Irvington businesses switch stance on Blue Line bill after public backlash

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After initially voicing their opposition to IndyGo’s plans to construct a dedicated bus line along Washington Street for the proposed Blue Line, three Irvington business owners are changing their tune.

The owners of Black Sheep Gifts, the Irvington Wellness Center and Jockamo Pizza, all of which are along East Washington Street in the heart of Irvington, represent a portion of local business owners who appeared at the Statehouse last week to testify in support of Senate Bill 52, which would institute a one-year moratorium on using dedicated lanes for the transit agency’s planned Blue Line. The route would span 25 miles east to west along Washington Street between Cumberland and the Indianapolis International Airport, using Interstate 70 west of Holt Road.

IndyGo Interim CEO Jennifer Pyrz testified last week that the bill, which was authored by Sen Aaron Freeman (R-Indianapolis), would effectively kill the Blue Line and leave $150 million in federal funding on the table for a dedicated lane bus and other infrastructure improvements along Washington Street.

In a statement to media outlets Monday, the owners of Jockamo Pizza, 5646 E. Washington St., said they are reversing their position after listening to “many voices” who believe the east-side neighborhood would be a better community with a rapid-transit line.

“While we are among those who have reservations about some details of the project, we support a strong public transportation network for our neighborhood and our city. As a result, we have decided to withdraw our support for Indiana SB 52,” the statement read.

Lisa Bennett, owner of Black Sheep Gifts, 5626 E. Washington St., also testified in support of SB 52. In a Facebook post on Monday, the gift shop announced it was withdrawing its support of the legislation.

“I have had many meetings with the bus line as well as community leaders, and still have questions and concerns,” the post read. “I, acting only for my individual business, supported Bill 52 as a last-ditch effort to get IndyGo to consider shared lanes through the corridor. That said, it seems the attitude of the community and businesses has shifted. Given that, I understand I am now in the minority regarding shared lanes versus designated lanes, and, as always, I stand with my community. I will no longer be supporting Bill 52.”

Laura Lea Sweney, owner of the Irvington Wellness Center, 17 N. Layman Ave., testified last week that she felt the Irvington corridor where her business is located is too narrow for a designated bus line.

After hearing from her friends and neighbors, she said she has changed her mind.

“I am deeply sorry for my actions that have caused others pain,” the center wrote in a Facebook post. “I did not clearly understand the ramifications of my actions. I will take time to correct this, contacting the necessary Senate and House representatives. Bill 52 needs to be defeated.”

But some public transit advocates on social media have expressed concerns that the business owners already gave Freeman the ammunition he needed to get his legislation passed. A similar version of this year’s bill passed the Senate in 2021, and House Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, told IBJ earlier this month that “moving too fast on the Blue Line would be a mistake.”

Andy Nielsen, a City-County Council member representing Irvington, said he remains optimistic that the bill can be defeated.

“I sympathize and empathize with that feeling, but we aren’t done yet,” Nielsen told IBJ. “We have plenty of opportunities to fight against this bill, so my message to neighbors, community leaders and business owners is to stay focused.”

Freeman said in a statement Monday he remains “steadfast” in his opposition to IndyGo’s plans despite the about-face from business owners.

“The goal is not to eliminate IndyGo, the Blue Line or take away busses from those who utilize public transit,” Freeman said. “In my opinion, eliminating 60% of the lanes of travel on Washington Street—from Hancock County to Hendricks County—in favor of buses only is not in the best interest of anyone. I stand steadfast in my decision to oppose the implementation and construction of dedicated lanes and I will continue to push for common-sense solutions to this issue.”

Huston did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday morning on whether his thoughts had changed.

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32 thoughts on “Irvington businesses switch stance on Blue Line bill after public backlash

  1. It’s kinda cute if these businesses (and hopefully voters) really think the responsible legislators will withdraw the legislation. I was young and naive once, too. Seriously, most if not all of the republican legislators have their minds made up years ago – cars rule! They have proven over and over again that they don’t support other forms of transit – except for trails for recreation purposes and that little train in NW Indiana.

  2. Freeman is a liar, he’s absolutely trying to kill the Blue Line and hurt IndyGo. His district doesn’t represent Irvington but he’s going out of his way to meddle in their affairs. These businesses had also better step up and publicly testify in the Statehouse that they are now opposed to SB 52. Otherwise, these apologies ring hollow.

    1. Freeman has no solutions. A common sense solution, if he wasn’t lying with every word he said, would be to prohibit dedicated bus lanes while modifying the funding formula for roads to replace the lost federal grants.

      That he’s not even bothered to do so gives away the plot, much like the Astroturfed bill to kill the Mile Square tax.

  3. The initial backlash by these business was impulsive and short-sided and only fueled advancement of this bill. Now they are trying to backtrack and let’s hope it’s not too little too late. The Irvington area has so much potential but is stuck in the past and lags behind almost every other side of the city. I have close friends who live there and it amazes me how far they drive day in and day out to go shopping or for entertainment. Having a few good restaurants does not make a thriving neighborhood. Having easier access both to Irvington and downtown and most importantly the airport could only help the neighborhood in the long run and perhaps draw better business and arts development down the road. It won’t happen over night but its a step in the right direction. I understand the business disruption concerns after what has and continues to occur in Broad Ripple but that was poor preparation and consideration of business needs so something must be done to support these businesses during construction as well better planning and communication that has been done in BR.

    1. +1 Lived in Irvington for 5 years and felt the same way! The Blue Line is a step in the right direction. These neighborhoods need to embrace NOT driving a car for once. Get a bicycling and ride to downtown.

    1. As with Broad Ripple, that is an issue the City has to address, and I believe from comments in an article last week about BR, the City and private resources are working on it. Hamilton County had the same issue with the rebuilding of US 31 and SR 37. No assistance was provided there, and along 31, in particular, businesses went out of business. The new Republic Airlines office is being built on what was formerly a shopping center, with one of Central Indiana’s great Italian restaurants.

    1. How would it destroy the traffic grid? The volume of traffic on the Washington Street has plunged relative to when it was built as a state highway (30,000 vehicles a day in 1970 compared to 17,000 today) yet the street has more or less the same lane capacity as it did back then. There is plenty of room for a road diet and dedicated lanes for buses on Washington Street with minimal impacts on vehicular traffic.

    2. The point is the traffic grid doesn’t suit the current needs of the population. We keep building and rebuilding 465 and 70 and 69 to make it easier for others to go past our town, or to get to their homes in the suburbs. And we ignore public transportation.

      Washington Street isn’t part of the grid as it used to be. Irvington has already done temporary road slimming projects, and the folks there are happier with the streets having slower traffic.

      What is needed is better sidewalks, sewers and streets, which the Republican CCC and Mayors for years refused to fund. And if having a better public transport system helps people with employment and getting to grocery stores and other shops, maybe downtown for entertainment, we’re all better served.

    3. If Freeman felt that strongly about federal money and the traffic grid, he’d be leading the charge to tear out downtown interstates to restore the downtown Indianapolis traffic grid. Because to be silent about that issue but to lose your mind about one lane of traffic on a 200 year old road that has shown declining usage for 50 years … shows a certain intellectual dishonesty.

      Freeman claimed was that Washington Street was the primary route between Hancock and Hendricks County. Maybe he just has a fear of driving on interstate highways because all the rest of use I70 as it’s significantly faster.

    4. Tim S. The Interstates are NOT part of the traffic grid. They kill the traffic grid. You need to talk to an urban architect to understand the term “traffic grid”.

    5. Dan M: I do understand the interstates are not part of the grid. As I noted, we continue to reconstruct them to allow drivers to avoid the grid. We’re very good at that. What we’ve not been good at is how all of this impacts the grid, and what it leaves in its place. Which tends to be less traffic, poor streets, crumbling sidewalks (if they exist in the first place) and generally declining public infrastructure.

    1. Worst kind of rail other than no rail. Elevate the rail line so it doesn’t take all the roadway beneath it. Just as elevated subways do in Chicago and NYC. IU’s monorail worked for years; it just was not well maintained and became too expensive for the hospital to maintain so it kept breaking down. Initial plan was to expand that monorail into downtown Indy. Who knows how that might have changed Indy…

  4. As a taxpayer in Marion County, I would like to start a movement to abolish all roundabouts in Carmel. They are confusing and dangerous. The Carmel Mayor, Council, and voters have no right to just build anything they want. My favorite pizza place could be negatively impacted by them.

    (Am I doing this right?)

  5. John A.: well, almost right. You need to be a Republican Representative or Senator to butt into another government’s transportation decision process.

  6. 1) Municipalities should have local control over issues like this as they are directly responsible to their constituents are closest to both the problems and solutions. 2) Would some of the objection to dedicated bus lanes be reduced by making them bus + HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes during peak hours? HOV lanes are heavily used in other states in metro areas, and typically they only require two passengers.

  7. Bus lanes are not new to Indianapolis. Does anyone recall the one-way southbound bus lane on College Ave through the 60s and 70s. It was necessary when the College / Central one-way couplets were established.

    And, has Freeman taken a look at the design for the Blue Line. Key notes: Washington Street east of Shadeland still has two lanes in each direction for vehicular traffic PLUS dedicated bus lanes. No bus lanes exist on Washington west of Holt Rd. So the Hamilton to Hancock statement is not true!. An,d, the traffic volumes on Washington Street between Holt and downtown and downtown and Shadeland do not justify two lanes in each directions. Furthermore, the Blue Line design accommodates a significant increase in protected left turns turns and improved signalization to assure efficient traffic flow along Washington Street. The Blue Line design includes accommodation of safe left and U turns.

    So Freeman is ready to toss the federal dollars that Indianapolis/IndyGo successfully competed for on a national basis. So, what design — pray tell — would assure priority movement for transit and assure efficient movement of vehicular traffic?

    Freeman is wrong. Freeman is not a traffic engineer nor a transit planner. Why is it that he and others in Fishers feel justified in devising vindictive laws to hurt Indianapolis and its citizens.

  8. The eastern leg of the Blue Line is not limited to Irvington. It begins at the Marion-Hancock county line. Traffic counts captured by the state many years ago indicate about 50k vehicles per day travel Washington Street between German Church Road and I-465. This volume of traffic cannot be accommodated with one general purpose lane in each direction. Also, since these traffic counts were captured there has been significant development in the area, which could only drive these traffic estimates higher. The residents of this area are represented by Senator Freeman and we are pleased and grateful for his advocacy on this issue.
    I understand the IndyGo response that you have to have the dedicated bus lane because “that’s how you get your sewer, sidewalk, curbs, etc.” It is possible that federal grant dollars will be lost if new plans are filed. There is a reason for that. The federal agency that issues grants for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) projects conducted after action reviews for comparable projects in the US and outside the US. Their findings include: 1. It is recommended these transit lines be incorporated into plans for the construction of future transportation networks because their experience with modifying existing urban roadways for BRT have been fraught with problems. 2. Dedicated bus lanes must be at least 11’ wide and located as the outside, or curb, lane, which is not consistent with the current plan. 3. The width of general purpose traffic lanes is recommended to be 9’ – 10’. 4. The reason dedicated bus lanes are required is that, even with fewer stops, sharing traffic lanes with the buses will slow general purpose traffic to an unacceptable level.
    The underling issue is that Washington Street does not meet the physical requirements this plan demands.
    Yes, $200 Million is a lot of money to lose. But we shouldn’t spend $2 trying to push 50k vehicles down a two lane road, not to mention the left turn restrictions introduced along a commercial corridor. Particularly when the largest income tax in Marion County history was enacted to fund public transportation improvements. Beginning in 2017, this levy generated $56 Million per year that is deposited in the Public Transportation Improvements Fund, which is limited to funding the Red, Purple and Blue lines.
    I lived in Irvington for about thirty years and I understand the character of neighborhood. The Blue Line is the number 8 bus line, so you are really are not gaining a service you do not already have. That said, it is more important for you to advocate for your needs (sidewalks, curbs, sewers, paths, lower the speed limit, traffic enforcement, etc.). It is unusual to hear neighbors argue over dedicated bus lanes. Is this because someone told you this is what you had to do to get what you want? If so, stop being a pawn.

    1. Except, no Kim, we are not pleased with Sen. Freeman.

      If our voters support a referendum with plainly-explained goals, and we elect a City Council, to enact no-turn-on-right…that’s what we want.

      Finally: eastsiders are fairly-united on one larger non-economic goal: slowing down WashSt traffic. It’s outrageous. Too many deaths and injuries. Nobody needs to get downtown two minutes earlier.

      This is going to happen. Get ready.

    2. Let’s see:
      1. Those who insist on using Washington Street as a high-speed rat race to downtown will find alternative routes, which will reduce vehicular traffic through Irvington and increase safety.
      2. “Washington Street as drag strip” will no longer exist. If you lived here, you know that’s the case.
      3. The 8 line becomes far easier to use (compare Red Line ease to 8 line: I use both).
      4. Infrastructure improvements.
      5. Irvington will be accessible without a car.

      As an aside, insulting us by implying we’re “pawns” is not a particularly effective approach.

    3. The last time there were 50,000 cars per day on Washington was 1970! Fifty years ago! Then I-70 was built, and expanded, and traffic moved to I-70. Now, car counts are less than half of the original 50k cars, but the road is just as wide.

      It is incorrect to state Washington see 50k cars per day.

    4. Washington Street had that much traffic fifty years ago. Now it sees less than 17,000 vehicles per day. In professional practice, 2 or more lanes in each direction aren’t recommended until you get to 25,000.

    5. Also, by the way, we want transit AND all of those other things, and we can have it. We voted for it, it’s at 90% design, and the Feds are ready to give money. If you think that the only reason anyone would dare want faster public transportation is because they’re a “pawn,” then you are shallow and can take several seats.

  9. Leslie: I don’t care if there’s 7000 cars per day—too many of them drive too fast and there are too many injuries, crashes and deaths.

    The IndyGo and infrastructure plan accomplishes two things: better transit, and slower traffic.

    Win-win.

  10. So i did some simple math on the 5.2 million dollars of revenue for the Red line for fiscal year 2023. If you divide that by 365 days in a year you get 14,246.57. If you divide that by the average cost between a full ride and a half ride, which is $3 you get 4748 people on average riding every day.

    I don’t know, does that sound right….does that pass the straight face test? Or is that the revenues for all of Metro and not just the red line. 🙄

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