Mass Transit and Equitable Development P.1

Several weeks ago legislation, House Bill 1011 passed the Indiana House getting one step closer to expanded mass transit for Central Indiana. However, according the Chris Sikich, writer for the Indianapolis Star and other advocates the proposal faces more obstacles in the Indiana Senate, where leading Republicans have questioned the cost and scope of transit advocates’ vision for a 10-year, $1.3 billion expansion. (Central Indiana Corporate Partnership)

A good majority of  Hoosiers  see no need for improvement and expansion of this infrastructure. In their analysis there is no added value and they would be damned if they have to pay for something they will not use. Essentially, give me my 2 cars and leave that awful contraption to the, go green geeks, undeserved and marginalized. Some arguments have been a bit more rationale, based on a lack of density to support such an improvement. “Central Indiana does not have high-density employment hubs or neighborhoods to justify mammoth investment in public transit. Yet once again, the movers and shakers are pushing the Legislature to pass a bill that would be the first step of a costly process setting up a regional mass transit system” (Andrea Neal is an adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation)

Transit For All

Transit For All

As they say for every action there is a reaction, so what would our democracy be worth if we could not debate the merits of such an important component impacting our lives. I for one am pro-mass transit. However, there are several reasons I do not use the current transportation system in Indianapolis: For one I’m spoiled by my London and New York City experience, the lack of frequency, poor infrastructure while waiting for a bus, lack of timeliness, poor planning of routes, times and locations. Otherwise, I would a frequent user with backpack in tow.

For a while now I have been following Transit Oriented-Development (TOD) discussion in Central Indiana. As a proponent, I have a biased view and while I understand the oppositions position I can not see tangible basis for arguments against expanding and improving mass transit. In fact, I have a history of being part of two TOD processes, East Harlem (102nd, 116th, 125th Street & Lexington avenue Stop) and South Bronx (Hunts Point Stop). Since NYC is transit friendly as a community member our conversations were focused on, frequency and connectivity, traffic patterns, children safety, local business development, job creation and stemming gentrification . In essence as resident stakeholder’s there was concern about equitable/balanced development.

Which brings me to the uphill battle of going before the Indiana Senate. As part of the legislative process the bill needs to pass the Senate to allow for a referendum. Simply, In Marion County, the city-county council decides whether to put the issue on the ballot. In the outlying counties, it depends on how they govern income tax collection. Essentially the plan suggests the required local funds be paid for with a .3% (three-tenths of a percent) increase in the local option income tax in Marion and Hamilton counties. For a family earning $50,000.00 it’s about $10month. (Indy Connect website).

Central Indiana Mass Transit Plan

Central Indiana Mass  Transit Plan (click to enlarge)

As you review Indy Connect’s website you can find all the information needed to better understand Central Indiana’s Mass Transit Plan. Upon review you will find ongoing community outreach and I emphasis “outreach” efforts to inform the public of the plan for mass transit. Bear in mind this a narrative that is shaped to build a ground swell around the legislative process pushing for community support for a referendum. On all accounts thus far this narrative is well-intended but far from holistic.

From my numerous conversations there seems to be the need to convince those earning $50,000.00 and above for an improved and effective mass transit. This narrative in my experience is an approach appealing to the upper-income communities and well to do,  increasing their comfort,  efficiency of daily living and discretionary income. A good strategy but one that has started out  relatively exclusive and at the expense of Low and Moderate-Income (LMI) communities.

Following the same script as the vast majority of economic and community development models in Central Indiana; this is a model approach laden with disproportionate representation at the leadership level and limited inclusion. It is clear why this mass transit narrative from the onset did a poor job of  including  LMI communities.  These communities historically are the last to be addressed, consulted and  thought of as involved  stakeholders and beneficiary’s until after the fact.  According to Matthew Soursourian, Equipping Communities to Achieve Equitable Transit-Oriented Development: Community Investments, Summer 2010/Volume 22, Issue 2:

“Most TOD projects, however, do not focus on LMI communities the population that stands to benefit the most from increased access to transit. In fact, many TODs target upper-income communities and seek to capitalize on the recent revival in urban living. In some cases, TOD can price LMI residents out of their neighborhoods and push them farther away from jobs and transit, since in order for a TOD to be successful, it will necessarily increase land and housing costs. When this happens, instead of benefitting LMI residents, TOD projects can have the opposite effect, dramatically disrupting low-income neighborhoods”

I would like to think that Central Indiana’s mass transit process moving forward will move closer to an intentional and granular level of engagement. Frankly,  there is a shared responsibility in this initiative and LMI communities  are equally responsible to inject itself in the conversation. Since this conversation and narrative has already been shaped it is difficult to feel included in a process that from the onset started out exclusive.  It’s time to expand the narrative even as the Bill is before the Indiana Senate, move beyond the community forum meetings and develop a strategy that drills down in specific neighborhoods.  Illuminating the benefits that are central to LMI communities may very well increase the level of resident engagement, education and involvement  this plan desperately needs. Matthew Soursourian, states:

“Transit-oriented development (TOD) is uniquely positioned to positively impact low and moderate-income (LMI) communities: it can connect workers to employment centers, create jobs, and has the potential to spur investment in areas that have suffered neglect and economic depression. Moreover, TOD reduces transportation costs, which can have a greater impact on LMI households since they spend a larger share of their income on transportation relative to higher-income households. This frees up household income that can be used on food, education, or other necessary expenses. Low income people are also less likely to own personal vehicles and therefore more likely to depend exclusively on public transportation to get to and from work, making reliable access to transit a necessity for their economic success.”

Indy Clergy Lobby Mass Transit

Indy Clergy Lobby Mass Transit

There is a shared responsibility and nonprofits, faith-based institutions, schools, local business and local health centers etc.  can impact this ongoing narrative by challenging the current process. It’s  time for those grass tops organizations/leadership to move to be fearless in challenging and crafting the opportunities that mass transit can bring to the residents of the neighborhoods they service. Do your research, investigate how Metro Planning Organization’s (MPO) are created and the type representation that is on the board. Question the specific job opportunities and help craft and shape them. Raise questions about the connection to the development of a new workforce and preparing  the  young men and women  for this 10 year 1.3 billion Phase One plan. Start thinking about Phase Two and what it looks like and where and how does your neighborhood ensures being a beneficiary. Mass transit is marathon, put your shoulder behind moving House Bill 1011 through the Senate while simultaneously challenging the current narrative. Remember:

Change  is a choice. You either stick with the status quo or confront it – you choose!

Equitable Transit

Mass Transit = Equitable Development

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