State Sen. Freeman to challenge IndyGo dedicated bus lanes, city’s no-turn-on-red ordinance

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A state senator known for filing legislation aimed at IndyGo has introduced a measure targeting the transit agency again in 2024. IndyGo says the bill, if passed, would kill the proposed Blue Line. He also plans a bill that would reverse Indianapolis’ new no-turn-on-red ordinance.

Sen. Aaron Freeman, R-Indianapolis, has filed Senate Bill 52, which would prohibit public transportation projects from using dedicated lanes. It would specifically target the planned Blue Line rapid-transit bus route,  which would run east to west across the city along Washington Street. 

The law would not apply to dedicated lanes that have completed construction before March 31, 2024. IndyGo’s Red Line already has dedicated lanes while IndyGo is slated to soon complete the Purple Line, which runs from downtown Indianapolis to Lawrence and utilizes dedicated lanes.

Construction on the Blue Line is slated to begin in 2025 and wrap up by 2027. The project carries an estimated construction price tag of about $370 million.

Freeman told IBJ he’s not against public transit, but against the dedicated lanes, which he said will slow traffic on a major city thoroughfare.

“I’m a lawyer. I’m not an engineer, and I don’t do traffic studies for a living,” Freeman told IBJ. “But every normal human sense of my being says that when you take Washington Street, which is two lanes each direction with a turn lane in the middle, and you … turn [the route] from Hancock County to Hendricks County into a single-lane road, pardon me, but that’s astronomically dumb.”

Freeman, a former Indianapolis City-County Council member, has introduced legislation targeting IndyGo on at least two other occasions. This time, though, he thinks the political will exists to pass the bill in both the Senate and the House—where previous efforts have died.

“This is the year to do it,” Freeman said, because IndyGo has proved it is “unwilling to have this fight” and “will not change direction” to “pursue shared lanes.”

Freeman said he has met with Speaker Todd Huston, R-Fishers, on the topic and about 15 business owners and business-interested residents along the planned Blue Line route.

“They’re not anti-transit, they’re not anti any of this. They are anti-dedicated lanes, as I am. And so my hope is that, you know, for first time this year we’re going to eliminate their ability to do dedicated lanes,” Freeman told IBJ.

Rep. Julie McGuire, a fellow Marion County Republican, is expected to author a companion bill in the House, Freeman said. McGuire did not respond to a request for comment in time for publication.

IndyGo spokesperson Carrie Black said in an emailed statement that the removal of dedicated lanes would jeopardize federal funding for the Blue Line and kill the project.

“Without dedicated lanes, the Blue Line does not move forward and would mean the devastating loss of millions of dollars in traffic calming and safety features, along with significant drainage and infrastructure improvements, including sidewalks, street paving, and ADA curb ramps along Washington Street that otherwise would not be realized along a corridor that desperately needs it,” Black wrote in an email.

The dedicated lanes will improve bus travel times and reliability, reduce the impact of congestion or traffic incidents, and improve safety for all modes of transportation by calming traffic, Black wrote.

She also referred to the 2016 transit referendum in which 60% of voters approved the bus rapid transit lines.

Freeman said IndyGo hasn’t honored the commitments it made prior to the 2016 referendum, such as the requirement that 10% of its operating costs be be paid from funding sources other than taxes and fares. But IndyGo has interpreted that amount to include state and federal funding, while Freeman and other critics believe IndyGo should be raising those funds privately through its foundation.

In 2023, IndyGo’s operating budget used nearly $90 million in fares and taxes and just $40 million in state and federal grants and stimulus funds—a formula by IndyGo’s definition that exceeds the requirement from the state law that allowed the referendum.

IndyGo is currently searching for a new leader following CEO Inez Evans departure this month. Jennifer Pyrz, chief development officer for IndyGo, is serving as interim CEO.

Reversal of Indianapolis’ no-turn-on-red ordinance

Aside from just IndyGo, Freeman has generally become known for legislation that targets measures created by Democrats in Indianapolis.

This past session, Freeman passed a bill into state law that would prohibit the city from creating a no-turn-on-red ordinance across all of downtown.

Because the law did not go into effect immediately at the time of passage, the legislation allowed the City-County-Council’s Democrat majority to pass its ordinance anyway. The ordinance includes a clause allowing Department of Public Works engineers to determine when an intersection should have no-turn-on-red signs installed, to skirt the law prohibiting the council from making such decisions.

Freeman told IBJ he has already filed a bill targeting Indianapolis’ no-turn-on-red ordinance. The final draft of the legislation provided to IBJ would apply Freeman’s earlier law retroactively, starting at the beginning of 2023. It intends to void Indianapolis’ ordinance and, if passed, would require the removal of numerous no-turn-on-red signs established under the ordinance.

Council Vice President and ordinance sponsor Zach Adamson told IBJ in a recent interview that there are always going to be lawmakers “who feel that it’s important to micromanage the affairs of the state capital” but that the council has “adjusted to that reality.”

He hopes that other lawmakers are tiring of Marion County-focused state legislation.

“I don’t anticipate that many of the individuals who are, you know, really gung-ho about involving themselves in the day-to-day affairs of Indianapolis are going to go anywhere, but I also think that other members of the Legislature are really, really tired of the constant attention that certain legislators have to fixate on the city of Indianapolis,” Adamson said.

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37 thoughts on “State Sen. Freeman to challenge IndyGo dedicated bus lanes, city’s no-turn-on-red ordinance

  1. “…astronomically dumb”…
    A state senator w no experience in transportation, mobility, city planning, neighborhoods beyond his own, … perhaps the state senator (obviously in a safe district) is the “astronomically dumb” element

    1. What’s ironic is that Senator Freeman’s constituents have benefitted greatly the last few years by the city of Indianapolis investing money in making East/West transit possible in his district. Because if you’ve lived on the Southside, I can tell you it wasn’t possible.

      They’ve added numerous roundabouts that got rid of long backups during rush hour. They’ve fixed dangerous intersections like Shelbyville and Arlington (totaled a car and got a free ambulance ride here thanks to a bad driver blowing a stop sign).

      So apparently, he is OK with making traffic flow better and traffic calming and enabling his somewhat rural district to get the road changes needed to fill those corn fields with homes.

      The reality is, he just hates IndyGo. Maybe just because there really aren’t any lines in Franklin Township. I do wonder how his constituents in Beech Grove feel about him, though.

  2. I thought the legislators were elected to solve major problems of the State of Indiana. Why does he concern so much over Indianapolis. Perhaps he should resign and run for city council. Do you job for all citizens and stay out of local activities that bring us out of the past.

    1. The most recent Republican candidate for Indianapolis mayor proposed getting rid of IndyGo and replacing it with some government version of Uber or Lyft.

      That guy – Jefferson Shreveport – lost big.

    2. I’d like to thank iOS for suggesting Shreveport instead of Shreve, but my fault for not noticing. IBJ, give us an edit button please!

    3. Even an extreme radical right-winger like me thinks this Freeman guy is being a buffoon and completely overstepping his bounds.

      Bus routes? Right turns on red within a tiny downtown area? Why are these the concern of a state senator?

      Jefferson Shreve was a third-rate candidate who “lost big” but lost less big than anyone else who challenged the Sleepydrunk Joe that has presided over downtown turning into a fentanyl-filled cess pit in the last 7-8 years. I mean, the Circle is an absolute embarrassment. But it’s in good company, since the central plazas of most American large cities look just as bad or worse. And, when the challenger Shreve can’t come up with remotely good new ideas–and seems to agree with Sleepydrunk Joe on all his bad ones–it’s no wonder an increasingly wokified Indy constituency votes for its continued urban decline.

      After all, in this regard, Indy’s in good company and still declining less than many of its peers. Even a Hitlerina like me can admit that.

  3. If only there was an interstate highway available from, I dunno, downtown Indianapolis to the Ohio state line that people could use instead of the remains of the National Road built in the 1830’s. I assume Freeman is unaware of the concept of the interstate and the role it plays in modern transportation. Which must have made getting his bachelor degree from Bradley and his law degree from the University of Dayton a pain in the butt just taking local roads …

    It’s real simple – transit lanes enable the entire road and sidewalk to be fixed with federal funding at the cost of one lane. If Freeman pushes through with this, we lose the funding. If he wants to come up with the nine figures a year that Indianapolis needs to get its roads fixed, then show us the money. All Freeman has come up with is some lawyering to get Indianapolis $8 million a year … peanuts.

    Also not mentioned is how local residents are in favor of this change after a spate of them being hit and killed by folks who drive like maniacs down Washington Street. He might have 15 against it. I believe far more are in favor of it.

    Times change. Apparently some people are just against change. The route that commuters should be taking is the interstate highway.

  4. Sen. Freeman, just because you can introduce a bill, doesn’t mean it is good public policy. Wherever the dedicated lanes have been put in, the people using the system are safer, the roads and infrastructure in those areas are much better and federal money paid for it. As it regards doing away with the “No Turn on Red” intersections, again, people are safer and your obsession with going after IndyGo is a waste of taxpayer resources, churning out a bill that makes no sense and helps no one.

    1. You can also look at it as local residents who’d prefer that you not drive through their neighborhood at 50 mph and stop running over and killing their children when they get out of school. Best I can tell, local residents were also quite happy when East 10th Street went from four lanes to two lanes. I don’t see the Irvington Community Council leading the charge to stop the Blue Line.

      Washington Street was built to its current state before the interstates. Traffic has been dropping on the road for decades since we’ve added a nearby interstate, *which just got even wider*.

      You’re telling me the federal government will pick up most of the tab for fixing Washington Street and its sidewalks and make it safer for pedestrians at the cost of a bus lane on a road that doesn’t need to be four lanes any longer … and we, a city that is drowning in roads that need fixed, are going to turn down free money because a bus lane isn’t something we can abide?

    2. Charles, you, like Senator Bafoon, are apparently not a traffic engineer. Traffic calming means slowing the speed of motorists through infrastructure elements. It wasn’t all that long ago that Irvington residents were screaming for measures to slow traffic down through their neighborhood following a tragic accident in which a child was killed, and that’s exactly what the transit infrastructure will serve to do.

  5. It would be nice if legislators that represent Indianapolis, would actually try and help Indianapolis. Instead Freeman chooses to play partisan politics and continually tries to harm Indy because it has chosen majority Democrat leadership. Instead he should talk to his Republican buddies and pass legislation that fairly funds infrastructure in the city.

  6. Senator,

    Would you please free us from your insanity and retire?

    You have done nothing to help anyone except your narrow minded campaign contributors and your own pocket book.

  7. Good on Sen. Freeman for opposing the anti-car agenda. It remains beyond me why you need to remove traffic lanes so buses can run up and down the street. Please stop destroying our urban traffic grid with this current fashion.

    1. Even if you’re correct about the unintended consequences of these bus lanes, this is a campaign that a person running for City-County Council should be making. Not a State Senator. Anyone should take a jaundiced view on a person who strives to represent the state yet targets all his animus on a single city…all the more the primary political party within that city is not his own.

      Indianapolis had a pro-car agenda long before the woke mindvirus was a twinlle in anyone’s crossed eye. In the 1980s, it was an extremely car friendly downtown. Until Union Station came into the scene (a minor improvement), the city rolled up its sidewalks after 5pm, had 5 hotels and about 10 restaurants.

    2. This was voted on by the Marion County public. If you don’t like it, that’s too bad. Freeman should have stayed on the Council if we wanted to influence local issues.

  8. The next logical step for Mr. Freeman to increase traffic congestion, accidents, and pedestrian fatalities is to require drivers to be distracted by their cell phones while driving: any driver not staring at a video on their phone shall be fined six-months’ streaming fee or cell service, whichever is greater. A pity about the dead and injured pedestrians…

  9. Freeman doesn’t even represent the businesses in Irvington and Downtown, they’re outside of his district! He’s neglecting his own district to chase down his made-up problems on Washington Street with the express goal of restricting transit access and making lives harder for people who don’t or can’t drive.

    1. Freeman’s district abuts Washington Street. He’s found some businesses to go along with him, Including one that apparently opened in March (Smash’d Burger Bar) and somehow didn’t pay any attention to the Blue Line plans when they relocated. I have minimal time for their concerns, not compared to the other businesses that have been in Irvington for decades.

      Most of the businesses concerns, IMO, should be attenuated by some sort of financial help during the construction … or, we could properly fund the work such that it gets done in the minimal amount of time and doesn’t drag out. If we can HyperFix interstates, we should do the same for other projects too. But that would require the state of Indiana to properly fund infrastructure…

  10. “I’m a lawyer. I’m not an engineer, and I don’t do traffic studies for a living,”

    Maybe he should talk to one. Washington Street hit its peak traffic volumes about 1975, just as I70 and I465 were finishing construction. I had heard that was about 50,000 cars a day for US Highway 40. Five lanes made sense 50 years ago. I don’t know what the actual volume on the street inside the I465 loop is today, but like a lot of roads around Indy, it is way overbuilt for the amount of traffic it carries today. I suspect an actual traffic study might show the volume of traffic is less than 10,000 cars a day. That is 1/5 of the what the road was designed and built for.

    It’s easy for a politician to be fact free these days and Freemen seems to be proud of it.

  11. Why don’t we just slow down progress and public safety and re–create streets of mud and boards, requiring only horse-drawn buggies and carts? After all it will punish the poor and needy…God knows they don’t have anything to contribute to us right-wingers, and this great, (poor) state.

  12. I’m a lefty, but he has a point – look at College Avenue as an example. Traffic will just keep getting worse, and its not like people will actually use the terrible bus service (unless they absolutely have to). Have any of you ever been on the buses? They are terrible. The Red Line has dedicated lanes and it never runs on time. Never ever on time. I had this dream of using public transportation to get to work in Broadripple, but the service is so bad I gave up.

    Not to mention Indygo does such little maintenance that all of the college avenue stations are really starting to look like eye sores. Why do we take all of this federal money to build a system we can’t maintain or even want to use?

    1. Matthew A., I live in Broad Ripple and my wife and I take the Red Line frequently to and from our home to downtown for dining, museum visits, sporting events, and concerts. We are upper income boomers who like the convenience of letting someone else drive and not having to deal with parking. We’ve notice that more Gen Z people who simple don’t feel the need to shell out thousands of dollars a year for a car are riding the riding line as well. IndyGo is constantly recruiting drivers, but as in many other occupations that’s an on-going challenge. As for traffic on College Avenue, there is occasional congestion during rush hour, but drivers have alternate route options (but it appears few feel taking a different route is necessary).

    2. College Avenue, south of 38th street is still the race track it was designed to be. North of 38th Street it’s calmer and flows more smoothly with nobody passing on the left at 40+ mph. At rush hour, at certain intersections, I MIGHT sit thru two lights at one or two intersections, but the lights cycle way faster than they do on state highways, where when you miss a light, you might add 3-5 minutes to your trip.

    3. College works better now.. The previous 2 lanes north-1 lane south configuration worked fine going north unless someone wanted to turn at a random street or driveway, but going south you’d be stuck behind the bus stopping every few blocks. Now with buses out of the way and no left turns it flows smoothly.

    4. I live in Carmel but when I drive on College, I think its a far better experience now than pre-Red. If I am driving on College, there’s a good chance I am going to hit nearly every light since they are timed really well. In contrast, Keystone’s lights are timed terribly.

      I’ve also used the Red Line when riding on my bike. Yeah there have been delays but there isn’t a transit system in the US that is fully staffed right now,and many other adjacent industries are experiencing the same labor shortage like truck drivers.

  13. So another thing has stuck with me. Taylor W from the IBJ … was this the actual quote from Freeman?

    “But every normal human sense of my being says that when you take Washington Street, which is two lanes each direction with a turn lane in the middle, and you … turn [the route] from Hancock County to Hendricks County into a single-lane road, pardon me, but that’s astronomically dumb.”

    So Freeman is making the case that Washington Street is the route for these two counties, neither of which are in his district. So because I’m not a lawyer, I used a GPS app. Let’s do the route from the Hancock County Courthouse in Greenfield to the Hendricks County Courthouse in Danville.

    Quickest route is to take I-70 through Indianapolis, to the former Airport Expressway, then 465 to US36. One hour, seven minutes, 53 miles. You never touch Washington Street, not even in Marion County. Avoid interstates to make sure you take Washington Street through Freeman’s district? One hour twenty four minutes, 41 miles.

    Let’s tilt the argument further for Senator Freeman. Let’s change our destination to the Oasis diner, directly on US40 aka Washington Street. 44 miles, 55 minutes, and the route is to take I-70 through downtown to 267 – you never touch Washington Street until you get to your destination. Want to avoid the interstate? 39 miles, 73 minutes, and you’re told to avoid Washington Street through Marion County and take US52 and Raymond instead. If you want that direct route that Aaron Freeman is fighting to preserve, it’s 73 minutes and 33 miles.

    Again, I’m not a lawyer, but this sort of argument (I’m protecting the main route between two counties) seems astronomically dumb unless you suffer from a very specific case of amaxophobia that only strikes when you drive on the interstates, because no one who values their time or had any competency behind the wheel is taking the route that Freeman wants us all to drive. Or, you’re just lying when you claim it’s not about any dislike of IndyGo, it’s just about bus lanes.

    I do wonder if this sort of spurious argument works for Freeman in court.

  14. Indy implemented the no turn on red in the metro center over the summer, and GUESS WHAT!?!? Nothing really changed. No traffic backed up! No gridlock! Oh… maybe pedestrians got a little safer.

    For somebody that lives and drives downtown every day, it was pretty much a non-event.

    Mr Freedman would actually have to visit downtown to the see the results, but like most “Alternate fact” politicians, I suspect he may be avoiding the truth.

  15. Again, Freeman the lawyer, one who admits to knowing nothing about transportation proposed another “i hate IndyGo bill’ out of spite, vengeance, and apparently, gross ignorance of the documentation that has been developed for approval of the project. Did Freeman read the traffic analysis. Is Freeman aware of nationwide trends and modifications of roadways which have proven than the section proposed by IndyGo will not result in a traffic snarl. The documentation clearly shows the travel time variation — so, one driving from Arlington to Meridian along Washington Street would sustain a travel time increase of 2 minutes.

    Perceived common sense is not reality. True common sense is to read documentation and coordinate with the engineers who has created a modified design for East Washington Street between Southeastern Ave and Kitley that includes significant sections shared lanes for buses and traffic to better accommodate left rurns. Washington Street is not a freeway. And traffic volumes are significantly lower that 10 years ago.

    So Freeman is for transit, huh? Only if transit remains slow and stuck in traffic, without any true benefit. And what is the opportunity cost — a travel time gain of 2 minutes for the small number of vehicles which traverse Washington Street from Cumberland to downtown Indianapolis.

    Such a pity. Indianapolis has been highlighted as example of bus rapid transit design — a very low-cost alternative for rapid transit compared to $900 million dollar investments for light rail (one line) in Phoenix, for example. Yes, rapid transit requires a compromise with roadway infrastructure. And IndyGo has sought an approach that minimizes right-of-way impacts, parking impacts, and traffic movements. But YES that does mean that some parking is eliminated in stations area, YES two lane of through traffic reduces to one (read the traffic report) but the impact on real, not perceived, travel time is minor, protected left and U turns improve traffic flow and safety, and shared lanes for buses and regular traffic IS included in several segments to allow efficient left turn access.

    YES two lanes of traffic could have been maintained only with a massive acquisition of property along one of both sides of Washington Street and quadrupling project cost and impact; however, the travel time for autos would not measurably improve given signal placement and speed limits (again, Washington Street is not a freeway). One doubts that Freeman has minor familiarity with the roadway — Washington Street — between downtown and Cumberland regarding widths, parking locations, pinch points, underpasses, significant turn movements, and traffic volumes by time of day. Apparently, he is not interested. This is a sad example of a politician acting on personal whim to the disbenefit of the city of Indianapolis and the individuals using transit and those driving. His so called concern appears to hypocritical at best.

  16. How would Senator Freeman like it if a Senator in Congress had an ax to grind in Indiana and abused his/her power to pass bills that rammed laws at the federal level down Indiana’s throat? He would holler that local government knows best, that such laws are an abuse of overweening federal power, and that Washington should stay out of Indiana’s business. He, in fact, would be representing basic conservative, Republican principles in saying so. So why does he go RINO when it comes to the same dynamic between Indiana state government and a local community?

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