Indianapolis Monon Trail detour shows why Indy isn’t a world-class city

Talk to anyone at a high level of Indianapolis government, tourism, or commerce and they’ll tell you Indianapolis isn’t just striving to be a “world-class city”, we are a world-class city. But saying this is one thing. Living in a world-class city is another, and the Indianapolis Monon Trail detour shows, again, how Indy can’t get the details right to be anywhere remotely world-class.

I assume the problem starts because no one has actually travelled to New York, Paris, London, Madrid, San Francisco, or Tokyo.

If you’re unfamiliar, the Monon Trail is the city’s crown jewel of bike infrastructure. Back in the nineties a bunch of people on the Northside, where the city puts all the nicest stuff first, thought it’d bring boogey men to their back yard. In truth, it raised everyone’s property values by about $10,000 each and helped make that narrow stretch of town the nicest in the city. Because, again, I assume none of those people had ever actually been to any other city on the planet.

Unlike roads which fall apart in about eighteen months, the Monon has sat mostly as it was for the last twenty years and is mostly fine. Indianapolis has decided to widen the Monon by about double to accommodate the sheer growth in users. This is fine, but the problem is the detours are hot garbage.

Drivers like to complain about detours all the time, but in a car on a road the detours are marked like an airport landing a plane, sometimes with literal humans standing around all day pointing and helpfully giving you directions where to go.

“But what will I do? That’s my favorite way!”

“Don’t worry! You can use literally all of the other available roads, highways, bridges, driveways, and we’ll even put down temporary roads in places there weren’t roads before!”

This is not how the Monon detour is shaping up.

  • Googling “Indianapolis Monon Trail Detour” yields nothing but a couple of local TV news stories. The city’s webpage for this is equally useless. “We’ll put up signs” it says.
  • When you travel on the Monon, as I did last night, you’re already on detour for the gigantically expensive I-65/I-70 North Split detour no one asked for.
  • You get to the first detour after the detour on the detour at 16th street, mere blocks from the last detour on College. In fact, if you were to stand at 16th you could see down to the other sign that already had a detour on it.
  • Upon facing 16th the signs point two ways: pedestrians to the left, bikes to the right. I went right. This is on 16th Street. I have no idea why 16th Street should be considered a detour for anything other than a tank.
  • The detour signs direct you left—across 5 lanes of traffic—on a residential street. I have no idea which one. This residential street eventually turns into brick somewhere around 19th. If you’ve never ridden on brick, it’s a lot like driving on brick except you think your entire body will fall apart. It’s not just unpleasant, it can be downright dangerous if your tire or foot goes the wrong way in a crack or rut.
  • Back on the Monon, there was another barricade at around 25th or so. Mind you, all these signs are car-sized on the bike path and on the streets—where the cars are—are bike-sized. This is dumb, dangerous, and unhelpful. But because the barricade was turned to the side—I assume from another frustrated cyclist wondering why it’s closed when it’s perfectly passable and no work is being done—I rode through.
  • You get to ride another few blocks and there is another detour. This one forces you to turn left on 30th street, according to the signage. 30th looks like the lunar surface. Then, you turn right on College. The crappy part of College where there are no signs, no barricades, not even a strip of paint to say, “Careful now”. From College you keep going and going and going for what seems like forever until, I guess, Fall Creek Parkway. Not the Fall Creek Trail, the goddamn Parkway. I kept going north, but I never found another detour sign.
  • Eventually I found myself under the Monon bridge just south of 38th street. I could see where I wanted to be, but couldn’t figure out how to get back on it. So I rode east a little further and made it to 38th Street, another of our city’s finest, equitable, world-class thoroughfares.
  • Riding on the sidewalk, I knew I could get back to the Monon at the new 38th Street overpass. This, however, meant riding briefly on the new sidewalk that replaced the old trail, before the bridge was in place. The new sidewalk is “cute” with little wooden railroad planks embedded in it. Riding on this is a waking nightmare of vibrations and bumps. I got off and walked.
  • Have I mentioned Indianapolis is a world-class city?

My problem with all of this isn’t that the work is happening or that it supposedly has to happen. It’s that we treat a critical piece of infrastructure like a toy. The thing this city holds up constantly as a way to say, “See! You can exercise in Indianapolis!”

If you were in a car, these detours would equate to “Go 3 blocks around this block, then get back on your route. Go one more block, then go another 4 blocks around that one. Now you’re back on your route, except go another 3 blocks around that after about one block. Now turn right and drive on the railroad tracks.”

It is clear to me whoever planned these detours did so by looking at a map. They did not witness the actual paths or else they’d realize most contain no sidewalks or are literally the most hostile, dangerous streets in the city. I’m sure there was also zero discussion about any kind of temporary barrier. Not even a cone.

I’m also sure someone in DPW or the Mayor’s Office will claim, “They’re just not all setup yet.” Well, then you’re not ready to get started, are you? Order of operations matters. This is not a toy and this not just people on a joy ride. Some of us have places to be and things to do.

The people placing the signs have clearly never ridden a bicycle, either, or walked anywhere, ever, because they assume no one needs to “go through”, that they’re just walking their dog for a few blocks or whatever and will just turn around or, like SimCity, just magically vanish when they reach the end of the city’s tiles.

My usual trip from Irvington to 52nd and Keystone usually takes 30-35 minutes and yesterday took 57 minutes. I knew something went wrong when the most pleasant part of my journey was the crappy end of New York Street.

On my way back I took the Red Line. I waited 6 minutes for 12 minutes. Two buses came at once. I got on, sat down, and a lady came on immediately after in a rush. “You got lucky,” I said as the doors closed. “Well, the other bus driver wouldn’t let me off for two stops. So I needed to ride back.” “Okay, so you didn’t get lucky.”

These two buses stayed close to each other for the entire journey Downtown, each trying to pass each other. Three stops in on my ride, two men so drunk they smelled like a bar fell—and I do mean fell—into their seat. Another was a snotty young woman who refused to wear a mask despite the driver stopping, getting out of his seat like it was a school bus, and walking to the back of the bus to discipline her.

In a true world-class city like New York or Tokyo, when a sidewalk or path is closed they erect a separate space for that by using excess space on a street. When a bus arrives, it freaking drives. Drivers boot people off buses who are jerks.

We do not do this, anywhere, ever. The only thing we make accommodations for are motorists, despite what it may seem. They may huff at the construction detours, but at least the detours exist. Indianapolis just closed the only path available from north to south for a cyclist and expects to “for the rest of the year”. This would be like if a meteor crashed into the middle of I-65 and we just left it there for a year.

Carmel, I assume, recognizes the little need they have for the Red Line on account it might not bring n’er do wells to their city, but none of them have the patience, desire, or interest in sitting next to a mumbling drunk on a bus on their way into town. Amid events like this, shootings, finding needles and bullets on the ground, and other instances of Indianapolis life, I often say, “This is why people live in the suburbs.”

Carmel also has a Monon detour that directs cyclists and walkers to Rangeline Road. I’ve not seen this detour, but I like to imagine they erected some kind of temporary barrier and plenty of signage to indicate “This is your space for now, please hang in there.”

In Indianapolis, our signs just say “Go this way or that, idk lol”.

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You’ll probably see him around Indianapolis on a bicycle.

2 thoughts on “Indianapolis Monon Trail detour shows why Indy isn’t a world-class city”

  1. there is no way indianapolis is a world class city. and the day it becomes one is the day i’ll eat my fucking hat. these people are too stupid and pompous to ever bring their city even remotely towards that status. they’re disrespecting the concept itself with their lies.

    even if they got someone in there that wanted to do the right things (redo public transit, redo bike infrastructure, get out of city contracts with private companies, sell the sports teams/stadiums, get rid of the chain restaurants, subsidize local business, make car-less zones) most of the people here would call that plan (“operation: our only hope”) “stupid,” “communist,” and “gay,” and it’d be back to square one.

  2. I have to agree. I have ridden the Monon from 96th to 10th for years. South of 38th Street right now is horrible. Not well marked and the a couple of the detours are just plain dangerous. I can’t believe anyone who rides a bike or walks the trail regularly was on the planning committee.

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