Una Osili: The Red Line is an investment in community

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Una OsiliThe first weeks of the opening of Phase I of the Red Line Bus Rapid Transit have been exciting to watch. Indianapolis has joined the ranks of world-class cities that are investing in public transit infrastructure for the future.

Expanding mass transit is likely to be a game-changer for economic development.

While it is early, Hoosiers who once questioned the cost of this phase of the Red Line (about $100 million) have begun to assess the social and economic benefits of mass transit.

During the opening weeks of the Red Line, most analysts have focused on the immediate advantages of transit. The first class of benefits focuses on reduced commuting time and congestion for residents. A related gain is the lower environmental emissions as fewer vehicles are used. Mass transit is also widely recognized as vital to advancing economic opportunity in urban centers around the world.

The Brookings Institution documented proximity to jobs as a critical issue facing 21st-century metro areas. Proximate employment opportunities within the Indianapolis urban core have fallen by 20% since 2000. Increased commuting distance, combined with limited transportation options, is cited as a critical obstacle to reducing poverty in Indianapolis.

The second class of benefits that have drawn attention includes the expansion in household wellbeing. Here, with access to transit, individuals enjoy enhanced access to health care, education, local attractions and social services.

Analysts have often focused on how “transit-dependent” residents can see gains in their quality of life. In other words, people in this category can overcome barriers to driving due to age, health and other impediments.

For isolated and low-income communities, mass transit connects people to vital social services.

There is, however, a third class of benefits that has received far less attention. These are the advantages that public transit provides for neighborhoods and communities.

Beyond closing gaps between people and employment, mass transit can help build social cohesion. This type of benefit may take more time to unfold—and may require more intentional efforts to measure.

It is true that the Red Line can have a positive effect on residential property and commercial values due to increased transit availability. However, these are not the only measurable benefits to our community—or even the most important.

I am interested in how mass transit can deliver a more connected and inclusive city through shared community space and local civic engagement.

We need more focus on how mass transit can provide the vital infrastructure that fosters inclusion, connectivity, equity and environmental concerns. It must serve more than just the most profitable and highest ridership routes as transit expands.

One way enhanced transit options can do this is by boosting social interactions, volunteering and advocacy as residents access activity centers, community meetings and events.

I look forward to a time when the residents of diverse backgrounds from the east side, Fountain Square, Broad Ripple and Haughville effortlessly intermingle. We will then belong to one city instead of isolated neighborhoods.

Mass transit can reduce barriers to active participation, transforming citizens from being demanding consumers of public services to taking the responsibility to be co-producers.

To build Indianapolis, we need to engage all our citizens. Mass transit—a system that serves the “public” in the real sense of the word—is a central place for building a shared future.•


Osili is professor of economics and associate dean for research and international programs at Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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4 thoughts on “Una Osili: The Red Line is an investment in community

  1. No, it is not an investment for the community and I am sick of this economic development lie. Business on College have suffered and gone out of business. As of now, this is just a party bur for the Broad Ripple and Fountain Square crowd and you know it. So, is the plan to construct large apartment buildings along the route for the benefit of developers and the detriment of neighborhoods? That is exactly what the city wants and they care less about neighborhoods. It was not constructed for the inner-city poor, as you can see by the route it takes. I doubt if the cash ticket purchase system will ever work properly at these new stations.

  2. More buses for under served routes, and the adoption of new routes through the purchase of additional buses would’ve been the smarter play in my opinion. We fail to take care of our existing infrastructure, and decide one solution is to build more. Furthermore, IndyGo has never proved that they can run themselves in an intelligent, efficient manner. For Pete’s sake, this is what, their third or fourth time have to install the pavers at the transit station downtown? I only hope they didnt cut corners on the actual Red Line, given its cost, just to ensure a specific opening date. I believe we have squandered a multi-generational opportunity for transit on a poorly thought out and executed idea.

  3. it will be an economic development driver for the kind of Developement we need to encourage in order for the city to continue providing the quality of life our residents want. Less reliant on the private car and more on other means of transportation. The bus company must provide reliable on time service and solve the first and last mile trip convenience. We ca no longer afford the luxury of the automobile as the primary mode of transportation.