We’re bringing the old-school hip hop flavor back to this week’s stakeholder update – at the urging of Policy Director Tim Brown – and this track is a perfect fit for an update on mass transit.  Plus, Tupac was known to never shy away from lyrical battle, and it’s been a tough fight from the Statehouse to the City-County Building to Election Day 2016 and beyond to make practical, convenient transit service a reality for Marion County.

But the smell of fresh asphalt being laid along the Red Line route smells like victory – for the #TransitDrivesIndy coalition, but more importantly for people, employers, and neighborhoods across our city, and for the cause of connectivity and economic competitiveness.

Evans will steer IndyGo into the future
The near-completion of the Red Line is an exciting development (more on this next), but Indy’s transit system is more than BRT.  Dedicated revenues from the ‘16 referendum made sweeping improvements possible to transit coverage and schedules (seven-day service and better frequency for most routes).  (Get a refresher on the Marion County Transit Plan here.)

We’ve talked about the importance of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) in providing technical planning for public transit to connect population and employment centers, spur economic development and neighborhood redevelopment and serve a broader population of passengers – riders of necessity and of choice.

But refining these plans to local needs and operating the system in our largest city falls to IndyGo.  For the last decade, Mike Terry has ably led our transit agency through years of tough choices and chronic underfunding, through the painstaking work of planning a modern system and building public awareness of its benefits, and launching implementation after the historic referendum victory three years ago.

When Mike announced his retirement late last year, it was crucial to find a new leader to continue the momentum and usher in a new era of modern mass transit for Indianapolis.

This week, IndyGo’s Board of Directors proudly announced Inez Evans as the new president and CEO. Evans currently serves as Chief Operating Officer for the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA).  She’s responsible for leading 1,600 employees, maintaining nearly 700 vehicles and serving nearly 43 million customers across multiple cities and high-tech hot spots with traditional bus, bus rapid transit (BRT, akin to the Red Line) and light rail service.

Evans will take the wheel at IndyGo later this summer, just as we welcome the first riders to the Red Line.  Her quarter-century of public transportation experience includes installation of BRT service and planning for 100% fleet electrification, making her the perfect fit to oversee the nation’s first fully-electric BRT route, building out the Purple and Blue Lines while managing an expanding, evolving system.

IndyGo Board Chair (and Indy Chamber Executive Committee member) Juan Gonzalez called Evans “…a talented transportation leader [who] fully understands the unique opportunity to guide one of the most exciting periods in IndyGo history” – sentiments with which we heartily agree.

Ready for Red!
Clearly, Inez Evans will begin her tenure at a transformational moment for IndyGo – launching the Red Line as Marion County’s first foray into rapid transit.

If you’re involved with the Indy Chamber or a regular reader of these updates, you’re likely familiar with the Red Line.  Phase I of the bus rapid transit line (which could ultimately connect Carmel and Westfield through downtown Indianapolis to Greenwood and Franklin as part of the regional ‘Indy Connect’ plan) will run from Broad Ripple to UIndy along a route exceptionally dense with population and employment.

Running electric buses in a dedicated lane to provide frequent, convenient service, the Red Line will serve more than 100,000 residents and one of every four Marion County jobs within a 5-minute walk of a stop.  It also reaches 90% of the region’s college students, linking major employment centers, cultural districts and neighborhoods ripe for walkable development.

All the data justifies the Red Line as the best transportation solution in the right corridor to act as the backbone of the city’s expanded bus system.  But the Red Line is also an investment in inclusive growth: According to analysis from the Brookings Institution, the urban areas along the route have suffered from a concentration of poverty and erosion of nearby employment – accessible transit is an antidote to disinvestment and economic isolation.

Planning for the Red Line was underway before voters weighed in on improved transit in 2016, thanks to a $75M federal ‘Small Starts’ grant.  After a shake-up in U.S. Department of Transportation priorities, this funding was in limbo for much of 2017 – but crews finally broke ground last summer and now we’re weeks away from a green light on the Red Line.

Since Red Line construction began in 2018, crews have been working daily to meet a challenging schedule.  Building a major transit project is also a massive construction project, and it’s worth running through the infrastructure improvements and other benefits of this effort.

In addition to installation of more than 30 rapid transit stations, construction has included improvements to sidewalks, curbs and curb ramps, storm sewer infrastructure and hundreds of ADA curb ramps; as we entered the month of July, crews had completed:

  • Nearly thirty miles of resurfaced roadway;
  • More than 50,000 linear feet of curb and 31,000 linear feet of sidewalk replaced;
  • 26,000 linear feet of storm sewer installed (adding to massive ongoing upgrades to storm- and wastewater infrastructure by Citizens Energy Group); and
  • More than 500 ADA- standard curb ramps added or replaced.

The 34 station platforms being completed will include ticket vending machines, real-time arrival information, seating, shelter, cameras and emergency call boxes (because safety is not optional).

These stations, along with a new, battery-electric fleet of BRT vehicles (equipped with free WiFi and other amenities) offer a unique rider experience, a level of service that meets the daily needs of IndyGo’s existing riders with appeal to a wider population of convenience-seeking passengers.

Victory Lap?
Usually these updates aren’t 100% good news – there’s some issue or challenge to rally around or push forward.  We’re certainly proud of the progress Indianapolis has made in mass transit, from being stuck in neutral behind most major cities to shifting into high gear with recent investments and improvements.

But we can’t afford kick back and let our collective foot off the advocacy accelerator.  More than a decade of public outreach and education, legislative lobbying, grassroots organizing and campaigning led us to this point, and there’s still work to be done:

  • Fending off ill-considered attempts to divert revenues – especially funds that Marion County voters approved for transit at the ballot box – away from IndyGo;
  • Supporting state funding (via the Public Mass Transportation Fund and other programs) for transit, and clearing away legislative hurdles (like the ban on Central Indiana light rail projects) to future expansion;
  • Ensuring the MPO can reinvent itself as an independent agency that still fulfills its critical mission of long-term transportation – and mass transit – planning for the region;
  • Looking for innovative transit and mobility solutions that keep Indy on the cutting edge of connectivity, supporting initiatives like the City:One Challenge and considering the implications for our transportation advocacy agenda; and
  • Keeping an eye on the big picture, making sure that policies on housing, neighborhood and economic development, zoning and more are aligned with our transit plans to maximize their impact;

…and more.  There’s a celebratory tone to this report on transit, but plenty of work ahead to keep us rollin.’  We hope you’ll stay tuned and be ready to keep mobilizing for mobility.