Even with police escort, it was a hard ride!
Cycling south from downtown Indianapolis has always been challenging. Twenty years ago, the route my son and I decided was best was South Meridian Street to the junction with Bluff Road and then on Bluff Road as it angles a little to the west. That’s the way I went today and found the roads much as I remembered: one lane each direction, little or no shoulder, steady traffic and mostly moderate speeds. Not great, but OK.
Ten miles into the ride, I turned left on Stop 11 Road in order to get back to Meridian Street and the return to the center of town. When I reached the intersection, I remembered it from before, although in earlier years I would reach it coming from the south. It was the place where traffic became so heavy that I would move to a gentler route for the rest of the way into the city.
Not remembering that route, I asked a police officer standing by his patrol car outside a convenience grocery. “Your bike’s titanium, isn’t it?” was his response to my request for directions. We fell into a ten-minute conversation about bikes and cycling, during which he told me about an organization on whose board he serves: Cops Cycling for Survivors Foundation.
Their major event is an annual bike ride around Indiana: approximately 1,100 miles in thirteen days. Riders have to secure donations of $75 a day for each day that they ride. Gear is carried in a truck. Lodging is donated by hostelries and organizations along the way. Local police departments provide escorts to ease the way for cyclists. Thus, the donated money all goes to the survivors.
Beneficiaries are the survivors of officers lost in the line of duty. This sounds like a ride I would like to take.
At this point, the officer told me what he was going to do. “You ride in the curb lane and I’ll drive behind you as protection.” Although he intended to take me the eight miles to downtown, I was uneasy about that and we agreed that he would take me two miles to a quiet cross street where I could move over to a northbound street with bike lanes.
With the police car close behind, I started north, up a slight grade and into a sharp north wind. Even thirteen mph was hard work, and I felt embarrassed at that slow speed and pushed up to sixteen. Gasping for breath, I was grateful to top the rise and compromised at fifteen mph. At the cross street I turned right, and he followed me around. As we shook hands, he wished me well and headed out, apparently off duty and on his way home.
I fought my way through Indy’s warehouse and railroad district on the south side of downtown: Narrow, rough streets and pushy traffic with one guy yelling obscenities while the driver swerved around me.
In the twenty years since I’ve been away from Indianapolis, the city has made serious efforts to develop bicycle-friendly facilities, and for this I am grateful. There is, however, much yet to be done! The greatest, and perhaps insurmountable, task is to develop a new civic culture in which drivers learn to relax a little. I am struck by how many auto-related accidents are reported every morning on the traffic news, but watching behavior at intersections helps me understand. Drivers seem determined to assert their prior rights to the road so that even little old ladies, like one I saw last week, have to fight for a chance to cross the street.
What did I learn from today’s ride? First, Bluff Road is to OK as a way out of town going south, but I have to keep looking for a better way for coming back north. Second, the police officer I met is a nice guy, and I hope to raise some money and spend a few days next summer riding around Indiana with the Cycling Cops.