Central Indiana’s work commute origins

guest blog by Jennifer Gebhard, Program Manager, CIRTA/Commuter Connect

If you look at Central Indiana commuting over time, you’ll find that a lot of our choices for getting to work have been reactions to events and conditions surrounding us … war, for example, or economic upheaval.

Now we find ourselves making another set of adjustments based on outside factors. But maybe, once this current global upheaval passes, we can be proactive about commuting rather than reactive.

In the early 20th Century, most central Indiana residents traveled to work by walking, riding a streetcar or taking the interurban, a railway system that connected Indianapolis with outlying communities statewide. The tracks on which the streetcars and interurbans operated were pulled up and paved over decades ago, but we still see remnants of them today.

Streets on the Southside are named for numbered stops along the interurban line that ran down Madison Avenue: Stop 10, Stop 11, Stop 12 and Stop 13. And the clusters of businesses at intersections along College Avenue are there because of the streetcars that once ran north and south along that route. Think Broad Ripple Avenue, Kessler Ave., 54th and 52nd streets.

As car ownership became more popular in the following decades, interurban routes and streetcars were abandoned. Throughout the 1930s, electric rail lines abandoned. The last interurban car left Traction Terminal in downtown Indianapolis in 1941.

A few years later, carpooling became prominent, as the federal government promoted it as a rubber- and fuel-rationing strategy during World War II. War-time posters used several angles to promote carpools, including the hyperbolic, “When you ride ALONE, you ride with Hitler” headline.

When the war was over, and American manufacturing shifted from producing war-related items to consumer goods, we responded by returning to our own cars. In 1950, America produced more than 8 million cars; by 1958, there were more than 67 million cars registered in the United States, more than twice the number at the start of the decade. By 1959, Henry Ford’s goal of 30 years earlier – that any man with a good job should be able to afford a car – was achieved. In the following years, we responded to the development of the national highway interstate system by commuting longer distances, often alone.

And then the energy crisis of the 1970s sent us scrambling back into carpools, trying to conserve fuel and reduce the pain of skyrocketing gas prices. According to the Census Bureau, by 1980, roughly 23.5% of Americans were carpooling … but then gas prices fell, disposable incomes rose and government support of alternative commuting options evaporated. By 2011, the carpool rate had fallen to 11%.

Now we face a new influence on commuting patterns: COVID-19, which, for many of us, has essentially brought commuting to a halt as we work from home thanks to internet connectivity. Telecommuting has become our primary form of commuting. So, once again, our commuting habits have been shaped by outside forces.

But maybe it’s time for all of us proactively choose the best commuting option rather than submitting to the conditions. Obviously, we at Commuter Connect encourage people to choose to get to work in ways that don’t involve each of us driving separately in our own cars. And we’re working to make that easier.

These days we promote carpooling in Central Indiana by making it easier with technology. The Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority (CIRTA) offers several commuting supports including the Commuter Connect website, which provides free accounts to upload your commute information and find carpool matches, bus and connector routes, bike-riding buddies and other means to share the ride to work. It also allows you to track “green commutes” to measure the money you save and emissions you reduce.

So, let’s spend this time when we’re essentially not commuting to plan for the day when we start commuting again. Let’s look forward to spending more time with people by commuting together. And let’s make the next milestone in our commuting history one that contributes to cleaner air, easier commutes and a stronger sense of community.

Prepare for the return to public interaction by signing up for a Commuter Connect account and planning for commuting partners for when the crisis lifts. Share the ride and return to a “new normal” that’s even better than the old one.


The Return

By Branden A.

After spending eighteen years in prison, I felt like a baby bird taking his initial flight. I now had the entire universe to explore at my own free will. It was exhilarating, a feeling of being uncaged and free, but what was I coming home to?

Hired by the Indiana State Hospital within two days of release, I was making a living by working at a temp agency in the food service department. With my family and childhood friends in my corner, I felt hopeful about my future but the lights beyond the prison walls aren’t always bright.

I saw darkness. Humanity didn’t progress while I was gone, it declined.

Technology baffled me to the point of great confusion. I didn’t know how to email or tackle the basic things people take for granted.

Also, my hometown had become a war zone. My nieces and nephews had grown up alone – the cycle of incarceration – ever present in their lives. In my neighborhood, drugs were still there and the dealing game was strong. A lot of my childhood friends were still caught up in that life. I had to learn to distance myself from them. The lifestyle breeds jealousy, greed and criminal activity. It was still around me.

In addition to technology and the streets, I had a tough time adjusting to my work environment. I was lied to, passed over for opportunities of advancement and felt undervalued. I realized that everything I had learned in prison – studying culinary arts and receiving certificates – didn’t matter in the workforce because of office politics: who you know, and what you’re willing to do. Stress and anxiety weighed me down.

I quit my job with no safety net to harness my fall.

Two months had passed without employment and it tested my core but also revealed something – how I can endure – especially after almost two decades of incarceration. Still, I was completely broke, broken and embarrassed. I stayed in my house for two weeks, too embarrassed leave. I dove into my safe space, searching inside myself for answers.

I shared my disappointments with my mom. I began to set boundaries with friends and started to build up the confidence I had developed in prison. With a change of mindset, I was now ready to forge ahead, and move at my own pace, feeling out the culture like a blind man reading braille. I discovered a harsh truth: freedom isn’t free. To be free means sacrificing on a level I was not used to. I was used to feeling important and needed. It was my biggest adjustment.

This made me question who I was on the outside. It wasn’t easy.

While my prison neighbors (grown men with kids and wives who had once upon a time had ordinary lives) held monkey-style wars, I read. While the light in my cell stayed on for 24-hours and flickered a neon glow on my face, I learned. I continued to stick with it once I was released. I contacted my writing teacher to figure out how to continue to rise in my new environment. I wanted to build on the spark ignited while on the inside.

My sanctuary had become writing and I needed it now more than ever.

While in prison, I started writing on a serious level. I had a lifetime pass in the prison library where I spend an agonizing four years in solitary confinement and where there are only two choices: grow or give up. My choice was always to grow.

Within a month of being released from prison and through the work with the writing workshop, I was asked to do talks and readings in Indianapolis, including radio shows and writing contests, and people in my life were amazed with pride. How did the neighborhood knucklehead become a voice and community leader? How did a man that knows nothing about this day and age come home and change a community vibe by just being present? I had once been a street thug with no deep understanding of who I was, trapped in my warped sense of pride.

Was it the talk with my mentor, Mr. Sams, before he was released from prison? He showed me how one can make a difference by solely believing in himself as well as in others? Or, was it the writing teacher, Mrs. Deb, who had sparked a greater purpose of change because I could now could see the special talent that was talked about? This gave me a vessel to hone my voice. Or, did it take me getting kicked out of one prison and sent to another facility within less than six months of my release? I had been labeled a notorious gang leader. It could have been the loss of my father and big sister while gone that was a wake-up call to my soul. I missed too many events. It was time to see the light and be the light, to shine.

Maybe it was a combination of all the people who lifted me up.

My neighborhood is filled with pockets of meth, heroin and pills that was once dominated by crack rock and cocaine but it doesn’t mean I am a product of it. I’ve come too far for to go back. My worst ordeal – imprisonment – made me the best version of myself. I took time to reflect, learn and grow. Without the downfalls, I wouldn’t know which way was up. I’m showing the world how to live, love and smile through adversity. I was gone for a long time but now I have returned.

Branden A. is a thirty-six-year-old survivor of an eighteen-year-sentence. Newly released, he is taking the skills learned throughout his life and honed in the DOC to become a successful writer, which he perfected while in the creative writing workshop.

My Community

by Brandon

Right outside my narrow penitentiary window is a vibrant never-ending landscape just beyond my reach. Every day, I sit and watch the world move and shake with the grind of living in this new day and age, and I remember.

I am almost two decades removed from my era and the world that I knew. I remember a time when things were different, when my parents listened to grown folk music like Al Green, Sam Cooke and B.B. King and threw late night house parties and got drunk. They did dance routines while I drew pictures and told jokes, and it was all good fun for everyone as I wafted through liquor fumes and cigarette smoke. I remember a time when kids were made to go outside and play. I remember my sister and I would debate all the awful things that would happen if we dared drink.

Then, I remember when it all ended: when court-cases heartaches separated my friendships, when gang banging became my way of life, when the Department of Corrections became my plight, where guns transformed into knives, and wrongs replaced my rights.

I cannot forget solitary confinement and realizing how far down the rabbit hole that I went. Surrounded by the suicidal swings of being buried alive and someone still trying to keep a glimmer of false hope inside, even after my Daddy and sister died. I struggle on, remembering where I came from, what I lived through, and the future that I’m headed toward.

I am meant for greatness. I’m meant for more. I can’t wait until the day I can only remember looking out of this narrow caged-in window with the shitty view and instead embrace the feeling I had leaving behind a mountain of misery that kept my soaring spirt shamefully glued to the floor and having pride with my head held high, leaving out the oppressive penitentiary door.

Brandon A. is an inmate currently living at Plainfield Correctional Facility. He is a participant of Indiana Prison Writers Workshop. Once released, he plans on pursuing a career in culinary arts by operating a food truck while continuing writing.

Happy Birthday

by Phil

Can you believe that at age 29, I’ve never had a birthday party? Sucks, right? Imagine being seven or eight years old, going to your sister’s birthday party, or even a friend from the neighborhood and not having a party of your own. No cake or ice cream. I’ve never made a wish. I’ve never blown out candles. I don’t know what that feels like. I’ve always wondered: what do people wish for when they blow out the candles while they’re making their wish? I wish I had a birthday party.

Phil is an inmate currently living at Plainfield Correctional Facility. He is a participant of Indiana Prison Writers Workshop. Once released, he plans to start a not-for-profit for performing arts helping minority youth. I’d like to show them the alternatives to running the streets.