When Indianapolis’ first bus rapid transit route opens in 2018, the city’s bus system operator, IndyGo, wants both the service and the stations to knit the city together. The 13.6-mile Red Line will run through the heart of downtown from the northern business district of Broad Ripple south to the University of Indianapolis, passing through several designated historic neighborhoods. In search of a station design that’s consistent along the line, and able to blend in to varied neighborhoods yet be responsive to their individual styles, IndyGo hosted its first public design competition with the help of the Arts Council of Indianapolis. The winning design, announced Thursday, is inspired by Indiana’s ubiquitous barns and wooden bridges and titled Link, a nod to both the line’s purpose and to the designer Sean Morrissey’s intention to bridge the city’s architectural past with its transit-oriented future.
The competition asked that proposals consider three guiding principles: feasibility, placemaking and rider experience. Buses will travel on dedicated lanes for parts of the route, with stops both curbside and in center medians. Entrants submitted designs for both station types. They were required to be level with boarding doors, allow for prepaid ticketing, and provide bike parking and shelter from the elements; center station concepts had to allow for boarding on the both sides. Of the 31 applications IndyGo received, seven were ruled out for their lack of feasibility (due to cost or structural elements). The public cast over 2,000 votes in person and online for the remaining 24. This week, a jury that included representatives of the city’s historic preservation and mobility advisory committees made the final call.
Lauren Day, IndyGo’s manager of marketing and communications, says the jury and the public agreed on Morrissey’s proposal. “[It] took the cake because it combines this modern, thoughtful future look for where transit is going to go in Indianapolis and what it means for our city, but also used materials and a design that is accessible and welcoming, and we think will fit nicely in a variety of neighborhood characters,” she says.
Morrissey, an Indianapolis-born architect who now lives in Seattle, relished the challenge of location adaptability. “Typically architects have a site and you design to one site,” he says. “These were, you have to create a design that can be successful in many different areas.”
To do so, Morrissey stuck to a simple and open design, using cedar planks for warmth and softness, and pitched roofs reminiscent of Indiana’s barns and sheds. Entrants were also asked to identify spaces in their designs where public art could be installed — one way neighborhoods will be able to distinguish their station’s appearance. To free up wall space for maps and information, Morrissey’s proposal includes removable metal panels that can be affixed to the ceiling to allow for easy rotation of art. Each station has parking for four or five bicycles and heating elements for Indy’s blustery winters. Landscaping softens the station’s edges, says Morrissey, and will capture runoff.
The winning center platform station design (Credit: Sean Morrissey)
Morrissey will receive $5,000 for winning and the option to remain involved as his proposal moves to the engineering phase. Day says the competition was for inspiration, not final design, and the jury has already identified a few tweaks they might make: closing off a portion of the station to block the wind and other elements, replacing some of the concrete elements with a lighter material, pulling back structural beams to allow more leeway for buses. Overall though, she’s thrilled at the level of consensus around his design and those of the two runners-up. As IndyGo’s first design competition, it was “like throwing a party and seeing who would come,” she says. “And people came to our party, which was great.”
The second- and third-place designs incorporated several similar concepts, including green infrastructure, bike parking and accessibility, but relied on more modern forms that the jury worried would not gel with all neighborhoods. The third-place design featured a swooping roof, reminiscent of Indianapolis’ new transit center. The second-place design was mostly glass, with a suspended metal roof lit from below.
Construction on the 13.6-mile Red Line will start in spring 2017, with an expected completion in October 2018. It’s just the first phase of a proposed 35-mile BRT system that would be the central piece of a new regional mass transit system. The Red Line’s build out has already been partially funded through a federal Small Starts grant. It will cost approximately $96.3 million, with the city shelling out $21.3 million. The rest of the system, and a host of other proposed improvements, are detailed in the Central Indiana Transit Plan, released this spring. In the fall, Marion County voters will decide whether to support a .25 percent tax increase to fund the Red Line’s operations, the development of Blue and Purple BRT lines, and the expansion of IndyGo’s bus fleet to run longer hours with shorter wait times. The plan also includes recommendations for surrounding Hamilton and Johnson counties, but those counties’ councils have decided not to put the funding referendum on the ballot this fall.
If the referendum passes in Marion County, it will generate about $58 million per year for IndyGo, which has a $72 million annual operating budget, and Indianapolis will jump from 86th out of the country’s largest 100 cities for transit investment up to 65th. “Our public transportation system has been pretty historically underfunded,” says Day.
Jen Kinney is a freelance writer and documentary photographer. Her work has also appeared in Philadelphia Magazine, High Country News online, and the Anchorage Press. She is currently a student of radio production at the Salt Institute of Documentary Studies. See her work at jakinney.com.