The Road to Indy: Going Where I’ve Never Gone Before

As my days in Indianapolis dwindle to a precious few, I decided that today was the day to do something I’ve wanted to do ever since I arrived here almost five years ago.  I wanted to ride downtown from my home in suburban Hendricks County.

My friends in Carmel are probably chuckling reading this.  They have the Monon Trail that deposits them at the doorstep of downtown.  I have no such thing.   My journey is a little like crossing the Great Plains on the Oregon Trail.   I have no idea what to expect.  I haven’t even mapped it out.  We’ll see what happens.  No big deal.  I’m the Bicycle Cowboy.  I like blazing new trails.

I start at the bottom, ride to the top, then turn around and come back.  Google Earth is so cool.

I start at the bottom, ride to the top, then turn around and come back. Google Earth is so cool.

IND from Perimeter Road.  Once you navigate US 40 or Stafford, this is a delightful ride.

IND from Perimeter Road. Once you navigate US 40 or Stafford, this is a delightful ride.

Perimeter Road looking west.  There's not a lot of traffic and the road is nice and wide.

Perimeter Road looking west. There’s not a lot of traffic and the road is nice and wide.

The first challenge is getting around Indianapolis International Airport.  There are two ways to do this and neither is attractive.  In fact, this is the primary reason I haven’t made this trip until now.  To the north, I can traverse US 40, a busy, sprawl-choked suburban highway that has seen better days.  To the south, I can follow narrow, heavily traveled Stafford and Bridgeport Roads to gain the airport.  I decide to go out one way and come back the other.  Neither is ideal, but both work.

Once past the airport, I use Minnesota Street to ride into urban Indy.  The official IndyCOG Ride Guide calls this stretch of road most bikeable.  I’m not sure but I think these rankings are used the same way ski areas rank runs.  Most bikeable doesn’t mean it’s great.  It just means it’s better than other options.

Minnesota Street with I-70 in the distance.  Not great.  Not terrible, either.

Minnesota Street with I-70 in the distance. Not great. Not terrible, either.

Multiuse trail under construction.  Minnesota and Eagle Creek.

Multiuse trail under construction. Minnesota and Eagle Creek.

Minnesota isn’t great when it comes right down to it but it’s not terrible either.  There are no sharrows or “share the road” signs here. Far too many motorists drive dangerously fast and the pavement isn’t very good.  You really have to pay attention.  On the plus side,  there are no interchanges where Minnesota crosses under both Interstate 465 and 70.  That makes navigating much easier.  In spite of all the negatives, Minnesota is a remarkably easy street to cycle.  I’m learning new things.  This is good.

Once past Holt Road, cycling through the older, working class neighborhoods is pure joy.  It’s kind of a dreary day, but there’s an eclectic mix of residents out and about and they’re all as friendly as can be.  It’s very similar to riding through Ogden here and I like it a lot.   This is particularly true of a stretch along Oliver between Harding and the White River.  This is a predominantly Hispanic neighborhood with a huge Mexican grocery.  It’s located across from an old abandoned GM plant which is slowly being dismantled.  The neighborhood has experienced hard times but as a former real estate professional, I get that  “something big’s about to happen here” feeling. I’ve lost interest in the city’s plans to redevelop the GM parcel because I’m leaving, but if I was staying in Indy I think I might buy a little speculative property here.

Mexican grocery, Oliver and Division. That's Lucas Oil Stadium straight ahead.

Mexican grocery, Oliver and Division. That’s Lucas Oil Stadium straight ahead.

Hoffa's in front of GM on Oliver.

Hoffa’s in front of GM on Oliver.  I don’t know why, but I love this look.

What's left of the General Motors stamping plant, White River and Oliver.  I have a thing for industrial ruins.

What’s left of the General Motors stamping plant, White River and Oliver. I have a thing for industrial ruins.

Soon enough I’m downtown.  I ride to my office and then around the city’s iconic center, Monument Circle, just so I can say I did it.  There are thousands of basketball fans heading to the Big Ten championship game between Michigan State and Purdue so there’s lots of street traffic.  It feels good, but it’s time to head home.

I'm cycling on Monument Circle!

I’m cycling on Monument Circle!

Tour de Downtown.

Tour de Downtown.

State Capitol.  I'm stuck in traffic again.

State Capitol. I’m stuck in traffic again. but it’s great to see so many people moving about on foot!

My bike outside my office.  I can no longer use the excuse that I can't bike to work since I just did!

My bike outside my office at the Stutz Business Center. I really can bike to work!

Heading for home on the Cultural Trail.  Thanks, Indy.  It was fun.

Heading for home on the Cultural Trail. Thanks, Indy. It was fun.

The moral of the story?  The best parts of the best rides aren’t always on cycleways surrounded by other cyclists like myself.  Cycling provides a unique perspective and provides a glimpse of communities we sometimes don’t realize exist when we blow through them in our cars. It’s easier to cycle on narrow urban streets than it is on wide suburban streets.  People are generally good, decent and kind.  I can’t think of a better way to explore America’s urban spaces than on a bicycle.  Good job, Indy.

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