Indianapolis Transit Design Prioritizes People Over Parking

IndyCountyGrossVPA3D e1612461381395

IndyGo engaged Urban3 and Multistudio (formerly known as Gould Evans) to do an analysis on the households and land use activities and development patterns in the census tracts that were within approximately a half mile of the future Blue Line. Their signature “Geoaccounting” methodology immediately showed how productive Indianapolis’s compact, walkable city center was for municipal coffers. In fact, downtown was essentially paying for public services across the entire rest of the city and county, a line of argument that Brooke notes was particularly persuasive to the local Chamber of Commerce and other influential members of the business community. 

Urban3’s analysis revealed that while some existing zoning regulations required residential developments to have at least two parking spaces per unit, half of all Marion County households had only one car or no car at all; this was the case for an even larger percentage of households close to existing or planned future transit corridors. 

Indianapolitans had more parking spaces than they needed, which was highly relevant given another Urban3 insight: As in many cities, surface parking was the least possible productive use of land in Indianapolis. On average, according to Urban3’s analysis of public property tax records, a single parking space was generating 73 cents per square foot per year for the city, compared to the generation of $52 per square foot for even a modest building.

Armed with this knowledge, in August 2021, the City of Indianapolis was able to pass additional measures that would foster the kind of dense, human-centered development that they knew would be safer, environmentally healthier, and financially smarter. As the Indianapolis Business Journal reported, “City-County Council voted 20–5 for new development standards that add residential and mixed-use districts to push bus usage, walkability and density county-wide… The ordinance will go into effect Nov. 1, nearly 99 years to the day since Indianapolis started regulating development.”

Austin Gibble, a former IndyGo transit planner and Congress for the New Urbanism-Midwest Board member described the new regulations in more detail on their blog: “Throughout most of the ‘Compact Zone’ (city areas built before WWII) apartment homes up to fourplexes are now permitted by-right. A new transit-oriented development (TOD) overlay has been introduced, extending 1,000 feet from both sides of the corridor. This new overlay makes higher density developments easier to construct without jumping through numerous hoops. It introduces new design standards for developments to ensure that any development is oriented to the pedestrian. Additionally, within the overlay, many automobile-oriented uses are strongly regulated or outright prohibited.”

These are significant reforms, but Brooke insists that by simply adding a second floor to an existing building, for instance, developers can help supply meet current and future demand for housing, adding potential customers that will stimulate local economies. 

The experience of Brooke and her colleagues in Indianapolis contains lessons for other communities looking to effect similar changes.

Perhaps most importantly, despite these clear policy victories, Brooke knows that new, better zoning is actually only part of the battle. Ongoing vigilance is required to ensure that these new regulations are properly interpreted, administered, and enforced. She points to a few non-conforming projects, including some surface parking lots near BRT stations, that have been allowed to move forward after the local zoning ordinance was updated to expressly prohibit them. Legislation, no matter how progressive, is only as good as its enforcement. This is where local policymakers and regulators need to pay special attention over the long term.

Indianapolis’s efforts to lift parking minimums and support higher density levels might not have been possible without a broad coalition of planners, local government officials, environmental advocates, and corporate leaders, each of whom saw their own agendas being advanced by these reforms: more tax revenues and more transit customers, with as little regulation as possible. A more walkable and transit-friendly development allows for all of these at the same time, but until these outcomes were made literally visible by Urban3, they were difficult to communicate, much less act on.

Urban3 supplied advocates with the tools they needed—math and maps—to show the rest of their community what was already happening in the City, and where they could go next.

You May Also Like