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Saturday, May 15, 2021

Stop the Red Line?

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You’ve seen the billboards and advertisements. On Nov. 8, Marion County residents will have an opportunity to vote yes or no to a .25 percent increase in income tax for dedicated transit funding. Should it pass, the accrued funds would help to implement the highly touted Red Line project. 

Cohorts of transit users and advocates, such as IndyCAN and Transit Drives Indy, the latter of which is an initiative backed by the Indy Chamber of Commerce, have applauded the efforts. 

Some of them packing the house and literally cheering aloud the night the Indianapolis City-County Council voted to pass IndyGo’s 2017 operational budget. 

Despite the seemingly wide range of support, one organization is none too pleased. 

Stop the Red Line, a local activist group, has released several statements on its website stoptheredline.com regarding its disdain for the service expansion which, in its initial phase, will feature a rapid transit line that would start in Broad Ripple and run south along College Avenue to 38th Street. In all, the full scope of the plan, to be fully implemented by 2021, would include four rapid transit lines, which would increase frequency of service across the city, as many routes would run every 15 minutes, have increased service hours and run seven days a week. 

Robert Evans, a Stop the Red Line member, said he has questions surrounding the true need for this sort of improvement.

Evans doesn’t currently use public transit on a daily basis, though he “grew up on it” as a teen, when he lived on 25th and Mitthoeffer and caught two buses each morning to Broad Ripple High School. In his early 20s, he used public transit to get himself back and forth to work downtown and to school at IUPUI, though he lived on the far-west side. At the same time, Evans had three young children. Though his personal experience was challenging, he claims it was “doable,” hence his hesitation for expansion the way it is currently proposed.

“It’s always been framed as ‘wouldn’t this be cool’ versus ‘we absolutely have to have this,’” he said. “We haven’t been given other options. What other options have we been given? What we needed was the new Honda Civic, and they went and got the Maserati.”

In total, the Red Line would cost $96.3 million. 

Evans currently lives along College Avenue and added that he is particularly concerned by how the construction of dedicated bus lanes (which will run from 66th Street to downtown) would affect his neighborhood. He recently moved away from Chicago because of the densely populated, high-traffic areas.

“I don’t want to live in that sort of neighborhood. That’s why I don’t live on Mass Ave. or in Fountain Square. College Avenue is a dense area, and there’s very little space for development. I don’t accept the argument that there’s benefit or need for that bus to go down College.”

IndyGo Director of Public Affairs Bryan Luellen said these opinions are shortsighted. “There’s this impression that generally, folks that are located near College Avenue, north of 49th or 46th streets, are more affluent than the rest of the city. However, in those areas, there is economic opportunity which this kind of dissent fails to acknowledge.” Luellen said the transit updates could provide access to service jobs in the food or entertainment industry that may be currently out of reach for transit users. “At the end of the day, it is transit’s job to connect folks to opportunity.”

Last week, Stop the Red Line released a written statement calling into question the plan’s “visionary” quality.

One of the issues presented is the certainty of federal funding, a concern that Luellen says has already been addressed.

The project has been recommended for funding and is waiting for congressional appropriation, which happens with the passing of a national budget. That is expected to happen in early December. IndyGo has already received a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant and the $18 million in local funding has already been secured.

“We understand that this is a long complicated process, but this is what every major transportation investment goes through. The project gets recommended, and then because of the nature and type of grant it is, it goes through an appropriation process with the overall national budget,” he said. “There has never been an instance where a project recommended for funding through this process didn’t get appropriated the funds … we’re not going out and buying 13 60-foot electric vehicles on a hope and a dream, and we’re not hiring construction firms just hoping that this grant is going to come through.”

Another claim of the group is that the proposed Red Line has “no priority for low-income people or people who depend on the bus system to get to jobs and health care,” people who historically rely on transit the most.

Along the Red Line’s route, 20 percent of households are below poverty level, and an equal percentage of households have one or more person with a disability.

“The Meridian Street corridor represents 1 percent of service and 15 percent of boardings,” said Luellen. “That is the core of the Red Line project. That improved service is going to impact people using service today.

“We’ve been working on these plans for 10 years. We’ve had hundreds of public meetings, making changes to the plans, including public input. And this is where we’ve ended for this iteration of the planning.

“We’re not positioning this as a perfect plan or something that is going to address everyone’s transportation problems across the city. This is still a limited plan.”

Luellen added that IndyGo continues to welcome thoughts and suggestions from the community. “We’ve demonstrated that we’re out there in the community listening to folks and we’ve made changes to the plans, and we’re going to monitor performance and re-deploy resources when we need to. And people have to be engaged. They can’t criticize from afar.”

Transit Questions?

On October 28, Kheprw Institute will host the third event in a series of youth-led conversations on transit. The event will be held at Indy Convergence 2611 W Michigan St, Indianapolis, Indiana 46222 from 6-8pm. For more information visit kheprw.org/transit

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