Video: a busy Chicago bike commute

Earlier this week, I posted a video of my commute along quiet side streets.  To show how different the ride is along a busy route, on Friday morning I took Lincoln Avenue, a popular street for both bikes and motor vehicles.  I considered this taking one for the team, because I hate this route during rush hour.

A few notes before moving on to the video:

  • Lincoln Avenue is a major bikeway, with either bike lanes or sharrows along the length of it. As I discussed previously, it’s a pathetic set-up for such a popular bike route. Nevertheless, most bicyclists would take this street from my neighborhood to downtown.
  • This route takes about 25 minutes to my work, while the side streets route takes about 40 minutes.  Lincoln is faster because it is diagonal, a straight shot to downtown.
  • The bicyclist who happens to be in front of me for most of the video is carrying a child on the back, very cool.  I position myself a little further in the street and away from the parked cars than she, to avoid the door zone.
  • There’s a lot of traffic during rush hour and I generally filter on the right to get in front at stop lights.  This is the safest place to wait, but it’s important to position yourself in front of cars and trucks, not next to them.  Also, I know the light cycles well and go ahead only when I have enough time to do so safely.
  • The video is sped up by 250% and shows only 1/3 of the ride.  My memory card got full right before I passed three solid blocks of traffic-jammed cars.  That’s always smugly fun.
Without further ado, I present another low-budget LGRAB production:

The song is Beat Culture by Midori and I found it on Free Music Archive (thanks to Vee for the tip!).

Can you see why I prefer the side streets?  Which route would you take?

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32 thoughts on “Video: a busy Chicago bike commute

  1. Dukiebiddle says:

    I always feel terrified for other cyclists when they ride in the DZ like mom in the vid. I hope I’m not being too negative about that; but it does terrify me to watch. I personally don’t filter right, and always queue w/ traffic at traffic lights, but I respect that many perfectly intelligent riders don’t necessarily share my opinion that queuing is the safest option. One of my motives for never filtering, and always queuing, is that I never want to pass any motorist, and I never want any single motorist to have to pass me more than once, which I believe is a tactic that minimizes my conflicts with drivers. Given a choice between the two, I’d choose the quiet side streets route every time. Most of my riding is a mixture of both, but I try to limit my exposure to arterials if the bike lanes sporadically disappear or turn into sharrows.

    • Dottie says:

      I can see why you would not want to pass cars, but that would be practically impossible in Chicago traffic. During rush hour, I could end up queuing behind three blocks worth of traffic (or at least 1/2 a block, always) while an empty bike lane waits next to me. That wouldn’t make sense and I’d never get anywhere.

  2. RobW says:

    Given the flatness of the land, and time being the only issue, I’d take the longer more peaceful route every time. Speed differential and doors , that more busy shortcut is not worth taking. The long way is better to arrive in a better frame of mind too.

  3. Anonymous says:

    It is interesting to watch how filtering causes the same vehicles to pass Dottie repeatedly. I counted that one white truck three times over two minutes. It is one reason why I don’t filter except in gridlock situations such as Dottie mentions happens at rush hour. Otherwise, it is much less stressful to simply stop at the end of the pack, and then simply catch back up to the same pack at each red light. It also makes my own video more boring for the same reason – a lot less passing going on. As for the alternate route, I’d take it unless I was running late – Lincoln doesn’t look very pleasant even with the wreaths. Maybe the stores add interest, but it doesn’t look like a place where they have a lot of boutiques.

  4. Oh good gravy!!!! I’ll take the longer, much quieter route any day than the more direct route. Lots of traffic and way too nerve-wracking IMO (especially with the constant threat of being doored). I, too, take the path less traveled on my way to work each day- although it takes only about 5 min. longer than the busier, more direct route.
    Some of those 6 way intersections are super crazy! I used to live on the south side of Chicago for a few years when I was a kid, and the thing I remember the most was all the traffic I had to deal with on my walk to school.
    I always line up behind the cars at a light, but that’s because there are no bike lanes and I don’t have to deal with that much backed up traffic. If I were riding where you are- I’d do the same thing as you do.
    Love the videos. Nice to see someone else’s daily ride! Keep safe out there- which is much easier to do on those side streets. ;)

  5. Jenn says:

    we take the quiet route every time. The most hubbubed route we tend to ride in morning traffic is through the Polish Triangle west on Milwaukee. After years of getting scrunched by busses even on the less then a quarter mile we ride Milwaukee on our other wise extremely quiet route we finally just changed our route. I think that if the Mom in front of you had a better idea about a quieter route she would probably take it. In my experience once parents share quiet routes together they tend to take the ones other riders use in lieu of the busier ones.
    Next step of course is to get to the December 10th Streets for Cycling Open house at 23 E. Madison to map the best routes in your corner or show the tough parts of your busy one, and map out your favorite destinations Cdot and Mayor Emmanuel can be turned into a protected lane or bike boulevard on the new plan the mayor is creating by June of 2012. The lanes will begin to go in after that.
    Each neighborhood will also have it’s own meetings so riders and “wish I felt safe” could be cyclists can share where they think the city should transform our streets!

  6. Maggie says:

    Looks a lot like a 1/2 mile section of my commute home, except no parked cars. Wait I take that back. There is, ironically, the Middle School at dismissal. Never have I encountered more thoughtless drivers, most on cell phones, who fail to look before opening doors or pulling out of a parking spot. All this on a residential street! Maybe I need to create a video for just that one block.

    • Dukiebiddle says:

      The most terrifying part of my day is passing an elementary school at drop-off or pick-up time.

      • Illiniwu says:

        i tried taking a large street with a bike lane pass a K-12 school. passing that school was a terrifying 3 minutes of people pulling in and out without signalling. i decided shaving 5 minutes off my commute wasn’t worth it and took a different street.

        • Maggie says:

          A mother in a SUV beckoned her child to cross illegally i/o of with the crossing guard just 20 ft away. Conflicted the boy looked to the crossing guard for ‘advice’. The crossing guard gave him the AOK. The boy ran across the street right into my path. After I slammed on my brakes, I gave both the mother and crossing guard a quick lecture about not encouraging the kids to cross wherever.

    • Holly says:

      Totally agree, Maggie. The most stressful part of my ride includes traversing 2 school zones. That’s saying a lot because I ride 3 miles on a fairly heavily trafficked bike lane. Somehow, the school zone trumps the traffic, pedestrians and parked cars along one of our busiest arterial streets.

  7. April says:

    Dottie, I don’t know if it was your intention but this video is a perfect example of why we need protected bike lanes in Chicago. I couldn’t even pay attention to you and your movements because I was so focused on the mom in the door-zone. You might want to send a link to Active Trans!

    • Guest says:

      That’s what I thought too. The street seemed wide enough. Swap the parked cars and the bike lane, put in a buffer to prevent dooring from the passenger side.

  8. Illiniwu says:

    the mother in front of you seems to ride closer to the right when there are no parked cars and then has to drift to the left seemingly the last minute when there is a parked car. i’m not sure why she does this, because there is clearly enough room to ride further to the left and away from parked cars. some cyclists go to the extreme and weave in and out of the parked car zone. in my opinion, it’s dangerous to weave in and out of parked cars, because cars behind you might not see you.

  9. Anne from Geneva says:

    Yikes! That pavement is rough! It looked like the bike rode smoothly for you, though. Were you on Oma? Or Betty?

    Traffic-wise, that looks my neck of the woods. We do have lots of nice side streets, too. My choice of route depends on my energy/tolerance level at that particular moment.

  10. anniebikes says:

    Speeding up your video makes it appear as if you are dodging in and out of the traffic, which looks hairy and scary. But I will take that into account… Of course, I love your quieter but longer commute.

  11. Mandy says:

    I take Lincoln from Foster to Powell’s Bookstore every morning, and it’s nerve-wracking every single time! I always breathe a sigh of relief when I reach work’s front door!

    • LGRAB says:

      Oooh, you work at Powell’s? Nice! I should stop by sometime soon. Can never have too many books. :)

      Have you considered taking side streets instead of Lincoln? If you need help figuring it out, let me know. I have devoted much time to learning the side streets of the north side.

      • Mandy says:

        Yes, stop by! My husband (who also works at Powells) and I are great fans of LGRAB!

        And, I’d love tips on side streets… I’ve stopped biking for the winter (until I get my new dutch cruiser in the spring), but the hubs is riding through the year!

  12. Sue says:

    Oh, I would definitely take the longer side street bike route. That looks like a jungle out there. Hey, welcome to the jungle :).

  13. Dottie, I loved your video. May I ask how you rigged up your camera? I’d love to do this as well. Seeing all the comments below, I realize how immune I’ve come to how scary bicycling in the city is, since I actually thought your ride was pretty peaceful! I’d like to take a video of my commute home on the Madison Street bike lane and then up Dearborn through the Loop and through River North. That’s not fun at all! I hope you’ll participate in the North Side Community Group for Streets for Cycling 2020, and share all your side street secrets with us.

    • LC says:

      Ditto here! I can’t believe that as I was watching I thought that wasn’t so bad. I am (unfortunately) too used to mine where I have also to contend with double decker buses. But I too prefer taking the side streets/calmer route any time I can. It adds a good 10 minutes from the normal/direct route but totally worth it. Also because as it seemed from your video, the direct and busy routes have awful tarmac, full of cracks and potholes. Those sometimes driver me more nuts than bad drivers themselves!

  14. OldBikeRider says:

    my gosh!
    Great Video!
    i think you must have captured the essence of the “chicago biking experience”.
    wet, gritty streets.potholes. cars zipping in & out (love the x2.5 speed – gives a frantic
    vibe – very urban)
    and the light is fantastic. high contrast, almost b&w, cold.
    i keep looking for the clowns & short people in white-face!
    Please do more video!

  15. Les Connally says:


  16. Thanks so much for your videos! I love seeing what biking in an urban area looks like. All those parked cars gave me the willies, though. The scariest part of any ride, for me, is when I have to ride next to parked cars.

  17. mk says:

    Wow, I must be the only Chicago reader here who would definitely take the faster route. I ride Milwaukee Ave from Addison to downtown nearly every day. The commute is anywhere from 25-40 minutes depending on traffic, lights, and how tired my legs are. But no way I would take the side streets. I am pretty sure that would take me longer than the train!

    Your video does a great job capturing my #1 pet peeve when riding on Milwaukee Ave. Cyclists need to stay in the bike lane whether it is a shared area or a separate market lane. By holding the lane, the cyclist ensures that cars see us and also holds the lane for everyone else riding behind them. It drives me nuts when cyclists swerve to the right into the parking zone. I know they “feel” safer doing this, but it is not safe for the rider, car drivers, or cyclists riding behind that cyclist.

  18. Dennis Hindman says:

    The condition of the roadway is about what is typical in Los Angeles, which is rough for a person on a bike. I can see why you prefer the quieter side streets, the major streets need protected bike lanes in order to be a comfortable ride.

  19. MoeComment says:

    Great Video! I take Lincoln every weekday to work, from Bryn Mawr to Wells to the Loop… Never have any problems on the way in, whether going rush hour or noon, but on the way home, in the dark, even with bright flashing bike lights, have been nearly clobbered about 5 times this past year, by cars trying to pull a fast parking job in front of me, or reckless texting while driving either Old town or Lincoln Parkish. In fact I’m sure if you had peeped into the cars you passed, you would have a caught several perps in the act, iphone-handed… maybe someone ought to actually take their pictures sometime, and report them… I mean, it is illegal right… you would try to stop a drunk driver from hurting someone wouldn’t you? Anyways, I’ve tried taking the slightly longer lake front trail, but miss the exhilarating thrill of silently weaving through the exhaust, traffic, lights and mayhem.

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