Tag Archives: public transportation

A Pox on Thy House (and Senate)

I am in an utterly foul mood. I guess that’s what I get for following the news.

In the last few days, lawmakers from near and far have engaged in a contest to see who can offer the stupidest laws while ignoring constituents’ most pressing problems. A couple of days ago, I reported on some craziness from Tennessee and South Dakota, opining that those states’ legislatures were making a bid for the coveted “worst” title; several comments here and on Facebook attempted to reassure me that Indiana lawmakers would come through to win that accolade before the session was over. They were right–although North Carolina just made a gutsy play. Their legislature just voted to establish a religion and declare the state exempt from the Establishment Clause (and, presumably, the Supremacy Clause).

Indiana’s intrepid lawmakers have been working overtime to exasperate reasoning people. Is gun violence a worry? Let’s require an armed person in each public school. What could possibly go wrong there? (As Matt Tully noted, the NRA and the Indiana Legislature are a match made in hare-brained heaven.) Is a family planning clinic prescribing a (legal) pill to induce early abortions? Require the clinic to meet standards devised for surgical facilities. Pill, surgery–same thing, right?

What really has me gritting my teeth and contemplating a move out of state, however, is what our retrograde legislature is doing to Indianapolis.

In the last few days, the Indiana General Assembly has taken pains to remind us that home rule is a foreign concept. The Republican Super-Majority, in a display of really breathtaking arrogance, has reminded residents of Indianapolis and its collar counties that they don’t like cities and they really don’t like democracy.

Mike Young’s bill to create an “imperial Mayor” is sailing through (although we all know it will be repealed the day after Indianapolis elects a Democrat as Mayor); and lawmakers have once again derailed the measure that would allow us to decide for ourselves whether we want mass transit enough to pay for it.

The Indiana legislature has long been dominated by rural and small-town interests. Legislative hostility to Indianapolis is simply a fact of Indiana life. That doesn’t make it any less infuriating. At the Statehouse, there is an absolute lack of sympathy for–or understanding of–urban issues. It’s bad enough that most of our lawmakers really do not care about Indianapolis’ problems; what’s worse, not only do they refuse to address our issues, they won’t allow us to tackle them either.

The imperial mayor bill is an invitation to corruption. While most of the media attention has been on the proposal to eliminate the at-large council seats, the most dangerous parts of the bill give the mayor control of the Development Commission and remove council oversight of many–if not most–spending decisions. It effectively removes important checks and balances on administrative behavior at a time when local media oversight is virtually non-existent. Actions by the Development Commission can move big money; for one thing, the Commission can ensure successful financing for a project that would otherwise be unable to secure such backing. The current appointment structure was intended to prevent decisions based upon cozy relationships and political connections rather than sound principles of land use. The imperial mayor bill will facilitate cronyism.

The refusal to allow Indianapolis citizens to decide for ourselves whether we want mass transit is the most infuriating action taken in a legislative session that has produced plenty that is infuriating. The notion that a study committee is needed is laughable–Central Indiana transportation organizations have studied the matter for the last twenty years. Let’s call it what it is: a giant “fuck you, Indianapolis” from the General Assembly to the region that generates the bulk of the state’s tax receipts.

And let’s call the Indiana Legislature what it is: an embarrassment.

Define Benefit

State Senator Luke Kenley is quoted in a news story about the public transportation bill currently before the General Assembly.

“I have a surprisingly large number of constituents who are strongly opposed to this,”  says Sen. Kenley (R-Noblesville.)  “They just feel like it’s going to be a tax increase on them without any particular benefit.”

There are a number of responses that come to mind: the most obvious is that all the bill requires is an opportunity for the citizens who will be taxed to vote on the matter. Those opposed will have an opportunity to make that opposition known.

That said, the belief that those who wouldn’t use public transportation wouldn’t benefit from its availability is incredibly short-sighted. We all benefit from cleaner air, economic development and improved quality of life–all outcomes associated with the availability of good public transportation systems. The attitude displayed by Kenley’s constituents reminds me of people who don’t want to support good schools, because their own children are grown, despite ample evidence that a good school system adds to property values and an educated workforce is a requirement for economic development.

These are all tangible benefits that even the whiners will enjoy. But we might also wonder whether there isn’t some intangible benefit in creating a community that works for everyone, not just the self-satisfied “makers” with two cars parked in the garage of their suburban home in a gated community.

And This is Supposed to be Good News?

The average amount of time Indy folks spend commuting hasn’t increased since last year, according to the IBJ. The headline suggests that this is a positive finding. We should all cheer.

An Indianapolis commuter spends an average of 41 hours in freeway delays during rush hour each year, according to a study by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute. Forty-one hours–an entire week of one’s life, each and every year–spent behind the wheel, looking at someone else’s tail lights.

What could you do with that week? Read a book, play with your children, volunteer for a charity…sleep? Make love?

I’ve always had difficulty understanding the folks who live in far-flung suburbs, and willingly trade convenience for the privilege of mowing more grass. My own commute is less than 2 miles, and during rush hour can take up to 8 minutes, so I’m not the most empathetic person to be commenting on the waste of time involved. But let’s do a thought experiment: what if Indianapolis had real mass transit?

By “real,” I mean public transportation with 5 or at most 10-minute headways, on clean and comfortable trains or buses with wi-fi. Such a transportation system wouldn’t just improve the environment by saving lots of carbon emissions. It wouldn’t just jump-start the local economy by getting employees to work. It wouldn’t just encourage smart urban growth.

It would give that average Indianapolis commuter a week of his or her life back. Every year.

The grass aficionados could have their cake and eat it too: they could spend their commuting week reading, emailing, working–or just listening to music. Or sleeping. (Sex probably isn’t an option.)

If I were one of the people spending a week of every year stuck in traffic, I’d be down at the Indiana Statehouse demanding the right to hold a referendum. And if the micro-managing legislators actually allowed us a measure of self-determination, I’d beat the drums for a positive vote–and my chance to recapture that lost week.

 

Nimble We Aren’t

There is a report in this morning’s Indianapolis Starburied between breathless reports about the Colt’s new quarterback, true, but an actual story with real news in it–about efforts to address Indianapolis’ longstanding sewer problem.

When it rains, tons of raw sewage are dumped into our water supply. Citizens, which bought the water and sewer utilities last year, is beginning construction of massive tunnels beneath the city to divert that sewage and correct the problem–and not so incidentally, fulfill the City’s obligations under a 2006 consent decree with the EPA.

I was delighted to read that we are finally going to address this problem. But I couldn’t help marveling over the amount of time it has taken.

I was in City Hall from 1977-80. Indianapolis’ sewer problems were already a regular topic of conversation at cabinet meetings. The City had been in discussion with the (then new) EPA since the Lugar Administration. (I wouldnt say there was a lot of resistance to demands that the problems be fixed, but an engineer with DPW reportedly protested that it would be cheaper to clean White River than comply with federal demands.)

It took from 1975 to 2006 for Indianapolis to agree to stop dumping raw sewage into our drinking water. It took another six years to begin remediation. Of course, City leaders have been trying for almost that long to address our need for decent public transportation, and we’re nowhere close to getting that job done.

If it took us 37 years to begin fixing a problem that everyone acknowledged we had, a problem we knew how to solve–how many years do you suppose it will it take to fix public education?

Our Despicable State Legislature

What can anyone say about Indiana’s legislature that adequately captures the perversity, the stupidity and the venality of the place?

It is hard to believe the sheer amount of embarrassing antics they have managed to cram into a short session. From the patently unconstitutional (teaching creationism, really? Every court that has ever considered the matter has said the same thing–you can’t teach religion in public school science class) to the teaching of cursive (breaking news: you weren’t elected to the school board, and by the way, what happened to your pious devotion to local control?) to Right to Work (go ahead and spend zillions of dollars on slick ads promising jobs, but everyone knows this is all about hardball politics and Republicans weakening the unions because they have the votes), our elected Representatives have spent the session giving the middle finger to the citizens of Indiana.

As if they hadn’t done enough harm, they have now killed the bill that would have allowed Indianapolis to hold a referendum on whether to tax ourselves to support adequate public transportation.

Think about this. These are the lawmakers who’ve been pontificating about the importance of job creation–that’s how they’ve justified Right to Work, which–according to unbiased research–has absolutely no effect on job creation. Good public transportation, on the other hand, is a proven job creator and economic development generator.

So why the hypocrisy? Why deny the citizens of Indianapolis the right to decide for ourselves whether we are willing to pay a few extra bucks on our tax bill for decent transportation?

It is galling enough that we have to go hat in hand to the State for permission to conduct our own business. It is absolutely infuriating that the legislators whose rural districts survive by virtue of taxes generated in central Indiana–the state sales and income taxes that come primarily from the urban areas they routinely piss on–are the ones willing to kill the goose that lays their golden eggs. Our transportation bill was killed by the very people who would share the benefits without contributing to the costs.

I wish I thought we would throw these bums out in November, but Indiana political history suggests that we will go like sheep to the polls, and vote for the same old same old–after all, these are the candidates who promise to arrest immigrants, keep the “wrong” people from voting, and push gays back into the closet where they belong.

Harrison Ullmann was right: Indiana has The World’s Worst Legislature. But we elected them.