Peekaboo public transit 

I'll remember the Super Bowl in Indianapolis for many things ... The sight of people being pulled through the air by men who appeared to be toiling like galley slaves. Feeling crushed like a sardine Friday night on Georgia St. Mayor Ballard chest-bumping Jimmy Fallon.

Most of all, I'll remember the glimpse, the teaser, the little peek the Super Bowl provided of what Indianapolis could be like with a decent public transit system.

My wife and I decided to ride downtown on the free shuttle bus that was taking revelers from Broad Ripple to the outskirts of the Super Bowl Village the weekend of the Big Game. We joined a cheerful group of pedestrians in front of the Vogue at 3:30 in the afternoon. There was about a 20-minute wait before a bright yellow vehicle with room for about 50 riders pulled up.

It was nice that the shuttle was free, though the general feeling among our fellow passengers seemed to be that most of us would have gladly paid a couple bucks to be relieved of the hassle of having to find a parking space in the Mile Square.

What was really great about the shuttle was that it was an express bus, with nary a stop between Broad Ripple and Downtown. After cutting up a residential street, we found ourselves taking a relatively scenic route that included stretches along the Central Canal and Meridian St.

Once we got Downtown, of course, all bets were off. The crush of traffic was such that, rather than wait until we arrived at our appointed stop, we riders pulled rank on our driver and bailed out — it seemed a few passengers, having quaffed a beer or two before boarding, were in urgent need of a comfort station.

So there we were, ready for action. I won't bore you with the details of our adventures, except to say it was pretty amazing to see so many streets that, most evenings, are barely populated, teeming with the genus Homo NFLerectus. We completed our fieldwork in a few hours and were outta there.

Shuttle buses departed from the curb in front of the Government Center. There we found a sturdy, good-humored fellow with a two-way radio who could tell us the whereabouts of the various shuttles — to Greenwood, say, or Mass Ave. and Fountain Square — and when the next one was expected. The Super Bowl Village seemed to have a similar effect on many of us — it felt a little like what happens when a headache medication wears off — because we found ourselves waiting with a number of the same folks with whom we'd originally ridden Downtown. Before long, all of us were climbing aboard for the ride home.

It was uncanny how natural the shuttle experience felt. Using a bus to better enjoy our city simply made sense. In Broad Ripple, of course, we're blessed with at least a couple of bus routes that can take us Downtown with minimum fuss. But, as many of us know too well, service in most parts of Indianapolis is an arduous experience that scarcely serves workers, let alone evening pleasure-seekers.

The fact that Super Bowl planners recognized the need to embellish our dysfunctional public transit system says a lot. For a week, residents and visitors alike could get around in new and efficient ways. Parts of Indianapolis began to work like the big city where many of us have always wanted to live.

So it was ironic, if not downright disgusting, that at the very moment many of us were enjoying enhanced access to our city, members of the state legislature were killing a proposal that would have given people in Marion and Hamilton Counties the chance to vote on whether or not to raise local taxes to pay for an improved public transit system.

It's a funny thing about Indiana politicians. As soon as they get themselves elected to anything, they conclude that the people who voted for them are idiots. How else to explain the oft-repeated reasoning given for denying us the chance to vote on this referendum — that allowing it to go forward risked linking politicians who backed it with support for higher taxes?

Never mind that the outcome of such a referendum would hardly be a sure thing. This is a city that overthrew a two-term mayor because he wanted to raise taxes to beef up crime-fighting efforts. While many of us have advocated for better public transit for a long time, arguing for the ways it can improve the economy, energize struggling neighborhoods and contribute to a larger sense of community identity, it remains to be seen whether voters are ready to take this step.

That's why the glimpse we got during Super Bowl week of what a better public transit system could feel like was so valuable. For a few days, a lot of people who probably never ride buses used them to enjoy Indianapolis. It was, well, super.

At the very least, we deserve the chance to vote on it.

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David Hoppe

David Hoppe

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