What Do The Children Want? TOD, Probably

The Indianapolis Children’s Museum wants more parking. And to do so, they say, requires the demolition of nearby structures, including the Drake and Salvation Army complex. These structures are aimed to be replaced by surface parking, geared toward enhancing programming for future exhibits. According to IBJ:

“The Drake apartment building at 3060 N. Meridian St. and the former Indiana divisional headquarters of the Salvation Army at 3100 N. Meridian St. both will be torn down in coming months, the museum said. Both properties are expected to be turned into surface lots in the near term, as the museum decides how they will be used down the road.

“We know that this is going to be disappointing to a lot of our neighbors, but this is not something we decided to do quickly or lightly,” said Brian Statz, vice president of operations for the Children’s Museum.”

He said planning for the properties will be focused on new programming for the museum, rather than creating permanent parking on the parcels—although he noted the parking in the short-term will provide “much-needed relief” to residents of the surrounding neighborhood and to visitors who often compete for parking spaces.”

Yeah, that makes sense, if the museum campus were anywhere other than directly next to a future rapid transit line.

This is troublesome news because the 30th/Meridian corridor lay within a transit-oriented development (TOD) zone, geared toward leveraging the newly built Red Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line along Meridian. You know, the $90+ million dollar project instrumental to reducing Indianapolis’ automobile-dependency. You know, the first all-electric rapid transit line in the country that connects Broad Ripple with the University of Indianapolis, giving Indianapolitans a true opportunity to live and work without a car for the first time in decades. Yeah, that Red Line.

While museum leaders say they have exhausted all other options, the fact remains that surface parking creates a low-intensity land-use along the Red Line corridor, negating its possible benefits. While the lot is supposedly “temporary”, as we’ve seen before, Indy is riddled with former temporary lots that indefinitely outlasted their welcome. Instead of increasing jobs, services, housing and retail options near frequent transit which facilitates higher use of walk/bike/transit, museum leaders decided more cars are what is needed. This is in direct contradiction to the inertia growing behind increasing mobility options in the compact city zone and in direct rebuke of efforts made by IndyGo and Indy Moves!.

On the flip side, the saturation of nearby parking sends the opposite signal to denizens and visitors, encouraging even more driving and mitigating the intended benefits of Red Line transit-oriented development. Why can’t we have nice things without parking? Looking at the above map, there seems to be a glut of nearby parking with even more a few blocks to the south at the Ivy Tech campus. Is more parking really what the museum needs? Or is it increased access?

While the Drake and the Salvation Army complex require repairs supposedly prohibitive for rehabilitation, reducing them to rubble and installing a parking lot is just plain silly. This post isn’t against a reuse of that property – it is simply arguing that a parking lot is not appropriate adjacent to a rapid transit line. At all.

If Indianapolis is ever going to be seriously considered a “real city” in the fact that it can support living without a car, then these sort of short-sighted decisions need to stop being made. If Indy’s planners and civic leaders are actually being honest about increasing affordable housing and transportation choices, and averting climate catastrophe, they must demand smarter choices around transit investments and continue to champion transit access. 

Add this to the irony that an institution founded on the education of children is so keen on upholding the automobile-dependent status quo which is dooming future generations. Tell me again how designing urban environments around speeding 2,000 lb. death machines is conducive for the well-being of children? A city built around children is not one built around parking lots. (For more, I highly suggest Mintzer’s 2017 TED talk on the subject).

You know what’s a short-term solution to reducing congestion and increasing access to the Children’s Museum? Rapid transit. I am not sure how a surface parking lot enhances exhibits or programs. Again, this is along a BRT line.

Thankfully, the Department of Metropolitan Development seems on board with this sentiment. According to Emily Mack, director for DMD:

“Based on what the IBJ reported, the installation of surface parking will necessitate a zoning change, which would require a public hearing before the Metropolitan Development Commission. Both DMD staff and the MDC value transit-oriented development, which is a significant collaborative priority for the city of Indianapolis, Metropolitan Planning Organization, and IndyGo.”

As always, we await updates on when that public meeting would occur. As for the Indianapolis Children’s Museum?

Do better.

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