Red Line health impacts discussed at UIndy

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In the past two months since the Red Line’s opening, the rapid-transit public transportation route running north to south through central Indianapolis has created healthy opportunities for its riders, according to Marion County Public Health Department Healthy Communities Planner Alison Redenz. On Oct. 24, Redenz and Health by Design and Indiana Public Health Association Special Projects Manager Betsy Prentice spoke with University of Indianapolis students about the various public health impacts that the Red Line has made on the community.

Redenz said that she is the first person in Indianapolis to hold her position because her division of the Marion County Public Health Department was created in fall 2018. According to Redenz, the Red Line has had a major impact on Indianapolis’ public health in terms of equity between neighborhoods.

“We’re really thinking, what we call, ‘upstream,’” Redenz said. “What does our built environment look like? What is our access to parks? What do our neighborhoods look like? Can we access fresh and healthy food in our neighborhoods? Do we have transportation options that actually lead to economic and educational opportunity? We don’t really think of these traditionally in public health, but they all are really part of the puzzle.”

The Red Line is changing the way Indianapolis communities look, but a lot of Indianapolis is still not very accessible by modes of transportation that are not driving, Redenz said. There are public health hazards in the design of Indianapolis roadways, according to Redenz.

“What a lot of our community looks like, which is just huge wide roads meant to move people as fast as possible through them. Maybe no sidewalk connections, no place for someone to wait for a bus and that’s not really the kind of community you want to be creating if you want good health outcomes,” Redenz said. “People like to talk a lot about distracted driving and texting and driving and that’s not really the problem, that’s a symptom of a root cause.”

Photo by Macy Judd Public health experts Alison Redenz and Betsy Prentice came to UIndy to talk about the Redline and how it impacts the community’s health.

Speaking to the issue of public health, Prentice said that people’s choices are limited to what is available and easily accessible to them. According to Prentice, it is not surprising that walking, biking and public transportation are healthier than driving, but those alternatives are not always an option for everyone.

“In order to have healthy people, those people need to have healthy behaviors,” Prentice said. “In order for people to have healthy behaviors, they need to live in healthy environments, and in order for us to have healthy environments, we need to have healthy policies.”

Prentice said that streets need to be accessible for not only the people driving cars, but also for pedestrians, cyclists and public transportation riders.“

Typically when we want to get to a destination, we hop in our car and drive,” Prentice said. “We need to shift our mindset to be more inclusive and adopt this mindset that streets need to be inclusive.”

The Red Line is credited for creating opportunities for some of the inclusion that Prentice advocates for, Redenz said. The Red Line created a specific opportunity to build a two-way protected bike lane on Illinois Street, Redenz said.

“There’s a lot of changes happening [in] Indianapolis right now. Right out there [near UIndy] on Shelby [Street], that’s the southern terminus of the Red Line,” Redenz said. “We have two more lines that are coming, [the] Purple Line will be going out to bid, in 2020 [and] go into construction in 2021. Then the Blue Line will be going out to bid in 2021 and then in construction in 2022, which will go from Cumberland all the way to the airport. [The] Purple Line will go from Fort Ben all the way to downtown.”

CORRECTION: Oct. 31, 2019 at 12:41 p.m. EST

An earlier version of the article stated that the Purple Line would begin construction in 2020, construction is set to begin in 2021.

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