Indiana's statehouse is continuing on track for Mass Transit studies. One bill from State Representative, Terri Austin, House Bill 1659 is to direct the Indiana Department of Transportation to conduct a study of mass transit options state wide. The other bill, Senate Bill 105 from State Senator Tim Lanane would direct a study for a light rail line from Muncie to Indianapolis and then to Bloomington.
In a April 10, 2007 press release Rep. Austin states,
"For those of us who believe that mass transit must be a crucial element in our state's economic development efforts, the actions in both the Indiana House and Senate are very positive," Austin said after House members approved Senate Bill 105, which creates a joint legislation study committee on mass transit and transportation issues, and requires a series of studies throughout the state on mass transit.
"These provisions are part of both Senate Bill 105 (authored by State Sen. Tim Lanane, D-Anderson) and House Bill 1659, legislation I authored that already has made its way through the Indiana Senate," Austin said. "It is our intention to have both measures continue through the process and sent to the governor to emphasize the importance of the concepts contained within them. They have received strong bipartisan support in both chambers...
"Both Sen. Lanane and I believe that these studies will give us the first realistic chance to consider development of high-speed rail and other modern forms of mass transit as way to move large numbers of people across Indiana," Austin said. "There is substantial evidence to indicate that switching to mass transit has helped many metropolitan areas in this country relieve traffic congestion and save both time and energy costs...
"I feel that mass transit offers unlimited potential in helping our state continue to expand its economic development efforts," Austin said. "These measures give us the chance to make that possibility become a reality."
Bravo, Representative Austin and Senator Lanane! Both these proposals passed and are now on their way to Governor Daniels office. If the Governor wants to stand by his PR catch phrase for transportation efforts, "Major Moves," he will sign it. Mass Transit options for a state that progresses often at the speed of a glacier, it would be a major move. For more on the proposal, visit Representative Austin's website.
On March 5th, I had the pleasure of attending a speech by Norman Garrick, Professor of Civil Engineering at the University of Connecticut. Dr. Garrick specializes in Urban Streets and Highway Design, Urban Planning, and Sustainable Transportation Systems. He has taught at UConn for 20 years, and consulted extensively
on facility, design, urban planning and transportation systems. His speech entitled, Smart Transportation
It’s All About Building the Communities We Desire. It was given in Bloomington, Indiana’s city hall and sponsored by the civic organization, Bloomington Transportation Options for People (BTOP), which I am a member of.
Here are some of my notes on the speech:
Dr. Garrick set the tone by referencing a March 1st article in the USA Today entitled, Cities afraid of death by congestion, by Larry Copeland. https://www.usatoday.com/news/nation/2007-02-28-freeway-inside_x.htm
The first paragraph is an oxymoronic indeed, quote, “A plan to widen part of Interstate 10 in metropolitan Phoenix from 14 lanes to 24 is the USA's latest giant superhighway proposal designed to ease the kind of gridlock that some planners say could stunt economic growth.”
Why is this oxymoronic? It is because time and again cities increase road dimensions in response to growth and to ease congestion only to make it inviting for...more growth, more cars and more car dependency! Then, people are in a traffic jam again banging on their steering wheels, keeping the cycle going. It is a paradigm our culture seems trapped in.
Dr. Garrick stated that Phoenix and Atlanta have the most freeway miles in the nation, but also are the most congested. Makes you wonder why one would want to move to the so-called “sunbelt.” I can tell you, not me. It does once again prove one of my personal maxim, “Humans love it when they find paradise, which they promptly move to and ruin.”
Sunbelt cities are not the only trouble areas. Every major metropolitan area in America has issues with their roads and the many cars that use them. Few even have any decent alternative to the car and the daily commute. Garrick pointed out that the nearest metro to Bloomington, Indianapolis has 91% of commuters using a car and Bloomington a mini-metro we could say, has 76%. Garrick declared the present system of building of roads in response to growth, “...a sixty year failed experiment.”
When looking at the big picture, Dr. Garrick likes to reference the late American historian of technology and science, Lewis Mumford. Garrick asks in his presentation, “What is transportation for?” He quotes Mumford, “A good transportation system minimizes unnecessary transportation.”
Garrick’s translation to that is, “A good transportation system provides more access with less mobility.” Smart transportation planning is what the he wants us to think about. Good planning for him includes:
1. Use broadly defined goals embracing economic, social and environmental outcomes
2. Plan for desired outcomes, not continuation of past trends
3. Develop solutions maximizing access, not mobility
4. Always give priority treatment to the cheaper, cleaner, more efficient mode of travel
5. Support a diversity of modes to meet different needs and context
Dr. Garrick went onto look at four examples in America of cities that actually have broken out of the old paradigm in transportation planning. Portland, OR, Arlington, VA, Cambridge, MA and Davis, CA. are the cities he reported on.
The professor challenged my way of thinking about streets. He said a street should be considered a sense of place, not just a conduit. The street network serves as the bones of the city. They are the framework on which everything else depends. A framework and place is a concept that I try to wrap my head around. I would say then that the street is at any given point a part of the environment around it as it is part of the overall framework of the greater whole.
This declaration of Dr. Garrick’s on streets also stood out to me, “Today there is nobody professionally charged with determining what the street network should look like. We have abandoned this important task to the happenstance of where the highways are routed and the whim of individual developers.” This reminded me a bit of the story of Seattle’s original street layout by bitter civic rivals Doc Maynard and Arthur Denny. One man wanted streets laid out in a grid pattern, the other wanted them follow the water line of nearby Elliot Bay. If you have ever been around Seattle’s Pioneer Square, you have dealt with this clash of angles first hand and wondered as I did, “What the heck is this all about?!” Then there is the story of lifting the streets in Seattle up; I think it was 12’ so it looked like a waffle. That is another story for another time, a funny and interesting one. Dr. Garrick showed in his presentation an aerial shot of a humongous housing development that looked to be in the shape of a crop circle. Could aliens have designed it to undermine Earth’s civilization? Hmmm...
Garrick believes that there should be different streets for different reasons. They should serve the city. Streets in an urban area were once upon a time often laid out for specific reasons, only stretching within a shopping area for instance and then stopping, not going on and on and on.
He also talked about traffic speed on streets. Traffic accident speed and fatalities rise together. He noted that in Davis, California they have I think he said a 20 or 25 mile an hour area that everyone adhered to and was especially safe of cyclists. He thought that was a good model. Oh yes it is. However, it is naïve if you think the rest of America in its never ending need to get somewhere faster and faster will adhere reasonably to speed limits out of civic awareness. Bloomington certainly is not. Bloomington drivers can be very illiterate for a college town when reading speed limit signs and especially that funny, red, octagonal sign emblazoned with the letters, STOP.
Garrick ended his talk with the refrain, “The starting place for smart transportation planning is always the same, understanding the implication of the question… What is transportation for?”
It was a thought provoking question and a thought provoking speech. For more insight into Dr. Garrick’s presentation I have a link for you to download the speech (PDF) as he gave it last fall in Carmel, Indiana, almost identical to the one he gave to us here in Bloomington.
It’s All About Building the Communities We Desire: Download
Last month, in a previous dispatch, I wrote about the latest proposal from the city of Cincinnati, Ohio for new mass transit options. This month I am commenting closer to home.
I live in Bloomington, Indiana. It is not a major metropolitan area. However, being home to Indiana University we get an extra influx of around 38,000 people during the school year. We are also a city that is attracting more new people including those working at our biotech companies and retirees. The city continues to grow. Like many growing cities, we have transportation issues. Like just about everywhere else in America, in Bloomington, the car is king. We live in the heart of the proposed Interstate 69 extension corridor. This would take our main road artery, State Highway 37 that starts and stops with stoplights and supersize it to a major interstate. This most Bloomington area citizens are dead set against. Yet, most in Bloomington seem to be happy with cars. That is a shame.
Mass transit in Bloomington, consists of two bus lines, Bloomington Transit and Indiana University’s campus bus service. These are both adequate services. However, I think we could have more options in getting around town and to get out of town. Were I king for a day, we would have a tramline around the community. I would like this because it would have dedicated stops rather than a bus that can be stopped anywhere at anytime. If this were built to serve downtown and campus, it could ease the glut of cars in the area. An electrified line could also eliminate a lot of pollution that buses cause. I give kudos to Bloomington Transit however for recently adding a hybrid electric bus. Thanks BT! Also, I would like to see a commuter train that made round trips to Indianapolis. With Bloomington all but being an exurb of Indianapolis, many commuters make the trek to the big city and back on workdays. A commuter train would ease congestion on the stoplight expressway of Highway 37. It would also be another reason not to build I-69 through this area, as it would again ease traffic congestion. Then again, let us be real. We know that I-69 is not about helping Hoosiers transportation needs. It is about making money and setting up a NAFTA superhighway from Mexico to Canada. Governor Daniels is really going in the wrong direction on a road to nowhere.
Last week I was attending my first meeting as a member of the Bloomington Transportation Options for People organization. Their mission statement reads: To bring about a more sustainable culture, urban form and higher quality-of-life to Bloomington citizens through improved alternatives to driving a car. I look forward to working with them.
At the meeting, I was handed a copy of an article from the Indianapolis Star, January 31, 2007, Mass transit gets stuck in slow lane at Statehouse, by Matthew Tully.
The first line was a cold bucket of water for all those Hoosiers who support alternative forms of transportation. It read, “Anyone looking for a serious debate about mass transit would be smart to avoid the Indiana Statehouse.” Was I surprised? No. Gee, I did not even know state government in Indiana knew what mass transit was. Lead by governor Mitch Daniels, the state plan is to build more toll roads. Then, no doubt, he will sell off the new toll roads to foreign investors. This is more so-called patriotic Republicanism, by selling off our infrastructure. Little did I know there was a pearl of hope on mass transit, from a state senator that was brought to the state senate transportation committee. True to form, that pearl was crushed in fifteen whole minutes of debate in a senate committee room by Republican leadership. Why the Jim Taylor political machine in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, would be proud of such legislative dexterity.
The article goes on to tell where the pearl comes from in detail, “All told, the panel spent roughly 15 minutes considering the wild concept of relying on mass transit to fight congestion, pollution and economic weak spots. Funny thing is that was 15 more minutes than the matter typically receives.
"It would have been unheard of to have bills like this come before the General Assembly in the past," said Mike Dearing, who heads metropolitan planning efforts in Indianapolis.
Dearing was speaking about Senate Bill 105, a modest proposal from Sen. Timothy S. Lanane, D-Anderson. Lanane's bill calls on the state to study the idea of a commuter rail system between Indianapolis and Muncie, with likely stops in cities such as Fishers and Noblesville.
The study would cost $100,000 or so. By comparison, the state raised $3.8 billion for road projects from the lease of the Indiana Toll Road last year. And remember, even if the legislature approves the study, it would be an overshadowed side note to this year's main transportation debate.”
C’mon now, it just a study. You know, study, as in educate, as in educating yourselves on something that could be of great benefit to Hoosiers quality of life and economic benefit to the state. Is that too much to ask for?
Apparently, there is a little more hope this week. The chair of the House Roads and Transportation Committee, Terri Austin wants to learn more about mass transit. She has an all day hearing tomorrow on the 14th with national experts coming to discuss mass transit. To a Hoosier like me who support transportation options, a positive response from that committee would be a sweet valentine indeed.
Are you a Hoosier who supports mass transportation options? Or perhaps you support mass transit for our nation in general. Encourage our Indiana leaders! Speak out! Write them:
Thanks for reading Gentleman Agitator.
A tip of the fedora and thanks to a link I found on the weblog, The Overhead Wire. I see that Cincinnati's newspapers have given their initial opinions to a proposal for a new streetcar system in the city. An opinion column in the Cincinnati Enquirer on January 21 asks, Streetcars: Is the desire there? They write:
"What's so special about an electric-powered streetcar?
"It's the permanence," says Cincinnati Councilman Chris Bortz. "and the size of the loop." Bortz chairs Cincinnati City Council's Economic Development Committee. He argues a streetcar system's fixed tracks make all the difference for developers, investment bankers and residents. They can count on that route being there as a "permanent" improvement for decades to come. Bus routes are usually longer, with more stops and schedules, and buses, if not dirtier in emissions, are usually noisier than electric streetcars. Bortz believes trains and streetcars are blessed with an emotional appeal not usually associated with buses."
Councilman Bortz makes a good argument. The Cincinnati Post also touches on the proposal in their column, "Riding the Bus." The main theme of the column is about a proposed hike in bus fare increase by SORTA, the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority. They write:
"We hope, however, that City Council will see fit to conduct this review without the breast-thumping that accompanied its last review of the bus system. That one occasioned threats of cutting off city funding for SORTA (which gets about half its operating budget from a dedicated portion of Cincinnati's earnings tax) and establishing a whole new bus system. If council wants to do something genuinely constructive (no, this isn't meant as a laugh line), after it finishes its review of SORTA's rate request it should open talks with political, civic and corporate leaders about establishing a transit system that is genuinely regional...
...There is no shortage of people who'd like nothing better than to drive a stake in the heart of light rail, but they can relax. Right now Greater Cincinnati will have its hands full just trying to scrape enough money together to rebuild I-75 and replace the Brent Spence Bridge. But we also need to maintain a viable transit system. Putting it on a more regional basis would be a logical first step in that direction."
It was very sad to see that threats might be made to cutoff the financial lifeline to SORTA. My hometown of Kansas City once had an integrated bus system, "The Metro." However, suburban Johnson County, Kansas, divorced itself from "The Metro." A foolish move that just encouraged greater divisiveness between the Kansas and Missouri sides, rather than working together for the greater whole of the area. SORTA should not be a regional transportation agency. Kentucky and Indiana need to be integrated as well. They seem to be so proud of calling themselves the "Tri-State," in greater Cincinnati, but how much is really behind that moniker? They can plant a seed with the downtown streetcar line.
Lastly, I know I am critical of the nattling nabobs of negativism in Cincinnati, but I did get a good laugh out of another one of Enquirer cartoonist, Jim Borgman's take on the streetcar proposal. To me, it is not negative, but really telling it like it is about city development as a whole. You can click on the image to enlarge.
Do not know what he is referring to when the man quips, "Forget it. Let's take the subway?" Cincinnati does have a subway. Really! Ok, well, it was only partially built in the 1920s and never had a train running, but its remnants still exist. To learn more about Cincinnati's subway, check out: Cincinnati's Abandoned Subway, a part of the great Cincinnati Transit history website.
Can Cincinnati finally get moving? One of my greatest frustrations about American cities, especially Midwestern cities, is a glacial like reticence to progress, moving forward, and become greater. Cincinnati has long held this reputation.
Sometimes moving forward means literally moving. An article in the Cincinnati Enquirer of January 17, 2007 brought up yet another study to bring some sort of mass transit besides busses to the Queen City. Light rail has been proposed before and this time it is a streetcar system.
The article by Jon Newberry reports that the city of Cincinnati has hired HDR, of Omaha, Nebraska, an architectural, engineering and consulting firm. They will study a proposal for a three to four mile loop streetcar line. It would run from the Ohio riverfront, through downtown, to the Over-the-Rhine district and back.
I am a great proponent of mass transit systems in the United States. Last year I joined the Citizen Advisory Committee for planning and transportation in Bloomington, Indiana, where I live. I am a strong believer that greater transportation options for Americans can improve our economies and better the quality of lives across the country.
While I have a very positive view, many in Cincinnati do not. Cincinnati is one of my favorite cities. The Queen City sits at the nexus of the Midwest, the South and the Eastern United States. It has a great deal of geographical, historical and cultural character. It has many aspects that make it a good place to live. It also has problems and challenges that many metropolitan areas share. However, the city seems to be plagued by horrible self-criticism and angst about itself. This is very apparent coming from one of its largest media outlets, radio station WLW 700 AM.
I am a WLW listener here in Indiana. WLW is in many ways your typical conservative talk radio format station. They love to turn the guns on liberals and government every chance they get. Sadly, they turn the guns on their own city just about every chance they get as well. Once again, after the article about a possible streetcar line appeared in the morning paper, that night, host Scott Sloan started knocking the idea. He made comparisons and contrasts between Cincinnati and Buffalo and Portland, Oregon. Portland has an excellent and successful mass transit system with streetcars, buses and light rail.
Instead of looking at how Cincinnati might use a streetcar system, Mr. Sloan decided to look at faults in the Buffalo system. Specifically, how a streetcar uses electrical lines that might impede auto and truck traffic in the downtown area. This has pinched businesses in Buffalo along the line. If it is difficult for all potential customers to get to your store, it is obviously hindrance. Fine, point taken, but what does that have to do with Cincinnati? So, why not just encourage city planners to look at Buffalo’s experience to learn from, rather than throw the idea out all together?
On Scott Sloan’s webpage at https://www.700wlw.com/pages/onair_scottsloan.html, he has a poll yesterday. Will a streetcar system help turnaround downtown? The choice of answers are:
Yes. It would bring everything together and downtown would boom once again!
No. We need population to feed the system, and we don't have it. Tackle crime first, then we'll see.
Sadly, Mr. Sloan’s cynicism prejudices the poll. The answers should be a yes or no. Instead, each answer is loaded. What does “boom,” mean? How are we to gauge that word in this context? His “no” answer is loaded also. We must accept his argument about tackling the crime problems first, then streetcar later.
The two seem a bit incongruous. Yes, there is overcrowding in Hamilton County lockups. Yes, there is a crime problem, specifically a horrific murder rate. Streetcars have what to do with that? Why juxtaposition the two? The murder rate always seems to be the number one topic on WLW. WLW hosts do not provide many answers to crime and most other problems, other than to stop welfare to the poor, defeat any levy for schools, and build more jails. That kind conservative lack of creativity has held back not only Cincinnati, but also the whole nation for twenty-five years. This is not to say that I am a wild-eyed liberal willing to only throw money at problems. Conservatives and Liberals have been stuck in the same paradigms for years. They are tiring and old. They are old like an old, stuck LP vinyl record.
Cincinnati once had a fine streetcar system. Like many cities, the rise of the automobile ended many a streetcar line. If you visit Cincinnati’s History Museum tucked inside the great Union Terminal Museum Center, you can take a virtual ride on an old streetcar. Here I am making the fantasy ride to the Clifton district.
There is a need for streetcars and similar transportation once again. There are economic and environmental advantages to doing it. Planned carefully, Cincinnati’s downtown can be helped by the line. It’s a nice downtown, but it can be great. It definitely needs more development. While this sort line would just be a start, I wonder how some day it would be great for someone to be able to commute to downtown, go to a Reds or Bengals game, or for a downtowner to go to the Kenwood Mall and not have to get in the car and fight traffic on I-71 or 75. Cincinnati’s environment can be helped by streetcars in reducing pollution from the cars left behind. Yes, building the lines might cost taxpayers some money. Any government that promises that private investment will pay for all of something like this is really naïve. Speaking of private investment, I would have a private company, not local government, run the streetcar line. Yes, make some money off it! At least a public/private partnership is necessary. Let us see what plans go forward, discuss them fairly and see where it goes. I look forward to it.
It must be looked at as a long-term investment in Cincinnati’s core and the entire metro area. It is an investment not only for this generation, but those to come. Cincinnati is a great city, a great region. It can be even greater. Come on Cincinnati, get moving!