The Michigan Road pedestrian trail in Indianapolis

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.

My bike

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.

Yield to Trail Users

The trail’s character changes frequently and, usually, abruptly.

Michigan Road Trail

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.

On the Michigan Road trail

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.

Michigan Road trail

North of 79th Street, the road passes by some newer residential subdivisions and crosses a little creek.

Michigan Road trail

This is the loveliest section of the trail that I rode all day.

Bridge on Michigan Road trail

Oh, just one more photo near that creek, just because it’s so lovely.

Michigan Road trail

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.

Northpoint Village

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.

Nearing 86th St.

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.

I’ve documented Indiana’s historic Michigan Road extensively. To read all about it, click here.

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16 responses to “The Michigan Road pedestrian trail in Indianapolis”

  1. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    Yep, You are correct, I doubt 4000 lights are enough. I read an Indy Star story a while back that said the city hasn’t been street-lighting, curbing, or side-walking, since 1980, to appease ‘small govt.’ people and keep taxes low, and it’s resulted in over 270 deaths of people walking in dark streets with no lighting or side-walks!. That sounds like govt. malfeasance in office.

    More than once, at 5 am, I’ve turned from southbound Zionsville Road, east onto 86th Street, and ended up in the west bound lane, because there’s actually no lights over the intersection showing the dividers! Small govt. proponents in league with poor traffic design and bad construction are Indianapolis traits.

    I salute you Jim, you’ve managed to make a lot of Michigan Road look pastoral!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I generally align with the idea of small government. But I think perhaps Indianapolis has taken it too far. There are simply services we expect government to provide on some scale and street lights are one of them. However, given how stupid low the property taxes are here, it’s small wonder such things can’t easily be funded.

      1. Andy Umbo Avatar
        Andy Umbo

        I want to go on record as saying: “small govt.” is a neo-con red-herring, devised solely to defund programs they are not politically happy with. It ‘sounds’ sensible, but it isn’t executed that way. What the U.S. needs in “efficient govt.” where the programs we believe we should fund for the good of the community are carried out without waste. I am a proponent of efficient govt.

        Indiana has cut govt. programs over the last decade or so under the auspices of “small govt.”, that has placed Indianapolis at the bottom of quality of life nationally (Indy Star/Shari Rudavsky), little tech growth compared to other mid-west cities and not considered an up-and-coming tech hub (USA Business News/Jon Swartz). last in ranking for parks in the U.S. (Indy Star/Ann Bartner), highest rate of teen suicides (Indy Star), 50 worst places to live in America (Indy Star/Wall Street Journal/Jessica Hice), and last in long-term support for seniors and the disabled. I have all the articles and research, which I started to collect after moving here, because I couldn’t understand what is going on.

        And yet, the govt. still gives tax breaks to wealthy developers to build luxury apartments on Mass. Ave, while they’re throwing grandma and grandpa out of the subsidized nursing home.

        I’m sure this is the wrong format for this conversation, but I’m having a bad day!

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          I think you and I are in alignment. There are service government is best at providing. We need to accept taxation at a rate that allows government to provide those services. We should expect that government will provide them in a cost-effective manner. Hope your day got better.

  2. Steve Miller Avatar
    Steve Miller

    Jim, you’ve given me something else to look for in areas I drive. I knew we had a real push for bicycle access under the past city administration (a shining success in an otherwise leaden government), but accepted that most bike lanes are just some green paint. This looks like a reason to get a bike!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      There’s a similar trail on 71st St. from Eagle Creek Park to about Georgetown Road, at which point the trail becomes a bike lane. Actually, now I can safely bike from Kessler/Michigan to Eagle Creek Park or to the Monon Trail! Unfortunately, I can’t bike to Kessler/Michigan without some risk. Cooper Road and Kessler Blvd. are tight for a bike. I once saw a master plan for bike trails and Cooper was, at the time, supposed to get them someday. But I’m about to move away and it won’t matter to me anymore.

      1. Steve Miller Avatar
        Steve Miller

        Don’t know that I’m ready to bike Oak Street into the village…

        1. Jim Grey Avatar

          Nooooooooope nope nope.

  3. Susie Avatar

    These look like some great sections of bike trail! Glad these are appearing, we need them in more cities.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It was a great ride! I loved the slower-paced tour of a section of road I know very well. It let me look at it in ways I can’t while going 50 mph in my car. Stay tuned: lots more photos to come from this tour in upcoming posts, including photos of houses built in the 1830s-1850s that still stand.

  4. Roger Meade Avatar
    Roger Meade

    I live in Marquette county in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We have a terrific bike and pedestrian trail called the Iron Ore Heritage Trail. It runs nearly 40 miles from Republic in the western fringe of the county to Chocolay, southeast of Marquette. Parts are urban, but most are rural to wild. This is moose, wolf and bear country. The elevation climbs about 800′ east to west. From Ishpeming to Marquette it follows an active railway that moves iron ore from the mine to the lakehead oredock at Marquette. I have walked a small part of it near Ishpeming and Negaunee, and hope to bike it down to Marquette soon. There is a steady stream of people of all ages that use the trail regularly.

    We have a commission funded by the communities along the trail that maintains and improves as funds allow. The trail is a real treasure for this area, and is pretty much accepted as such by the citizens. It brings in lots of bike tourists during the summer, and cross country skiers in the winter. Portions of the trail have a separate right of way for 4 wheelers, dirt bikes, or snowmobiles. A short section along Lake Superior is used for sled dog racing during the UP 200 in late Feburary each year.

    I have really been enjoying your blog for some time as I too enjoy old cameras and film photography. I am trying to avoid more cameras and just fill in my lens selections, but collecting is something of an adiction. A recent addition is a 42mm screw mount mirror lens which I now need to try out. Keep posting- I love it.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      As an officer in the Historic Michigan Road Association, we’ve talked about encouraging building a bike trail along the entire 270-mile length of the road! That would be a lot of work to make real but it would be fun to be able to bike it anywhere it goes.

      Yes, buying old cameras is kind of an addiction. My project for next year is to get out cameras I haven’t shot in a while and put film through them again — and if I don’t love using the camera, to sell it or give it away. Because I need to cut the number of cameras I store! They have been crammed into every nook and cranny in my little house.

  5. Dan Cluley Avatar
    Dan Cluley

    There has definitely been an increase in bike friendly roads in Mid Michigan as well. The common plan in the city seems to be to take a four lane street and convert it to two traffic lanes with a center turn lane. This makes room for a bike lane on each side.

    The other thing in Lansing is a wonderful series of walking/biking trails along the rivers. This started with an abandoned rail line downtown in the ’70s, and now branches out to reach several of the surrounding communities, and connect half a dozen parks. I don’t know the total length, but suspect it is over 20 miles.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s a growing thing around the country. I think there’s a movement toward cities that don’t rely on cars as much.

    2. Andy Umbo Avatar
      Andy Umbo

      My brother-in-law went to school in Lansing, and after years in the south with my sister, they came back to Lansing to retire. I take in from my sis that they couldn’t be more delighted, and consider Lansing like living in Manhattan compared to the college town they were living in, in the south!

  6. maestroindonesia212gmailcom Avatar

    Good Post.!

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