Transit can be economic engine

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The American Institute of Architects is sending some big guns here to consider how transit-oriented development might transform the neighborhood around 22nd Street and the Monon Trail (see story, page 1).

The AIA’s Sustainable Design Assessment Team initiative will involve volunteers from around the nation, ranging from urban designers to economists to hydrologists.

The AIA program last came here in the 1970s and focused on how to transform the industrial west edge of downtown. That visit resulted in the creation of White River State Park. The park project might have seemed pie-in-the-sky back then, but state and local leaders were dreaming big. They embraced the plan and made it happen.

All these years later, the AIA will consider a far more practical project: a mass-transit hub with the potential to attract direct investment in the surrounding neighborhood. It doesn’t take a dreamer to see transit has given a boost to real estate development along the routes that have been installed in Denver; Charlotte, N.C.; and other cities.

Yet as promising and practical as the 22nd and Monon project seems, it’s not clear the will exists to make it happen. The implementation of alternative transportation systems is stuck in neutral here. Those charged with planning the region’s transit future are still very much engaged in the various studies and impact statements that come along with major infrastructure projects. But the public-policy steps that must be taken haven’t happened. The most recent failure, an attempt to create a funding stream for transit, died in the Legislature.

Perhaps the public-policy steps will begin to fall into place after the release of a study in August by the Central Indiana Transit Task Force. The study is led by Alan Hubbard, a local businessman who was an economic adviser to President George W. Bush.

The study, supported by the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership and the Greater Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, is the first to be conducted here by such powerful private-sector interests. It will examine the potential return on investment of a region-wide transit system and could attract the attention of community leaders and elected officials who, until now, have seen transit only as an expensive way of moving people from Point A to Point B.

As we await the results of the study, we applaud the efforts of those who are laying the groundwork for transit. That includes the architects who will be visiting later this year and involving the public in creating a vision for 22nd and the Monon. We encourage businesses that could benefit from such a project to participate and learn more about the opportunities that go along with transit-oriented development.

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