IndyGo releases Red Line public safety plan

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — IndyGo has finally released its long-delayed Red Line emergency vehicle response plan under prodding from Broad Ripple residents who believe the groundbreaking bus rapid transit system will lead to traffic congestion, public safety delays and unexpected development along North College Avenue.

During a community forum at the Indianapolis Art Center on February 19th, John Kniesly restated his ongoing request that IndyGo release the plan it has been developing with IMPD, IFD and IEMS for more than a year.

At first, an IndyGo forum moderator rebuffed Kniesly and told him he could file a Freedom of Information Act request for the public document, but last week the IndyGo Red Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Operations: Emergency Vehicle Interaction Procedures report was listed on the transit corporation’s website.

The report was apparently updated and ready for publication in January.

The plan details emergency vehicle operations and interactions with the Red Line, its curbside and in-street loading stations and its 60-foot long articulated electric buses all along the 13-mile route. The route runs from Broad Ripple on the north through downtown Indianapolis and on to Fountain Square and the University of Indianapolis to the south.

Included are sketches that detail emergency vehicles literally sharing dedicated lanes with the buses, sometimes in head-on configurations, predicting that drivers and first responders will jockey with motorists and other vehicles for scarce roadway during crisis response incidents.

“What I see is potential bottlenecks with a stopped IndyGo megabus in the center lane and an emergency vehicle speeding up the road in one lane or the other according to the plan,” said Kniesly. “When an ambulance or fire truck or a policeman has their siren on and lights are flashing, what do you and I do as drivers? We come to a stop. Now depending on where you are relative to the bus, you are either gonna block the movement of that emergency vehicle around the bus, or you’re going to be in harm’s way.

“If we are going northbound on College with the emergency vehicle, and you happen to be coming southbound, and you’re in the blind spot, you come to a stop. And you’re in the blind spot of the emergency vehicle who now maybe has to swing to the southbound lane to get around… I would not want to be in that vehicle.”

The Red Line plan indicates bus drivers will communicate with the IndyGo dispatch system to coordinate with first responders even to the point of coming to a dead halt until the emergency vehicle has passed or stopped on College Avenue at its destination.

“We don’t think that will hinder that at all,” said Justin Stuehrenberg, IndyGo Vice President of Planning and Capital Projects. “The public safety vehicles will have full use of our dedicated lanes. Our operating plan will call for us to halt at a station so that we don’t block that lane, and IFD can bring their apparatus down that dedicated lane so that shouldn’t hinder their response time at all. It may even help it in cases like this.”

IMPD is taking a wait-and-see position regarding the Red Line’s emergency vehicle response plan.

“Our number  one priority is to make sure our emergency vehicles can get to people,” said Major Brian Mahone of IMPD’s Homeland Security Division. “We don’t want to be too negative on it right now because we haven’t seen the effects of it. We haven’t exactly gotten a full look at what that displaced traffic is going to look like in the traffic plan.”

The Department of Public Works recently released a traffic diversion plan which envisions motorists bypassing College Avenue for other parallel north-south side thoroughfares during Red Line construction and perhaps beyond the system’s expected September launch date.

“I would say under an emergency situation, we are adding to the danger for the neighborhood,” said Kniesly. “The danger may lie in traffic issues, but it's certainly gonna lie in delayed response time for our public servants who are responding to an emergency.”

Kniesly lives on Park Avenue, one of those parallel streets motorists now access to avoid Red Line construction.

“I have already seen some folks use our alley at incredibly high speed. For me to back out of my garage into the alley when that car comes up at that speed, there’s gonna be trouble in the alley,” Kniesly said. “The traffic’s got to come and go somewhere, and it's gonna come off College and go to Park probably more so Central.”

At several locations on Central Avenue, DPW has installed temporary traffic lights and speed bumps to accommodate the new traffic patterns.

Under its agreement with the city, IndyGo must complete a report on the Red Line impact on traffic within two years of the first buses running.

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