Transit center idea has merit, presentation notwithstanding

Mayor Dick Moore's proposal for a downtown Elkhart transit center was a bold stroke except for the clumsy way he sold it.
Posted on April 1, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

A downtown transit station is a bold idea — almost visionary.

Think of it: A place in downtown Elkhart where you can park your car or chain your bike, hop on a bus, and ride anywhere between Mishawaka and Goshen.

Shop at a natural foods market inside the station, spend a morning at a wired bookstore and drop the little ones at the daycare center while you meet with friends for lunch downtown.

Suddenly downtown Elkhart starts to feel a little — just a little — like Portland, Salt Lake City or Denver, and growing 25 percent by 2050 becomes more of a possibility.

But only if the project survives its shaky beginnings.

A report last week from the Indiana Business Research Center projects the entire county, not specifically Elkhart, to grow by a quarter over the next 38 years. Building a downtown transit station makes a daring play for much of that growth instead of ceding it to Goshen or other surrounding communities.

Better yet, it won’t cost the city an additional dime. The Michiana Area Council of Governments pitched the idea to the Moore administration and offered to pay for it entirely with federal funds.

A regional transit hub in downtown Elkhart reduces traffic, improves air quality, preserves a vital greenspace — central park, which becomes part of the design — and funnels commuters into the city’s art and restaurant district. It propels the city culturally and economically into the next decade, at least.

And it came as a shock to much of the Elkhart City Council.

Mayor Dick Moore announced the project, scheduled for 2013, in Wednesday’s State of the City address. Council members — Democrats and Republicans alike — said they had no idea what was coming.

That, in turn, led them to raise questions about the need for the hub, its location and its funding. It wasn’t clear to at least one official, four-term Democrat Rod Roberson, whether it would even come to a council vote.

That’s no way to build support for a project, especially one of such vital importance to the city’s future.

If the mayor had informed councilors of his transit center proposal as it developed, he could have answered their questions at the outset; he could have secured their support and used their ideas to improve the project. Instead of nurturing allies, however, he created skeptics and opponents.

That was a mistake. The only greater possible mistake would be letting the mayor’s handling of the project derail it.

As difficult as it may be, the public and their representatives on the city council need to look past the way the Moore administration announced the downtown transit hub. Now, as a community, we need to concentrate on refining the proposal and building it.

Daley-style mayoral politics notwithstanding.


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