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
has come online — has shown a willingness to use mass transit. And, as part of a proposed regional system of mass transit,
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,
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.
White is a principal at Axis Architecture and Interiors and a member of the GreenPrint Commission,
a citywide sustainability