As summer road construction season comes to its seasonal decline, workers downtown have been diligently ripping Delaware Street into shreds, producing waist-deep holes through which they can repair the city’s subterranean infrastructure. In one such pit, it was interesting to watch workers try to navigate a narrow strip of street-level steel that bisected the crevice, obstructed their work. While for the most part, Indianapolis’ vast network of interurban rail lines were pulled up and scrapped there are a few places in and around downtown where the lines were simply paved over. Above, the actual tracks and brick lined street below are visible just north of Washington Street, yet one can follow them for nearly a dozen blocks north, their seasonal hot and cold expansion wrecking havoc on the pavement above. The same can be done heading east on Washington Street past East Street, heading under elevated tracks via the awkward two-way center span, height adjusted for streetcars that no longer pass below.
That Indianapolis once had a vibrant streetcar network is no real secret. The Interurban faced the same fate as dozens of city transit lines throughout the country as the national obsession with the freedom associated with the automobile began to short-sightedly eliminate public transit. And as Indianapolis was neither confined by geographical space or population overflow as, say, New York City, there was little need or desire to build a subway system that would have been less easily dismantled (though not impossibly so, hello Cincinnati).
While the Great American Streetcar scandal, in which General Motors, Standard Oil, Firestone Tire and Mack Trucks were involved in buying out and closing down streetcar lines throughout the county, didn’t explicitly involve the Indianapolis interurban, following the national trend, our streetcar lines were systematically replaced with bus lines that eventually withered away themselves.
Today, as gas prices continue to rise and traffic congestion plagues both the everyday and the occasional driver, plans to revitalize Indianapolis’ public transit are in the works. Though it certainly faces challenges on many levels, in this man’s opinion, a modern and efficient rail system echoing our streetcar past is one of the things our city needs in order to prepare us for our future.