Ten years ago walking or biking in most of Indianapolis meant taking your life into your hands. Large portions of this city have a suburban or even rural character thanks to 1970’s merger of this city and its county. Lots of cul-de-sac neighborhoods, strip malls, and industrial parks have been built since then, especially in northern Indianapolis. Wherever new development went, so did bigger and better roads optimized to move lots of cars and trucks. Bikers and walkers were largely out of luck.
That didn’t stop people from walking or biking those roads anyway, especially the poor and working class trying to reach jobs beyond the last bus stop. Rush hours were dangerous for them. The city has been working to change that, and to encourage leisure walking and biking, by building a network of bike lanes and pedestrian trails. They connect walkers and bikers to jobs, shopping, and parks.
A few years ago the city completed a pedestrian trail along Michigan Road from 42nd to 86th Streets, a distance of about six miles. I’ve been meaning to bike it since it opened but just got to it the other day. I picked it up near my home at Kessler Boulevard and rode north. This is the northbound trail as it passes by Crooked Creek School on the northwest corner of this intersection.
This asphalt trail was routed along concrete sidewalks wherever they already existed. In some places the trail adjoins the road and is bordered with a curb. In other places a grass strip separates the trail and the road.
The trail’s character changes frequently and, usually, abruptly.
From Kessler to just north of 71st Street Michigan Road is a mixed bag of retail and light industrial, some of which has seen better days. Then the road reaches Augusta, a former town. If you didn’t know it was once a town, you wouldn’t guess it. Strip malls and box stores simply give way to a collection of older homes, most of them repurposed as businesses.
North of Augusta the trail’s terrain begins to roll gently. It makes me wonder if Michigan Road once did here, too; the road has been flattened.
North of 79th Street, the road passes by some newer residential subdivisions and crosses a little creek.
This is the loveliest section of the trail that I rode all day.
Oh, just one more photo near that creek, just because it’s so lovely.
I’ve lived here long enough that I remember when none of these neighborhoods existed. This was all farmland through the late 1970s, and some of it was still farmed as late as the mid 1990s when I moved here.
As the road nears 86th Street, the character changes again as it enters a major shopping district. The Pyramids, a local landmark, come into view.
The portion of Michigan Road I covered on this ride is busy with vehicular traffic all day, especially at rush hour. I drive it a lot and find that most traffic exceeds the posted 45-mile-per-hour speed limit. Walking or biking this road used to be risky at best. But now it’s easy and even enjoyable.
Even with the pedestrian trail, Michigan Road remains challenging to walk outside daylight hours as there are not enough street lights. This is a problem in many areas of Indianapolis. The Indianapolis Star interviewed me briefly last autumn for a story about an elderly man who was struck and killed on Michigan Road near my home. The Star tries to link lack of streetlights to his death. Read that story here. Very recently, the city has struck a deal to add 4,000 street lights into unlit portions of the city. So many Indianapolis streets are unlit that I wonder if 4,000 lights will be enough, but it’s certainly a start.