If I were appointed Mass Transit Czar for the city of Indianapolis, the impossibility thereof notwithstanding, my first plan would be to install a subway system that would initially disrupt the lives of tens of thousands of citizens while ultimately serving hundreds of thousands more.
I’ve had limited exposure to subways in Chicago and DC in years past, but Manhattan’s far-reaching MTA system made last summer’s vacation possible and pleasurable thanks to its comprehensive geographic coverage, lack of service interruptions, and relatively smooth rides even when elbow room was at a premium. Despite the occasional rush-hour crush and panhandler performance, I appreciated being able to relax in my own way while someone else drove us around at top speeds without the threat of automotive gridlock. More than any tangible souvenir or gaudy Times Square photo, their subway was what I wanted to bring home from Manhattan more than anything else.
Alas, it can’t be done. Despite the hopes and wishes of those citizens who’d love to see an efficient light-rail line connecting Carmel and downtown with each other and nowhere else, a combination of special interests, budgetary conservation, and fear of radical change all but ensures I won’t be riding any local rails within my lifetime. The Methodist/Wishard “people mover” (a euphemism meaning “amusement-park rail ride”) is a nice attraction to stare at longingly during my daily commute, but I think it tops out at a paltry 1.5 miles per hour. I also dislike that it only has two stops, neither of which is my house. I understand Indianapolis has a railroad for travel to and from other cities, but my house isn’t that far away. Adding insult to injury, our nearest IndyGo bus stop is a mile-and-half walk away, and receives only partial daily service.
Submitted for no one’s approval is my own proposal for what an Indianapolis subway system should look like:
My primary goal: eliminate the archaic wagon-wheel design of our IndyGo routes. Once upon a time when downtown was everything to everyone, designating it as a transportation hub was a logical plan. You could take the bus from nearly any point in the city to downtown, transfer to another bus for only a few cents extra, then head back out to any other point in town. If you enjoyed the stopover in the heart of the city and didn’t mind spending an hour on travel time each way, the bus was a great option. If you need a ride from West 38th Street to West 71st Street and aren’t up for bicycling, the bus is an absurd option.
Thus my ideal subway routes avoid this misplaced prioritization. Downtown should not be a mandatory stop for every single ride. In fact, I minimized downtown subway access because IndyGo has that somewhat covered. Regardless of pricing, safety, speed, or smells, the option already exists for many neighborhoods. I made two major concessions: one line connecting 96th and Meridian to Greenwood Park Mall, and one connecting Avon and Washington Square. I-465 is handy for driving from one quadrant of town to the next, but travel between polar opposites is interminable and frequently beyond interstate scope. Those few who live near the randomly placed intersections of I-465 and other interstates should count their blessings.
My secondary goal: end neighborhood isolationism. It’s time we broke down barriers and learned to get along citywide. We can’t do that very well if we never see each other. Broad Ripple, for one, needs to learn to play better with others. It has no interstate access, no convenient highways alongside it, and canals too tiny for riverboats. I resent that every trip to the Vogue feels like I’m infiltrating a landlocked foreign nation, and that’s just the scary parking lot out back. Sometimes commoners want vinyl LPs, magazine-article clothes, and fair-trade coffee, too. It’s time to share with others. Hence the direct line from Broad Ripple to today’s internationally flavored and commercially challenged Lafayette Square Mall area. The two disparate communities should have much to share with each other.
Same goes double for the northeast side. Every time I open an issue of Indianapolis Monthly or google new restaurant options, I get the impression all the city’s most talented restaurateurs are sequestering themselves in Carmel or its clingy entourage of other suburbs. So many learned folk surely have ideas about life, love, peace, and success that would effect remarkable influence and widescale social uplift if only they could be spread to other, needier parts of town. By direct contrast, Indy’s near-east side has a much longer history than CarmeLand, but is mentioned more frequently in Indianapolis Star articles about murder than any other side of town. In my brave new city, they’re connected for the sake of transcending castes and fostering a deeper sense of cross-mindset synergy. Think “buddy-cop film” writ large. Who doesn’t like buddy-cop films? If that’s not enough, this same line also connects Carmel with the Marion County Fairgrounds. Convenient, right?
I’ve created several such team-ups like this, in the same spirit as those miserable “group projects” we all undertook in school against our will. And aren’t we as adults all the better for it? To that end, I’ve connected Haughville to Beech Grove; Zionsville to Mars Hill; Fountain Square to the Pyramids; Butler University to the University of Indianapolis; the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to the Indianapolis Museum of Art; and Mass Ave to Mug-‘n’-Bun. You’re all sister areas now. Play nice.
As in Manhattan, transfers will still be necessary to reach some points B from certain points A. You’ll note I’ve included a subway route alongside I-465 that can be used to reach Lafayette, Washington, Greenwood, and Castleton Square Malls all within the span of a single day. That day, of course, would be Black Friday. You can transfer from any of those four mall stops to the aforementioned meridian lines to reach Circle Centre Mall, and there’s an extra detour toward the Metropolis “lifestyle center” out in Plainfield. For the true Black Friday overachiever, shuttle service would be offered between Castleton Square and the Keystone Fashion Mall, all the better to provide me access to Key Cinemas.
Speaking of me: you’ll notice a conglomeration of sorts on the west side. Since this is my proposal, my convenience is obviously paramount. In addition to my Key Cinemas shuttle route, these routes are tailored to serve my house, my employer, my regular comic shop, my church, and Fry’s Electronics as well. Anyone who is exactly like me in every way will learn to appreciate these small concessions. By way of compromise, I agree to continue using my car for groceries, thereby eliminating one needless subway stop. That’s just too many bags for me to drag around anyway, especially if the Mass Transit Czar position doesn’t oversee enough paid assistants.
In order to achieve all of this in as little time as possible, we may need to evacuate most of the city for several years until the bulldozing and tunneling are completed. I also don’t look forward to the tense negotiations that will be required to arrange for the borrowing of lots of underground drilling equipment from West Virginia miners or from any heretofore undiscovered colonies of mole people. On the upside, construction employment will be at an all-time high during the project. Any and all unemployed humans and animals with thumbs will be cordially invited to participate. Said thumbs don’t even need to be opposable. We need all hands on deck if we’re to make my dream come true before I reach AARP age and become a much more dangerous driver than I already am.
According to my budgetary calculations, which may or may not be affected by how much calculus has faded from my memory since high school ended two decades ago, this project will cost the city approximately thirty-eleven jillion dollars. Obviously the financial burden should not be dumped on hard-working Hoosier taxpayers, especially not those teeming masses who will be forced by eminent domain to vacate their demolished domiciles and hopefully relocate somewhere nicer and outside the IPS district.
Funding would instead be provided by declaring war on Ohio. I don’t have any details worked out. The drawing up of proper war plans would be delegated to the Indiana National Guard or whichever body our state charter designates for inter-state invasion maneuvers. All I know is Ohio is larger than us, therefore possibly richer than us, and likely won’t even notice they’ve been conquered until it’s too late, after our new subways are operational and carting away their lost treasures, including but not limited to their narrow catalog of Kings Island Skee-Ball prizes and whatever autographed artifacts our boys can loot from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Granted, this plan is thoroughly unworkable and entirely fictitious. It’s also just as likely to become reality in my lifetime as any sincere mass transit plan ever to be conceived for Indianapolis.
If this meets with no one’s approval, then I’ll offer to withdraw my name from consideration for the Mass Transit Czar position under one condition: if and only if Key Cinemas grants me the favor of opening a second location on the west side. That should cost us considerably less than thirty-eleven jillion dollars, even allowing for organic snacks.