GARY | Picture light rail or a rapid transit bus running every 10 minutes down Broadway through Gary, maybe all the way to Crown Point.
Indiana University Northwest Professor Earl Jones can envision such beefed-up public transportation along the Steel City's main thoroughfare. It's a recommendation in planning documents Jones helped develop over the past two decades, which ended up helping The Gary Public Transit Corp. secure $250,000 in federal and local grants to study Broadway transit improvements earlier this year.
"(He) was the impetus for the discourse on the best transit," David Wright said of Jones. Wright is the planning and marketing manager for the Gary Public Transit Corp.
The Gary Public Transit Corp. soon will use that grant money to hire a consultant, who will confer with the public and business owners over the next year to figure out how to improve public transportation on Broadway through Gary, Merrillville and Crown Point. The agency performed a similar study before launching its new Griffith route, which has blossomed over its first year into the second busiest route in the system with between 7,500 and 8,500 riders per month, Wright said.
Buses currently run down Broadway every half hour. The study could look at options such as more frequent bus services, more shelters, payment kiosks on the street and the extension of sidewalks where there are none, he said.
Better public transit is a key to turning around a city that's struggled for decades with abandonment, blight and crime, Jones said. It's integral to his vision for a strong downtown with an academic center and mixed-use developments that add more residents and retail. Jones said his "Gary Plan" and "Visions for Broadway" studies complemented other revitalization efforts, such as IUN's $45 million performing arts center building and Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson's University Park revitalization project.
Jones soon will build upon his plans with new lessons picked up abroad. He is heading off this summer with study-abroad students to Shanghai, China, where they will gather economic development ideas that could be used to rebuild Gary. He has has been studying economic and urbanization policies in China and South Africa, and is planning a future research trip to Cape Town.
"If places like Gary are going to thrive, the money has to come from outside," Jones said. "This is exactly what happened in China. Global investment combined with government and private resources turned the country around."
An investment in light rail or a trolley could draw more private-sector investment, such as in transit-oriented housing, or stores at stops along the route, Jones said. Such an influx of cash would create jobs and help make Gary more liveable. Glen Park residents or IUN students, for instance, could take transit to the Adam Benjamin Metro Center and take the South Shore Line to Chicago or Michigan City.
"Transportation is a major step in revitalization," he said. "De-urbanization – people moving out – in part led to the decline of Gary, and repopulation is a priority. Urbanization could be an economic engine that could drive the region, but right now the strategy in Northwest Indiana has no emphasis on the older core."
Much more would need to be done, including improving aesthetics along Broadway, managing vacant properties and adding downtown attractions like an academic center that would give people more reason to visit and restore a sense of place, Jones said.