Fred Lanahan

Travel Advocate of the Year seeks new, old transportation

Fred Lanahan, photography by Neal Bruns

Fred Lanahan has traveled all around the world, and he wants to make it easier for Fort Wayne residents to travel both around town and around the country. He’s the state’s Travel Advocate of the Year, and he’s part of the group behind efforts to bring passenger rail back to the city. Find out why as we play 20 Questions.

1. What do you have against cars and airplanes?
Actually, I don’t have anything against either one. Often when you start promoting passenger rail issues the first thing you hear out of some folks is we don’t want to subsidize passenger rail. But we subsidize roads and highways and runways and airlines. So, what we’re hoping for is balance, a return to balanced transportation options.

2. With your handlebar mustache, do you also ride bikes?
We used to ride Triumph motorcycles. I sold my last one a couple of years ago.

3. What does the Packard neighborhood need since Lutheran Hospital left?
More retail, more restaurants, more businesses. We’re seeing more younger families moving back into the area now, which is great, and we hope to see more.

4. What does the south side need from the city that it’s not getting right now?
I realize that money drives everything, it seems, but with the property tax caps, it’s made it difficult for the city to invest in as much as we need on the south side.

5. Why are you so passionate about transportation issues? Where does that come from in your personality?
I worked for 33 years for the state of Indiana in what is now known as the Department of Workforce Development, focusing on job placement, unemployment, job training. One of the biggest factors for people looking for work, especially for lower income people, is transportation. Public transportation is absolutely vital.

6. How’d you meet your wife, Laura?
We met in Australia. Teaching, actually. She’s Canadian. They were looking for teachers when I got out of grad school, and teaching jobs were hard to find here.

7. If you could take public transportation from Fort Wayne to anywhere, where would you go?
I would re-open passenger rail from Fort Wayne and go to Chicago, which opens up the Midwest and West, and east to Pittsburgh, which is what we’re trying to convince our friends in Ohio to do. You get to Pittsburgh, you get the whole East Coast. I’d also like to see Fort Wayne to Toledo again.

8. If you could eat lunch with a famous person, who would you choose?
Harry Truman. He was a self-made man, and he didn’t mince words.

9. How do the costs of passenger rail compare with building highways?
The figure we got from the initial study was $1.2 billion. That would be for everything from Chicago to Fort Wayne to Columbus, including rolling stock and stations. That’s a pretty good deal. It’s $15 million to $20 million for a mile of highway.

10. Why is there such resistance?
I think we’re creatures of car culture. A lot of the folks making decisions were raised in a car culture as the passenger rail was dying, and they just see it as almost a non-entity, as something from the past. But in fact, it’s cheaper, when you figure the cost per mile. Good bus transportation is very good, too, and it’s cheap. They’re both good options. We’re not saying no more private automobile, but there needs to be balance.

11. What role can the private sector play in developing public transportation?
Businesses can encourage workers to use public transportation instead of having acres and acres and acres of parking lots. Support stronger funding for public transportation, be it the bus system or passenger rail or even streetcars. Passenger rail, commuter rail, streetcars and to a lesser extent bus systems are economic generators. Thinking of transit options when you establish your business location is important.

12. Citilink was in dire trouble in the 1990s, but it’s doing much better now. What happened?
A lot of folks were unhappy with Fort Wayne PTC at the time. (The late City Councilman) Cletus Edmonds and I convinced the board to bring in contract management. That started turning things around a lot. We got better systems in place, good transit management in place. We have a really good board. A key factor was bringing in the transit management firm.

13. Fort Wayne’s history was shaped by waves of transportation. Where do you see the next wave coming?
I see passenger rail coming back. It’s overdue. We have an airport, which is growing, we have brought intercity bus lines down to the new Citilink station. We need to grow our public transit system. You go to any area that’s our size and they have triple the service and the budget that we do. There is no free lunch. You don’t get first-class transportation without investing in it. Of course we’re going to have to spend some money to restore passenger rail, but so what? What are we spending on roads and upkeep on new highways?

14. What would your superhero name be?
Bud.

15. What do you want your legacy to be?
A strong transportation network through Fort Wayne and connecting Fort Wayne to Chicago and Toledo. We were a railroad center for a long time, and we need to be that again.

16. What are your hobbies?
I don’t have much free time, but genealogy. We’ve traced part of the family back to the 1600s.

17. What are your goals for the coming year?
To move forward with passenger rail. Make more progress on the bus system. Develop partnerships with businesses to get more service.

18. Is the glass half-empty or half-full?
Half full. And hopefully it’s getting better.

19. Would you do better on American Idol or Dancing with the Stars?
Dancing with the Stars.

20. What’s your secret ingredient?
Being positive and feeling that if you keep at it, you can make a difference.

First appeared in the May 2015 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.

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