Ehren Bingaman, executive director of the Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority (CIRTA), works every day to improve existing commuter options and better connect Indianapolis with the rest of Central Indiana. Ehren joined CIRTA in 2007 as the first executive director for the organization and has a diverse background in planning, economic development, policy, and communications. We had a nice chat with Ehren by phone about his passion for transit and going car-less in our city.
Pivot: What gets you out of bed every morning?
Ehren Bingaman: Matthew 22:39, “Love thy neighbor.” It’s interesting to me how over the last couple years I’ve been challenged to use my skills for that purpose. I can’t think of a better way to love my neighbor than to help them have a better way of life. Help them get to work, get to school. And to do it without having to have a car, would be a pretty good deal.
I’m an urban planner. I look at the way communities could be, specifically the Central Indiana transit infrastructure, as a way to build better communities. Transit is one of the things that can improve quality of life and allows peoples’ lives to be better.
Also, the work never seems to end. We know we’ve got to build a great system and we’ve got to operate a great system. We can’t do that without the money. We can’t get the money without the voters saying “yes.” We can’t get the votes without the general assembly writing the legislation; so let’s make everything we do weave into that sequence of events.
P: What local organizations are making the most impact?
EB: It’s hard to answer that question. Four years ago, I would’ve pointed you to five organizations. Today, there are too many to count because more people have been paying attention than ever before.
I think our organization, CIRTA, along with the Indy Metropolitan Planning Organization and IndyGo is a whole coalition of groups that deserves credit for not letting the conversation go away. Transit has been discussed as part of our transportation need and solution dating back to the ’70s, and those organizations have been the public forums where the discussion, the dialog, never ended.
I would say, four or five years ago, the Indy Chamber of Commerce,CICF, and Central Indiana Corporate Partnership heard it from enough corners of the community that this was something to be investigated and understood. That really shifted the attitude and focus toward transit. At the time, it was viewed as a transportation-only thing– we never talked about jobs and quality of life.
P: What cities are we learning from? What cities are learning from us?
EB: I think other Indiana cities continue to pay attention to what we’re doing. The Indy Connect planning process in 2010 was so robust and engaging, that the planning community really paid attention to it.
As for who we look to, there isn’t just one model out there in terms of of cities that we pattern ourselves after. Of course we have a lot to learn from others. We have looked at different things places have done well while also trying to learn from others’ mistakes. We’ve looked at places like Houston, Denver, Charlotte, Tampa, St. Louis, Cincinatti, and Columbus, Ohio.
From a transportation planning standpoint, every city is unique. They’ve got different barriers. We’ve got a lot in common with places like Charlotte and Salt Lake City. We’re constantly learning and constantly paying attention to individual projects– we’ll look to one city for their bus expansion and another for their rail system.
P: Is it feasible to live in Indianapolis without a car?
EB: You can do it. There are a lot of people making the conscientious choice. A lot of folks that have made the choice are avid bikers. It’s definitely a lifestyle choice.