Indianapolis Cultural Trail construction complete

Published: .
Updated: .

Seven years after breaking ground, the Indianapolis Cultural Trail is for all intents and purposes done, with a grand opening celebration set for May 10th.

The eight-mile long trail was the brainchild of Brian Payne with the Central Indiana Community Foundation. Payne envisioned an urban trail that would connect downtown's five cultural districts. It would link the city's museums, theaters, sports venues and other attractions with art work, sitting areas and landscaping along the way.

The trail cost $63 million with $27.5 million coming from private funding and $35.5 million from federal transportation funds.

I was there for groundbreaking and have done numerous stories ever since, but I've never gone any great distance on the Cultural Trail and having heard all the hype, I was eager to see how it had all come together. Could you go from Indiana Avenue to Fountain Square without leaving the trail? What about the markers? Crosswalks? Lighting?

So, on the best day of the day week - Thursday - when temperatures were expected to climb to a balmy 60 degrees, I dusted off my bike, pumped up the tires and took off. I began on Walnut just off Meridian, following the trail across the downtown Canal and over to St. Clair toward the Indiana Avenue Cultural District and the IUPUI campus.

The trail was wide and well-marked - the distinct pavers and abundant signage made it nearly impossible to steer off the beaten path. I came across a colored-glass sculpture not long into my ride, with a description of the work and artist.

I stopped a student walking along the trail to ask what he thought. Jacob Williams told me he thought it was "good for the most part, but I wish it were more well-connected."

He'd heard you couldn't take it from IUPUI to Fountain Square. I told him we'd soon find out.


As I continued on, I came to one of many intersections I would cross. I would find that almost every single one had a special well-marked crosswalk. Hit the button, wait for go sign and proceed. The intersection at South and East Streets was the only one were things got confusing. One side had a button but no walk/do not walk sign. The other side had the sign, but no button.

Karen Haley, executive director of the Cultural Trail later told me it was one of the things that needed to be "tweaked."

I followed the trail thru the IUPUI campus and again over the downtown canal alongside the Indiana State Museum to White River State Park. Coming up to Washington, the signs directed me east. I passed the Eiteljorg on the left and JW Marriott on the right before peddling in front of the state office building and Capitol.

There were more people on the trail, many no doubt heading to lunch, but it didn't feel crowded, as the regular sidewalk ran parallel to it. I passed a couple of runners and continued by the IRT toward the Arts Garden.

At this point, I entered the "Wholesale District," coming up to the Conrad. At this point, I wasn't sure what to do. The trail seemed to go straight, but there were several cars parked on it. If I went in the street, I would have oncoming traffic and the sidewalk was crowded with people walking.

I carefully maneuvered my may between two cars parked just a few feet apart, hoping I didn't lose my balance and fall into one, kind of like riding through a gauntlet. I made it an continued east, turning south on Pennsylvania to Virginia Avenue. I saw the "detour" signs and knew this was the still unfinished segment.

As I bean riding beneath the Virginia Avenue garage, I saw the light sculpture that would eventually illuminate this section of the trail. It was dark. I stopped at the barricades and had to jump the curb and ride along the street, until I passed beneath the garage... a short distance, but I didn't particularly like riding close to traffic. I later learned I should have crossed the street and ridden on the opposite sidewalk.

When asked what the problem was with that portion of the trail, Mindy Taylor Ross, the public art project manager for the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, told me they had some issues with the garage ceiling being "wet."

The sculpture included electrical components and began shorting out because of the water.

She said they were in the process of fixing that with completion by early summer.

Continuing my ride, I stopped another cyclist, Jufang Liu. She said she rides the Cultural Trail a few times a week in nice weather. She said she likes the "convenience" and the fact that it's wide enough to accommodate "people walking and riding."

The Eli Lilly campus came into view as I peddled on and the new City Way project just to my right. I followed the trail down south coming to that intersection that needed to be "tweaked."

Riding down Virginia Avenue, I noted the new apartments that had gone up as well as the thriving business area - including several restaurants.

I crossed the interstate and headed toward Fountain Square. I had done several stories on how delays in construction, unforeseen problems, had hurt several businesses, including the Red Lion Grog House.

I hopped off the bike and went inside to find out how they're faring now.

Executive Chef Michael Gibson told me, "it's really helped bring traffic down here to see some of the cool things going on in Fountain Square."

As I left I took notice of the bike racks and benches I'd seen along other parts of the trail. It was back up Virginia Avenue and downtown for the last leg of my ride.

I rode by the City County Building, turning on Alabama Avenue, headed toward the Mass Ave Cultural District.

I saw one of the first art works chosen for the trail, the electronic Ann Dancing. I followed the trail down by the Murat, remembering that this stretch was where it all began. I remembered being at that groundbreaking, wondering what the trail would look like and how it would all come together.

As I crossed over to Mass Avenue, I somehow missed a turn and wound up riding down the sidewalk, along side a runner and a couple of walkers. What had happened? I back peddled, so to speak and found I'd missed a turn, down an alley way. There wasn't the typical sign marking a turn and the path was brick, not made of the signature pavers.

It was also the only part of the trail that was icy and slick.

Haley said that too was something they were addressing - better signage and snow removal.

I rode down the last stretch of Mass Avenue stopping at R Bistro and talking to sous chef Erin Kem. They too had endured a long construction phase, especially with new apartments going up across the way.

Erin said they were happy to see it finished and noted it was "bringing a lot more foot traffic," to the restaurant and end of the Avenue.

I pedaled a few more blocks before reaching 10th Street and turning around. Despite a few glitches, I found the Cultural Trail worth the trip, an easy way to bike, run or walk through downtown - and a trail that did take to most of downtown's attractions with plenty of places to stop along the way. I get the "draw,' and I suspect many others will too now that it's almost entirely done. It also shows what's possible when one person has an idea and runs with it (or in this case, walks, cycles, skateboards or whatever.)

Kudos to Brian and all the others for making it happen!