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Our First Day Trying the New IndyGo Red Line, Which Sucked

Red Line Anne!

My wife Anne hanging out in the bikers’ wing because there was no room for us anywhere else aboard.

I love the idea of mass transit. I got used to buses as a wee tyke when my mom and my grandma took me on them all the time. As adults my wife and I have had positive experiences in Denver, DC, Chicago, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Manhattan. (Baltimore was a mixed bag.) I loved the NYC subways so much after our first visit, I begged Anne to let me dig a subway tunnel connecting NYC’s MTA and our front door. My request died in committee.

Meanwhile back in Indianapolis, “mass transit” doesn’t mean quite so much. Our medium metropolis was built over the course of decades with no room allotted for subways or light rail. There’s no such thing as “hailing” a cab here — they exist but if you want one, you have to phone for one. We have a bus system called IndyGo, which is…well, it’s certainly a set of things on wheels that provides a traveling alternative under certain limited conditions. It isn’t exactly renowned. From time to time, some idealistic, would-be innovator comes to town with an idea to do a “mass transit” thing and improve quality of life for commuters and folks without cars. Nine times out of ten, those benevolent thinkers are sent packing. I’d use the old cliché “they’re run out of town on a rail”, but this would be an obvious lie due to the lack of rails to spare.

This year IndyGo and our city government conspired to introduce a new concept to our Indy road scene: Bus Rapid Transit. Per their grand vision and ubiquitous marketing boilerplate, it could change the very face of Indianapolis mass transit if their plans and dreams come true. If.

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Our 2017 Road Trip, Part 22: The Commuters Cometh

Taxi Flag!

Another water taxi, another U.S. flag waving in the Inner Harbor breeze.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

Every year since 1999 my wife Anne and I have taken a trip to a different part of the United States and visited attractions, wonders, and events we didn’t have back home in Indianapolis. From 1999 to 2003 we did so as best friends; from 2004 to the present, as husband and wife. For 2017 our ultimate destination of choice was the city of Baltimore, Maryland. You might remember it from such TV shows as Homicide: Life on the Street and The Wire, not exactly the most enticing showcases to lure in prospective tourists. Though folks who know me best know I’m one of those guys who won’t shut up about The Wire, a Baltimore walkabout was Anne’s idea. Setting aside my fandom, as a major history buff she was first to remind skeptics who made worried faces at us for this plan that Maryland was one of the original thirteen American colonies and, urban decay notwithstanding, remains packed with notable history and architecture from ye olde Founding Father times. In the course of our research we were surprised to discover Baltimore also has an entire designated tourist-trap section covered with things to do. And if we just so happened to run across former filming locations without getting shot, happy bonus…

As a confident driver with above-average reflexes, limited patience for needless hesitation, navigational skills honed over a lifetime, and a car that responds well to my every need and impulse, I find it excruciatingly difficult to relinquish control of the steering wheel and let someone else drive. Blame it on my upbringing in a large city with a fierce loyalty to the automotive industry; slow, intermittent buses; costly taxis that aren’t a common enough sight to count on; and no commuter rails whatsoever. Indianapolis loves its cars, its car exhaust, and its gridlock. When officials brag about how we’ve expanded our 21st-century travel options, they’ll mention Uber, Lyft, and the BlueIndy electric cars you can rent for a few hours at a time. In other words, more cars. Way to save the world, Indy.

On our annual road trips, occasionally we’ll think to sample the mas transit where we’re hanging out. On our 2011 and 2016 road trips, I loved letting the ubiquitous MTA subways carry us all around Manhattan and Queens, but their bus line’s haphazard schedule and incomprehensible route signs drove me bananas. On our 2003 foray into Washington DC, the Metro came in handy for a city where we couldn’t afford many of the parking options at the time. I’ve had mixed reactions to my limited use of mass transit in Chicago, Denver, and Philadelphia. Otherwise, in our travels it’s entirely up to me when and how we get where we want to go. We don’t have to wait for other drivers or share space with other passengers. I save us some time and tend to drive faster than any public transportation professionals except for NYC cabbies, whose tolerances for four-wheel zero-G are beyond my comfort threshold and most speed limit signs. Ultimately, if it takes us longer to arrive somewhere than we should, I’d rather blame myself than someone else.

With Baltimore we decided to give their local travel options a shot — partly to save us the hassle of their traffic, and partly to cut back on parking fees in addition to what we were already paying for the garage behind the hotel. If the results wowed us, maybe we could go back home to Indianapolis and tell them what a major city with real mass transit looks like.

We may have picked a bad week to try that.

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Thank-You Note to a Bus Company That Receives Precious Few

IndyGo, bus, Indianapolis
Dear IndyGo,

Honesty up front: I wish you, the providers of public bus transportation for the city of Indianapolis, weren’t the beginning, the end, and the entirety of our city’s mass transit system, to use the term loosely. It’s not that I harbor a grudge toward you; I merely wish you weren’t our only option. The nearest IndyGo stop to our house is a mile-and-half walk, only one-third of which is paved with sidewalks. As I outlined in one of my earliest entries here on MCC, I’d dearly love to see Indianapolis install subway corridors, or even a light-rail system, as our family has seen in other, superior cities during our annual road trips. Alas, I’m not holding my breath waiting for this miracle to happen. I expect no resolution in my lifetime to the unceasing political sniping over who should pay for it, whose houses should we steamroll to make it happen, and how dare we take money out of the grubby paws of Big Fossil Fuel.

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