Red Line Delivers a 'Sudden' Transformation for Indy

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This week, in the time it took to cut a ribbon, Indianapolis became a different city.

Before the scissors sliced those ceremonial bands, we were a city with a transit system that was inadequate to meet the needs of a public demanding more and more transportation options. Suddenly, we are a city on the path to a real 21st century transit system.

OK: “Suddenly” is not quite accurate. By opening the Red Line, this week’s celebrations and ribbon-cutting ceremony did officially launch a new transit era in Central Indiana, but the transformation was anything but sudden. It is, in fact, the result of changes in state law, more than a decade of meetings, planning, conversations and public input. It is the outcome of countless reviews of current conditions and industry best practices. It is the product of innovative leadership, unprecedented public engagement and a successful referendum to confirm that residents viewed transit as a priority.

And it was all worth it, because, with the Red Line, Central Indiana not only gets a transit artery that provides consistent and reliable service, it also gets a connection between people and jobs, businesses and customers, residents and services, and more.

Consider some of the benefits in numbers:

  • Employment connections: 2019 North American Industry Classification System data shows that the 13-mile route passes through an area with the highest density of jobs in the entire state of Indiana, running within a half-mile of 127,695 jobs.
  • Access for low-income households: American Community Survey (ACS) data from 2013-2017 reveal that 19% of households in the Red Line corridor live below the poverty level.
  • Access for households with no or one car: That same 2013-2017 ACS data show that 13% of the households in the corridor do not own a vehicle, and 41% have only one vehicle.
  • Access for those who don’t or can’t drive: At least 18% of households in the corridor include at least one person with a disability, according to 2013-2017 ACS data.
  • Access to groceries: The Red Line corridor connects some of Indy’s food deserts to grocery stores.
  • An education connector: The Red Line is adjacent to or a short walk from the region’s four largest post-secondary institutions – Butler University, Ivy Tech, IUPUI and UIndy – and a number of K-12 schools.
  • A cultural connector: The Red Line ties together some of the city’s hottest neighborhoods and cultural and tourism attractions.
  • A transit artery: The Red Line links to nearly every IndyGo bus route and serves the most heavily used transit corridor, which is between downtown and 38th Street.
  • Infrastructure improvements: Sidewalks, crosswalks, curbs and more have been added and enhanced in areas around the Red Line route.
  • Improved overall transit: At the same time it was building the Red Line, IndyGo was making improvements to its local bus services, streamlining routes and improving frequency and hours of service. These improvements will continue into 2020.

We can enjoy these benefits because, nearly a decade ago, an unlikely coalition of business, community and political leaders recognized that Indianapolis needed to rethink its transit, and they put in motion an effort that, this month, has delivered a new era to our doorsteps. The Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization, Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority (CIRTA) and IndyGo put in countless hours bringing their professional expertise to planning efforts. The process was not always smooth, and the final product changed as a result of public input, but the result does match the original overall vision: a refreshed and viable transit system for all residents of Indianapolis.

I want to highlight one additional benefit that this process has given us: a plan for ongoing improvement. In the years ahead, the Purple Line (connecting downtown Indianapolis to the City of Lawrence) and the Blue Line (running along Washington Street from Cumberland to the airport) will bring similar benefits to other areas of the metro area, and the city as a whole will have seen its transit service increase by 70 percent.

In other words, not only was Indianapolis’ transformation not sudden, it’s also not complete. Enjoy the benefits of the Red Line, and life in the new Indianapolis.

Anna Gremling is the executive director of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization.

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