"We've had more response and interest in this plan than all of the previous initiatives combined," says Lori Miser, Executive Director of the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). She's speaking of Indy Connect, a public discussion on a fresh plan for Central Indiana's transportation future.
Announced in February, the transit plan recommends a phased, multi-pronged boost to transit options in the region: light rail up and down Washington Street, commuter service on existing rail tracks from Fishers to Greenwood, express bus routes, more trails for bikers and walkers, a few toll ways, and strategically selected road improvements.
While transit proposals over the past ten years have withered with no funding in sight, this plan has robust support from the private sector. In 2008, a group of CEOs from the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership boarded an IndyGo bus for the first time, tracing the route used by a bus-dependent worker whose trip to work took two hours. "It was eye-opening and inspirational for them," says Miser.
The experience helped trigger the formation of the Central Indiana Transit Task Force. Task Force members including Roland Dorson, president of the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, along with E&A Industries CEO Al Hubbard and others reviewed previous plans, compared Indy's transit status to those of other cities, and did a cost/benefit analysis.
Indy Connect — a collaboration among the MPO, the Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority (CIRTA), and IndyGo — is an intense effort to gather citizen opinion on the plan. More than 25 meetings have been held this spring with an average attendance of 60 people at each, along with 60,000 website hits. Says Miser of the meetings to date: "While the attendees haven't been super diverse, those who have come have been curious, interested, and supportive of the need for more transit options."
Indy Connect's well-designed website (IndyConnect.org), Twitter feed, and snazzy video address one past challenge: clearly articulating the value of transit for everyone and painting a picture of Indiana's transit future. Once public comment is tallied, the plan will be revised over the summer, adopted by the end of the year, and brought to the state legislature. "We'll ask for permission to do a referendum to create a dedicated transit fund and an organization to manage the expanded transit system," says Miser.
While Indiana politicians adore building roads, a lack of governmental support for expanded bus service and rail of any kind appears to be a failure of imagination as well as economic savvy: for every $1 invested in public transit, $4 are returned to the local economy, according to the American Public Transportation Association.
"It's time to take it to the next level," says Mike Terry, IndyGo's President and CEO. "This plan has the greatest potential to come to fruition because the business community has taken a serious look at the value of transit as a key component of economic growth."
Terry points out that true transit solutions will increase access to health care, employment, education, and retail for the aging population and those without cars (twenty-five percent of Indy residents either do not own a car or live in a two-worker household with one car only). Just shoring up IndyGo — which ranks dead last out of the 100 largest bus systems nationwide — "is not the same as investing in a multi-faceted system that actually drives ridership by meeting the needs of many residents," says Terry.
Indy Connect requests citizen comment on the plan for our city's transportation future — and comment to legislators when funding is considered.
Check remaining Indy Connect meeting dates, request a meeting at your venue, take a variety of short surveys, or see a video about the plan at IndyConnect.org.