If your Ford had a Matthew McConaughey, it would be a Lincoln

Blue Indy, a trip report

Indianapolis is not precisely on the cutting edge of transportation technology. Our bus system is sketchy, we have (so far as I can tell) only one Zipcar location, we have no rail systems.

We did get scooters a bit faster than we got, say, Uber (no, we didn’t get Bird before Uber, but Bird came to Indy faster than Uber did relative to their launch), but that’s a rather dubious distinction.

We do have one relatively useful, relatively modern feature: a short-term electric car rental company, Blue Indy. And because the Jeep is facing its second transmission rebuild in two years (don’t know yet for certain, nor do I know how the last shop screwed up badly enough that it needs redoing) I decided to use Blue Indy to get home tonight, instead of Lyft or my local taxi company.

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First, though, I took advantage of my vehicle-free (and absolutely lovely, spring having finally made a robust appearance) evening to walk around downtown and try a sandwich at a place I’ve never visited, Primanti Bros. Their specialty is deli sandwiches with french fries. Inside the sandwich. Pennsylvania, y’all are a bit on the odd side.

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But that was a mighty fine sandwich.

Downtown Indy really is a nice place to wander.
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Anyway, the car itself. It’s a Pininfarina-designed Bolloré Bluecar, and it’s fine. I wouldn’t take it to the race track, and the A column is a bit on the hazardously-large side (probably all modern cars are, I just happen to drive a 14-year-old Jeep whose A column is infrequently flat against my hood but even when fully-elevated not all that thick). But it’s fine.

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The service seems to be also fine. I hit a bit of a speed bump at first: the website says you can sign up and start using the service immediately, either via a kiosk or online, but as it turns out that’s misleading. You can sign up and start using it immediately if you use a kiosk for a video call with their support center; if you sign up online, you have to wait a week or so.

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Fortunately one of the very few kiosks was co-located with the parking spot where I hoped to rent a car, so that hurdle was overcome.

The trip started with a video explaining how to use the car, which was mostly redundant for anyone who knows how to drive. This was my first time driving an electric car (I somehow have not driven even a hybrid) so the experience was unfamiliar, but still easy to sort out.

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One definite negative: a few miles in I got an audio ad for insurance unexpectedly piped into the car, which was nearly enough to make me immediately cancel the annual subscription I had just signed up for. I do, however, recognize that they need to make money to continue to offer the service, so we’ll see. On the plus side, one of the rental locations is about 100 feet from the building where I work.

The range is touted as 150 miles, which seems plenty for the urban dweller use case, especially since they contractually forbid the renter from going more than 20 miles away from the city.

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(And of course the windows roll down, so I was able to tell a pickup truck driver he had two brake lights out, so hey, it’s a functional car.)

The downside to services like Zipcar and Blue Indy is, of course, the distance between where you’re required to travel, and where you actually want to travel. After dropping mine off, I still had 2.5 miles to go, and I decided instead of Lyfting I’d walk. I need the exercise anyway.

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However, that’s where Indianapolis’ other notorious transportation problem arises: other than downtown and a few small exceptions, Indianapolis is a very unfriendly city for pedestrians.

Less than 1 mile of my trip was on sidewalks, despite the fact that the only two streets I used were both very busy, very heavily used, both by cars and pedestrians. About 4 years ago, a teenaged girl was killed alongside the street right outside my house, hit and run. It’s ugly out there.

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This is the worst spot: a four-lane bridge over the interstate with no sidewalks and effectively no shoulder for walking. You can step into the grass briefly, but it would be very awkward (and slightly unsafe) to walk on it for any distance.

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Many people walk (or even ride bikes) on the raised median, which has its own perils.

No, it’s not brown, and I have no idea whether it’s a manual, but it sure looked good, an oasis in my desert
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Another half mile or so past the bridge I came across the Jalop dream, especially when walking several miles: a wagon for sale. Had they been open, I would have been tempted to make a cash offer on the spot.

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The above photo pretty well sums up the pedestrian experience in Indianapolis.

The nice thing about walking any distance is that you see things you ordinarily don’t. I knew about this urban garden, for example, but I didn’t know how far back it extended.

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Nor had I noticed the tiny homeless encampment at the top of the slope beneath an underpass. I can’t imagine what it’s like to sleep 10 feet beneath interstate traffic. Homelessness is such an endemic, frustrating problem in the U.S., but that’s another story for someone to write who’s far more knowledgeable than me.

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I also had time to ruminate on the charter school that isn’t: a warehouse near my house was converted to a high school for 2 or 3 years, then shut down. I don’t know what’s worse: graduating from a school no one will ever know existed, or being forced to transfer from such a school because it suddenly shut down.

Anyway, good day for exercise, walked nearly 9 miles per my Apple Watch. Hooray for modern electronics, and electric vehicles, and the utter failure of any distracted drivers to plow into me on my way home.

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