By 2035, Maple Road, better known these days as 38th Street, could become an animated, beautiful street intertwining neighborhoods that for decades have been divided by it.
Maple Road defined the northern edge of the city in George Kessler’s 1909 Parks and Boulevards Plan. It was designed and implemented as a picturesque brick street with 30-foot lawn parkways and a double line of trees. Kessler’s Maple Road boulevard vision is now messy and chaotic 38th Street. Traffic lanes have replaced the parkways and shade trees, and strip commercial and parking lots replaced many of the traditional buildings.
The Indy Connect regional transportation plan designates 38th Street as a bus rapid transit corridor. BRT is an affordable alternative to rail transit. It can run in existing streets in dedicated lanes, and in shared lanes when required. The 38th Street Purple Line is to intersect with the north-south Red Line on College Avenue, the Orange Line on Keystone Avenue, and the Green Line on the Nickelplate rail line. The Purple Line will connect important neighborhoods, the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the State Fairgrounds.
BRT systems can have an immense economic effect on investment in Indy, just as they have in other cities.
In Cleveland, for example, the HealthLine BRT along Euclid Avenue has fostered more than $5 billion in economic development and $62 million in additional local tax benefits. The BRT line connects downtown Cleveland with other regional assets, including the Cleveland Clinic; Cleveland State University; 4,000 units of residential development; and the $350 million Cleveland Museum of Art.
BRT systems have resulted in similar positive economic impact in Las Vegas and Orlando. The SDX route in Las Vegas has leveraged more than $2 billion in private investment. The LYMMO Line in Downtown Orlando has supported investment in housing and commercial projects.
Cities with established BRT systems continue to get an economic boost. Boston, Pittsburgh, and Eugene, Ore., BRT stations have attracted jobs, residents, new development and related fiscal benefits.
Charlotte and Nashville are trying to emulate some of the success experienced in BRT cities by planning their own lines.
Like Cleveland’s Euclid Avenue, 38th Street has major institutional anchors flanked by existing neighborhood destinations. A connection plan is needed for the 12 neighborhoods that edge 38th Street between Keystone Avenue and I-465 on the west side to fully realize its potential.
Neighborhoods along 38th Street have schools, parks and commercial intersections that are traditional walking and biking destinations. Many of these destinations fall along east-west neighborhood streets a couple blocks north and south of 38th Street. This includes 40th Street, which runs from the State Fairgrounds to Tarkington Park and Crown Hill Cemetery. To the south, 34th Street connects the formal gateway to Crown Hill Cemetery with Shortridge Middle School, and the Fall Creek Neighborhood. These streets deserve pedestrian and bicycle enhancements.
West of the IMA, 38th Street crosses the White River, merges briefly with I-65, and then drops into the Eagledale and Lafayette Square neighborhoods. This 2.5-mile stretch of 38th Street is completely lacking formal bike or pedestrian connections. Yet, you see young people walking and bike commuters taking this harrowing route almost every time you need to drive it.
In the future, some pretty cool transit-oriented development could emerge along 38th Street’s BRT line, with enough social and economic gravity to reunite neighborhoods. Here are three examples:
• Maple Road Main Street. The Midtown area along 38th Street will have overlapping BRT service between Illinois Street and College Avenue. The north-south Red Line and east-west 38th Street Purple Line share this stretch of 38th Street that is in the Midtown TIF District. The traditional commercial uses at Illinois Street and Tarkington Park, known as Mapleton Village, can be expanded to include commercial and mixed-use opportunity sites at College Avenue. The result can be a walkable and energetic main street along Midtown’s 38th Street frontage.
• Lafayette Square. The western terminus of the 38th Street Purple Line will be near Lafayette Square. BRT will provide an opportunity to completely rethink this 1.5-square-mile parking field. Imagine a diverse and sustainable neighborhood with parks, schools and shopping.
• Fairgrounds–Bermuda Triangle of Transit. The State Fairgrounds is located in the future transit triangle of 38th Street Purple Line, Keystone Avenue Orange Line, and the Nickelplate Green Line. Imagine a 21st Century fairgrounds that straddles 38th Street, lights up every day, and is especially welcoming during fair week. Keystone Avenue transit-oriented developments can reinvigorate the Meadows and Fall Creek neighborhoods.•
Bruce Race, FAIA, FAICP, is an award-winning architect and urban planner, owner of RACESTUDIO and recipient of the Indiana Sagamore Planning Award. He lives in a historic Indianapolis neighborhood and teaches urban design at Ball State University’s Downtown Indianapolis Center. His column appears monthly. He can be reached at [email protected]