Transit is who we are, Indianapolis

Indianapolis, let’s talk. It’s about time we break ourselves of the car culture that has been ingrained in us. It’s going to be hard but trust me, it will be well worth it. (this coming from a person who loves to drive)

As a city we owe much of our success to transit. So why are we fighting it? We tend to forget that the first, yes the first, Union Station in the world is located at 39 W Jackson Place. The Union Station was commissioned by the Union Railway Company in 1886 to be the convergence point of all the rail traffic in Indianapolis. 

But even though transit is part of the DNA of Indianapolis, many still object to the IndyGo Redline. For those unaware, the Redline is a proposed bus rapid transit system that will run from Carmel to Greenwood in dedicated traffic lanes with stops roughly every mile to mile and half. The arguments for the opposition vary, but you can generally narrow it down to two main concerns: ridership and traffic.

Lets address the first, ridership: opponents claim Indianapolis does not have the ridership numbers to support a transit system. What they fail to realize is that the point of transit is to get cars off the streets, not to compete with them. Give people the option of taking a bus that’s virtually as fast as driving, remove the costs and headaches, and many drivers will choose to switch. An analysis of the effects of BRT by the city of Chicago projected that one BRT bus can take as many as 60 cars off of the road.

Now onto the second concern, traffic: this concern proposes the following problems:

  • Loss of parking spaces
  • Difficulty for left turn lanes
  • Drivers choosing to speed through side streets to avoid the buses

This is Indianapolis’s opportunity to provide Rapid Transit and allow citizens to dump their cars, thus eliminating the need for more parking. Problem one solved.

Rapid Transit reduces the number of cars on the road. When less cars are on the road, people will have less of an issue turning left because there will be less cars on the road needing to turn left. Studies show that the implementation of a BRT system has actually proven to reduce travel time for drivers: 

With the BRT system’s exclusive, segregated bus lanes, average bus speeds have increased 84 percent, from 14 km/hr to 23km/hr. These higher speeds have reduced BRT passengers’ in-vehicle travel times by 29 percent. The extremely high frequency of service (350 buses per hour) has also reduced passengers’ waiting times by 15 percent. Removing buses from the mixed traffic lanes has improved travel times for non-BRT users on the corridor as well; the speed of other vehicles on the corridor has increased from 13.9 km/hour to 7.8 km/hour with the BRT. - EMBARQ study of Social, Environmental and Economic Impacts of BRT Systems (page 34)

Problem two solved. 

Lastly, there will be no need to speed on the main or side streets because you’ll have them all to yourself; you’ll be one of the few driving your car and not taking rapid transit. But really, all joking aside, the implementation of a BRT system has also proven to make the roads safer:

The evidence in this report clearly shows that high quality public transport systems can result in significant safety benefits on the streets where they are implemented, reducing injuries and fatalities by as much as 50 percent. -Study of Traffic Safety on Bus Priority Systems (page 3)

Problem three solved. 

When you provide positive transit, it offers an opportunity to eliminate the three barriers that citizens have presented.

And these are just the immediate effects of transit on our city. In the long run; this is the absolute best next step for Indianapolis. As the 14th-largest city, we currently have the 83rd-largest bus fleet in the country. If we want to continue to grow, transit is one of the easiest ways to do that. Thanks to two of the biggest infrastructure projects in the city, the Cultural Trail and the Monon Trail, we know the value of connecting people to the places they want to be and the economic impact of that connection.

So come on Indianapolis, it’s time to let go of our car culture. If I still haven't convinced you, I encourage you to watch the documentary Urbanized by Gary Huswit.

Lourenzo is a PUP board member and an architecture graduate of Ball State University. Born and raised in Liberia, West Africa he immigrated to the United States as a young boy. He has always made the most of his experience growing up on two diverse continents.  Africa exposed him to many things, such as true vernacular architecture, sustainability, and responsibility towards each other’s well-being. Upon coming to the US, these core beliefs learned in Liberia were reaffirmed through his rediscovery of the need for sustainability, something that has been and continues to be a way of life for the rest of the world. 

Interested in supporting PUP? Head over to our shop and check out our Goods for Good.