By Tim Maloney

The Central Indiana Transit Task Force announced the latest version of their regional transit system plan Tuesday, and urged the Indiana General Assembly to act on enabling legislation in the upcoming 2012 session. Mayors Greg Ballard of Indianapolis, Jim Brainard of Carmel, John Ditslear of Noblesville and Andy Cook of Westfield declared their support for the plan at a news conference at the State Fairgrounds.

To move forward, the plan needs the legislature to enable creation of a new Metropolitan Transit Authority for the region, and to authorize counties to conduct voter referenda on the question of whether to adopt a .3% local option income tax to pay for the new transit system. If the legislature approves, Marion and Hamilton Counties are expected to be the first counties to consider the plan, in November 2012, with other metro counties voting in later elections.

The new regional transit plan modifies the Indy Connect plan finalized last December, and contains the following key components:

• Doubles local bus service in Marion County and adds local bus service in Hamilton County.

• Creates four Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridors:
o East-west route along Washington St (reaching the airport)
o East-west route along 38th St
o North-south, from Greenwood to Carmel via downtown Indianapolis
o North-south, from University of Indianapolis to Hamilton County

• Five express bus routes

• Frequent bus circulator service in downtown Indy, Lawrence, Fishers, and Noblesville

• Multiple transfer hubs

• Rail transit with multiple stops from downtown Indy to Noblesville

Transit service to other counties in the metro area would be determined after additional study, including a federally-funded study of potential light-rail corridors.

More information on the announcement is available at the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership website — www.cincorp.com, or the IndyConnect website — http://www.indyconnect.org/pages/home/ . Click here  for a map of the revised plan.

Among the questions at Tuesday’s news conference was one that asked if Indianapolis had the population density necessary to support an expanded transit system including rail transit. The density issue is one that always comes up when new rail transit is proposed, but it is not the limiting factor that some might believe. In fact, many major urban areas with lower population density (people per square mile of land) than the Indianapolis metropolitan area – which has 444 people/square mile — are operating successful multi-modal transit systems with rail. One of these cities is Salt Lake City, with a population density of just 117. Yet Salt Lake City is considered to have one of the most effective and successful transit systems in the U.S. Denver and Phoenix, two other sprawling urban areas with less density than Indy, also operate successful rail transit systems. It’s not necessary to have the extremely high population density of major cities like New York or Chicago for transit to be successful.

Moreover, as was pointed out by the task force’s Mark Miles at today’s event, transit and particularly rail transit leverages density by promoting new mixed use, high density, walkable neighborhoods around transit stations. And for rail, bus rapid transit, or express buses originating in a suburban area, many commuters will choose a park and ride transit option, as long as the service is frequent, reliable, and efficient. These are the factors that are most important in making transit successful, not population density.

Will Hoosiers vote for a new tax to support transit? We think they will, if given the opportunity. Ballot measures to fund transit have proven very popular around the U.S. – in both 2010 and 2011, over three-fourths of such measures were approved by voters.

If you want better transit options, reduced congestion, healthier air, and new economic opportunities, please tell your state legislators to support transit legislation that gives local communities the right to choose to fund and operate a regional transit system.

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