Put down your car keys, Indy 

Car Free Day Indy encourages alternate modes of transportation

click to enlarge The Julia M. Carson Transit Center, which opened in late June 2016,  is the new primary bus hub for IndyGo. - AMBER STEARNS
  • The Julia M. Carson Transit Center, which opened in late June 2016, is the new primary bus hub for IndyGo.
  • Amber Stearns

Since 2000, World Car Free Day has been a day for people to consider removing the automobile from life's equation to instead rely on other modes of transportation.

And this year, Indianapolis will celebrate its first Car Free Day Indy as a way to highlight and educate the community about the various modes of transportation available in the city beyond the personally owned car or truck.

Central Indiana residents and workers are encouraged to ride the bus, carpool, vanpool, bike or walk to work instead of driving alone in a car September 22.

"We all win when we choose alternative transportation options," said Dr. Lisa Harris, CEO of Eskenazi Health. "Our health improves, our air gets cleaner, traffic congestion is reduced and, I believe, we find ourselves connecting more as a community."

The day will be enhanced with live music and refreshments at designated businesses Downtown. And anyone who pledges to go car-free or car-lite (minimizing the use of individual cars and trucks but not entirely) can register for a variety of prizes. Commuter Connect will also help interested participants find a carpool match. More information is available at carfreedayindy.com.

Commuter Connect, a service of Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority (CIRTA), is hosting Car Free Day Indy. Commuter Connect connects carpoolers and vanpoolers together throughout the region and works with employers on various ways to address commuting concerns among their employees.

click to enlarge The Pacers BikesShares are another mode of public transportation available downtown. - AMBER STEARNS
  • The Pacers BikesShares are another mode of public transportation available downtown.
  • Amber Stearns

Car Free Day Indy is also an opportunity for transit advocates to educate more people about the Central Indiana Transit Plan and the referendum that Marion County voters will see on the ballot this November.

In May, the City-County Council approved the ballot question that will ask voters whether or not they support a 0.25 percent income tax increase to fund a rapid transit plan for IndyGo. The tax increase would raise approximately $56 million per year to support IndyGo's plan to strengthen its bus service.

The plan has the support of multiple bipartisan groups who believe that a reliable efficient transit system in Indianapolis will help the city in all areas of development.

"We have a system largely based on frequencies of half-hour or one-hour increments. And so you really have to plan your day around when that bus is going to be at that individual transit stop," says Mark Fisher, Indy Chamber's vice-president of government relations and policy development. "Now, when you go to a system of the rapid buses, most of the lines will be going every 15 minutes. If you get to that bus stop just in time to see the bus drive by, you're not waiting another hour. You know that a bus is going to be there in the next 15 minutes."

Fisher says that bottom line change in frequency will change the dynamic of transportation in Indianapolis.

"Frequent reliable transit service would mean people are able to better access the job sites, better able to access educational opportunities to get credentials, to get certification degrees to earn higher incomes," Says Fisher. "It means people have better access to healthy vibrant lifestyles and access to health food, which in the long run impacts healthcare costs and employer-paid healthcare costs. And from an employer's perspective, it also means getting people throughout the community access to the amenities our community has to offer."

Building support in Indianapolis to fund rapid transit is a large task that includes changing the attitudes of Hoosiers when it comes to public transportation. Reliable and frequent public transportation has been a signature mark of major cities around the country, whether it is by bus or by train.

"When we talk to people who visit other cities with robust transit systems so people that go up to Chicago or they go to Washington D.C. or New York and they say 'Wow. We have a system that we know is going to be reliable and get us to where we need to go,' they want to use it," says Fisher.

However, the stigma in Indianapolis is that public transportation is for the indigent or low income. And while the stigmas associated with that population is a topic for a different article, it is an obstacle transit advocates are trying to overcome.

"There are folks in Indianapolis, especially low- and moderate-income folks, who spend a disproportionate amount of their disposable income on owning and maintaining a car. So if we can provide those options, and it is a reliable, frequent alternative to the car, then people will use it," says Fisher. "The highest predictor of ridership is job density followed by residential density and frequency. So that's what this new transit plan really gets at, is providing options where people are, where they need to go, in a frequent, convenient manner. So I think that the demand is there, but right now the supply isn't there."

click to enlarge World Car Free Day Indy encourages Indy residents to use modes of transportation other than a personal automobile.  - AMBER STEARNS
  • World Car Free Day Indy encourages Indy residents to use modes of transportation other than a personal automobile.
  • Amber Stearns

And the demand is only expected to increase. In March of this year Forbes listed Indianapolis on its 20 best place for young professionals and in August, NBC News described Indy as a "Dream City" for millennials based on the job market and the cost of housing. And according to a 2014 study produced by the U.S. Public Information Research Group, millennials are less focused on cars than any other generation before them.

The need for a revised transit system in Indianapolis is something that has been needed for a long time. Fisher says it's time for the city to step up and turn the dreams and plans into a reality.

"I've been going with the chamber since 2003. I served on a blue ribbon task force for Mayor Bart Peterson to solve the issues of our inadequate transit service. What really came out of those meetings was the fact that we don't have a dedicated revenue stream for transit. And that's so critically important for planning, long term future planning, for a transit system that you have that dedicated revenue stream," says Fisher. "So, for those folks who say why do we have to rush, this is not a rush, The Indy Connect plan is the largest public outreach campaign in our region's history. We've been really discussing this in earnest for over a decade and now it's time to act."


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Amber Stearns

Amber Stearns

Amber Stearns was born, raised, and educated right here in Indianapolis. She holds a B.S. in Communications from the University of Indianapolis (1995). Following a 20-year career in radio news in Indiana, Amber joined NUVO as News Editor in 2014.

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