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Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Portland, Ore. can teach us something about mass transit

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This week, I had the opportunity to be part of a delegation convened by the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce that consisted of about 90 business and civic leaders including Mayor Greg Ballard.

The individuals who comprised the Leadership Exchange traveled to Portland, Ore., to observe and discuss innovations and best practices of the city, which has thrived in key areas that Indianapolis is trying to improve on; areas such as mass transit, workforce development and sustainable energy.

I commend the Indianapolis Chamber for being proactive in its attempt to foster dialogue with other cities as well as bringing a diverse group of leaders together to consider ways that will enhance Indianapolis. This Leadership Exchange program, currently in its fifth year, is a great way to revitalize Indianapolis and surrounding states. When trying to improve upon one’s current standing, it is always good to look at others who have either faced similar challenges or have been successful in achieving items on their “To-do Lists.” Doing this helps not only because we can learn from their best practices, but also their mistakes.

There are several great things going on in Portland. The city’s transit system is amazing and I really believe Indianapolis can benefit from what they have done. Portland has a wonderful transit system that includes streetcars, trollies and light rails. Until recently, the transit system was free for all riders, but now people can ride the transit system for as low as $1.

According to the 2010 Census, Portland’s population is 583,776 compared to Indianapolis’ 820,445. As is the case with Louisville, Ky., Portland is considerably smaller than Indianapolis, yet they have a better, more efficient transit system than we do. That is a big problem.

The good thing, however, is that Indianapolis has a lot of people and organizations committed to improving the transit system. Nearly everyone in the general community I speak with are proponents of mass transit; we just have to be creative with funding and get lawmakers on board. It seems like such a no-brainer, yet we still lag behind in our quest for mass transit. Here is a startling statistic: 80-85 percent of IndyGo riders have no other means of transportation. If Indianapolis had a transit system that provided more options at an increased rate of frequency, we not only could give people more options, but we also could give them more opportunities at economic enhancements.

With a quality mass transit system, a person in the Martindale-Brightwood area can get a job in Carmel and would not have to worry about spending three hours to get there. Mass transit means financial security for many people in Indianapolis’ underserved areas.

Portland is also committed to being energy-efficient. The city has been recognized as a national expert in green building practices (often receiving LEED Platinum certifications), locally grown food and alternative fuel sources.

An area that Indianapolis outpaces Portland is relative to race relations…we knock them out the box. Indy’s Black population is 27.5 percent compared to Portland’s dismal 6.3 percent. Though Indiana is still fairly conservative, I believe Indianapolis is a relatively diverse and inclusive population. Certainly things can be better, but they are not as bad as many other cities in Indiana or throughout the country.

My interpretation of Portland is that it is not racially inclusive nor are there any initiatives in the works to foster a better relationship with ethnic minorities. My assertion was confirmed during a presentation given to our group by an African-American consultant who has lived in Portland her entire life. She was not at all optimistic about Portland enhancing its race relations.

One of the permeating questions that kept being asked during the exchange was, “What will attract people to Indianapolis and keep them here?”

Inclusiveness will be a big part of that. We have to make sure that a diverse group of people – not only age, gender, and ethnicity, but also people who represent various industries – have a seat at the table to discuss issues within the community. When people visit Indy, they need to see inclusiveness. Diversity and inclusion are the way of the world and without this important element, Indianapolis will regress at a faster rate than we have progressed over the years.

Schools are obviously another concern. Although we have great charter schools as well as township schools, until we have a continually thriving public school system, we may not attract key people to our community. Data shows when a parent thinks of relocating, one of the main things they consider is the school system. They often gauge their decision based on what they learn about public schools.

Overall, Indianapolis is a great city. We have a reasonable cost-of-living and we have proven that we can host world-class events. I am confident with an enhanced transit system, even stronger race relations, and better schools, we will be well on our way to being the best city in our region and a major contender nationally. If we do these things, we will attract younger people who will want to raise their families here.

You can email comments to Shannon Williams at shannonw@indyrecorder.com.

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