Indy's northeast corridor train will reduce traffic, relieve air pollution, limit urban sprawl

December 15, 2008
Central Indiana took a big step forward this fall.

On Sept. 26, the Indiana Regional Transportation Council voted to move to the next phase in the development of a mass transit line connecting downtown Indianapolis to Hamilton County. It's a step that has been a long time coming, and it couldn't have come at a better time.

Of course, while this decision was applauded by many, it also raised the hackles of a few. That's to be expected: Every step forward is inevitably a step on somebody's toes. That's why, as we consider such change, we must think first of the greater good, occasionally sacrificing our own desires for long-term and communitywide improvement.

Looking at the proposed transit line from our individual perspectives, many of us can find arguments against it. It will change the aesthetics of neighborhoods. It will benefit some parts of the community more than others. It will disrupt the streets we drive on. It will require tax support.

But I can think of a lot more reasons to applaud.

Any move toward more comprehensive mass transit is worthwhile. It helps people get to jobs without paying high gas prices. It reduces traffic on streets and highways. It relieves air pollution (Indianapolis constantly fights to stay within federal air-quality standards). It often sparks interest in neighborhoods that might have been stagnating (or worse) and helps limit urban sprawl. It creates faster, more efficient and convenient ways to get from one side of town to another.

And this specific line brings its own benefits. Much of its course will use the existing Nickel Plate rail bed, which means initial development will be quicker and more affordable. It will move from, through and to areas ripe for development, generating an economic benefit more quickly than it might in other areas.

Furthermore, it serves an audience that — during the 2003 Hyperfix project and more recently as the Commuter Express bus service has come online — has shown a willingness to use mass transit. And, as part of a proposed regional system of mass transit, its success will help make a case for federal dollars to support expansion.

I personally see a lot to love in this proposal. I live close to the planned route and work downtown, so I'll ride it to work, and I'll also enjoy the benefits of the development that typically accompanies such projects. And, yes, as an architect specializing in mixed-use design, I might benefit professionally, but that could be said regardless of where a line goes.

Finally, as a member of the city's GreenPrint Commission and someone concerned about the environment, I see a connection between mass transit and our goal of a cleaner environment — in fact, we often discuss mass transit at GreenPrint meetings.

It's disappointing that this announcement was followed only a few days later by the news that rising fuel prices have forced IndyGo to raise fares, but, to me, that simply underscores the need for more alternatives and a more robust, comprehensive mass transit system. The northeast corridor rail line is a solid first step toward those alternatives and that better overall system. I look forward to a day when we see similar lines stretching in all directions, knitting central Indiana together in a fully integrated transportation system.

Individually, in our towns, neighborhoods and back yards, we each can find reasons to oppose just about every step forward. Sometimes, those individual reasons are powerful enough to offset the greater good. In this case, however, the greater good is indeed greater, and this proposal is indeed good for the entire area. I congratulate the people and organizations that brought us to this point, and hope everyone will support this effort as it moves into this new phase.

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White is a principal at Axis Architecture and Interiors and a member of the GreenPrint Commission, a citywide sustainability initiative.
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