Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Scales: Proposed Red Line Bus Rapid Transit Favors "Choice Over Need"

The following is a guest column by Third District City-County Councilor Christine Scales

Public Transportation can be a ride out of poverty. So why are the very first miles of the proposed Red Line Bus Rapid Transit System being constructed along a route running through trendy Broad Ripple and the high property value neighborhoods of Arden, Forest Hills and Meridian Kessler?

Access to transit in impoverished areas offers the promise of economic and educational mobility. Expanded opportunities for better jobs, schooling, and services are made available for people in efficient and affordable ways through quality public transportation.

Initial construction of the Red Line Bus Rapid Transit route with a northern starting point at 66th and College exposes the Regional Mass Transit Plan’s misplaced priorities. First in line to buy tickets on the Red Line won’t be those hungering for a better life. They will be those already enjoying the good life that is sought by current IndyGo riders. Still finding themselves at the back of the line, on the back of the bus-will be those whose concerns about their environment relate more to reducing gun violence, than reducing carbon emissions.

The bus fares purchased on the first and northern most BRT route will be by riders living in the 46220 zip code area. There, median yearly household incomes hover at $62,000.00 and unemployment runs at 6.5%. Contrast those statistics with residents living in all but one adjacent zip code located to the south, east, and west of 46220. Unemployment in those areas runs from 13.3% to 26.7% and median incomes range from $26,000 to a high of $39,000.00.

Marion County Transit Groups from IndyGo, CIRTA and MPO assert that funding for Phase 1 of the transit plan, the Red Line, has been secured. A special ordinance introduced at Monday’s City County Council meeting authorizes a referendum seeking funding for subsequent phases of a 5-year public transportation plan through an income tax increase. With implementation of future phases dependent on the outcome of the referendum, the question must be raised. Why aren’t the first BRT routes being constructed in neighborhoods populated with particularly low income wage earners and high unemployment rates who are totally dependent upon public transit to access employment and services?

It appears that the goals of officials and civic leaders promoting the current Red Line BRT route have shifted by prioritizing service to the “haves” rather than the “have-nots”. Recently unearthed notes taken during my first meeting with IndyGo Executive Director Mike Terry in 2007 are titled with a quote from him, "Choice vs. Necessity". By Mike’s own statements, the Purple Line running across 38th Street and Washington Street’s Blue Line were to be designated highest need and highest priority in allocation of transit enhancement dollars. It was from Mike I learned that 70% of IndyGo riders are categorized as transit dependent households. The costs for car purchase, maintenance, and insurance is so high that home maintenance costs become secondary to car expenditures in a majority of low income households. For that reason, a lack of reliable public transportation is considered a contributing factor to urban blight. Need, or necessity is why the very first implementation of a major BRT line beginning at 66th and College is a questionable allocation of scarce transit funds.

IndyGo's first priority is to serve "the least of these" among us-those who have no other alternative means to travel to work other than public transportation. Instead, "Choice" appears to supersede “need” in the redesigned transit plans that emerged around 2012. In the city’s publicized attempts to attract its share of Millennials as a place to call home, Millennials must be catered to and provided transit choices. However, the Millennials Indianapolis hopes to attract to live and work here are being recruited for professional positions with salaries that will pay enough to support the purchase and maintenance costs of a car. Their marketable talents allow them to afford rent or purchase housing in high cost living areas such as Downtown, Broad Ripple and Meridian Kessler. With "SoBro" now reaching as far south as 46th and College, the majority of North College Red Line users daily tough choice will be car or BRT-while 70% of their fellow IndyGo riders might choose between groceries or bus fare.

The initial mass transit routes focusing on the Green, Purple and Blue lines were supported by countless studies and recommendations made by the major transit groups and blessed by the Indy Chamber. Many transit grant dollars paid for publications showing graphs, maps, and economic wonder potential to sell the public on the need for light rail and BRT on those particular routes. Now, different routes are being espoused as "the best" based on more money spent and more studies undertaken. Which of the recommendations should the public believe are the "best"? The preferred routes change, as does the preferred mode of transportation, changing from light rail to BRT? Or simple express bus service?

Answers from IndyGo asking why the shift to Choice over Need by constructing the city's first BRT line on N. College centered on”TOD”-transit oriented development. TOD has been touted as one of the primary goals and benefits that will result from the current recommended mass transit plan. The up side-there are great promises of return on investment to be had-for developers. For proprietors of multi-generation owned restaurant and retail establishments located on North College Avenue-they foresee vanished parking spots for customers driving cars as leading to their demise. There's also the possibility that bus stop placement will not be located a walkable distance to certain existing businesses. The upside to this-investors will be able to snatch up those 1 and 2 story properties for a song and convert them to the multi story retail/ housing density mix being counted on for the Red Line’s future ridership numbers. Does North College Avenue need the artificial stimulation to prompt economic development? Or- is it already occurring there “organically”, as some nearby residents insist it is?

The greater need and opportunity for “TOD” is along the socially and economically hurting Blue and Purple routes rather than along the northern Red Line corridor. Abundant vacant and inexpensive land is available all along E.38th and Washington Streets to fit high density, affordable rent apartment complexes. An uptick in available, modern housing will serve as a catalyst to attract more quality businesses. Consider how improved access to jobs and an uplifted quality of life in these neighborhoods might also lower crime rates-making our city safer for all.

Scarce city budget dollars too often are allocated towards spending that reflects choice vs. necessity. The Midtown TIF which benefitted Meridian Kessler, Broad Ripple and Butler Tarkington neighborhoods was approved quickly by a Council vote. The Avondale Meadows TIF-sought to attract a grocery store for an impoverished food desert community, languished for years before receiving approval. Upscale, downtown high rise condos and apartment developments receive speedy, unanimous votes of Council approval while many affordable housing projects fall by the wayside.

Mega millions in city tax dollars are sent along to billionaire sport team owners so that more luxury suites can be added to a stadium already paid for by taxpayers. Yet-our first responders who put their lives on the line for us on a daily basis, are cheated out of the 3% salary increases promised them in their contracts. Now, the citizens in greatest need of efficient public transportation are taking a back seat in the bus system so that higher income riders can be the first to access wi-fi equipped buses.

Indy Go’s slogan for years has been, "People you depend on, depend on IndyGo". Never has that been truer than now. Seventy percent of current IndyGo riders are depending on leaders in transit and the city to make their rides to improved jobs and lives more dependable. An enhanced, modern, comprehensive county wide transit plan should reflect old-fashioned transit principles placing need before choice.

Voters shouldn’t allow transit and city leaders to rationalize placing transit choice ahead of need. Before a referendum seeking increased taxes to pay for an enhanced mass transit appears on any ballot, let those who love this city, show they love their neighbors as themselves. Transforming our transportation system must first focus on transforming lives and neighborhoods so that our city, and all who are in it might have the opportunity to flourish.

Christine Scales
Indianapolis City County Councillor District 3


Warren Patitz said...

Thanks for publishing this, Gary. Christine Scales has again done and shared the research that exposes yet another project that will stick the tax payers for a project that will benefit only those who support and promote it.

Anonymous said...

Ms. Scales, well done. TOD and the opportunities it brings to those in the development business are a big driver behind BRT. As with TIF spending, this mass transit proposal does not appear to be about helping lift those with the greatest need. As a resident of Meridian Kessler I've long wondered why the mid town tif spending has been north of 38th street. And the latest proposal near Kessler and College was the icing on the cake. How is a property that a developer offers $1.5 million per acre considered blighted and in need of a $7 million TIF subsidy? There is a shooting almost every day in this city, neighborhood streets look like a moonscape, and many streets are still without sidewalks. We just had an income tax increase in the name of public safety, I see no more police on the streets, where did the money go? And while many main streets were replaced under Rebuild Indy, those streets are already crumbling. I'm getting really tired of paying the highest taxes in central Indiana and getting the worst of services in return.

Unknown said...

wow she needs to run for mayor, Governor immediately or as a on a ticket 2016

I have always been impressed by her in many ways, but this is the most thought out beyond reasonable doubt public posting I have ever read her or anyone else.

This needs to be hand delivered to ever news outlet and neighborhood paper in the city,in the most needy areas and explained in the manner Mrs, Scales just did to us,

I will personally help hand deliver and explain the impact good and bad for these poor neighborhoods,,if they need a party ride go call Uber,,,

but make these routes a jobs driver and economic expansion project that will have immediate impact on several key areas of need,,,crime, unemployment,food,

And entertainment opportunities beyond nightly target shooting...

Mrs, Scales call me when you need the help John Connors 317-920-3675

I have no fear or hesitation to put my name and number on my comments

Anonymous said...

Both the Republican and Democrat Parties [which are actually one party working different sides of the aisles] no longer serve "the people" but instead "the cronies" of the politicians and the dastardly attorneys who bastardize the law to serve those special interests. We have plenty of those bastardizing attorneys in the State House as well as in our City Halls.

In light of Councilor Scales' excellent points against this Red Line boondoggle, I am again reminded that it was the Indianapolis City County Councilors who allowed idiotic cricket fields, illegal Vision Fleet, the corrupt to-the-bone Blue Indy battery powered curb-side rental car business, Broad Ripple streets (and elsewhere in Marion County) clogged by silly bicycle lanes, fifty years of parking meter chains upon as-yet unborn Marion County residents, Indy Land Bank corruption, foolish support of goofy Litebox types, TIF extortion out the wazoo, [to name just several scams] AND IT'S ALL STILL THERE no matter how cogent or righteous the arguments against. NONE OF IT IS GOING AWAY. The same will be true of this Red Line scam.

The politicians blame these etched in stone scams remaining in place on "the people" for voter disconnect to the political process; anyone who enters the system with an eye toward change sees the political corruption up close and personal and understands this is a fake argument.

Good luck, Christine. I hope you are victorious. Anyone with just half a working brain knows this BRT is the latest in a line of BG/DB-type corruption on a massive scale. Just imagine the invoices to special interests with no end in sight this scam like BRT will generate. It's similar to the "war on terror"... the need for money and financial support (from the poor taxpayers) can be justified for decades on end.

And Ivy Tech is said to be considering hiring Greg Ballard as the head administrator? He's already turned downtown Indy into a congested zoo on behalf of the monied interests; Lord knows what harm the guy would wreak upon a community college struggling to improve its image.

Anonymous said...

We need more police and a bigger jail far more than a senseless rapid transit line. This is NOT Chicago. People in Indianapolis DO NOT WANT a rapid transit. They enjoy the freedom of using a car and not being on a limited schedule.

Anonymous said...

I applaud Councilor Scales for writing this piece. The Red Line as proposed is ill-conceived and will likely underperform if not fail outright. The alignment is wrong. The choice of operating agency is wrong. The driving forces behind the proposal are wrong. It is about the city's image and marketing and rewarding favored developers more than it is about transit. This is a deeply flawed approach.

What would it look like if it was about transit? Well, for one thing it would be on Keystone instead of College. That's what the Twin Cities did with the Green Line, choosing an alignment on University Avenue (Keystone's identical twin) as opposed to Summit or Grand Avenues. The line has succeeded. In fact, not only does it serve it's primary purpose (transit) but also its secondary purpose (city building). But then again the Twin Cities is comfortable in its own skin in a way Indianapolis has never been.

That said, transit is imperative. Urban density is increasing around the globe and if you wait too long you will be behind the eight ball. Indy needs transit, maybe not today but soon. Bikes are an important part of the mix. Cities in Europe have shown us what it might look like. It would free up billions of development dollars and reduce congestion. This is a must since Indiana taxpayers refuse to adequately fund roads and yes I know that gas tax dollars are being siphoned away but they are being siphoned away by the people you elect. There's a reason cities as disparate as San Francisco, New York, Denver and Austin are investing in alternative and active transportation. It's not trendy as much as it is a practical solution to a problem.

Back to the Red Line. It should be built, but if it's going to be built, it should be built right and for the right reasons. I haven't seen that yet, and I applaud Councilor Scales for having the courage to stand up to those in our city who use projects like this as well as the sincere hopes of proponents in the public to pad their own nests.

Anonymous said...

This is a huge fraud being perpetrated on the numerous neighborhood organizations representing poor areas that supported mass transit as it was originally sold. These organisations such as NESCO must stand up and fight this because they were double crossed and lied to. Not one dime will be used to help their neighborhood that desperately are in need of help.

Ellen Antoniades Meridian-Kesslers NHN said...

Follow the money and given the city's propensity for using Federal grant monies and then not complying with the rules for the particular grants, you will find that the measures can be defeated by complaining to the Federal agencies supplying the money regarding inappropriate use of grant money. I can provide you with numerous examples where this has occurred in the past in Marion County. And, in each case, millions were involved.

Anonymous said...

"at the back of the line, on the back of the bus"

Why don't you race bait a little more.

Anonymous said...

Excellent points by Christine Scales. It is so refreshing to hear there is an adult in the room that understands what is best for this city. Phase 1 Redline in its current form is a fraud to tax payers and serves no benefit to the citizens who really need the services the Redline is supposed to provide. The only reason the proponents of the Redline want the line to run from downtown to Broad Ripple is for the potential cash grab on transforming College Ave from 38th Street, Meridian Kessler to Broad Ripple into the same model you see at Mass Avenue. Long term planning shares the same high rise developments and multi use businesses creating density you see happening in downtown Indianapolis today. That is not the environment those of us who live in this area want. We like the feel of our current neighborhood and the ability drive and park where we want to without worrying about parking on a side street in front of someone's home which will happen once the Redline chokes down College Ave. Bankers and developers seem to benefit the most using this model while those who need the services the most continue to be looked over. Voters see what is happening and will continue to make changes at the voting booth.

Anonymous said...

Of course, Councilor Scales is correct about the motivation for Red Line--not those who depend on public transportation, but connected developers who see money making potential in Meridian Kessler, Forest Hills, Arden, Broad Ripple, etc..

The idea behind Red Line is to appeal to Millennials, but they're growing up now, getting married establishing committed relationships, and they're buying homes instead of renting. As Councilor Scales points out, they can afford a car. Millennials are aging out of the "urbanism" fad that's on it's way out--check out the writings of Aaron Renn.

Another fad that developers missed out on is the popularity of Broad Ripple. Today's Indy Star has a piece that points out that Fountain Square has stolen Broad Ripple's crown for the top music venue. Broad Ripple is far from done for, but crowds nowadays are smaller and older.

A day late, a dollar short, late to the party. The band has packed up and gone home. Elvis has left the building. Sorry, developers, but you missed the boat.

Anonymous said...

Christine outlines how Indy Connect should be fashioned, however the Marion County phase 1 plan has been designed to accommodate a larger regional strategy. As envisioned by the Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority, and structured through State legislation, the stated goal of CIRTA "is to connect Indianapolis with the suburban, rural communities of Marion, Hamilton, Hancock, Shelby, Johnson, Morgan, Hendricks, Boone, Delaware, and Madison counties".

In other words,IndyGo, MPO, and CIRTA plans were not designed with an absolute concern for Marion County urban dwellers but overriding consideration was given to increasing the economic wellbeing of entities outside the county. If the perceived project covers such a large portion of the state, it should be financed at a state level rather than having Marion County taxpayers fund a system not designed to wholly benefit the community.

Gary R. Welsh said...

And that's my complaint, anon. 12:35. The suburban counties are just sitting back and waiting to see how much Marion County taxes its residents to build a system that can't be reversed once the wheels are set in motion. The state will then probably award grants to complete the suburban portion of it, which won't be nearly as imposing as the dedicated bus lanes planned for Marion County will be because the suburban counties love their automobiles and don't want their main thoroughfares gridlocked like what's planned inside Indianapolis.

Pete Boggs said...

Councilor Scales gives voice to credible planning; not the classist, commission scheduled pocket lining of public treasury pirates. The Red Lie is a deliberate misappropriation of public funding; a perversion of purpose.

Anonymous said...

"Long ago the great Styring proposed to end the taxi cab farce in Indianapolis by allowing competition such as exists in Asia with jitneys and other private sector responses to consumer needs. Decades later we get Uber. Problems solved at no public expense? No. There is some misplaced concern for those who are not productive enough to be consumers. So, a billion dollars down the drain is going to be of some service to them? That would be the view of Colleen Fanning who is all for expanding mass transit....but, so was the other person, Kip Tew. The disease here is that elected sorts expect to "do something"(anything) instead of being careful stewards and prudent ones. Jitneys are still a good idea as there never was any good reason for having governments involved in people moving. Back in the day before federal money flowed like taxpayer blood a community might have two or three competing bus lines. Each of them had routes, each paid taxes instead of consuming them, none were a part of corruption/local government."

Pete Boggs said...

The corruptly proposed view will have College Ave residents & business owners staring at an ill-considered, poorly designed, inorganic platform; vs. the neighborhood THEY INVESTED IN. There is no credible design guide known as "Soviet Style."

Anonymous said...

Anon 8:26 You might be correct until the city outlawed all forms of building that might be conducive to walking or shared transit of some kind. Instead they mandated the only way our city will be built is to facilitate and promote the use of the private automobile.