2021 40 Under 40: Austin Gibble

Nov. 23, 2021
Austin Gibble, Administrator of Long-Range Transportation Planning – City of Indianapolis, Department of Metropolitan Development
  • One word to describe yourself: Passionate
  • Alma Mater: Ball State University (Undergrad), University of South Florida (Masters)
  • Fun fact about yourself: Despite being an urban transportation planner and being so passionate about walkable neighborhoods/sustainability, I actually did not grow up in an urban area. My youth was spent in rural Indiana. I was an active member in FFA and 4-H, sitting on the State Executive Committee for the former. My rural upbringing is part of what got me so passionate about urban places, density and sustainability. Watching forests and agricultural lands be gobbled up by ever-expanding cul-de-sacs got me interested in land use and its intersect with transportation. It didn’t hurt that I always had an affinity for trains as a child that I never quite grew out of as I aged.
  • Favorite station or stop that you have ever visited or frequent (and why): Los Angeles Union Station. It’s a marvel of Mission Revival and Art-Deco architecture, demonstrating the optimistic futurism of society and grandeur of rail travel in the late-1930s!
  • Favorite station or stop that you have ever visited or frequent (and why): The Brown Line in Chicago is my favorite transit line in the United States. The at-grade section within alleyways is unique to heavy rail systems in North America. Additionally, the skyline views provided by the line between Armitage Station and the Loop are on par to that of the 7 Line in Long Island City, between Hunters Point and Court Square.

Austin Gibble is described as having a true passion for his profession as the Long-Range Transportation Planning administrator for the City of Indianapolis Department of Metropolitan Development. Gibble has been able to rise quickly in his career. He serves as a thought-leader for transportation plans and policies within Indianapolis and Marion County. Gibble is the primary coordinator between all transportation involved agencies within Indianapolis, including the Department of Public Works, the Indiana State Department of Transportation, the Indianapolis Public Transportation Corporation (IndyGo), along with various non-profit partners who work to make Indianapolis a more livable city.

Prior to working at the city of Indianapolis, Gibble served as a project development planner for IndyGo, the main transit provider in Indianapolis. He assisted in the high-profile rollout of the Red Line Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project and he was the lead for the Purple Line BRT project’s Environmental Management, working on key project redesigns for better drainage and archaeological work with the Indiana State Historic Preservation Office and Federal Transit Administration. Of note, Gibble’s work uncovered the remnants of an old train station along the Purple Line corridor and he helped disseminate information to the public and presented the findings in partnership with the Indiana Historical Society. He also managed complex intersection redesigns and the Super Stops Project, which is now under construction, bringing dedicated bus lanes and enhanced passenger amenities to speed up local bus service in downtown Indianapolis.

Gibble has represented the city of Indianapolis, IndyGo and various organizations at multiple conferences and has provided an outstanding representation of Indianapolis to public, private and academic stakeholders. He has published research from his time at the Center for Urban Transportation Research titled, “Evaluating the Distribution Effects of Regional Transportation Plans and Projects,” which was presented at the 2017 American Planning Association National Conference. Additionally, Gibble has presented on BRT design and implementation at the Ohio Transportation Engineering, Shared Use Mobility Center Summit and Walk, Bike, Places conferences.

Gibble has volunteered his own time to serve many causes to benefit transit. He is a founding and active board member for Young Professionals in Transportation Indianapolis, a networking and professional development group focused on developing the next generation of leaders in transportation. He also serves on the board for the Congress of New Urbanism Midwest as the events co-chair. In partnership with the Project for Public Spaces, Gibble helped to plan the 2020 and 2021 Walk, Bike, Places conferences where he led various panel discussions and mobile workshops.

One of Gibble’s most notable attributes is his keen ability to distill complex topics related to urban planning and transportation and break them down into digestible bites that make sense for the public to understand. He leads in his own personal advocacy for his profession, especially with a strong presence on social media platforms such as Twitter. His passion for creating better cities through better transportation policy is unparalleled.

Is there a specific experience that led you to where you are today?

Ten years ago, I was really struggling with where I was in terms of my studies at Ball State University. At the time, I was studying business and was not enthused. Over the summer, I decided to go to the Indiana State Fair with my family. This was in the height of planning for a regional transit system for metro Indianapolis and the various transportation authorities were having a “Transit Day at the State Fair.” Being an enthusiast for trains, I couldn’t help but notice and tour the booths they had, as well as a bus rapid transit vehicle that was on loan from Greater Cleveland RTA (the Health Line had opened just a few years earlier).

While I was wandering about, I noticed a familiar face. This individual was named Ehren Bingaman and had been a speaker at the university the semester before. I re-introduced myself and explained my interest and struggles with my current studies. Ehren pointed me in the direction of a university professor who was offering an urban planning course. Before I knew it, I had become obsessed with the intersect between transportation and community. I ended up being an intern for Ehren, who was the executive director of the Central Indiana Regional Transportation Authority. This simple introduction and gesture towards a connection pushed me into the career track that I’m on today and allowed me to pursue something that I’m passionate about.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

My position, both with my current role in the Department of Metropolitan Development and my previous position with IndyGo allows me to usher in real change to the built environment and allows me to play a role in enhancing the lives of people in both the near- and long-term. Historic investments in walking, cycling and public transportation are introducing improvements to the transportation network for the most vulnerable users and correcting the wrongs of the past.

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

Despite making progress in recent years, central Indiana remains a very challenging place to live without a car. Despite 10 percent of households in Marion County not having any car and another 40 percent with just one car, central Indiana has no regional transit system and Marion County held a moratorium on sidewalks for 16 years. Seeing the impacts of these legacy decisions, be they a lack of access to opportunity or tragedy and knowing how much work remains to rectify poor policy decisions on such a heavily constrained budget, is incredibly challenging.

Accomplishment you’re most proud of and why?

Every achievement in my career has been a team effort. Major transportation projects, strategic plans and policies are not implemented in silos or by individuals. I’m proud of every accomplishment that my team and I have made towards increasing accessibility and sustainability for Indianapolis and Marion County. The most notable and visible projects include the Red Line BRT corridor, which opened in 2019 to much fanfare and now carries 15-20 percent of total IndyGo network ridership. Two projects that I personally led include Super-Stops, which is designed to improve the reliability and speed of transit services in Downtown Indianapolis through the implementation of consolidated waiting areas and bus lanes and the Documented Categorical Exclusion of the Purple Line bus rapid transit corridor, of which I also advised on its design. I’m personally thrilled for the Purple Line, as it will extend BRT services and supporting infrastructure to neighborhoods that have long lacked adequate transportation services and been deprived of basic infrastructure such as sidewalks.

Best advice/tip/best practice to share from your area of expertise?

It’s not going to be possible to make everyone happy. Projects that dramatically increase accessibility are going to be the ones that are the most visible and result in the greatest change – they are going to be in the heart of the activity and be the projects that get the hardest pushback. It is important for planners, designers and engineers to avoid reactionary responses to criticism and instead approach valid concerns with meaningful and thoughtful responses, especially in communities that have been historically marginalized or experienced systemic disinvestment. Transit, cycling and walking projects are also an equity concern and a disruption of the status quo. Therefore, it is equally, if not more, important to ensure that these projects are not watered down in a way that is a detriment to the end user.