Indiana Doesn’t Do New

Residents of Indiana’s urban areas will tell you that one of the more annoying features of Hoosier life is a state government in thrall to rural interests.

Indiana has a significant urban/rural cultural divide. Our legislature–which for years has been gerrymandered in ways that significantly favor rural Republican areas–resents the fact that Indianapolis is the state’s economic driver, and routinely screws us over.

State agencies, for their part,  vary in their approach to the needs  of urban Hoosiers.

Nowhere is the disconnect between state and city more striking than the incomprehension of urban realities displayed by Indiana’s Department of Transportation. I’ve posted previously about the conflict between the city and the state over the latter’s planned repair of the aging interstates that cut through and deface residential and historic districts in the central city.

When I read this recent article from Forbes, I thought about the reluctance of Indiana’s DOT to actually engage with the group of planners, architects and residents who came together to try to explain why elevated highways, interchanges and walls designed for country interstates create huge problems in cities.

The interstate highway system is over 50 years old and many portions of the system need repairs or upgrades. As we debate the future of the interstate highway system in light of advances in smart infrastructure and autonomous and electric vehicles, it’s worth considering whether some portions of the system should be removed, especially urban portions that are underused or harmful to the vitality of cities.

The article recognizes and recounts the many benefits of the Interstate system. Interstates have played an important part in the nation’s economic growth. But as the article notes,

The highway system is great for facilitating travel between metro areas and states and faster travel times are what make the system so valuable. But the system doesn’t need to be in its current form to serve this purpose. Several stretches of highway within cities’ boundaries do little to facilitate inter-state travel and come with a host of negative impacts on the cities that contain them….

Economist Nathaniel Baum-Snow estimates that on average the construction of one interstate highway through a central city caused an 18% drop in that city’s population between 1950 and 1990. The economic explanation is that the highway decreased commuting times, which allowed people to live farther from the city. Furthermore, the decrease in the price of commuting freed up money that could be used on other things, including more space. And since people really value space—think about how the average home size changes with income—this increased the demand for space and led to more suburbaniza­tion and a decline in population density as people consumed more land and built bigger homes.

Population loss wasn’t the only result of highways running through the cores of cities. Entire neighborhoods were razed to make room for highways, destroying homes, businesses, and urban amenities….Highways also became barriers between neighborhoods, cutting people off from job opportunities and retail options. There’s also evidence that air pollution from highways negatively impacts student outcomes in nearby schools.

Highways that bisect cities create barriers that hinder interactions between people on either side. They also take up valuable real estate that could be used for more housing, businesses, or amenities, such as parks, that make cities more appealing places to live and work.

The article’s conclusion, ironically, echos the approach preferred by Indianapolis and rejected by the state’s DOT. (In fairness, DOT did retreat from its original plan to add lanes and huge buttressing walls…)

Several highways running through cities could be removed without adversely affecting the overall system, and removal would clear the way for a new period of urban revitalization. A system of smaller, lower-speed boulevards would still enable travel through city centers without the noise, pollution, and unsightliness of today’s high-speed highways. It’s time to try something new.

And I’m sure some states will actually work with their cities to do that. Indiana, not so much.

 

17 thoughts on “Indiana Doesn’t Do New

  1. The main problem is Indianapolis is a commuter city. Most of the workers in Marion County reside outside the county. While Indianapolis is an economic force, it isn’t a lived in city for most legislators. So they have no vested interest in the standard of life in the City. They just come to work and eat in the County, then drive back to suburbs to sleep in their homes and live their lives.

  2. Sheila:
    “Nowhere is the disconnect between state and city more striking than the incomprehension of urban realities displayed by Indiana’s Department of Transportation. I’ve posted previously about the conflict between the city and the state over the latter’s planned repair of the aging interstates that cut through and deface residential and historic districts in the central city.”

    Forbes:
    “Several highways running through cities could be removed without adversely affecting the overall system, and removal would clear the way for a new period of urban revitalization. A system of smaller, lower-speed boulevards would still enable travel through city centers without the noise, pollution, and unsightliness of today’s high-speed highways. It’s time to try something new.”

    Picturing the Indianapolis downtown “spaghetti bowl” of numerous converging and diverging interstate highways and the connecting areas running through suburbs with once through-streets stopping and starting and the many heavily congested and totally confusing on/off entrances and exits in outlying areas within city limits and I have to quote Ricky Ricardo’s oft repeated question to Lucy, “…’splain?”

    I am still confused regarding the reasoning for making Shadeland Avenue on the east side of the city part of Indiana 465 running north and south.

  3. It isn’t just that Indiana doesn’t do “new” so much as Indiana never takes a new and timely look at itself.
    The state is not static; the population is in a constant state of motion. One decade sees a massive move away to the suburbs followed by a decade of a population move to the inner city. The DOT seems to always be a decade behind these moves cooking up plans for what happened years ago. Sadly it isn’t just the DOT. Every agency in the state is behind the times. Wonder why Indiana did not get the Amazon headquarters nod? Look into the mirror Holcomb… and not the rear view mirror this time.

  4. A close look at New York City before Robert Moses ran highways through the city, was written by E.B. White in 1949, in his little but delightful description of the city. “Here is New York.” A great read.

  5. Indiana isn’t the only place where Republicans are doing insane things with roads. Down here in sunny southern Florida, they’re planning to build a new toll road from someplace nobody ever goes to some other place nobody ever goes. The real damage will be to habitat for endangered Florida panthers and black bears. Black bears are already pretty much living in backyards just south of where I live and panthers are being wiped out by cars daily. As near as I can tell the state legislature and the governor are the only people who want this road.

  6. The pollution caused by these urban thruways that whisk commuters and semis (no small matter, no pun intended) through the city as fast as possible covers our soil, water and air with minute particles of tire grit, oily droplets of petroleum products, and worst of all, carbon dioxide byproduct. It is insidious, much like the frog in the cooking pot. It remains the constant in an ever changing cycle of expansion, over-development, decline, abandonment, and eventual demolition, leaving a poisoned place for the poor to suffer illness, degradation and dangers with no options to escape.

    The legislature continues to treat urban streets as single lane rural roads in their funding formulas, starving the cities and their blue demographic of reliable, safe means of transportation while insuring rural areas have whatever they need to get to markets.

    I am torn as to whether I want those formulae to change thus making the urban streets even more heavily used by the commuters who are focused on getting out as quickly as they can, conveniently ignoring the blight and ugliness of declining neighborhoods that facilitate their exits.

  7. The legislators and INDOT did an excellent job with the donut ring roads surrounding Downtown Indy, so folks from the mostly white burbs can get to work and back home with ease. Notably, the Hancock and Hamilton county areas.

    Supposedly, the auto industry is gearing up for the future of transportation by laying off thousands of workers and shutting down plants. Officials claim they are preparing for electronic car assembly. Is Indiana ready for this next phase of commuting?

    Let me flip through ALEC’s pages and the Bible, so I can get a better idea of the direction Indiana is heading…

    p.s. All the claims filed against the State and INDOT for damage to vehicles experiencing the massive potholes on I-69 were denied. We pay taxes and also get to pay for new tires, alignments, and wrecker services.

  8. I’m originally from Tulsa. After the 1921 race riot (renamed “massacre” by the Oklahoma Museum), the City et al tried to keep the negro section known as Greenwood from being rebuilt by building a interstate highway through it.

    “In Death in A Promised Land” John Hope Franklin says, “There are two ways which whites destroy a black community . One is by building a freeway through it, the other is by changing the zoning laws.””

  9. I currently live in an area of South Carolina where a traffic jam is when four cars happen to come together at an intersection or if you have to wait a couple of minutes to pull onto a main road. Sadly, that’s all about to change. But at present I still hear folks complain about “all this traffic”! Last year this time, for context, I was in Carmel.

  10. The rural/urban power divide is parallel in all/most of the states whose legislatures are dominated by the GOP. But, there are so many things that could/should be factored into rural/urban power sharing for the good of all:

    – Lack of good jobs in rural areas
    – Poor healthcare in rural areas
    – Urban people love to get away to rural areas
    – Urban people are suffering from gentrification
    – Immigrants need places (rural and urban) to live and are anxious to work
    – And many more…

    Many government issues could be solved by a more macro view…

  11. When the Interstates were being built, it made sense for these highways to go through or around major cities. The factories that supplied much of what America wanted were in the major cities. Connecting these factories in the cities to the rural interstates made perfect sense.

    One quote above stands out, “Population loss wasn’t the only result of highways running through the cores of cities.”

    This statement is not true, cities throughout the South and South-West have grown in population. Houston for instance had a population of 596,163 in 1950, latest estimate is 2,312,717. Los Angeles in 1950 population 1,970,358, latest estimate 3,999,759.

    From above:
    “Several highways running through cities could be removed without adversely affecting the overall system, and removal would clear the way for a new period of urban revitalization. A system of smaller, lower-speed boulevards would still enable travel through city centers without the noise, pollution, and unsightliness of today’s high-speed highways. It’s time to try something new.”

    The idea that we should turn I-65 or I-70 through Indianapolis into Boulevards is ridiculous. Where is all that through traffic supposed to go???

  12. I moved to Indianapolis just as I-65 and I-70 were being built. I remember how many people, mostly people of color and poor people were displaced. Interstates allow us to avoid looking at pockets of poverty in our city.

    If we really wanted to build a sustainable transport system, we would invest more in mass transit that was so inexpensive for citizens and so effective that we would markedly reduce the need for cars, not to mention the use of fossil fuels. Then we would not need an interstate system that ran through a city. I believe it is in Portland that people park their cars outside the city and than use mass transit to go down town.

    And in the meantime DOT or whomever is responsible has not maintained the streets of Indianapolis well. The chuck holes were not repaired well this year and the markers on the roads are not maintained. This makes it difficult to drive at night especially when it is raining. I think this is the price we pay when large corporations get such a huge tax break and the Republicans hoard tax payer money so the state has a huge surplus.

  13. When first in the practice, I had an office in the Circle Tower Building in downtown Indianapolis. There was no I-69; nor perhaps more importantly in initiating the urban-rural divide, it’s was in a pre-Reagan and thus pre-wage inequality times when the Dow was matched by wage increases and the rich paid at a much higher rate of tax than today. It is not just I-69 and other such concrete expressions of no caring for those who live in cities; it is a political situation where gerrymandering has made Indiana a red state when, in the absence of such political geography, the state may well be purple – as Obama proved.

    When ensconced in the Circle Tower Building during the workday, I lived in Perry Township and was thus (inadvertently) helping to initiate the urban-rural divide, which has since exploded into suburb and ex-urb communities and, of course, malls, auto dealerships, and fast food outlets. We need traffic engineers to blunt the toxic effects of bad and inefficient roads, but we also need a change in politics in the state house in order not only to work on the urban-rural divide but the gerrymandering problem as well in this 2020 election which is more than one about Trump; it is also one in which we have a once in ten year opportunity to reverse Republican gerrymandering, arguably more important that our federal elections.

    We are thus called upon to expend extraordinary political effort to reverse both local, state and national Republican majorities in addition to, of course, ending the reign of Put, I mean, Trump.

  14. What makes highway design complex are the number of and diversity of all of those who have a stake in the outcome. Under the best circumstances it boils down to which design serves the greatest good as measured by having spread the dissatisfaction as even as possible among all of the stakeholders.

    That job is on the verge of huge change. People who think about such things say that the future is electrification and automation quantum leaps that will result in both public and private transportation as a service. Order up a ride on the screen of your choice and a suitable device shows up where you are and the next thing that you know you are at your next place whether you are a person or a package.

    Here’s the rub. We have a hard time doing anything given our numbers and diversity. Now we have harder things to do. Will we just give up trying?

  15. From here, it looks like Forbes was unknowingly reinforcing the legislature’s arguments.

    After all, if the goal is to move more people into rural areas and inculcate in them [or their children anyway] a suspicion of “the other” by forcing them to live at a distance from people who aren’t just like them —- well, the article just gave them a wonderful way to do so without SEEMING to do so.

    “Hey, look! We’re making your highways better! You should thank us! [Never mind the fact that we’re emptying out the cities in the process. That’s just a by-product.” (And no, we’ll never admit that was our aim in the first place.)]

  16. INDOT should concentrate on rail systems in urban areas. I said so when I worked for them. They had dual track system running from Hamilton County to Johnson County. What did they don’t? Tore up tracks and left only single tracks for freight and trails. I have commented before about the bits of urban land INDOT acquired and does not maintain. New is not done in Indiana because profiteers cannot make money on new. Only on constant maintenance and construction of the old.

  17. Indiana doesn’t even main the old as Joe Castelo notes. It seems we are continually penny wise and pound foolish.

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