Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Electric Mobility in Indy

Posted By on Wed, Sep 11, 2013 at 10:00 AM

I know I have probably bored most of you with how geeked out I am on Indianapolis right now and the cool initiatives that are happening around the city that make me feel that way. But I have found yet another reason to really love what local Hoosiers are doing in order to improve the city.

We all know I have harped on the transit issue long enough, and when the "powers that be" said "no" to the transit bill and now another "no" to the sidewalk and infrastructure bond issue, I, like many others, have become disheartened to the point of frustration and decided to devote my time and thoughts to other things.

About a day after the transit bill was put on hold (again), I bought a car. This came partially from the disheartened feeling and partially because I took a new job in the "'burbs," but, after two years of being car-free, I had to make the purchase.I looked into a strategic plan for car sharing and got on board with on demand ride-share services such as Uber and Lyft, but it just was not going to work for me.

While shopping for a car, my heart and mind went instantly to an electric vehicle. Though, personally an electric vehicle is not quite suitable for my lifestyle (I went with a hybrid), I long for the day that the technology and capability will be able to takeover the driving scene and we will stop spending tax money on parking garages and interstate upgrades and start installing charging stations, expanding buses and developing transportation alternatives instead.

And it doesn't look too far off.

With the order that Mayor Greg Ballard signed in December, stating that the entire municipal fleet become electric or plug-in hybrid by 2025, Indianapolis received some much-needed national attention. The Mayor's support and the attention it gave us allowed Project Plug-IN, an electric car-charging infrastructure deployment initiative developed by the nonprofit Energy Systems Network, to begin making Indianapolis one of the most electric vehicle-friendly sites in the U.S.

Back in June, NUVO reported that the international development company, Bolloré Group, chose to invest roughly $35 million to launch the largest electric vehicle car-sharing program in the country.

Right here in Central Indiana.

By next year, our city will have 500 vehicles, with 1,200 charging stations in 200 locations. The charging stations will be free to users, but the program will come at a minimal cost.

Driving with very little financial cost is only part of the attraction of electric vehicles. The Hoosier Electric Vehicle Association also boasts cleaner energy, less dependence on foreign oil, local job creation and that electric vehicles are simply "fun to drive."

The car-sharing initiative also adds a new layer of public transportation to the city's makeup. The ability to rent a car short-term will provide an extra option to our residents while we sit and wait for the transit bill to finally pass and the city's bus system to improve.

"One of the most exciting things about this is how it can impact residents without a car, who may HAVE to suddenly drive somewhere," said Jane Cook, HEVA vice president. "If you have to go a county away; if you have to take a disabled relative somewhere; if you must take a large object with you—these are the times when a bus in Indianapolis won't do."

For an initiative of this caliber to be successful, it takes a lot of public awareness and education. For this reason, National Plug In Day was developed. NPID is a nationwide celebration, aimed to heighten awareness of plug-in vehicles and their benefits.

This will be the third annual event, held on Sunday, Sept. 29. The local event will be at Clay Terrace Mall from 11 a.m.-2 p.m., behind Whole Foods. Electric vehicle owners will have a chance to tailgate and there will be information booths, speakers and display vehicles.

As Indianapolis falls behind other cities in public transit development, it is my hope that a city-wide electric car-sharing program will not only give those without a car an option for travel, but will make those residents who do have cars take a second look at the need for car ownership. These initiatives, and the other car-sharing and car-pooling programs like Uber and Lyft, are a solid effort on Indy's part to take some cars off the road.

Indianapolis, I anxiously applaud you.

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Thursday, August 15, 2013

Neighborhood Revitalization

Posted By on Thu, Aug 15, 2013 at 4:00 AM

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A short month ago, I helped a friend move into a new place. The house was fully gutted and renovated. Fake brick walls came down and green countertops were replaced with a beautifully tiled backsplash and granite. The old, red carpet is gone and wood flooring now lies in its place. The new deck on the back is the perfect addition. With a fresh paint on the exterior, this house is now the nicest on the block.

The house next door, and the one on the other side of that, are boarded up and appear to have been that way for quite some time.

An apartment complex across the street has a very active group of people and visitors coming through regularly. The outside is tagged with gang graffiti and trash litters the yard. In one month, the cops have come around several times and someone set the car park on fire.

The house my friend moved into was up for sale upon renovation, but after several months of no activity, the owners finally decided to rent it. No doubt that the place was just too expensive for most of the neighbors to want to buy. The location may appear to be too risky for newcomers to want to settle.

The draw for my friend, besides the fresh paint and new house smell, was the Monon Trail in the backyard and the proximity to favorite bars and restaurants.

But what sealed the deal was the next-door neighbor, Barbara. Before the furniture was even moved in, Barbara had come over and introduced herself as the neighborhood "watchdog."

"You're going to be fine here," she told him. "It may look scary now, but we have it all under control up here."

"In fact, see those plastic bags hanging on the fence? That was my husband. He was tired of looking at the trash on the ground." Then she proceeded to point at the kids playing "Curb Ball" in the street and told him every one of their names.

The bags she was talking about were typical plastic grocery bags, tied to the falling chain-link fence, and after just a few days of hanging there, every one of them was full.

As it turns out, the apartment complex was recently purchased by a younger man, who came in with the intention of turning the place into a "SoBro" apartment, as it is right in the heart of the area where Broad Ripple is quickly merging with downtown and young, urban professionals are becoming more prevalent. Several eviction notices were given upon purchase and the work was immediately underway. In the short month my friend has lived there, workers have been out every day. The exterior has been painted, the gang symbols are mostly gone and the place has been renamed with a new, flashy sign and landscaping underneath.

The new owner, also upon purchase, apparently came through the neighborhood, knocked on every single door, introduced himself and told each and every person what his intentions were and that if they all worked together, the drugs would stop coming through and hopefully the robberies, too.

He can often be seen biking by, checking up on the place, at all hours. I'm not sure anyone in the apartments would recognize him in his bike helmet and sunglasses, but the neighbors know who he is and he waves and smiles and passes right by.

It seems like all it takes is a few simple steps to see a neighborhood change. Constant presence and pride make a difference. Everyone in the area knows Barbara by first name and she knows every single person's story and the names of their kids and grandkids. Barbara is the "watchdog" of the neighborhood, but more than that she is the kind of neighbor every neighborhood would want. She has her eyes and ears on it all and spends her days and nights singing on the porch, inviting the people with their stories over for a drink.

It's as simple as that.

I'm not a huge advocate for gentrification, but with people who care about their neighborhoods, like Barbara, and property owners like the guy on the bike, I am hopeful that even the most problematic neighborhoods can be revitalized.

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Wednesday, June 19, 2013

How well do you know your neighbors?

Posted By on Wed, Jun 19, 2013 at 10:26 AM

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How many of your neighbors do you know by name? And why care?

I'd have to guess that most people have at least said hello to their next-door neighbors, maybe know their name, have borrowed something in time of desperation or have had a conversation (or argument) about the new car or the dying tree that is growing on the property line. Maybe you consider your neighbors your good friends or maybe you think your neighbors are the biggest idiots on earth because you don't agree with the way they live. Either way, just how well do you know your neighbors and your neighborhood and have you thought about how beneficial it would be to get to know them better?

From the suburbs to the urban core, neighborhoods exist. They might look different, but they should ultimately function in a similar way.

My parents live in a typical suburban "neighborhood" where you drive in to the addition with the neighborhood name carved artfully in a rock, with beautiful landscaping and that standard crime watch sign warning people that police patrol the area. You drive in, go around the circle and drive right back out. There is no thoroughfare, no reason for anyone to be there unless they live in the neighborhood and no flower out of place, yard overgrown or window not clean. Every home is owned, every neighbor waves and then helps take care of one another's kids and dogs.

I live in a very different "neighborhood." I live in the urban core, right off a main commuter street, where complete strangers fly by my house without a second thought. My neighbors have people in and out of their houses so often, that I'm not quite sure who actually lives there or if the house is changing transient occupants faster than I can keep up. Several houses in my neighborhood are boarded up, with overgrown lawns, broken windows and graffiti on the front door. We have hookers and drug dealers and various other crimes that make my parents from the suburbs fear for me living there. But it's a neighborhood, with a name, just like theirs.

Spending adequate amounts of time in both environments, has me thinking a lot about what a neighborhood looks like now compared to what it looked like when I was growing up. What it would mean to my neighborhood if we all knew one another well, took care of one another and stopped being so distant? Somehow, in my urban neighborhood, it is more comfortable for us to live side by side, share a park and a sidewalk, but still not know one another. I live in the King Park neighborhood, not a neighborhood called Whispering Pines, but that doesn't excuse the lack of community that I feel.

That perception of danger that my parents think of my neighborhood could be eradicated simply by establishing community between people, block by block. Moving beyond even just a wave or a second look, to being intentional in conversation and fellowship is difficult in all neighborhoods because we have become so self-involved, so afraid of strangers and so private in our daily lives. People in downtown Indianapolis have to be more intentional about knowing their neighbors than people in the suburbs or small towns. We need to stop sticking to what is comfortable and look toward being more outward-thinking. With dwindling neighborhood associations, churches and community centers, it is important that we build our own communities within our own blocks.

It is difficult to be a neighbor, particularly when your neighbors aren't acting the way you want them to. But how beneficial is it to know your neighbors well enough to realize whether something is happening in the house down the street? To call them if you need help? To trust that they'd even be willing to help you? Isn't that the community that we all dream of?

We are so used to waving and then locking ourselves in our house, in front of our TV or computer, turning the outdoor lights off, locking our doors and doing it all over again the next day, when what we should be doing is sitting on our porches, striking up conversation, playing a game of pick-up basketball in the local park or baking a batch of cookies to share.

How else do we understand where our neighbors are coming from, what their struggles are and how we might be able to help them? If we knew what was going on in our neighborhood, the routines of our neighbors, what is normal and abnormal, that perception of safety wouldn't just be found in suburbia and we would stop thinking our neighbors are the strangers we've forced them to be.

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Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Better Block: Real time urban renewal

Posted By on Wed, May 22, 2013 at 10:00 AM

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When beginning a development project, much praise is given to the idea of extending the planning process to the neighborhood. The residents in the neighborhoods hold meetings and charrettes to develop ideas, renderings are drawn and dreams are made into beautiful foldout envisioning plans. Everyone feels happy and proud and hopeful that one day, someday in the future, those plans might actually, maybe, be taken into account by someone, anyone, who has the ability to maybe actually do something with them. And then they're often forgotten. Or five years later, they are in need of being updated.

People become overly reliant on the "professionals" to implement the plans and lead the projects from afar — a top-down method of urban planning that is so long and painful that it often forgets the community's vision and the neighbors' knowledge of the community that made the plan unique in the first place.

What if city planning methods took on a different approach? What if neighborhood summits became hands-on envisioning processes, where mock neighborhoods were built and lived in, if only for a day. Would planning get done faster, cheaper, better, more efficiently? Would public buy-in become less of a problem? Would residents of the neighborhoods actually get to have more say? I like to think so.

Neighborhood-led approaches are nothing new in Indianapolis, but neither are those long and painful urban planning practices that seem to be the usual method of improving this city.

Imagine what it would be like if the planners drove around the neighborhoods and found paths along the streets where people have trampled down grass and made artificial sidewalks. How much more efficient would the sidewalk planning be if they knew exactly where people walked and what routes the local people actually used to get where they were going?

Not only sidewalks, but think about crosswalks, bike lanes, bus lanes, businesses, parking spots, gardens and other civic spaces.

That is where the Better Block movement comes in. It attempts to do just that, put together a glimpse into that ideal future and get residents, city planners and businesses involved. If you're interested in knowing what that looks like, just ask those on the Near Eastside.

Better Block: East Washington Street acts as one catalyst in the redevelopment of the East Washington Street corridor. Paired with the work of the East Washington Street Partnership, the Better Block event, which will run from noon to 5 p.m. on June 8, aims to convert one block of the corridor into a vision for the future: a living scale model of how the street could look, feel and be cared for by the neighborhood. The benefit of a one-day Better Block is that it transcends the conceptual rendering in favor of an experience that people can feel and touch. It focuses on the ground-level experience rather than the top-down aerial map. Rather than just suggesting new commercial spaces or right-of-ways, it actually opens shops and reconfigures travel lanes on a small, testable scale.

The block of East Washington designated for the living demonstration, between Rural and Oxford streets, is mentioned in several neighborhood and city plans. It is a part of the Near Eastside Quality of Life Plan, Complete Streets policies, bus rapid transit and various economic development initiatives. Maybe there's such a thing as too many plans. When you're sitting in a room, meeting after meeting, discussing "what ifs," perspective of reality begins to get lost. That's the benefit of a Better Block; it brings all the ideas, plans, and studies close enough to envision it as reality.

This approach is a cheap way to use existing resources to plan a city. The hope for this sort of project is that it will eventually become permanent, but there is no initial cost in the "study" and people can try things to see how they work and adjust them based on lessons learned. Feedback is quick, impact is lasting and implementation builds community in a new way.

You could take this model and use it for anything. How about a mock transit corridor where, if only for a couple days, a BRT lane ran up and down Fall Creek Parkway? What if all proposed bike lanes were temporarily painted and people could practice riding and driving, then give their input based on actual use of that amenity? What if you and I would go out and do any random pop-up project? Like guerilla gardening or painting in transit lanes. What if we said, "screw the pace of the city, let's just get this done ourselves?" There's something to be said for the sense of pride and place that happens when this takes precedence over the top-down approach.

Better Block isn't a charrette or rendering, it's actual people doing things that you can actually see. The people on the Near Eastside don't wait for the city, they do it themselves.

Why don't we all?

Ashely Kimmel is a grad student at IUPUI. She has been blogging on transit issues for NUVO since early 2012.

Better Block Indy: East Washington St.

Noon-5 p.m.

Sat., June 8

East Washington Street between Rural and Oxford

https://www.facebook.com/betterblocks.indy

betterblock.org

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Monday, May 13, 2013

No free rides at IndyGo

Posted By on Mon, May 13, 2013 at 4:32 PM

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There is a woman who gets on the bus, at the stop just past mine, every day without any money. It seriously never fails. She tries to convince the driver to let her ride for free and, nine times out of ten, the driver refuses. The bus will sit there at the stop and wait for her to pay as she stands just behind the driver, crosses her arms and refuses to move even when the driver is angrily telling her to get off.

All of the regular riders know her well and just shake their heads, make comments and yell at her to get off the bus. She is very feisty and will often yell back at the other riders in her usual huffy voice. This exchange will typically go on about two or three minutes, but I've been witness to a few times that lasted even longer than that.

If there is a reason that the bus 17 is late, it is probably pretty safe to blame this woman. She almost always makes me uncomfortably close to missing my connection, but luckily never has thanks to some sucker on the bus always giving her the money for the fare.

If bus fares were a reason for you to not ride IndyGo, have comfort in knowing that there is usually a pushover onboard who will give you that $1.75 just so they can be on time to their destination.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

I love Indianapolis

Posted By on Wed, Apr 24, 2013 at 9:08 AM

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As much fighting as I did when crash-landing here, I must admit, I love this place. I never once, in my life, envisioned living in Indianapolis, putting down roots, learning to love. In fact, had you offered to pay me to be here even three years ago, I would've turned you down and laughed in your face. I was made for bigger and better, for flashier and more progressive. Or so I thought.

I had a friend tell me once, just a month after coming to the realization that I was going to be in Indy longer than expected, that this city is a place where you can be a part of the change, that you can be the catalyst for it and that you can have big ideas and see them to fruition. "Why go to a city like Denver, where all of the work has been done for you, when you can root yourself here and transform the city the way you envision?"

I immediately began contemplating what those things were that I loved so much about all of these other cities I lived in over the years.

And this is why I chose to get rid of my car.

When I first started writing about transit in Indy, I thought I would write mostly comedic stories that poked fun at the city. I thought that it would put me in a place to mock the daily interactions and the incapability of the city's only public transit system. I thought that I was somehow better than these people and this place and being able to voice that publically would keep me an outsider who never really had to claim this city as her own.

What I didn't think was that I would grow to care so much about the issue. That these comedic interactions would become a part of my being, that I would fall in love with the capability of the city's transportation system and that I would devote a large part of my free time to fight for the cause.

I find myself deep in the discussion purely by chance, and I have learned a lot along the way.

In this time, I have come to realize how critical improvements are for our community. The more involved I'm becoming in the discussion, the more I'm falling in love and devoting myself to it. All of a sudden I am seeing a whole side of it that I didn't know existed and appreciating it in different ways. The same is true about my feelings for Indianapolis.

However, I have learned enough to know that if we do not make investments in this city, like public transit, the city will become stagnate. A decision to say no to improvements like public transit, is saying that we are OK with failing, with hitting our plateau and being OK with status quo. I don't believe Indianapolis is that kind of city. I don't think that the people I meet every day, the ones fighting for their own causes, think that status quo is a good place to be.

If the transit bill doesn't eventually pass, it's not the end of the world, but it is a huge blow to the future of our city. Thirty years ago, community leaders began investing in Downtown, to revitalize and bring life back to the core. Had these decisions not been made, we wouldn't have Lucas Oil Stadium, the Cultural Trail, your favorite bar or restaurant. It would be the forgotten "Naptown" still, and the city would've died. I hear that even back then people fought against the investments because they didn't want to pay for something they wouldn't use. You have to see the humor in that, right?

It's often said that Indianapolis is full of people who want to help people, true Midwestern hospitality. It's clear that people want to invest in things that allow people to improve their standard of living, improve their situation, improve jobs, improve education and make this city a better and more self-sufficient one. Isn't the best public investment the one with the highest return that benefits Indianapolis at large?

So transit has unintentionally become my cause. Whatever your cause, whatever you believe makes this city better — more innovative, progressive, world-class — do it. Because you can. Because it's 2013 in Indianapolis, a city with proud citizens who clearly have things to fight for and are fortunate enough to have a platform to do so. I don't want to see Indianapolis plateau or stuck in the status quo. If we are going to improve this city for future generations and development, the time is now.

In the words of Cole, one of my fellow transit and Indianapolis-loving friends, "We have to start living like this place is important and exhilarating and not to be missed." Because it is.


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Thursday, April 11, 2013

We are still talking about HB1011

Posted By on Thu, Apr 11, 2013 at 12:32 PM

I'm sure you've heard by now that the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee chose to send HB1011 to a summer study committee. I'm probably not the first person to say how ridiculous this is, and for a litany of reasons.

For at least a couple of decades, multiple studies have been done to decide just how beneficial transit would be for Indianapolis. Even former-Mayor Bill Hudnut came to town and said that he's been trying to study transit since 1980.

I'm just not getting why the Senate feels like further study needs to be done.

At what point do we stop studying and start doing?!

I mean, it's not like this plan was thrown together, last minute, by idiots who don't know what they're talking about. It's been created over decades, by local and regional professionals and experts, to be the best possible option for investment in funding. And it's just that: an investment. But that's a whole other post.

I'm (at least pretending to be) appalled that politicians are completely trying to take away the very basis of our democracy and deny the people the right to vote on where their own money gets spent. It's a local decision to be made and the control should be in the hands of the locals. People are arguing against transit by proclaiming, "Keep the government out of our pockets!" but, dammit, keep the government from denying me my right to vote! This bill is simply a referendum allowing the vote to be on the ballots in November of 2014... over a year from now... .and we can't even get that through the General Assembly. What is really going on here?

This isn't about the government dipping into our pockets. This is about us having the right to vote on where our money gets spent. Taxes pay for everything that we all love about our city, including the roads Indianapolis so desperately clings to. The same roads that I am paying for so that people in Fishers and Plainfield can use them to get to work and hightail it back out to the suburbs when five o'clock hits. I don't want to pay for that. If I had a chance, I would vote a big fat no on spending for road expansions and happily pay that 0.3 percent tax increase to take those roads and turn them into Bus Rapid Transit lines. That's where I want MY money spent.

This detour is no good. I'm going to remain positive in this, however. There is still a slim chance that the House and Senate can work out an agreement by the April 29 session deadline.

I am thankful for that and I am thankful that at least the bill is still alive and moving.

What I am not thankful for is that my elected officials are trying to take away my right to decide the future of my own city. I really cannot understand why we voters are not being trusted to make our own choices and why we aren't revolting against this.

We should all be telling our Senators that this issue is urgent and that we don't need to keep studying it. They also need to know that we citizens highly value our rights to vote and make decisions.

Find who represents you in the Senate as well as their contact information. And then take that next step and contact them.

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Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Most transit naysayers lack credibility

Posted By on Wed, Mar 27, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Ashely Kimmel
  • Ashely Kimmel

As NUVO's "Girl, in Transit" blogger for the past 15 months, I've experienced Indianapolis in ways that you wouldn't believe — mostly through a bus window. After giving up my car over a year ago and committing to public transit, I've learned things about this city from a ground level.

I love almost everything about this city, but we have a lot of progress to make and, in my opinion, these things need to be talked about. As a new columnist for NUVO, I plan to do just that. And I'd like to start with my favorite topic: transit.

Transit is a polarizing issue.

Period.

This is clear, based simply on the fact that so much attention is paid to the issue right now, and that everyone you talk to seems to have a pretty vocal opinion one way or another.

I've come to realize that a lot of the people who are against the transit referendum are not fully educated on the issue and give reasons without many facts to back their arguments. Believe me, I've asked around.

I've had varying levels of answers — some quite surprising — like my deeply conservative friend who is anxiously awaiting light rail from Fishers to Downtown. Or my extremely liberal friend who couldn't care less about riding the bus and would rather just have the freedom of his car even if we do have a sufficient system. However, I am appalled at the number of people who have formed some very strong opinions without ever having stepped foot on the bus themselves.

I talked with a guy who's verbose opinion dwindled down to the idea that no one really rides the bus now, so why should we expand something that already meets the needs of the few who ride it. I wish you could've seen his face when I told him I had ridden three buses that very day where I was forced to stand because there were no seats available.

I would be more apt to value what you think if you had any ground to stand on, but overall, my personal consensus is that most naysayers don't.

The actual transit plan briefing paper cites issues such as competiveness, regional core vitality, mobility, congestion and the environment as the top reasons a more extensive transit system is needed.

People can argue for or against the plan using all sorts of data, but experiencing the public transit system firsthand brings the issues into sharp focus.

If more people took the time to ride the bus, their opinions on the issue and the reasons for a better transit system might align more with mine.

How would they view the woman I met who had four young children along with a baby in her arms, standing in the rain, waiting for the bus early in the morning so she could take her kids to school and daycare and then go on to work?

Or the man in a wheelchair who was denied a ride because there was no room on the bus for him, which forced him to sit and wait for the next one?

Or the 15 Burmese refugees who packed the bus on the way to their first English lesson at Exodus Refugee?

You can search Indy's transit plan and find any and all the data, facts and numbers you've ever wanted and then some. But the best way to educate yourselves on our transit system is to actually ride the bus. You will see the faces of the people who are most affected by the issues, who will benefit most from expansion and improvements to the system. You'll see that the 0.3 percent tax increase affects our city as a whole, whether you plan to use the transit system or not.

The public referendum to authorize the new funding cannot occur until November 2014 at the earliest, but right now the battle is in the Senate where lawmakers will make plain just how much they believe in local control with their support or rejection of House Bill 1011, which asks them to give the citizens in Indy the opportunity to vote on the matter.

It is a critical time to get educated on an issue that will change Indianapolis forever, and my suggestion is to start by paying $1.75 for a bus pass, sitting down next to a stranger with a story and then quickly calling your legislators. Even if your vote is still against a referendum, at least you know you'll have some valid reasons to back it up.

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Friday, March 15, 2013

Ride the bus to test your opinion on transit

Posted By on Fri, Mar 15, 2013 at 10:10 AM

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Transit is a polarizing issue.

Period.

This is made clear simply by the fact that so much attention is on the issue right now, and that everyone you talk to seems to have a pretty vocal opinion one way or another.

I've come to realize that a lot of the people who are against the transit referendum are not fully educated and give reasons without many facts to back their arguments. Believe me, I've asked around.

I've had varying levels of answers... some quite surprising... like my deeply conservative friend who is anxiously awaiting light rail from Fishers to downtown... .or my extremely liberal friend who couldn't care less about riding the bus and would rather just have the freedom of his car even if we do have a sufficient system. However, I am appalled at the number of people who I talked to who have formed some very strong opinions without ever having stepped foot on the bus themselves.

I talked with a guy who's verbose opinion dwindled down to the idea that no one really rides the bus now, so why should we expand something that already meets the needs of the few who ride it? I wish you all could've seen his face when I told him that I had ridden three buses that very day where I was forced to stand because there were no seats available for me to sit.

I would be more apt to value an opinion from someone who has ground to stand on, but overall, my personal consensus is that most naysayers don't.

The actual transit plan briefing paper cites things like competiveness, regional core vitality, mobility, congestion and the environment as the top reasons for a more robust transit system. All of these things can be argued, for or against, using some sort of data, facts or numbers.

While I agree with all of those, the real picture conjures up more personal reasons and things that I have to believe most people would have a hard time arguing. If more people took the time to ride the bus, their opinions on the issue, and the reasons for a more robust transit system, might align more with mine. I'd personally cite the woman I met once who had four young children and a baby in her arms, standing in the rain, waiting to get the bus early in the morning to take her kids to school and daycare so she could get to work. Or the man in a wheelchair who was denied a ride because there was no room on the bus for him, which forced him to sit and wait for the next one to come. Or the fifteen Burmese refugees who pack the bus on their way to their first English lessons at Exodus Refugee.

You can do a quick search for Indy transit plan and find any and all the data, facts and numbers you've ever wanted, and then some. But the best way to educate yourself on our transit system is to actually step foot on the bus. You will see the faces of the people who are most affected by the issues, who will benefit most from expansion and improvements to the system. You'll see that the .3 percent tax increase affects our city as a whole, whether you plan to use the transit system or not.

The public referendum to authorize the new funding cannot occur until November 2014 at the earliest, but right now the battle - and I use that term quite literally - is in the Senate and is expected to go to hearing on Wednesday. It's a critical time to get educated on an issue that will change Indianapolis forever, and my suggestion is to start by paying $1.75 for a bus pass, sitting down next to a stranger with a story and then quickly calling your legislators. Even if your vote is still against a referendum, at least you know you'll have some valid reasons to back up that opinion.

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Thursday, February 28, 2013

HB 1011 to take on a new name

Posted By on Thu, Feb 28, 2013 at 11:31 PM

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Blame the perfect song coming through the headphones in my ears, the sunshine or the three cups of coffee I had consumed, but last week, as I got off the bus, Indianapolis felt new. It felt brighter. It felt possible. It felt hopeful. It felt modern. It felt, well, like a different city.

Thanks to the Ways and Means Committee for the renewed vision of Indianapolis - and it stayed with me throughout my week. I was riding the bus with a new attitude, one of hope and progress.

I smiled and bounced my way through the rest of the week and into this past Monday...

... Until I got a text: "Going to be a close vote. I think we will barely squeak by."

Ugh.

Talk about a buzz kill.

That first bit of news came while I was riding the bus on my way to work. I had just received the text that the hearing was about to start when my bus driver announced that we were early and proceeded to park the bus on the side of College Avenue and get out. I watched as she crossed the street to the Kountry Kitchen and went inside to order food.

No, seriously.

Even with the smell of collard greens and fried chicken lingering in the air (and the man snoring loudly beside me), I admittedly got really frustrated with Indiana. I had a gross feeling that this bill wasn't going to pass the House and that we would be stuck in the 1950s (early 2000s?) forever.

Fast-forward through an entire day's work later and I am sitting in my house, in front of my computer, watching the House Chambers live.

Finally, at about 9:30pm, HB 1011 passed 56-39 in the House Chambers. (Insert huge sigh of relief.)

I swear I screamed out loud when I heard the news.

After spending the day getting texts, calls and tweets from friends and colleagues at the Statehouse, keeping me informed of the House voting this week, the final approval couldn't have been more relieving.

I thought I would wake up on Tuesday morning with that same sense of renewal and hope as last week.

Unfortunately, it didn't take me long to realize I was still in the Indianapolis I'd known before.

I stood in the rain for a bus that was ten minutes late, had to stand up (soaking wet) for the ride, caught my late transfer, sat next to a man that was cussing his girlfriend out LOUDLY on the phone, got to work twenty minutes late, caught a bus to my second job that was fifteen minutes late, sat next to a man who thought the world was his stage and seat-danced (wildly) for the whole ride and then I got off and immediately stepped in puke.

Ugh.

Talk about a reality check.

The Senate needs to hurry up and vote this through.

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Friday, February 15, 2013

House Bill 1011 passes in Ways and Means!

Posted By on Fri, Feb 15, 2013 at 4:44 AM

ashleybusstop1small.jpg

One of my friends recently became carless, as well. After her car broke down, she decided to say "screw it" and adopt the bus-riding lifestyle. This is good news for me. It means that another car is off the road, but, more importantly, it adds a whole new level of entertainment to my life.

We now play a game we like to call "Is This Odd?"

Is This Odd? is a game played via text messages and pictures where we share our daily oddities while riding the bus.

Sometimes she will send me messages describing situations reminiscent of my first few months of experiences on the bus... things that I used to think were odd, but have now become desensitized to... things like: "A guy just got on reeking of alcohol and fell on his face. Odd?" And my response: "Nope, once a week."

Or: "My bus driver just flew right by my stop even after I pulled the 'stop requested' signal. Odd?" And my response: "Get used to it and wear walking shoes."

Or: "A flood of teenagers just got on my bus and immediately started making out in the back. Odd?" And my response: "Yes, that's definitely a new one. Ten points." And then she will send me a picture.

Or I will text her: "A guy just belched in my ear and is now moaning at me. Odd?" And she says: "Never had that happen before. Five points."

You get the idea.

Last Monday, my phone vibrated five times in a row. I looked at it to see a story from her that went like this (and I quote):

"So, I'm heading west on the 8, which is a new route for me. It's going OK, though west seems so far! We just pulled over at a bus stop where no one is getting on or off. First of all, odd? Better yet, there are two drivers on this bus, one a trainer, who got out and began throwing snowballs at the windshield!!! I realized it was because you could BARELY SEE through the layers of grime on the windshield. Is there no line item for wiper fluid at IndyGo?!?!?! Is this ODD????"

So far, she is winning the game by a landslide.

More good news for Indianapolis, though! Public transit is moving along through the House. HB-1011 passed in Ways and Means 20-2!

Transit Day at the Statehouse brought hundreds of people together to advocate and testify for dedicated funding, that will not only increase routes, options and frequency, but will also (fingers crossed) provide a couple of spare dollars for wiper fluid so that our drivers can see where they are going. Before the 25th of February, the full House will vote on the bill, then on to the (Republican-led) Senate, where things get a bit trickier.

Which brings me to wonder: "People are still against this bill even though it allows us our democratic freedom to vote on where our tax money goes. Tell me, is this odd?!?!"

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Thursday, January 31, 2013

What I should've said at the public hearing...

Posted By on Thu, Jan 31, 2013 at 6:00 AM

ashleybusstop1small.jpg

Well, good news! House Bill 1011 passed 11-1 in the Roads and Transportation Committee this week. Next up is the Ways and Means Committee, and still a long road ahead after that. However, it has become quite clear that transit not only has some votes in the House, but a growing number of public supporters, too.

When I arrived at the Statehouse last Wednesday, I was blown away by how many people were waiting outside of the Chambers at 3 p.m... a half hour before the hearing even started. I saw a bunch of familiar faces, but several new faces, too, all there to show their support for increased public transit. I had no intention of going there to testify, as I am a writer for a reason and loathe public speaking, but when I heard that 40+ people had agreed to testify, I wanted to make sure I was one of them.

I had class that night at 6 p.m. I thought for sure I'd have time to do both, but I was way wrong. Five o'clock rolled around and I made the decision that I would catch a 5:30 bus to campus regardless of whether I had gotten my chance on the mic or not.

5:30 and it was time for me to go.

I got out to the bus stop only to be hit with the realization that I was probably one in only a few people in that room who depends on public transit daily, so I immediately emailed my professor and told him I was going to be late, that I was about to testify in front of the House.

I snuck back in the Chambers and waited. And waited. And waaaaiiiiited.

Then my name was called.

Oh crap.

From that point, I have no idea what happened. I know I made my way to the podium, said some things that I can't remember, maybe blacked out, probably fell on my face, for all I know cursed out everyone there and then shook my way back to a seat in the very back of the room past a sea of blurred faces.

Now, if I had it all to do over again, I would first of all be more prepared. And THIS is what I would have said (maybe I even did? Yeah, let's just pretend I did... ):

"Thank you Chairman and members of the Committee. My name is Ashley Kimmel. I am a 29-year-old resident of downtown Indianapolis, an employee of a local community development corporation, a student at IUPUI getting my MPA, a writer of a blog about transit and a woman who regularly questions my own sanity for getting rid of my car a year ago."

"I am the generation that Indianapolis should be retaining, the one that will change the face of this city for the better and the one Mayor Ballard regularly uses as an example of why we need transit - to draw people like me to WANT to be in this city. You see, I come from a long line of cities with very impressive public transit systems - cities like Salt Lake City, Denver and Sydney. I didn't even need a car living in Nairobi, Kenya."

"Now, I'm not saying I NEED a car in Indianapolis per se, but what I am saying is that even when I depended on the bass-bumping mutatus, I was not nearly as frustrated as I am with our system in Indy."

"I ride IndyGo every day. I ride IndyGo to work - a 3-mile trip that takes me thirty minutes and gets me to work 45 minutes prior to the time I have to be there. I ride IndyGo to school - a 3-mile trip that requires me to leave nearly an hour before class starts. I wish I could say I ride transit to see my family, but they live in Hamilton County, and we all know that the buses don't even run there."

"None of these things seem that weird to my friends in other cities, to people who haven't experienced the bus system in Indy firsthand or to people who are as numb to the system as I am. But our lack of public transit is just not right."

"We, as a city, boast about our 'world class-ness' and our innovative ideas, our collaboration and our inclusion, but these things can only propel a city so far forward before people get here and realize the first thing they have to do is buy a car."

(At this point, all of the people prior to me gave their usual, though legit, reasons - the economic value, the environmental value, the justice, jobs and convenience arguments.)

"I don't stand here before you with data, numbers or backing from an organization - the people before me have given several brilliant reasons to support this bill, with data that can't be ignored. I stand here before you as a citizen of Indianapolis, Indiana - a city I love, a city I do not want to leave, a city that has me face-first on the ground in awe of its inner-workings and family of supporters. I don't want to leave this city, but I also do not want to be forced into buying a car because we cannot get it together enough to approve funding for a transit system that we would ALL benefit from. It's frustrating, it's disheartening and I often feel like giving up. And I know I am not alone in this. Please consider voting this one right through the House. Thank you."

And then I would happily smile and recognize every face thanking me as I walked back to my seat and enjoyed the rest of the 5-hour hearing that day.

Lucky for all of us, the vote had little to nothing to do with my testimony and I am officially able to regain hope in Indy's future.

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