hit, which amounts to about one-sixth of its budget.

Interestingly, the debate over funding for public transit isn’t between free spenders and budget hawks. In his budget proposal this year, Gov. Mitch Daniels, hardly a profligate spender, kept transit spending at its current level, despite the financial pressures facing state government.

Urban Indy has a piece on how INDOT doesn’t even bother holding mass-transit meetings in Indianapolis. Instead, they hold them in obscure places that would never need it anyway:

It’s disheartening to think that this is the best we can do in this state. As long as INDOT is the driver for transportation planning in the state, it’s hard to avoid the feeling that believers in diverse modes of travel and urban living in Indiana will be like Cubs fans: wait until next year.

This isn’t hard. It’s really not. First, does anyone actually realize there’s a lot of Indiana out there outside of Indianapolis? People in the other 84 out of 92 counties don’t give a crap what Indianapolis wants. They got pissed when Gov. Daniels sold “their” toll road and used it to pay for things like I-465 improvements, I-69 upgrades and I-70 on the east side. The rest of the state doesn’t like Indianapolis so it’s no surprise that their legislators don’t give two rips about IndyGo. If Indy wants it, Indy has to pay for it.

Second, INDOT builds roads because that’s what we’ve always liked. We’re “the crossroads of America” for heaven’s sake, not “The crossroads of monorail lines.” People in Indiana, and most of America, like cars. People like being in control of their own car, their own radio station, they can smoke ’em if they’ve got ’em and all they want is a clear slab of pavement in front of them to use it on. Count me in that bunch: I like driving vs. public transit any day. The few times I’ve been on public transit around the world I hated it. It smells crappy, it looks crappy, it’s late and the people are anything but safe to be around at times. If I get in my car, barring a wreck, so long as I’m out the door on-time I’ll get there on-time.

IndyGo needs money to operate and it needs riders. You’d think that getting more riders helps, but it doesn’t. More riders are fine, but riders barely make a dent in their budget. An easy solution here is to paint the buses somethin’ pretty and charge people a fair rate for getting across town. Current fares are at about a $1.50; raise it to $3 or $4 and this problem becomes much more manageable. That’s still cheaper than owning a car.

“But Justin, people can’t afford $3 fares.” Well, I’m sorry. The rest of the state clearly isn’t of a mind to support people getting to work in Indianapolis. It’s either higher fares or no bus at all. A better solution might be to do a sliding scale based on income and where you’re going. Going to work you pay one rate, going to the stadium, it’s another.

What can’t work is charging so little, making so little and doing so little. This isn’t hard to fix, but IndyGo’s hands are tied because it can’t just raise rates when it needs to. Hell, they can’t even hang up a sign without approval.

Indy’s Transit Plan is Off the Rails

In this rendering, a light rail service would operate Downtown as part of a broader transit plan that also includes trains and buses. / HNTB rendering provided by Indy Connect

Look at that train. Sleek, fast, modern looking. I bet that thing reminds you of a bullet train from Japan that travels at over 100 MPH, huh? Who would have thought we’d have on of those right along Ohio Street!

“Local leaders”, that’s who.

Let me be clear: I’m no fan of a big mass transit system in Indianapolis. Why? “Local leaders”, that’s why:

That plan, like the first one, has a price tag of $2.4 billion. But unlike the first plan, the new plan is heavier on buses and extends rail lines from Noblesville through Indianapolis to Franklin.

Translation: the old plan was expensive and no one liked it enough to give us money. So, in order to get State Sen. Kenley on board to help give us the State’s money, this new plan is just as expensive but we’re extending trains to Noblesville to ensure he has some good karma from voters there.

…at last week’s meeting of the Indianapolis Regional Transportation Council, Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said he didn’t understand why previous transit-planning efforts weren’t being considered.

Translation: Carmel doesn’t like that it’s not in line ahead of Fishers for magic buses and fairy trains, therefore, this new plan sucks.

This time, the private business sector is going to take the lead — not transit officials. It was businesspeople, after all, who came up with the regional transit plan in the first place as a tool for economic development.

Translation: “private business sector” refers to the Simons. Have you seen the map? Area malls sure are served well and that links to the old map! The new one didn’t change that part much. Guess no one bothered to make sure Wal-Marts and Marsh’s were covered as well as those malls. Not like they sell stuff that people need, like Nordstrom’s does.

I’m all for the private sector taking care of this, but by that, I mean they have to run it. Now we’ve got a bunch of private businesses trying to lobby government to build train tracks directly to and from their front door. I want the private sector to work with government to say, “Here’s what we want to do, we’ve got the money to pay for it and here’s how we’re going to make it work at no risk to you or taxpayers.” Rates will be higher that way, but it’ll still be cheaper than having a car.

Any transit plan in this city has to answer this question: How does Joe Hoosier get from his house at 10th and Arlington to his job at Troy and Harding by 9 am? If  he can drive there in 20 minutes and a bus can get him there in 30, it’ll be a success. If he has to take a bus that drops him off at his connection and he has to wait 15 minutes again because the other bus just left and it takes him 45 minutes to get there, it’s a failure.