How a Transit Center Builds Resilience: Indianapolis’ Julia M. Carson Transit Center

The Julia M. Carson Transit Center, Indianapolis’ new transit hub, is sleek, sculptural, and flanked by environmentally friendly features. It’s a portal to downtown Indianapolis, and an architectural staple in an area described as a “modernist mecca.” But the transit center is more than a bus station—it’s a place that inspires action and embodies resilience.

To create the facility, IndyGo—the public transportation service in Indianapolis—partnered with Axis Architecture + Interiors. But before the design process could begin, they collaborated with then-Mayor Greg Ballard and the former director of the Department of Metropolitan Development for the City of Indianapolis.

“We had a conversation about the dignity around transportation,” said Lauren Day, the marketing communications manager at IndyGo. “Transit is something that impacts us all. Whether you ride regularly, sporadically, or never, it is an essential part of our community fabric.”

To combat negative sentiments about the transit system, Axis knew they needed to design a facility that celebrated ridership and made public transit stand out in a positive way.

“We didn’t want [the transit center] to look like other centers across the county. We wanted to make the entire site transparent and inviting and attractive,” said Drew White, co-founder of Axis.

The transit center’s glass walls invite plenty of natural light into the 14,000-square-foot facility, and the fully handicap-accessible site allows for a seamless transition between the interior and exterior spaces. Canopies over the bus bays ensure that riders are protected from the elements. And unlike the previous “hub” on Ohio Street (where IndyGo buses would circle the courthouse), the transit center provides free Wi-Fi, drinking fountains, plenty of seating, and public restrooms.

“We don’t want people to feel isolated or on-the-spot for what they need to do. Here, everything is in one place,” said Day. “[IndyGo] is making public transportation better for both the current and future rider, and choosing to invest in transit shows we are resilient. We want to erase the barrier for first-time riders.”

So far, the new system seems to be working. During its first week of operation in June 2016, IndyGo saw 244,000 total riders (24,000 more than the same period in 2015). The transit center also serves as an “outdoor living room,” an urban park where cyclists, pedestrians, and passersby feel inspired to become riders themselves.

The bus system itself has also improved; route recovery time now takes place at the transit center, rather than at the end of a route, making the system more efficient and less prone to delays. A partnership with the Arts Council of Indianapolis has resulted in a program entitled Art in Transit, which brings permanent and temporary artworks, as well as public performances, to the Indianapolis transit system. Even communities generally disconnected from the arts scene benefit when the arts are integrated into public spaces. When resilient thinking is built into its planning, public space and systems can provide multiple benefits outside of their primary uses.

“This isn’t just a bus station,” said White. “There’s this notion of comfort here. It’s a space to go to.”