Mobility is a top concern for cities, and here in St. Paul we are at a major turning point. With the Green Line open, our first Bus Rapid Transit line near completion, and a citywide bike plan passed, our city and broader East Metro region is preparing for a future with more mobility options and less reliance on fossil fuel. As St. Paul joins the pack of forward-thinking cities making smart long-term decisions, we do well to look at models that are further ahead and bring home some tips we can use. And while cities like Copenhagen and Portland may grab headlines, a nearer neighbor has some innovative projects under way: Indianapolis.
Fresh Energy brought Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard to St. Paul last week to talk about two nationally recognized mobility projects: the city’s Cultural Trail that links key downtown destinations and surrounding communities with a bicycle and pedestrian trail, and its post-oil vehicle project to convert its entire municipal non-police fleet to electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles by 2025.
In meetings with business, community, and city leaders, Ballard said his decisions around transportation were simple. He moved to switch the entire municipal fleet over to electric vehicles because he doesn’t want a transportation system that is dependent on imports from foreign countries. And he fully supports the walking and biking infrastructure because he wants to attract talent to Indianapolis.
“My main job is attracting talent and creating a city that talent wants to come to,” he said. People used to move for the job. But now, they move and find a job in a place they want to live. So you have to create a place that they want to live. Bike lanes and mobility options are a piece of that. The Cultural Trail has gotten us enormous publicity.”
Completed in 2012, the Cultural Trail has been a documented success for businesses and residents. Property values within a block of the trail have increased $1 billion (a 144 percent increase), businesses are adding jobs and expanding hours – all because there is a safe and reliable way to shop, eat, exercise, commute and attend events throughout downtown. Mayor Ballard’s electric fleet program is partway through a six-month process of converting its nearly 500 non-responding sedans to electric or plug-in hybrid vehicles, with an estimated savings to taxpayers of an estimated $12,000 per vehicle over the 10-year life cycle of each car.
Sole Republican among top-city mayors
Connecting people, attracting and retaining talent, and national security are top of mind for Ballard, who as a 23-year Marine Corps veteran and the only mayor in the nation’s 15 largest cities to run and win as a Republican. Since being elected in 2007, Ballard has helped put Indianapolis on the map for their leadership on electric vehicles and walking and biking infrastructure.
Every decision we make about our public infrastructure helps decide how people will move throughout our city. As a St. Paul-based organization committed to speeding the transition to a clean energy economy, Fresh Energy encourages leaders to learn from Indianapolis and invest to create variety of options to move throughout our neighborhoods – and embrace innovative solutions to reliance on oil and gas.
St. Paul businesses, families, and visitors deserve a transportation system with options that work for everyone. We know it can work. All we need is to do it.
Michael Noble is the executive director of Fresh Energy, a St. Paul based energy policy nonprofit.
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