Within the next two years, Indianapolis will have the first fully-electric bus rapid transit system in the U.S. according to IndyGo. What will be known as the Red Line will be constructed in three separate phases, spanning 13 miles, with the first phase set for completion in 2018.
The first phase will begin at 66th street and College Avenue in Broad Ripple, travel through the new Downtown Transit Center, set to open this fall, and on to the University of Indianapolis (UIndy). Phase two will pick up in Broad Ripple and travel through Carmel and Westfield. Phase three will extend the system from UIndy to Greenwood.
Bryan Luellen, director of marketing and customer information at IndyGo said more than half of transit trips are about jobs.
“It’s no secret IndyGo has been underinvested in and we lack the service our community needs to get to places,” said Luellen. “This is a really compelling project, we’re talking about a bus every 10 minutes for 20 hours a day connecting, when it’s fully built, Westfield through Greenwood, which will bring more than 170,000 jobs within walking distance of the Red Line.”
The Bus Rapid Transit system, which will travel in exclusive lanes to avoid traffic and is set to have stops about every half mile, is a larger plan spearheaded by IndyConnect, Central Indiana’s transportation initiative, whose goal is to connect people to people and people to places through a network of bus routes, rapid transit lines, walking and biking paths and roadways.
Currently, IndyGo has set up a series of public meetings held in various parts of the city to gain feedback from residents. These are opportunities for community members to express any concerns they may have about the project.
Indy’s Red Line will look very similar to HealthLine, part of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority in Cleveland, Ohio.
“A big portion of the HealthLine is center running with stations in the middle of the street serving buses in both directions. We looked at Cleveland because they implemented a lot of strategies the correct way,” mentioned Luellen.
A big question residents have inquired about deals with funding. IndyGo will submit an application for a federal grant called Small Starts at the end of September, which will ask for 80 percent of finances for construction. Since a 20 percent match must come from the local community, the Regional Development Authority is seeking money from the State of Indiana for expenses.
Luellen said, if all fails, a backup plan has been designed.
“We won’t know until after the federal grant is submitted if we will receive the state money and in order to support the federal grant we have to show there is a local commitment,” commented Luellen. “We’re working with the Department of Public Works and the City of Indianapolis on a local funding source.
Once funding is granted, Indianapolis will be responsible for paying $6 million per year for operation costs. According to IndyGo’s website, “In order to fund phases two and three of the Red Line and further expand local bus service and add new rapid transit lines, Central Indiana residents could be asked to approve a local income tax on a local referendum between 2016 and 2018.”
IndyGo has worked with surrounding cities impacted by the Red Line, who were apart of the initial application process as well as neighborhood associations.
“Earlier this summer we met with neighborhood leadership to make some decisions about a bidirectional lane. That was a decision made by them. The neighborhoods were in unanimous support of the project,” noted Luellen.
Ryan Funk, Mapleton-Fall Creek Neighborhood Association board member and area resident for eight years, said the organization has monitored the IndyConnect plan for the past five years. The Mapleton-Fall Creek Neighborhood Association recently started adding transit to meeting agendas more often after IndyGo published a version of its IndyGo Forward plan last November. In June of 2015, the Metropolitan Planning Organization, IndyGo, and the Red Line Implementation Team provided the Mapleton-Fall Creek Neighborhood Association with more details about the project.
“I think this project is going to be great for us. The neighborhood is roughly the triangle formed by 38th, Meridian and Fall Creek,” said Funk. “It is a great mix of housing styles, from tall apartment buildings to single family homes on large lots. Mass transit is important here.”
Funk believes Mapleton-Fall Creek is meant to be a walkable neighborhood.
“Since the neighborhood has avoided major destructive projects, the layout is much like it was when it was first built. Streetcars gave way to busses, but we have good route coverage and a great number of us walk and use mass transit,” he added.
Residents of the neighborhood have also provided positive feedback about the project. The next neighborhood meeting will take place at Phillips Temple on Sept. 10 from 6:30-8 p.m.
“The Meridian corridor, south of 38th Street is comprised of 15 percent of IndyGo’s current ridership. This isn’t about some shiny new service for the suburbs,” explained Luellen. “Its about serving neighborhoods and improving service for those who are riding and making service more attractive for those who would like to ride but it currently isn’t convenient for them.”
When asked about transportation competition such as Uber, a ride-share program and BlueIndy, the city’s new electric car-sharing service, IndyGo looks at the city’s transportation as an eco system offering various options for residents depending upon their reason for travel.
With such big changes coming, residents are apprehensive about one aspect–parking. There could be parking disparities in some areas by as much as 50 percent. This occurs due to the placement of Red Line stations at intersections. In areas where transit will share a bidirectional lane, residents can expect less parking spaces.
“We’ve designed the College portion to minimize parking loses. On 38th street there isn’t parking and on Meridian to 18th, that’s basically a 50 percent loss of parking. That’s because we’re building this infrastructure and thinking about what’s next, which is the Purple Line that will run north on meridian to 38th Street and then east on 38th,” said Luellen.
According to Luellen, a study was recently conducted and discovered there is enough capacity for parking in other areas such as side streets. The ability to make left turns on some streets such as Meridian Street and College Avenue may also be limited. IndyGo’s website says: “Left Turns will only be allowed at certain signalized intersections, and cross traffic at smaller non-signalized intersections will be restricted with a concrete median…however, drivers will still be able to access their destinations by making a U-turn at the next available intersection, which will be allowable for passenger cars in most locations.” No major traffic impacts are expected.
“Public transit is for everyone,” said Luellen. “People are choosing to own a car less and they want options. The millenials don’t want to own and operate a car. It’s about $8,000 a year to maintain a car and that’s a barrier for many people. We’re also working with the city on an affordable housing strategy to make sure the neighborhoods along the Red Line stay affordable.”
It is anticipated that with the transit line will come new area developments surrounding the transportation mode. Ridership projection on first phase is projected at 11,000 trips per day, which is one third of IndyGo’s current riders.
For more information on the Red Line, visit Indygo.net/redline or IndyConnect.org.