As I bicycled through Downtown Indianapolis on my way across Indiana on the National Road, I had a challenge to solve: how to get across the White River. The White River State Park and the Indianapolis Zoo were built over the original path of the National Road and US 40 there. I shared the history of this alignment, and the many bridges that used to cross the river here, in this post.

In the map excerpt below, the National Road (Washington Street) enters and exits just above the center of the image, but curves south to skirt the park and the zoo. The bridge that once carried traffic on the original alignment still stands and is visible in the image.

Imagery ©2021 CNES/Airbus, IndianaMap Framework Data, Maxar Technologies, USDA Farm Service Agency. Map data ©2021 Google.

If you read the post about the history of the road here, you know that the original path of the National Road here is now the walking path that passes by the NCAA Hall of Champions marked on the map excerpt above. Here’s the beginning of that path, which begins at the Eiteljorg Museum. Here, the path is part of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail.

Original NR path through White River SP, Indianapolis

It also passes by the Indiana State Museum. I remember when this museum was in the old City Hall on the other side of Downtown. That was 25 years ago, and the new museum was built shortly afterward. I still think of this building as new, even though it’s not.

Original NR path through White River SP, Indianapolis

The path crosses a road that leads to parking. Those are the signature Cultural Trail crosswalk markings in the road. This is about where the path becomes the White River Trail.

Original NR path through White River SP, Indianapolis

The White River Trail shortly crosses the Central Canal over a narrow bridge. That’s the NCAA Hall of Champions on the right. On the left, way in the distance, is the Washington Street bridge that used to carry US 40. It’s marked by the rows of lamps.

Original NR path through White River SP, Indianapolis

Here’s where the original National Road alignment ends at the White River. Once upon a time, there was a big covered bridge right here, on the left, at about a right angle to the riverbank.

Original NR path through White River SP, Indianapolis

From that spot I turned to the left to about the angle of the former covered bridge here. This was the view. My understanding is that in the covered bridge’s era, the White River was narrower than it is now, and the west bank would have been closer in.

Washington St. Bridge, Indianapolis

From here, I backtracked and rode over to the Washington Street bridge, which is now open only to pedestrians.

Washington St. Bridge, Indianapolis

Here’s the view from the deck, as I bicycled westward.

Washington St. Bridge, Indianapolis

At the end of the bridge I faced a choice: follow the White River Trail around the zoo’s north edge, or backtrack all the way to where I started and follow current Washington Street back over the river. I chose the former because it was shorter and avoided a lot of traffic.

White River Trail behind Indianapolis Zoo

Shortly the trail opened up and followed the White River.

White River Trail behind Indianapolis Zoo

Soon the trail met the White River Parkway, a local road. I followed it south to where it intersects with Washington Street, which resumed its original path following the old National Road.

Railroad overpass, WB Old US 40

Until this point, the National Road was pretty neatly an east-west road across Indiana. From here on out, it runs west southwest all the way to Illinois.

I’ve driven the National Road from its beginning in Baltimore, MD to its end in Vandaila, IL. To read everything I’ve ever written about it, click here.

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4 responses to “Bicycling the National Road across the White River in Indianapolis”

  1. J P Avatar
    J P

    The last time I was on the old Washington Street bridge was one summer Sunday around 1988 when I read in the paper about an “all Ford show” at the bridge. I had recently bought a really ratty 61 Thunderbird and decided “why not?”

    I drove it downtown and was directed onto the bridge, then told where to park. It was still all pavement and cars were parked at a 45 degree angle to the road with our back bumpers against the sidewalk, maybe 40 of them altogether. So I can claim to be one of the last people to drive a car on the bridge.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Well isn’t that cool!

  2. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    This change of roadways seems so bolloxed up, but I give Indy a lot of credit for arranging the zoo, ballyard, a bunch of museums, (except for the art museum), and downtown, all walkable without moving your car! You could literally park on the west end of downtown, and spend the day seeing a bunch of different things, including the zoo and a ball game. and never move your car!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It really is a lovely set of amenities in a compact space.

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