Opinion and Forefront

MACALLISTER: Stop, think before expanding transit

June 1, 2013

MacAllisterWe continue to analyze, visualize and contemplate the expansion of an urban transit system for the Marion County area. All accept the blessing of reduced traffic during rush hours, but alas, to do so entails a cost-benefit ratio that might be troubling.

First off, why? What’s the rationale for considering this proposal (which would benefit handsomely those in the construction/building business)?

Answer: It would facilitate getting folks to work each morning and speed them back home at eventide.

But wait a minute. We had a system like that when I moved here in 1945, a streetcar-trolley network citywide and statewide. If that was so practical, why did we abandon or abolish it? Maybe as people got richer and cars affordable, buses and streetcars provided limited coverage.

It’s hard to say Indy has suffered without an efficient bus system. The fact is, we have grown.

One also wonders if a transport accommodation—bus or rail—might not trigger an adverse economic impact. I’m thinking parking garages and filling stations. How many of them would suffer if we dropped the daily parker by 50 percent to 60 percent?

Then, in all candor, the prospect of minimizing auto traffic congestion through a transportation system rings a little hollow. Ever been to New York City or Washington, D.C.? Both have extensive bus and train accommodations, yet demonstrate worsening bumper-to-bumper jams.

One reason for the support of a better public system is the hope it will attract business. Could be. But where is the data supporting that theory?

New businesses find the current circumstance adequate enough to locate here. It wasn’t our transport incapacity that lost us Chrysler, Harvester, Ford, Bridgeport, Brass, Schwitzer, Holiday Steel and J.D. Adams. There were other factors.

Next, we might consider who benefits from this investment. Probably the growth spurt thriving in the Carmel and Fishers area, given the evidence in the hordes of cars on Interstate 69/Binford Boulevard. So, building a system to accommodate that group might prove a great benefit.

But what if I lived north on the Meridian axis or out toward Speedway or Camby? Do I get a system there, too? Does the plan deal with specific areas or does it deal equally in a way that serves all citizens?

Picking and choosing who gets the accommodation might ruffle some feathers. The studies show “car count,” but it begs the question about equal accommodation to all car owners. This selects or chooses which of our citizens get to benefit. This is relevant, since all of us will be paying to accommodate “them,” whoever “them” might be.

I’m not going to the cross on this, but watching the explosion of lovely, great subdivisions along East 116th Street will conclude that those home buyers didn’t expect a train or bus to get to their jobs downtown.

This was a “location option,” including acceptance of some inconvenience. People plan their schedule around given conditions and, if nothing changes, my bet is they will continue exactly as it is since it is what they bought into.

I’m not necessarily anti-transit, but how about considering some alternate fix-ups? Why don’t we spend some money building water runoff systems? How about putting sidewalks in Indianapolis where none exist? How about improving road system efficiency by restudying our random stop sign patterns, by improving synchronization of stop signals? And when are we going to clean up White River?•

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MacAllister is chairman of MacAllister Machinery Co. Inc. and a longtime leader in Indianapolis Republican politics. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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