Tag Archives: transit

Whatever Happened to Integrity?

I concluded yesterday’s post by saying “We have spoiled toddlers running state and federal offices, but at least adults run the cities.” Evidently, some of those adults are less  praiseworthy than I suggested.

Indianapolis recently held a referendum on transportation. It wasn’t easy convincing the General Assembly that residents of the city should be allowed to decide for ourselves whether to impose a modest tax increase dedicated to the expansion of the city’s painfully inadequate bus service. It took a couple of years, but we finally did.

The vote was advisory, meaning that it will inform members of the City-County Council, whose votes will be dispositive. I think it is fair to say that voters expect the Councilors’ votes to reflect the clear results of the popular will.

The referendum won handily. But some Councilors– in districts where constituents voted decisively for the transit expansion– are vacillating. According to several people who have talked to them, the reluctant Council members are ambitious politicians who plan to run for higher office; they have been telling transit proponents that they don’t want a future opponent to be able to accuse them of raising taxes.

Think about that for a minute. This isn’t about legitimate disagreement about the merits of the proposal; this is about personal political calculation– a conflict of interest between the public good and personal advantage.

These City-County Counselors were elected to serve the constituents in their districts. Those constituents have signaled their belief that improved transit is sufficiently important to them to justify the (relatively minor) tax increase required. Rather than considering the wishes of those constituents, rather than considering the needs of the disabled and elderly people who depend upon transit, or the needs of workers to get to their places of employment without changing buses and enduring lengthy commutes (when they can get there at all–see yesterday’s post), these Councilors are viewing their votes only from the perspective of their personal self-interest.

Why, they might have to defend voting for the public good in a future political campaign!

I can understand why someone representing a district that voted against the referendum would decide to ignore the interests and expressed preferences of the overall community, but when elected officials disregard the wishes and needs of both the overall community and their own constituents in order to protect themselves from potential criticism in a potential future campaign, I find that contemptible.

I think it was Maya Angelou who said “When someone tells you who they are, believe them.”

And remember them.

Because if those who are threatening to vote no simply to protect themselves from criticism in a future campaign actually follow through with that threat, and if and when they do run for higher office, those of us with a different understanding of “representation” and “integrity” need to make a very public issue of their self-serving behavior.


More Lessons from Canada

Yesterday I shared Canada’s approach to management of government contracts–an approach American government officials would do well to emulate. Today, I want to share two examples of good urban policy from our neighbors to the north.

First, from Vancouver:

In Vancouver, Canada, walking, cycling and public transit are now viable alternatives to driving. Todd Litman blogs on Planetizen that recent data indicate that Vancouver’s “automobile mode share” represents about half of all trips.

By contrast, in most North American cities, personal vehicles are used about 80 percent of the time. Litman is executive director of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute.

Vancouver’s urban planners have worked to make the city easier to navigate without a vehicle. As a result, in addition to the obvious environmental benefits,  Vancouver’s residents spend less money on transportation than urbanites elsewhere, have more opportunities for active lifestyles, and are less likely to be killed in an automobile accident– Vancouver has experienced a sizable drop in traffic fatalities.



Can’t find Place Jacques-Cartier? Curious about the history of Mount Royal? Ian Hardy reports for MobileSyrup that Montreal’s CA$23 million  (US$18.4 million) “smart city” plan would provide easy answers via free public Wi-Fi. The 70 projects to be completed by late 2017 would include real-time updates about buses and subways and digital access for citizens to municipal data.

The city promises to deploy free wireless connectivity at 750 locations. It also would require all major urban development projects to include superfast, wired fiber optic Internet connections, the article says. In addition, Montreal hopes to attract companies and startups that specialize in innovation that improves how cities govern and interact with citizens.

I served in city government “back when”–in an administration committed to making Indianapolis a place where people would want to live, a forward-looking city with a great quality of life. That was back when we still had planners…back before the entire focus of state and local government became keeping taxes low by providing only the most essential services at the lowest possible cost, before we took to selling off public assets to make budgets work.

Before the word “government” became a sneer.

Travel Tales, or Civilization’s Discontents

Monday I participated in the final round of judging for this year’s We the People—an all-day exercise that left me and most of the other judges exhausted, but so impressed by the depth of knowledge and poised delivery of these high-school students from all over the country. Tuesday—yesterday—it was time to come home.

My husband makes fun of my obsessive-compulsive need to be at the airport well before flight time. Yesterday proved how wrong he is.

The Mason Inn, where we were staying, is on the campus of George Mason University in Fairfax, just outside Washington, D.C.  When I arrived, the trip there by cab from Washington National airport took about 45 minutes. Ever the cautious sort, I scheduled a taxi for 8:45 for my 11:00 flight, and was gratified when it arrived about five minutes early. Plenty of time to get to the airport—or so I thought.

The cab driver told me it was still rush hour, so it would probably take an hour to get there. What happened next was absolutely surreal: the traffic on the (badly misnamed) expressway was stop and start nearly the entire way. I’ve seen gridlock, but nothing comparable to this; I kept looking for a reason—a wreck, a stalled car, merging lanes—anything that would explain the bumper-to-bumper traffic. I saw nothing.

It took us an hour and forty minutes to get to the U.S. Air terminal. I had thirty stressful minutes to get through Reagan’s always-long security lines (staffed, I might note, with people who took an incredibly laid-back and leisurely approach to their duties), and my flight was almost through boarding when I made it to the gate.

Other than confirming my belief that when you are flying, you should always allow more time than you think you will need, the slowed-to-a-stop traffic was a sobering cautionary tale. The moral?  Automobile travel is ultimately unsustainable. We cannot build enough highways, pave enough municipal landscape, to ease the congestion. If humans are to get from point A to point B, a substantial number of us will need access to public transportation.

A train from the Mason Inn to the airport would take perhaps thirty minutes. Furthermore, it would take a reliable thirty minutes that one could schedule and depend on.  (I might note that a train—or even express buses—would also emit far fewer pollutants into our atmosphere.)

If I had to drive in traffic like that I saw yesterday, I’d have an ulcer–or persistent road rage.

When you consider how much it costs to buy, operate, insure and maintain a car, and the hours of productive time wasted in lengthy and unpredictable commutes, you start to understand the insanity of America’s car culture and its negative impact on our quality of life.

I didn’t think I could get any angrier at the Indiana legislature for once again derailing mass transit for Indianapolis, but yesterday proved I was wrong–I can get angrier, especially when I wonder how long it will take for Indianapolis’ highways to look like those I traveled yesterday.

A Lesson in the Need for Home Rule

Here’s what I don’t understand.

The City of Indianapolis and surrounding counties want to vote on whether to tax ourselves in order to support a minimally-decent public transportation system. It is widely acknowledged that we do not have such a system now.

I am strongly in support of this much-needed upgrade to our current, inadequate bus system, but I do understand that some people–for whatever reason–either do not support expanded transit or do not agree with the current approach to constructing such a system. Fine. Those are matters for debate and an eventual vote to determine whose view is more persuasive.

What I do not understand is the disinclination of some Indiana legislators to allow us to make that decision and hold that vote. I am offended–and I think Indianapolis residents should all be offended, whatever our position on mass transit–by the reluctance expressed by members of the General Assembly to allowing us to decide this issue for ourselves.

This is a prime example of the problems Indiana cities and towns face because we lack meaningful home rule. In other states, local units of government have the authority to decide such matters without having to beg legislators for permission.

Think about how ridiculous this situation is. The citizens of Indianapolis are asking the legislature to allow us to make a democratic decision on a matter that will affect only us. Self-important legislators who represent parts of the state that will be entirely unaffected by whatever decision we make are stroking their chins and taking the matter “under advisement.”

I’d love to ask them who the hell they think they are, but I know the answer. They are petty dictators who think that their exalted positions would somehow be diminished if we were allowed some measure of local decision-making authority–and who have the legal power to say “f#*k you” to the residents of Central Indiana.

Against mass transit? Fine. Against the current proposal for expansion? Okay.

Against self-determination and home rule? Despicable and unacceptable.

Getting From Here to There

In his latest column, urbanist Neal Peirce recounts the deteriorating condition of mass transit in the U.S., and details the ways in which that deterioration–if left unattended–will further depress the economy and damage the environment. It’s a gloomy picture, not just because it is clearly accurate, but because our political system is in the thrall of people who find reality inconvenient, and are determined to ignore real problems in favor of culture war diatribes against gays, immigrants and women’s reproductive rights.

Fix transit? How pedestrian (terrible pun intended)!

One of the few positive elements in this otherwise gloomy state of affairs is the steady growth in the number of people who bike rather than drive–to work, to do errands, and of course, for recreation.

As Jay Walljasper (no, I did NOT make up that name) has recently reported, biking has even taken hold in places where the climate doesn’t seem hospitable. He chronicles the things that Minneapolis, of all places, has done to encourage the growth of people who pedal, and there is a lesson for Indianapolis here.

“In a city where bicyclists of all ages and backgrounds already ride recreational trails the goal is to encourage people to hop on their bikes for commuting or short trips. This is not a far-fetched dream, since nationally half of all automobile trips are three miles or less—a distance easily covered on bike in twenty minutes.

To make that happen, Minneapolis is committed to creating separate rights-of-way for bikes wherever feasible — which helps explain why the city defies trends of bicyclists as overwhelmingly male. While only a quarter of riders are women nationally, the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey reports 37 percent in Minneapolis.

Research shows that most people — including many women, families and older citizens — are wary of biking alongside motor vehicles on busy streets. Having the option to ride apart from heavy traffic encourages more people to try out biking as a form of transportation.

Since the 1970s Dutch planners have separated bicyclists from motor vehicles on most arterial streets, with impressive results. Women now make up 55 percent of two-wheel traffic and citizens over 55 ride in numbers slightly higher than the national average.”

The lesson here is that how governments do things is every bit as important as what they choose to do.

Here in Indianapolis, one of the things the Ballard Administration has actually done right is focus on expanding bicycling. The Mayor has received a good deal of –deserved–commendation for extending bike lanes. But as a female rider, I can certainly attest to the accuracy of Walljasper’s report on the importance of separating those lanes from busy streets. Even my husband, a far more intrepid biker than I will ever be, tries to avoid the bike lanes that take riders across Michigan and New York Streets alongside speeding automobiles that far too frequently seem intent on running bikes off the road. A colleague of mine who doesn’t own a car, and commutes everywhere by bicycle, was seriously injured when a car sideswiped her last year.

As unglamorous as infrastructure may be, our elected officials need to learn to do things the right way. Just as it isn’t enough to pave roads if you don’t maintain them, it isn’t enough to slap some paint on an existing street and call it a bike lane.

So I’ll give Ballard an A for effort, but a D for execution. Come to think of it, that’s pretty much a description of his last four years.