While federal transportation funding and policy remain important to the build out of transit networks nation-wide, the participation of local leaders — whether in elected office or as citizen advocates — has emerged as being increasingly important. With federal funding for transit declining, local leaders must now think creatively about how to plan and finance transit systems as well as how to build support both for transit and for the financing it requires. To help build this local capacity is why TransitCenter, in partnership with Transportation for America, has created a yearlong academy for key leaders from the similarly sized regions of Indianapolis, Nashville, and Raleigh to come together and share best practices, discuss challenges, and to help each other to turn each city’s ambitious plans for transit into reality.
The first Academy was held in March in Raleigh, North Carolina, where 21 participants (seven from each region) came together for a two-day workshop to learn from each other’s experiences and from transportation experts from around the country about what it takes to improve a transit system. Experts like Jarrett Walker led participants in an exercise about how to optimize bus networks while Jeff Munn, Deputy Secretary at the North Carolina Department of Transportation, discussed the future of transit in North Carolina.
Last week, Transit Center and Transportation for America convened the second Transportation Innovation Academy in Indianapolis. Over two days, participants learned about operational challenges from current and retired transit system general managers, heard from local advocate turned State Senator Steve Farley about his experience fighting for the Tucson Streetcar, and discussed the challenges of creating transit-oriented spaces. A highlight during the two days was a quick visit by Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, who spoke passionately about his vision for transit in Indianapolis and the important role it has in spurring economic development across the city.
Participants also were able to see and bike along Indianapolis’ Cultural Trail, a bike and pedestrian pathway that connects the downtown central business district with other up-and-coming areas around Indy. The 8-mile trail connects six cultural districts in the city and links to the Monon Trail – a former rail right-of-way that has been converted into a greenway. The Cultural Trail has not only driven economic development to downtown Indy but brought attention to great local artists, helping to establish the city as a destination for arts and entertainment (in addition to its notoriety as a sports and convention hub).
The next stop for the Transportation Innovation Academy participants is Denver – a city that has achieved the kind of success with their transit system that Indy, Raleigh and Nashville hope is in their future.
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