Sunday, February 24, 2013

Star's Erica Smith Wants Indy To Be Like Cleveland

There's nothing like aiming low. In her continued role as a paid spokesperson for IndyConnect's proposed mass transit boondoggle, Indianapolis Star columnist Erika Smith holds up Cleveland's mass transit system as a reason why we should hike our local income taxes 20% to provide initial start-up costs for a $1.3 billion, expanded metropolitan mass transit system. Someone told Smith that the dying and decaying Cleveland saw $4 billion in investment along a 9-mile stretch of a bus rapid transit line, and that's proof enough for her that Indianapolis should do the same.
RTA, Cleveland’s transit agency, estimates that a mix of public, private and nonprofit entities have invested more than $4 billion along the nine-mile stretch of Euclid Avenue, where the HealthLine runs.
“People ask me all the time was the HealthLine worth it,” said Jim Haviland, executive director of MidTown Cleveland community development corporation. “And I always say, ‘Absolutely.’ ”
In Indianapolis, it’s easy to forget that one of the biggest arguments for why we need more transit is to spur residential and commercial development in the urban core. As in Cleveland, developers long ago lost interest in inner-city neighborhoods and have been building in the suburbs. The city’s tax base has suffered as a result — and with that, schools and city services.
For years, that trend has seemed unstoppable. But with a younger generation of workers inclined to live in well-connected urban neighborhoods, there’s an opportunity for Indianapolis to reclaim residents and, with them, businesses and tax dollars . . .
But still, it’s up to cities to give residents and developers a reason to come back. And often that reason revolves around transit.
Take Cleveland, for example.
The planning for Euclid Avenue started years ago with the goal of connecting Downtown with Cleveland State University, Cleveland Clinic and University Hospitals a few miles away. City officials wanted to create an economic development corridor. Or as Haviland puts it, “a linear research park in the middle of the city.”
Transit came up immediately as a method for doing this. First rail, but then the cheaper bus rapid transit. There also are dedicated bike lanes.
The key to making it work, though, was changing the zoning code to support the new infrastructure. So now, any new buildings must be constructed set back only a few feet from Euclid Avenue with small parking lots in the rear. The city also banned standalone restaurants with drive-throughs to encourage developers to go for larger commercial projects instead.
“The idea was to bring back density,” Haviland said.
It seems to be working.
Uh, no, it's not working, Erika. Forbes magazine's latest rankings of the top 20 most miserable cities ranks Cleveland 17th, citing the fact that it has a higher exit rate than any other major city besides Detroit, which it ranks as the most miserable city in which to live. Detroit, by the way, has invested far more in mass transit than Indianapolis. Worked out real well, eh? Chicago, which has invested perhaps more than any other city in the country on mass transit ranks fourth on the Forbes list. "Chicago has passionate supporters, but residents must endure the misery of long commutes, plummeting home prices, brutal winters and high foreclosure rates," Forbes reports. "The migration rate out of Chicago is the sixth worst among the 200 largest metros."

Indianapolis is doing much better than Cleveland by any standard of measure even with its measly $65 million annually operating budget for IndyGo of which you're apparently so ashamed. Mass transit has absolutely nothing to do with spurring people to move back into the city. The largest expenditure proposed by IndyConnect is to build an extremely costly 23-mile, light rail line from downtown Indianapolis to Noblesville. That doesn't look like a plan to get people to move back into the city; it looks more like an expensive joy ride for upscale suburbanites to travel downtown to attend a Colts or Pacers game.

I had the opportunity today to join Paul Ogden, Mark Small and Matt Stone on Civil Discourse Now where we had one of the few, objective and intelligent discussions on the proposed mass transit plan that have taken place to date.

UPDATE: Fellow blogger Fred McCarthy has a good take on a story in the latest edition of the IBJ in which they're already discussing the hiring of an internationally-renowned architect to build a $17 million mass transit hub downtown, even before the legislation has been passed by the legislature and approved by voters, which cannot happen until the 2014 general election. How could you pick an architect and know how much the hub is going to cost to build this far in advance? Apparently there must be a bipartisan agreement to install an algorithm on the electronic voting machines that will assure approval of the referendum to be so confident as to discuss such plans in detail this far in advance.


Flogger said...

One talking point that is always made in these articles is the younger generation that wants to live in the city. Exactly, where the proof of this statement comes from is never cited or explained.

Erica, does not mention anything about the Corporate Welfare that I am almost certain accompanied the Cleveland's Corridor Development. We here in Indianapolis seem to have as a necessity for Downtown Development a heaping helping of direct subsidies or indirect subsidies to construct anything Downtown.

I do believe our Public Transit is horrible, but the people who need this transportation the most are living out the neighborhoods long neglected by our City.

Septly said...

Gary, while the mass transit proposal may or may not be good public policy, it should be argued on its merits. Don't play the same games you accuse others of engaging in. You are smart enough to know you twisted the point of Erika Smith's article and also made some stupid comparisons of your own.

First, she never said she wanted Indianapolis to "be like Cleveland." She said Cleveland offered a good example of bus rapid transit with its Health Line and this is an example Indianapolis may wish to emulate. Either the neighborhood where the Health Line was built did or did not see significant business investment in recent years, and if it did experience a renaissance then this improvement can either be linked in part to the public investment in transit or it cannot. These are simple facts that can be verified. Rambling on about the Cleveland metro area is irrelevant to the specific neighborhood cited. Also, the last time I checked, both roads and mass transit serve another important purpose, namely facilitating travel, aside from serving as economic development tools.

Second, it is dishonest to refer two struggling cities (Detroit and Cleveland) that are both historically much larger and denser than Indianapolis (which provides the reason for why they built a larger public transit system), and then without any analysis try to tie their higher public transit spending to their struggling economies. Your silly comparison is no different than if I cited without any analysis the much higher spending on public transit of San Francisco and Seattle as the reason both cities have better economies than Indianapolis.

If you want to address the points raised by Ms. Smith in article, then actually address the points she raised (rather than inventing ones she did not make) and do so in an intellectually honest manner.

Gary R. Welsh said...

This is the umpteenth column that Smith has rammed down our throats pining every which way she can in support of this proposal. We get it. We know she supports it. She doesn't have a clue why she is for it other than that is what she's been told she's suppose to think. She doesn't come up with these columns on her own. They are being spood fed to her by the people who are using that damn $2 million federal grant to spread this BS propaganda. They have the same talking points in every city in this country. Go on the Internet and google any city that has considered a mass transit proposal in the past few years. They all drag out the same talking points that have no basis in fact at all. I've been to that area where the Cleveland Clinic is located. For her or anyone to suggest that this one corridor only developed because of bus rapid transit is total BS. The spending in that corridor is all health care/government/education fueled spending.

Septly said...

Gary, Erika Smith is an urban advocate who has a long history of supporting public transit long before she ever set foot in Indianapolis. With your insinuations about her supposedly acting as the mouthpiece of some giant propaganda machine you start to jump off into tin-foil hat territory. You are smart person who makes some interesting and valid points, so don't undermine your own credibility by making ridiculous comments.

Also, Ms. Smith's column is just that--her column. Within the parameters of an urban issues column, she writes what she wants to write about. And she states her opinions. So, she can shove whatever agenda she feels like shoving, just as you are free to promote your own ideas here on your blog. I can understand your disagreeing with her opinions, but I cannot understand your irrational anger about her HAVING opinions and her desire to state them.

Here is a suggestion, if you don't like Erika Smith's column, then just don't read it--in fact most people in Indianapolis do not read the Star period, let alone Ms. Smith's column. If you honestly believe Ms. Smith carries some huge amount of clout with the general Indianapolis public, then you are delusional.

Also, again, I would suggest you respond to what she said and not to what she did not say. Nowhere in her column did Ms. Smith state that the Euclid Avenue corridor developed SOLEY because of bus rapid transit investment. What she said was that that Health Line played a role (and perhaps a big role) in the economic revival of the area. You can certainly cite any relevant empirical studies contradicting her assertion, but simply saying her column is "BS" is not exactly a reasoned response.

It just seems to me that you are wasting time responding to a minor columnist in a newspaper with declining readership, rather than making well-reasoned and carefully supported arguments of your own.

guy77money said...

I would go for more money for bus routes along with undercover cops that would ride the buses to bust problem (mostly the high school to 20 something kids) riders and make the ride a safe comfortable experience. As for the light rail in Indy, Light rail just doesn't make any economic sense. Here's a few reasons: 1. Your only looking at 2 hours a day that there is a grid lock from Fishers to downtown. 2. Downtown parking is still cheap enough that it doesn't make economic sense to use a light rail. 3. It would be a longer commute to take the rail then it would to drive from the north side. 4. Hoosiers love their cars!! 5. Light rail will never support itself, causing rising taxes.

CircleCityScribe said...


I have to chime on on your errors. First, you say that "Detroit and Cleveland are much larger and denser than Indianapolis." -WRONG! Both are declining Democrat strongholds...that have a SMALLER population than Indianapolis, while maintaining a much larger metropolitan area than Indianapolis. It's called "flight from the ruins." People don't want to live there, so they move OUTSIDE of the city limits for a better quality of life. Fact is that both Detroit and Cleveland are places nobody really wants to live in due to crime, taxes, and the current state of their respective cities. They have a different need for mass transit, to provide for those who refuse to live in the deteriorated cities.

In fact, things are so bad in Detroit that the Governor has been documented as preparing to appoint an emergency manager to take over the crisis there!

I do not believe Indianapolis, a city larger than Detroit or Cleveland, wants to see its taxPAYING residents take flight outside of the city as has already been done in the metropolitan areas of those cities...creating their need for mass transit.

Bottom line, do we want to declare that our city is as bad as Detroit or Cleveland? -and that nobody wants to live in our city?

Isn't that the truth behind their mass transit change?

I'm with Gary on this one, we are NOT comparable to those places. People will still choose to live in Indianapolis city limits if we create reasons for them to live here and maintain a safer city. I don't see a valid need for the mass transit propaganda that Erika Smith writes about, but I do see the differences between Indianapolis (pop. 829,000) and Cleveland (pop. 396,000), a city less than half our size in population with a police department that is about the same size as ours. (What does that say about their crime rate/how secure people feel)?

Gary R. Welsh said...

Oh, I see, her columns just happen to mirror the editorial position of the newspaper. Too often she will have a column that is simply mimmicking the editorial in the newspaper--sometimes on the very same day that her column runs. And yes, she simply regurgitates the talking points of IndyConnect. I've read their talking points. I can't distinguish the difference between them and any insights she has had to share on the subject.

Paul K. Ogden said...

So Sepfly thinks Erika Smith woke up and decided to write column after column promoting mass transit simply because she supports it? We're supposed to believe it has nothing to do with her doing what the editors of the Star to write about?

Give me a break, Sepfly. Three of Erika Smith's last four columns have been pro mass transit. She's written six pro mass transit pieces in the last five weeks. You cannot tell me that her writing those columns is simply something she's done on her own without being told to do so by her employer. No columnist who is a serious writer is going to choose to write about the same topic column after column after column. That's not the nature of what a columnist does or wants to do in his or her trade.

CircleCityScribe said...

"Gov. Rick Snyder held a media roundtable in Detroit Thursday afternoon, Feb. 21. The Gov. presented a series of charts illustrating decades of population decline in the city while displaying systemic problems with the city's budgeting system. He would not comment on the likely-hood of an Emergency Manager being put in place, but said he needs to have the necessary talks with Detroit leaders to make his decision. (Tanya Moutzalias |

Jeff Cox said...

Circle City,

The only reason Indianapolis is bigger than Cleveland and Detroit is because of UniGov, which basically annexed the entire county and thus warps population comparisons. A better comparison would be Cuyahoga County (Cleveland) and Wayne County (Detroit), which remain larger than Marion County.

Jeff Cox said...


1. The Forbes list is a joke. Calling New York City, Chicago (and quite a few suburbs thereof) and Atlanta "miserable" means the list has no credibility.

2. In her desperation to make a nonexistent case for mass transit, Smith gets it backwards. The development on the Euclid Avenue corridor in Cleveland did not happen because of the transit; the transit happened because of the development. Cleveland Clinic and University Hospital are massive complexes and employers who are well-funded. The development followed them as they expanded on the last decade. The transit down Euclid Avenue (which is largely empty) was meant to link those two specific campuses to downtown a few miles away.

CircleCityScribe said...

Jeff Cox, are you the new Minister of Propaganda???

-It would certainly appear so!

Allow me to repair your propaganda and disinformation campaign: 1) NYC, Chicago, & especially Atlanta (puke) are obviously places that are the most miserable in our country. Who wants to move to those places??? Fear, make that TERROR of being victimized, combined with outrageous taxes and fees make for a miserable life. -Enough said. Would you live there? Do you want that kind of life???? 2) In her desperation to make a nonexistent case for mass transit, Smith gets it backwards. The development on the Euclid Avenue corridor in Cleveland did not happen because of the transit; the transit happened because of the FLIGHT FROM THE RUINS of a miserable place! Yes, there are still places that people need to (SAFELY) get to, perhaps The Cleveland Clinic is one...but after treatment, people want to get out of town!!!!! -Thus the NEED for mass transit there. 3) Indianapolis is bigger than both Cleveland and Detroit for an obvious reason...we still have a SAFE city to live in, with a good quality of life. WE DON'T SUFFER "Flight from the ruins" as Cleveland or Detroit, thus the need for mass transit isn't as great.

I laughed when you tried to compare our city's population with the SMSA of The Ruins....NO COMPARISON, Jeff Cox!!! I already stated that those cities have bigger SMSA's because their Central City deteriorated into the dangerous, high-tax places they are.

Hey, Jeff Cox, Indianapolis is NO Detroit or Cleveland....

See also:

CircleCityScribe said...

BTW, Jeff Cox:

To more clearly illustrate my point that our City is NOT SUFFERING "Flight from the Ruins" as Detroit or Cleveland, explain this: Why does Indianapolis (pop. 829,000) and Cleveland (pop. 396,000), a city less than half our size in population have a police department that is about the same size as ours???

--What does that say about their deterioration, crime rate and how secure people feel in smaller Cleveland?