Media

Transit is vital to Indy’s future

September 6, 2016 | Indianapolis Star | Link to Article

The rabbinical school of the Hebrew Union College has three stateside campuses, and I chose the one in New York for a single reason: the subway.

There also is a campus in Los Angeles, 100 miles from my parents and family, but after living for almost two years in that city, predominantly on its ubiquitous blacktop highways, I wanted nothing of it. I once got caught in a major traffic jam on a Thursday afternoon that turned that 100-mile trek into a seven-hour commute. Shifting sticky gears in my small two-door car, I grabbed my books from the backseat and while I rested in the heat in neutral between a black SUV and an old beat up Ford Focus I did my math homework for the entire week on the fake leather steering wheel.

The New York subway was another world entirely. I couldn’t wait to join the rush of people that flew around the city. Giant steel boxes filled with thousands of quiet souls dispersed to every living organ of that august metropolis, like the blood of a breathing mammal. Riding on the train is an experience in and of itself. One that not only is characteristic of the city, but nearly universal to all its residents.

The M.O. is to get on the train and quietly read or play on your phone, but conversations can’t help but develop, and suddenly two people who have never met, whose lives would never have crossed paths, are talking about the ball game, or the latest in the elections. Those grimy subway cars are the city’s community centers. After my first year living in Brooklyn, I sold my car without looking back.

This is why I am overjoyed that Indianapolis has begun to lay the groundwork for a more reliable rapid transit. A Bus Rapid Transit system is in the works, beginning with the Red Line, that will provide for faster and much more reliable public travel from south of Downtown all the way to Carmel, running along College Avenue. I was shocked, however, to recently learn about a small group of people are opposing the Red Line, claiming that it will harm the landscape of College Avenue.

Public transit is not only a lifestyle choice, it is also a social justice issue. A Harvard study from last year cited commuting time as the single strongest factor in a person’s chance of escaping poverty. More important than school test scores or parent involvement in a young person’s life is the ability to physically travel out of a poor neighborhood on a daily basis to not only take employment in a more economically prosperous part of town, but the ability to reliably and consistently make it to that work on time.

Although it's difficult to pin down, there may be an undercurrent of racism tied into this fight as well, wealthy white communities fighting to keep blacks and other minorities out of their neighborhoods. Just this past week I pulled up Google Maps on my phone to get directions to the Monon Center in Carmel and read the following review: “It used be a great Aqua park, (2015) but this season is crowded and full with mostly non local residents, predominately African- Americans. I have concerns about the park crowds and in the future I won't be visiting.” As a Jewish community we stand categorically against racism in all its forms, overt or not.

This is all aside from the environmental benefits of rapid transit. There is no question that having a unified mode of transport decreases our greenhouse gas emissions, moderating the negative impact of global warming and leaving our air cleaner to breathe.

A few weeks ago, the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation partnered with Metazoa Brewing Company to do a program called Beer Havdallah. After the program, we packed up the last of the food and schmoozed our way slowly out to the parking lot. Each of us tired, we ended our conversations so that we could start the journey home. In the 20 minute drive back I never once lost sight of the people I had just said goodnight to, a flock of cars migrating north, each person sealed silently in glass and alloy. We drove the exact route the Red Line is planned for, we could have spent that time continuing the conversation and being with each other.

We have a responsibility to our city, we have a responsibility to our world, and we are organized. IndyCAN, our interfaith social action network, is leading a campaign called the Ticket to Opportunity. Join us, sign the petition online. Read about the Red Line. We know that we can make this world a better place, but we have to get there, and we’re not finished if we can’t all get there together.

Rabbi Fox serves the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation.