Thursday, March 22, 2007

Finally Someone's Talking About Mass Transit

Forget the new toll roads Gov. Mitch Daniels wants to build to create even more urban sprawl to eat up our valuable farmland and open lands, let's start building a mass transit infrastructure. That's exactly what the House Transportation Committee did yesterday. The Star's Theodore Kim reports on yesterday's hearing:

While the administration of Gov. Mitch Daniels has urged the building of new highways, members of two House committees on Wednesday urged policymakers to make room in their plans for rail lines, buses and other mass transit options.

Failing to seriously consider new and expanded transit systems in Central Indiana and beyond will add to pollution and traffic congestion and eventually harm the state's economy, advocates of mass transit testified before the committees.

Much of the blame fell on the Indiana Department of Transportation -- under both Republican and Democratic administrations.

"Transit does not appear to be one of (INDOT's) priorities at this point," House Transportation Chairwoman Terri J. Austin, D-Anderson, said after the joint Statehouse hearing. "I'm hoping we can work in partnership with INDOT and the federal and local governments to help Indiana put this on our radar screen. Because it's not."

The hearing by the Transportation and Environment committees was meant to give lawmakers broader context as they consider measures to pursue the study of mass transit systems. Senate Bill 105, sponsored by Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson, would direct INDOT to study a commuter rail line between Indianapolis and Muncie. A proposal by Austin, House Bill 1659, would create a legislative study committee on transit and instruct INDOT to examine transit options statewide. Austin's committee is expected to vote on Lanane's bill next week. Her bill, however, still awaits a Senate hearing.

Wednesday's meeting, arranged by House Democrats, came as Indiana is beginning a highway-building frenzy.

The Indiana Department of Transportation will spend an estimated $12 billion in the next 10 years on road projects, with little of that going toward mass transit efforts.

The Daniels administration also is promoting private toll bypasses in Central and Northwest Indiana.

Naturally, the Daniels' administration is opposed to anything which won't line the pockets of the road contractors. "Gil Viets, INDOT's chief of staff, said building mass transit lines is risky because of the cost and the challenge of attracting riders." "Most times, the agency concludes that roads and highways are the best way to move people and freight around, he said." "Right now, (roads are) generally the best answer, especially for the state of Indiana," Viets said. Isn't it amazing how much those campaign contributions talk?


Anonymous said...

We don't need more studies!

Indiana has boxes of studies on mass transit. Perhaps someone should just read them and make some decisions.

Here are just a few:

Indiana Department of Transportation Studies

Indianapolis Metro Planning Organization

Jeff Cox said...

Expanded mass transit is not needed or even welcome in Indy. The only places where mass transit is effective are dense urban areas like New York City, Chicago, San Francisco or DC. Most everywhere else it is unpoular and not used.

From an individual standpoint, mass transit is an inefficient and generally unpleasant mode of transportation, which is why it has been a failure most everywhere it has been tried. While you do need public transportation for those who cannot afford cars or cannot drive, you're not going to get much beyond that. People who have the means to avoid it will continue to do so.

Anonymous said...

A mass transit rail line between the new Indianapolis Airport to a multi-modal transit center at the downtown Union Station would be successful with conventioneers, business people, tourists, and visitors.

It would connect a captive audience of airport travelers with our downtown sports complexes, convention center, hotels, office towers, restaurants, universities, and museums.

It would make Indianapolis a more appealing and hospitable location to conduct business, hold conventions, and attend events like the Indy 500, Formula 1 race, NCAA Final Four, Colts or Pacer Games.

Just look at the success of connecting the Midway Airport in Illinois to downtown Chicago. I know people who commute between Indy and Chicago everyday because of the ease and time savings.

Anonymous said...

Wonder how to finance this idea? Read the article below:

Siemens CEO: High-speed rail needs private money

Anonymous said...

procynic: Yes and no. Here in Indiana yes there is a stigma attached to public transit. Riding the bus generally means you're either poor or lost your drivers license because of DUI.

People have become accustomed to point to point transportation, like their own cars and taxis provide. With IndyGo and most transit systems the only point to point public transit is the handicapped transit. I think the East coast (mainly north of Norfolk and Newport News) is accustomed to transit because it's far easier than commuting. I-695 around Baltimore is similar in number of lanes to I-465 here but their rush hours is 20 MPH around the entire perimeter. Here its only slow near certain areas (I-69, Keystone, I-65 south side and US 31 for example)

Also, many businesses are along the perimeter of Indianapolis such as Castleton, Keystone Crossings, and Park 100. Everything I've read so far indicates the proposed rail systems here will be a spoke system based upon downtown Indianapolis.

Anonymous said...

EDITORIAL: Time has come to hit accelerator

Indianapolis Business Journal

Rapid transit in central Indiana is moving forward at the same painstakingly slow pace as a minivan on Interstate 69 during rush hour. Ironic, isn't it-that the potential solution to gridlock seems to be spinning its wheels? Planners and consultants have been studying the issue for years, as a suburban population boom turned major thoroughfares into parking lots during peak commuting times. Although questions remain-exactly what a masstransit system would look like and who would use it key among them-the conclusions were largely the same:

"We can't continue to build our way out of congestion," Metropolitan Planning Organization Manager Mike Dearing told IBJ in July, when reporters Chris O'Malley and Peter Schnitzler took an in-depth look at the possibilities.

Yet that's exactly what we keep doing.

I-69 got a couple of extra lanes last fall to help commuters navigate a particularly clogged stretch of Hamilton County highway. And now Gov. Mitch Daniels says his proposed Indiana Commerce Connector could help by diverting truck traffic onto a new metro-area bypass.

Still, transportation planners are resolute about the need for mass transit. And it appears they're finally ready to hit the accelerator-albeit slowly. Proponents have begun making their case to state legislators, who likely will be called on to help find funding for what's sure to be a multibillion-dollar project.

The good news is, lawmakers are responding. The bad news is, they want to study the issue some more.

Senators have approved a bill that would require the Indiana Department of Transportation to conduct a feasibility study on a commuter rail system between Muncie and Indianapolis.

And representatives passed a measure that establishes a joint study committee on mass transit and transportation alternatives. Committee members would be charged with reviewing past studies and six new regional transit reports, plus evaluating other states' initiatives and federal funding.

Two other bills that would have thrown a little money at the problem stalled almost immediately.

These things take time, said Christine Altman, a Hamilton County commissioner and president of the Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority, which is leading the push for mass transit. And if the studies help legislators believe in the need to proceed, they'll have served their purpose.

"Next session, we're going to be going for some source of dedicated funding so we can proceed into construction mode," she said.

It's not clear to us what these studies will show that the countless ones that came before them didn't.

Our roads are overburdened and likely to become even more so. Mass transit would alleviate congestion, ease pollution and give the city a cosmopolitan flare to boot.

Enough talking about-and studying-the issue, already. Let's get this show on the road.

Article © Copyright © IBJ Corp. 2007. All Rights Reserved

Jeff Cox said...


Mass transit line between the airport and downtown is a concept that has been tried in other cities. Without much success. It may stand a better chance of success here because of everything clustered around downtown, but it's chances of success would still not be good.

More importantly, you would once again be spending money not for the people of Indianapolis, but for visitors.

Anonymous said...

Right now, roads are the best. Mass transit is a pretty dumb idea for a place like Indy. The only useful line would be from downtown to the airport. A Fishers/Carmel/Noblesville line would only really be useful for that area to downtown and really only M-F during two peak periods.

Instead of focusing on moving people, we should first look at mass transit for shipping. If we could get 50% of the long-haul big trucks off the roads, that would do a lot right there. Secondly, the government could always come out and order more trucks to drive later in the day and at night. Since both will not happen, building roads is the only option we have. Where we are really screwing up is the way in which we build more lanes. What needs to happen is that interstates need to be two stories. Every major city should have at least two lanes above the original interstate for pass thru traffic only. These lanes would have a few on/off ramps for emergency vehicles and such, but that is it. I personally would have it be for only semi traffic. This concept would ease congestion.

Mass transit will not work in cities like Indy. It will be nothing but a waste of money.

Anonymous said...

Mass transit to connect the airport to downtown is ridiculous. Our airport is not heavily used, not matter how much propaganda you hear from various special interests. Our airport passenger load is barely in the top 50 just ahead of Hartford, Connecticut.

Indy is nowhere near dense enough for mass transit. An expanded bus system with express buses with dedicated bus lanes might work. But I have a better solution. Indy has about 10,000 vacant houses. Redevelopment of those houses would allow half of Fishers to move near downtown, and with further redevelopment of other areas of the city, we could easily move the rest of Hamilton County into Marion County and they could ride the existing bus routes, bike or walk to work.

Anonymous said...

If we don't start working mass transit into our state's economic development strategy, we're going to continue to sink in the eyes of desirable places for companies to locate or relocate. Look at places, like Denver and Portland, that have implemented transit oriented development strategies. Those cities are booming and creating economic desirability and prosperity by making smart choices and proper investment in mass transit. For once, let's get ahead of the curve instead of trying to catch up when gas hits $4.00 a gallon.

Jeff Cox said...


Companies don't look at mass transit in perspective locations. In large part because people don't use it and don't want it. Denver and Portland, to the extent that they are booming (very questionable in Portland's case), have far more attractive features than mass transit. Like a large, young and educated population and scenic geography. Mass transit is not on the radar screens of employers. To put it more simply, Eastern Daylight Time in Indiana was a far, far bigger desire for companies than mass transit.

Don't waste money on mass transit. People don't want it and won't use it, because it is inherently inefficient to the individual. Better to spend the money on better roads or something that really effects quality of life like law enforcement.

Jeff Cox said...

Typo -- "perspective" should have been "prospective"

Anonymous said...

"More importantly, you would once again be spending money not for the people of Indianapolis, but for visitors."

It is arguable that the both visitors and the people of Indianapolis would use this proposed mass transit rail line.

Regardless, this is effective economic and community development strategy. There is a whole industry focused on increasing tourism in Indiana. It pumps billions of dollars into our economy. These dollars from "visitors" helps keep our taxes lower.

Marti said...

I think the question should be, what kind of city do you want Indianapolis to become most like...

New York, NY - SUBWAY
Los Angeles, CA -SUBWAY
Chicago, IL - SUBWAY
Houston, TX: METRORail
Philadelphia, PA - SUBWAY
Detroit, MI -NONE
San Antonio, TX -NONE
San Jose, CA -caltrain
Baltimore, MD - SUBWAY
Indianapolis, IN - NONE
San Francisco, CA - BART SUBWAY
Jacksonville, FL - NONE
Columbus, OH - NONE
Milwaukee, WI -NONE
Memphis, TN - NONE
Washington, DC - METRO SUBWAY
Boston, MA - SUBWAY

Unknown said...

I visited Indianapolis a couple months ago and was struck at how much parking has been provided and how cheap it was. It seemed that only focused service like service to the airport would find a market and even then how many of those coming to the airport are destined for downtown AND will not need a rental car to get around anyway?
I am pro transit but until Indianapolis has robust bus system that is carrying significant numbers of passengers will it be able to hit the numbers it will need for a significant investment.
The other route is to build a trolley/ultra-light rail project using local money and DEMONSTRATE that people will use it.