North Illinois Street, Indy: Cycling with the Wild Things

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For close to forty years, my weekly routine has included vigorous bike rides three or four days a week, totaling seventy-five to 100 miles. Usually, there has been one ride of forty or more miles and the rest of the mileage in quick dashes of fifteen to twenty-five miles at a time.

One of the settling-in tasks for my first two months now that I have moved back to Indianapolis, living right downtown, is to find routes that meet certain criteria: paved roads, preferably with smooth surfaces; bike lanes or shoulders or sharrows (shared lane markers) to accommodate cyclists; relatively easy-going automobile traffic; long stretches with no stop signs or signals; and pleasant scenery.

Since early September when I moved into my apartment, I’ve logged 525 bicycle miles.  Two rides were about 65 miles each, and the others have been in fifteen to twenty-five mile segments along eight or nine different routes, most of which are discouraging. Streets are narrow and broken up. Traffic is heavy, pushy, and unfriendly toward cyclists. Several of these routes travel through neighborhoods equally broken up, with derelict houses, boarded up store fronts, and empty church buildings.

People often ask if I use the downtown cultural trail or the Monon Trail that starts on 10th Street a few blocks from my apartment and continues through the northern sections of Indianapolis to the town of Westfield nineteen miles distant. I have to answer “No” because the frequent cross streets require greater diligence and consistently slower speeds than I ordinarily use. The northern half of the Monon is more suitable, but even there, mixed usage—parents with strollers, children on bikes weaving back and forth, clusters of easy-going walkers, and skaters—make fast cycling difficult.

On a late October day, with bright sun, temperature about 62, and rich autumn colors on the trees, I did a ride that will become one of my regulars. North on Alabama Street (where I live) and then over a few blocks to North Illinois Street, which is the north-bound street paired with south-bound North Capitol Avenue (where our family lived for thirty-three years). Both streets are designated bicycle routes, with marked lanes or sharrows.

Then across the Central Canal to Riverview Drive and its wide arc that follows one of White River’s bends heading toward Broad Ripple Village. I turned south on Central Avenue, working my way back to Capitol Avenue and then south toward home.

Most of the way, this route meets the criteria listed above. The northern half (on the top side of 38th Street), travels through leafy suburban neighborhoods where the currents of life seem just like they were in the 1960s when we first moved to this part of Indianapolis. Although Indianapolis may never again seem as much like home as the Pacific Northwest, this ride takes me through a part of the city that does awaken strong, happy memories.

An added bonus is some public art, the wild things that I mention in the title to this report. On the street level of this route there’s nothing much bigger than chipmunks and squirrels running around on their own four legs.

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One building on Illinois Street just north of 33rd, however, has been adorned with giant beasts in deep, surreal colors. Some are sea creatures and others roam on land. In broad daylight, of course, they bring smiles to my face and an easy-going feeling to my inner self.

This city has its troubles, its horrors by night and by day. But there also is love, joy, lightheartedness, and a playful spirit, and that’s what I see in these garish creatures.

I saw evidence of this brighter side of city life later in the afternoon. As I rode back home on Capitol, I noticed several new houses, with essentially the same design, and all painted gray. Two men at a front-yard sale just down the street, and almost straight across from the wild things on Illinois, explained. “They’re Habitat Houses, and they’re nice. Before they were built, those lots were just plain dumps and now they have good homes.”

On this Halloween weekend, many people will go to haunted houses and horror movies to get their kicks. As for me, I’ll ride up North Illinois Street and back down on Capitol. Wild things and happy homes! These are the things I want to see.

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3 Responses to North Illinois Street, Indy: Cycling with the Wild Things

  1. Love the murals😊🎂😊

  2. brickthomas says:

    I enjoyed hearing about your bike route. When we lived near Muncie we would go down to Broad Ripple for Indian food and a bike ride. Sometimes in the winter we’d catch an Indy bike club meeting when they had guest lecturers (i.e. Willie Weir). Hope you find some good routes. Brick

    • I’m settling into three or four routes that are 15-20 miles in length and one that will let me go as far as I want, which is not as far as once would have been the case. In the spring, I’ll resume an exploratory attitude. I intend to join CIBA again but have not yet done so. Thanks for your comments. I will be posting an account of my annual birthday ride sometime this week.

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