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Rapid-transit buses linking Greenwood, Carmel envisioned

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Try taking the bus from Greenwood to Carmel, and the trip would take at least two hours, including a half-hour you’d have to spend at a bus stop.

You’d be stranded at 96th Street, until you were able to summon a dial-a-ride bus to come pick you up.

But a new regional plan for mass transit calls for a much quicker, more direct route. Potentially, you could hop on a rapid-transit bus, or a bus that operates like a train, and go from Greenwood Park Mall to the Palladium in Carmel.

Mass transit advocacy group Indy Connect is proposing a “red line” route that would take Greenwood residents all the way across Indianapolis to the far north suburbs. You could take a rapid-transit bus to stops across the city, including the University of Indianapolis, downtown, the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and Broad Ripple.

Riders from Johnson County also could stop at a new transit center downtown and take another rapid-transit bus or train to Indianapolis International Airport or other destinations across the city, Indy Connect spokesman Sean White said.

Early talk had centered on light rail lines to Fishers and Greenwood, but the focus has shifted to more cost-effective rapid-transit buses, at least with the Greenwood route, Greenwood Mayor Mark Myers said. All options are being studied, but Greenwood would likely get stops on a 25-mile rapid-transit bus line that would stretch to the northside instead of just a light rail train or streetcar to downtown, he said.

Before that could happen, state lawmakers would have to allow referendums on funding mass transit.

If lawmakers allow it, Marion and surrounding counties could have public votes as soon as 2014 on whether residents would be willing to pay more in taxes for the $1.3 billion transit plan, Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority board member and former Greenwood City Council member Ron Deer said.

Local option income taxes would increase by three-tenths of a percentage point. The local option income tax currently is 1 percent in Johnson County, so a person making $40,000 a year would pay an extra $120 a year in income taxes under the proposal.

Federal funding also could help pay for the expanded transit system, White said.

Indy Connect recently used a federal grant to launch a series of ads aimed at drumming up public support for the project.

The group is asking residents to weigh in online and at public meetings about what stops they’d like to see and which amenities would get them to ride transit, White said. For instance, they could request Wi-Fi Internet connections, cellphone chargers or good lighting at the stations, he said.

Public feedback will be considered while the Indianapolis Metropolitan Planning Organization is planning the routes, White said.

Myers said planners had been discussing a Greenwood route that would go down Madison Avenue or U.S. 31 to new stations around Greenwood Park Mall and possibly farther south into Greenwood. Madison Avenue likely would be chosen over U.S. 31 since there’s less traffic and the area is less developed, he said.

The route would pass through downtown Indianapolis and continue north along Meridian Street or some other major street and into Carmel, ending at the Center for the Performing Arts.

Greenwood residents would get an alternative way to get to work or other destinations, Myers said. They could save money on gas, cut down on the wear and tear on their vehicles and enjoy a more relaxed commute, he said.

“My nephew outside of Chicago gets paid for his time on the train when he works on the computer,” he said. “Maybe we could have the option to log on to their laptops and work while they’re on the bus.”

The bus also would make it easier to get to Greenwood, and people from Indianapolis could come to the Greenwood Park Mall area more often to shop, eat or go to the movies, Myers said. More Indianapolis residents also could come to work at the mall or in surrounding stores.

Planners are studying the red line that would run 25 miles between Greenwood and Carmel, White said. They’ll work out details such as whether it would be a rapid-transit bus or light rail and where to put the stations.

Rapid-transit buses would be a more cost-effective option for routes where there aren’t already train tracks, White said.

The buses function a lot like trains and sometimes even have multiple entrances like subway cars, White said. Riders go to a sheltered station with benches, where an electronic screen shows when the next bus would come by, he said.

They might pay the fare at the station instead of when they board and could expect a bus every 15 minutes during peak periods. The frequency would boost ridership, White said.

“A common complaint about riding the bus is that it takes too long and they have to wait,” White said. “But when you have more frequency and fewer stops, it’s more reliable.”

The buses wouldn’t stop every block but at stations spaced far enough apart to ensure quicker trips to downtown and other locations, White said.

Rapid-transit buses could drive in dedicated lanes or have priority signals at intersections to make the trips even faster, White said.

Greenwood residents could benefit even if they didn’t take the buses because it would mean less traffic on major commuting roads and less air pollution, Deer said. They’d also gain an alternative way to get to hospitals, universities and other destinations and enjoy more leisure time when not driving, he said.

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