Mathieu Thouvenin / Flickr

The Indy Rezone plan gives breaks to buildings that provide bike, car-share, or bus access.

Indianapolis is about as car-reliant as it gets for a big American city. Census data from 2013 puts the share of city commuters who drive to work alone at 82 percent. Another 10 percent do carpool, though predominantly with just two people total in the vehicle, while only 2 percent take public transportation and another 2 percent walk. If you squint you can see the bicycle commute share: roughly half a percent.

Local planners do seem to recognize the problem, and they have some ideas in the works to change it. The city has drafted a major new zoning plan called Indy Rezone, the first such update in decades, which takes some meaningful if modest steps toward encouraging alternative transportation modes. Here’s one planner speaking about the Rezone vision to the Indianapolis Star:

"Drive, drive, drive has been the Central Indiana paradigm for years and many developers still have that mentality," said Tammara Tracy, principal city planner. "We are trying to ease them into the new urban model with carrots."

These carrots will take the form of relaxed parking requirements. In Indy, as in many U.S. cities, residential and commercial building developers have parking minimums, meaning they’re required to construct a certain number of parking spaces. The negative results of these minimums can include way more parking than the market would demand, higher rents to cover the (very high) cost of making the spaces, and of course more traffic.

The Indy Rezone plan (still under review by the city) would offer developers a chance to swap out conventional off-street parking spots for a number of alternatives (see Section 3):

  • EV charging stations. For each station (which counts as a parking spot) a developer can drop two additional spots from its minimum.
  • Car-share. For each shared vehicle or car- and vanpool space (again, which counts toward the minimum), a develop can drop four spots.
  • Bicycle parking. For every five bike spaces a developer can lose one car space.
  • Transit proximity. Developers who build within a quarter-mile of the city’s official transit corridor can reduce their minimum by 30 percent; those within a half mile can reduce it 10 percent.

The plan is far from perfect. It doesn’t go nearly as far as Seattle’s recent proposal to swap parking spots for transit passes. The reduction in spaces by the above measures is capped at 35 percent, and plenty of parking minimums will remain in effect—including a full space per dwelling for some multi-family buildings. (In some downtown and mixed-use districts, however, no off-street parking is required.) So even as Indy Rezone nudges the city away from car travel, it offers conflicting rules that work to maintain the status quo.

But in acknowledging the need for a new direction, Indy Rezone signals an official desire for a more balanced urban mobility network. And it comes as the city explores other improvements to the public transportation network, such as the proposed IndyGo Forward bus system redesign. As long as it’s not also the end, it’s a decent start.

This post has been updated to clarify that off-street parking is not required in some districts in the Indy Rezone plan.

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