This was inevitable.
Now, when Indianapolis finally appears to be getting serious about public transit, concerned citizens are showing up, afraid this could be a big mistake.
IndyGo is proposing the creation of an electric bus rapid transit system. I’ve been writing about these systems, and how they have been successfully implemented in other cities around the world, for years.
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems provide the advantages of traditional metro systems — identifiable stations with the economic impetus they generate, predictable and frequent rides, as well as comfort — at a fraction of the cost and with less disruption than, say, light rail. Since they use existing city streets, these systems can be up and running relatively quickly. It’s a relief that IndyGo has come around to supporting this type of transportation.
The first phase of IndyGo’s proposed BRT system would be the Red Line, a route running from Broad Ripple to the University of Indianapolis, incorporating about 28 stops, and costing $100 million.
This should be cause for celebration. For just about as long as I can remember, people have griped about the derelict state of public transit in Indianapolis. Next to schools, the city’s lack of a practical means of connecting its various neighborhoods is consistently blamed for keeping Indy from realizing its big city potential.
But Indianapolis has never completely embraced its urban identity. There’s still a significant constituency here that prefers to think of Indy as an overgrown suburb.
And so a predictable litany of complaint about the Red Line has surfaced: It will eliminate parking spaces. Traffic will be diverted into surrounding neighborhoods. Familiar streetscapes will be changed. Most of all, ridership won’t add up because of Indy’s near-legendary “love affair” with cars.
I am reminded of the hand-wringing that preceded the demolition of Broad Ripple’s parking deck. For those who missed it, a concrete parking lot once covered a large part of the canal in Broad Ripple, between College and Guilford streets. For years observers wondered at how anyone could have considered a concrete slab preferable to one of the city’s few water features.
But local merchants claimed they couldn’t survive without those extra parking spaces. They fought to keep the canal covered until, at last, cooler heads prevailed and the parking deck was taken down. Did Broad Ripple perish? Look around — the answer is self- evident.
For reasons environmental, economic and urban, more and more people want to drive less and less. A truly functional (and fun) public transit system will not only connect the various parts of Indy as never before, it will redefine the city’s sense of itself. Imagine, for example, being able to catch a bus near the Statehouse and, in less time than it takes to drive (and park) by car, arrive at the Palladium in Carmel. Our conception of what constitutes the city’s “north side” will be transformed.
This will, of necessity, change the look of some parts of the city. It will also complicate certain time-encrusted driving habits. Through that process, though, Indianapolis can’t help but come into its own to a greater degree — and that’s inevitable, too.