Indy Getting Mobile With More Transportation Options

by Thomas P. Healy

With the first tranche of federal funds for the Red Line now available and a dedicated funding source for operational expenses, thanks to voter support for a local transit tax, IndyGo is rolling ahead to implement the Marion County Transit Plan.

Last year Congress allocated $50 million to Phase 1 of the Red Line as part of the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Capital Investment Grants (CIG) program funded by the FY17 spending bill, which President Trump signed last summer.

READ MORE: Federal Funding Supports Transit Plan

Federal regulations governing the release of funds stipulate that “Once FTA has completed its review and evaluation of the project and negotiated and prepared the construction grant agreement documents with the project sponsor, the package of information must be reviewed and approved by FTA executive leadership, USDOT leadership and others within the Administration. Once those concurrences are received, the FAST act requires that the grant be sent for a 10-day congressional notification period. Only then may FTA and the project sponsor sign the construction grant.”

On May 15, FTA announced a construction grant agreement with IndyGo for the Red Line Bus Rapid Transit project. According to an FTA spokesperson in Washington, D.C., “All the required concurrences have been obtained, and the Congressional notification period has been completed. Construction grant agreements typically are paid out over multiple years and are subject to annual Congressional appropriations. For IndyGo, FTA has obligated $50 million to date.”

Utility work along Meridian Street will continue until August.

Construction of the 13.1-mile inaugural leg of the Red Line electric bus rapid transit route is under way in the area around Garfield Park and the University of Indianapolis on the city’s south side. Midtown is also seeing some preliminary work as utilities are relocated along Meridian Street. In mid-June, Citizens Energy Group (CEG) moved a crew to 38th and Meridian streets for work on gas lines related to the Red Line. According to Laura O’Brien, CEG’s corporate communications coordinator, the work in that area was scheduled to take three weeks, and then continue south on Meridian to 21st Street into August.

Mindful that residents, motorists, and business owners are anxious about construction impacts, IndyGo has established as an information portal for regular updates.

Dan Considine, CEG’s manager of corporate communications, said, “Citizens has been coordinating our construction and our communications with IndyGo on the Red Line projects along both 28th Street and Shelby Street.” He said CEG is utilizing a variety of communications media to notify the public about DigIndy work including news releases, social media posts, website posts, road signage, and meetings with community groups.

The City of Indianapolis Department of Public Works (DPW) also maintains an updated list of street closures and lane restrictions here.

While not all of the projects listed on the DPW site are City projects, many are efforts the City is undertaking in support of the Red Line. For example, temporary traffic signals and speed tables are being installed so that curbs, sidewalks, and street repaving can proceed.  According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) speed tables are “midblock traffic calming devices that raise the entire wheelbase of a vehicle to reduce its traffic speed. Speed tables are longer than speed humps and flat-topped, with a height of 3–3.5 inches and a length of 22 feet. ”

According to Lauren Day, IndyGo’s director of public relations, DPW’s efforts to slow vehicular traffic speed will receive support from IMPD. “IMPD is planning to be out to enforce speed and make sure people don’t blast through stop signs,” she said at a June public meeting for businesses along the Red Line corridor.

Day added that there will be multiple infrastructure improvements along the Red Line route. “This is not only a transit project, but also a significant infrastructure project,” she said. “Sidewalks and crosswalks are critical to the success of a transit project. We’re going to be improving the drainage, and all traffic signals will be upgraded as well.” To improve accessibility for all citizens, curb work at intersections will bring the corridor into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and bump-outs will enhance pedestrian safety. In addition, “College Avenue from 38th to 66th will be repaved from curb to curb,” Day said.

Such near-term projects help achieve the City’s goal for pedestrian safety by diversifying the regional transportation network and making targeted infrastructure investments for people who walk, ride bicycles, and use mass transit. Other projects also are in the pipeline. Safe Routes to Transit projects slated for 2021 will improve pedestrian intersections on Broad Ripple Avenue and Westfield Boulevard. The Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) announced in May the award of $909,000 in federal funds for rehabilitation of the College Avenue bridge over the Canal in Broad Ripple and nearly $4.6 million for extension of the Red Line. These projects will go to bid in State Fiscal Year 2022 or 2023.[PDF]

Expanding Mobility

Looking to the future of transportation infrastructure involves an expanded conception of how people of all ages and abilities will move around the metropolitan area and what the best ways are to accommodate all users.

That’s the rationale behind Transportation for America’s Smart Cities Collaborative and also why IndyGo is involved in the collaborative, according to John Marron, IndyGo’s director of strategic planning. “A robust and reliable transit system must serve as the backbone of any shared-use mobility system,” he said. “We are looking forward to working with the community and the private sector as we implement the Marion County Transit Plan to enhance mobility throughout Indianapolis.”

On June 10, IndyGo implemented the second round of local bus route improvements as part of the Transit Plan’s goal to increase service by 70 percent. Nearly 450 weekly transit trips, including on evenings and weekends, were added to some routes. Frequency on several routes was improved, and Midtown routes benefited from minor timing changes.

Marron is also involved in another national project that promotes what is being termed mobility on demand (MOD). In June, IndyGo was selected as one of six transportation agencies to receive free technical assistance to develop MOD projects. The Shared-Use Mobility Center (SUMC), a Chicago-based nonprofit, and the FTA co-sponsor the yearlong program that works to foster cooperation in the shared mobility arena. “We are excited to be a part of this group of transit agencies working to advance mobility within their communities,” Marron said. “This is a great opportunity to showcase the progress we’re making in Indianapolis and learn from the experience of our peers across the country.”

IndyGo will use this opportunity to expand upon the Smart Cities focus on “mobility hubs”—think of the historic commercial nodes along the city’s old streetcar system. SUMC will help IndyGo develop strategic plans for a series of “mobility districts” in the metro area and determine how best to connect them into the existing transit network.

Broad Ripple Garage and Shoppes is more than just a car barn, it’s a mixed-use mobility hub.

Midtown has several nodes that combine uses and gathering points where it makes sense to have higher density and more connectivity options: 38th and Illinois streets, 38th and Meridian streets, and the College Avenue corridor, especially in Broad Ripple. The Broad Ripple Garage and Shoppes not only offers safe, convenient parking for cars and bikes but is also a destination with an array of businesses on the ground floor. A recent top-floor addition to the tenant mix strengthens the building’s function as a mobility hub.

On June 4, Enterprise Rent-A-Car opened a 1,125-square-foot office to offer full-service car rentals six days a week. “We’re excited to bring the Enterprise brand to Broad Ripple Village,” said Paul Evon, vice president and general manager for Enterprise Holdings in Indiana. “Many people in this vibrant neighborhood prefer to walk or bicycle, and don’t own personal vehicles. Our new Enterprise Rent-A-Car office fills an important need for those who desire convenient car rental and mobility options within walking distance of many homes and businesses.”

With a BlueIndy car share station nearby, a Red Line electric BRT station planned on College Avenue in front of the garage, and the recently announced expansion of Pacers Bikeshare stations into Midtown, the Broad Ripple Garage already serves as proof of concept for a mobility hub. “Having a corporate partner like Enterprise who understands modern transportation and mobility brings a tremendous value-add to both the Broad Ripple Garage and the surrounding village community,” said Jasmin Shaheed-Young, vice-president of Keystone, owner of Broad Ripple Garage & Shoppes. “Patrons appreciate a walkable community with access to transportation on an as-needed basis.”