Yesterday evening I was at Millennium Park in downtown Chicago for an outdoor concert – an event that signals for me the beginning of summer. The park is near Lake Michigan and usually a quick ride through a garden brings me to the Lakefront Trail for my ride home. However, last night I was greeted by this construction site where the garden used to be.
Yikes – I hope they are constructing an even more beautiful garden!
Fortunately, the city set up bike detour signs to guide me along an alternate route. This turned out to be a fun mini-adventure because I never knew of this path.
The path followed the Chicago River…
…with a fancy tunnel to cross under Lakeshore Drive
…which brought me to a bridge over the river
…and led me to the Lakefront Trail.
As I biked up the trail, the sun finished setting.
I ended my journey home on neighborhood streets.
If I wanted to get all deep, I could take this as a reminder that what may at first seem like an imposition could turn out to be an opportunity to try something new.
On Sunday, I enjoyed a joy ride with my friend Maria, since we were both far from our mothers. The weather was a bit chilly – in the mid 40’s – but the sun was shining and it’s mid-May, for goodness sake, so I wore a happy spring outfit and threw on hose to keep my legs warm.
We biked down the lakefront trail and stopped to watch a sailboat race and enjoy some mimosas. You can see our location on the tip of the harbor from my iPhone GPS below.
After drinks, we decided to bike to the theater to see The Great Gatsby in 3D (two thumbs up!). We wanted to avoid weekend traffic, so we chose to weave our way through the inner lakefront trail and neighborhood streets to get there. I don’t think I’ve ever talked about the inner lakefront trail before. The inner trail is a path that runs parallel to the lakefront trail for a couple miles through Lincoln Park. The inner path is unpaved in many areas and is not plowed in the winter, but it’s generally a good option to escape the crowds or the winds by the lake, as long as you are not in a rush.
I filmed a bit of the joy ride to share here. Enjoy!
As I tweeted earlier, today was absolutely the most beautiful day of the year so far to bike in Chicago. Simply perfect. Light wind, warm air, calm water, blue skies, gentle sun, and a hint of a chill to prevent sweating. It doesn’t get better than this. On such days, I am super grateful for my bike, which allows me to spend a lot of time outside just going to and from work.
In addition to biking, fishing is a popular activity on a day like today, as demonstrated above.
I wish all of you similarly perfect bicycling days. :-)
Yesterday afternoon I had a meeting across town, which led me to a different route for the commute home. I was able to take advantage of the newish separated bike lane on Elston Avenue. I first wrote about this lane in the fall, but have not had occasion to bike it since.
Riding in this lane is like butter. The separation from cars makes all the difference, of course. Other benefits are not being placed in the door zone and the relatively small number of cross streets, alleys and parking lot exits. I would love a set-up like this on the busy streets that connect my neighborhood to downtown, where I often feel like a hunted animal during open season.
You can see previous videos of me biking along Chicago’s protected bike lanes here:
On Sunday, I biked 20 miles in a Zac Posen dress and four-inch high-heeled ankle boots. My day was full, including a trip downtown for a Joffrey Ballet performance and to the Logan Square neighborhood for my friend Sara’s Oscar party. Getting ready in the morning, I considered throwing on jeans, flat boots and a wool sweater, but decided to stay strong and dress appropriately for the occasions.
The (second-hand) dress conveniently zips all the way down the back from both ends, allowing me to create more leeway from the bottom while on my bike.
The weather was sunny and 30 degrees. For the ride, I threw on a cardigan, trench, cashmere scarf, gloves, and winter helmet. The trench coverage was helpful because the dress did ride up a bit while biking.
Once I got downtown, I was able to take the Dearborn protected bike lane for the final mile and a half. The city has a special snow plow to use for protected lanes and the lane was plowed, but sloppily and some areas were more clear than others.
And look! An SUV parked in the lane. This was the second one I saw. The city needs to: 1) create better signage; 2) build real barriers; and 3) ticket these drivers.
Okay, back to my happy place…
The ballet, American Legends, was beautiful and thought-provoking as always, as was the view from my first-row-balcony season ticket seat. (Thanks, Groupon!)
Leaving the ballet, I mounted my camera on Betty Foy’s handlebars and made a video of my ride on the Dearnborn protected lane and the connected Kinzie protected lane. I’ll post the video soon.
The Oscar party was fun (despite the host’s lame “jokes”) and I enjoyed biking home on empty streets at the end of the night, 12 hours after I left. My dress and heels were fun for the day, but I was happy to change into flannel pajamas. :-)
On Saturday, I visited the Art Institute in downtown Chicago for a lecture on the museum’s new Picasso exhibit. The outing involved a total of 14 miles of bicycling in 15-20 degree temps. No big deal. ;-) I set out on Betty Foy wearing my new Wolford tights with a dress, trench coat and suede knee boots.
Unfortunately, once I got going, I realized that I was quite underdressed for the weather, with freezing toes and thighs.
But there was no turning back – all I could do was make the best of the situation, which was not difficult, considering the beautiful surroundings.
Despite the chill, I felt great after the 7 mile ride and happy to spend time with my friends Sara, Chika and Glenn.
The Art Institute is one of my favorite places in the city. I really should go more often, since I have a membership this year that allows for free admission.
The indoor sculpture courtyard is a must-see during every visit.
Another favorite sight is Chagall’s American Windows.
Winter bicycling is more than temperatures and forecasts and wool layers and hand warmers. Winter bicycling is when the world brightens as the wind whips and my mind clears as my cheeks flush.
My fingers and toes may be numb, my nose may be running, my eyes may be watering – but I am the happiest and calmest version of myself, bicycling on a crystal clear winter day.
Today I experienced a rare winter treat: leaving the office early enough to catch the sun before setting. The late afternoon light painted the sky with an ombre splash of color, inspiring me to record a video that I hope conveys some of the joy of the ride.
Winter is my favorite time to ride a bike in Chicago. The paths are relatively empty and there are many sunny mornings, when the blues and whites and sands shine brilliantly.
There has been a little ice and snow this winter. Just enough to add a bit of sparkle to the city, not enough to disrupt my routine or put challenges in my path.
I cannot imagine Chicago winter without bicycling. I think life would be pretty grim this time of year, if I did not have a reason to frolic outside with regularity. And I would miss out on so much beauty!
Chicago now has a protected bike lane going through one of the busiest areas of downtown, the first of its kind in the central Loop district. The lane is on Dearborn, a one-way street that formerly had three travel lanes and two parking lanes. My experience bicycling on this street was always pretty scary: drivers exceeded the speed limit and constantly changed lanes with no warning and there were often conflicts with turning vehicles.
With the new protected bike lane, everything is different. Dearborn feels miraculously safe.
Dearborn now has two main travel lanes, two parking lanes, and a two-way protected bike lane. The protected bike lane is directly next to the curb, separated from car traffic by the parking lane and bollards. The two-way bike lane allows bicyclists to use Dearborn to go both north and south, while cars can go only north. Bicycle-specific stoplights are included at every intersection, next to the regular stop lights. Conflict with turning cars is now eliminated, as cars may turn left only on a green arrow. When the bicycle light is green, the car turning arrow is red and vise versa. The turning arrow is activated only when a sensor picks up the presence of a waiting car. Brilliant!
Two-way protected bike lane on Dearborn
Stop light for bicyclists and dedicated left turn arrows for drivers
The Dearborn protected bike lane opened for use on Friday. Here is a video I made of the inaugural ride. I cut out the time waiting for stop lights and increased the speed twofold. If you pay attention, you’ll see a clueless SUV driver ride in the lane for a block. The final part of the video shows the crappy bike lane after the protected bike lane ends. I hope the city extends the protected lane further in the spring.
Prior to the inaugural ride, there was a press conference. The speakers included our kick ass CDOT Commissioner Gabe Klein and Mayor Emanuel. For those really interested in the wonky side, here is a video of their speeches (and you can sometimes see me in the background looking very serious).
Here is an illuminating video that Active Trans put together, showing the before and after conditions.
Hat tip to the always-excellent Grid Chicago for making me aware of these videos and for their top-notch reporting on the Dearborn lane and other Chicago developments.
I am so, so, so hopeful about all of this! All I want to do is get to work and back safely, efficiently and happily on my bicycle – finally, those in power are investing in this as a worthy goal. I look forward to more serious improvements in the spring when construction season restarts in Chicago.
PLEASE say thank you to the politicians for the Dearborn protected bike lane.
I got back on my bike last Friday. The morning was beautiful.
I felt great during the whole ride, including the bits on the street. Thank goodness for the Lakefront Trail, where I don’t have to worry about cars. I’ll be taking this route much more from now on, since my peaceful side-street route turned out to be not so peaceful.
Last night I took city streets home – a similar route as usual but avoiding the intersection – but it was too soon. I was fearful and started crying a bit for no reason as I went along. Typing that out is embarrassing, but there you have it. I’ve always been super defensive and cautious, but now I feel like I cannot trust any intersection situation no matter what. Plus, I think the night and everything felt too similar. I’m back on the Lakefront Trail today.
For anyone who’s gone through something like this, how did you feel getting back on the bike?
While at Jon’s shop, I also picked up a new Cat Eye front blinkie light. My old Cat Eye also popped off my bike a couple of days ago and shattered.
Am I the only one with stuff popping off my bike left and right? Maybe I need to secure stuff better, but part of the problem is the awful conditions of Chicago’s streets. Potholes galore. Well, would this … thing … pictured below even count as a pothole?
This has been there for years and I can never go around it because traffic’s always whizzing by on my left. Right next to this monstrosity is where I found my u-lock the next morning. A kind bicyclist, I assume, moved my lock from the street to the sidewalk – or maybe it really popped that far??
So now I am the proud owner of one bike lock too many, but I’m sure it will come in handy one day.
My u-lock is not the only thing that I lost and found that day. I also forgot my helmet under my chair at the restaurant where I met my friend for dinner. I didn’t realize I was missing my helmet until hours later, after a movie and drinks. By 11 p.m., the restaurant was dark. But as I unlocked my bike, the owner, who was about to drive away, popped out of his car and said, “You forgot your helmet, right?” He unlocked the restaurant, went in, and appeared a couple of minutes later with my helmet. Very kind of him!
Now let’s see if I can go a few weeks without losing anything else. :-)
I know I love Chicago because whenever I return from a trip, no matter how cool the cities I visited, I’m happy to be back and Chicago shines a little brighter for a couple of days. I must say that after Amsterdam, though, the bicycling situation in Chicago is looking especially bleak. At least I can retreat to the Lakefront Trail, where the bicycling conditions are Amsterdam-level easy, pleasurable, and safe.
I took these photos before I left for my trip. I was worried that cold weather would have set in by my return, but today is sunny and in the 60’s F!
When you return from traveling, do you feel better or worse about bicycling in your home city? If you’ve visited a bicycle-paradise city like Amsterdam, Copenhagen, or Bogata, did seeing the possibilities make you more hopeful for the future or just make you want to run away to said bicycle-paradise city? I’m not yet sure where I fall.
Yesterday morning, 32-year-old attorney Neill Townsend was biking to work when a man in a Nissan Altima opened his car door into the bike lane and Neill’s path, causing him to swerve suddenly and fall under a flatbed semi truck passing to his left. He died on the scene. The man who opened the car door was cited for a traffic violation. You can read more about Neill’s life and a vigil held in his memory in this Chicago Tribune story.
I mourn for Neill and his family and friends. This sad news has shaken me, as I bike past the exact spot every day. The bike lane lines are faded to almost nothing. There are severe pot holes through the bike lane that force bicyclists either to swerve far out into the main traffic lane or inch closer to parked cars than is comfortable. There is a high school where parents park in the bike lane to drop off their kids.
This exact type of collision occurred only one block over in 2008, when Clinton Miceli was doored and struck by passing traffic. The city needs to build protected bike lanes to the right of parked cars, which would avoid collisions like this. At the very least, it needs to keep existing and heavily used bike lanes well-striped, buffered, and free of dangerous potholes. Drivers and passengers need to take a second to look for coming bicyclists before swinging their car doors open. The city must do more to educate and remind drivers of this. Bicyclist should try to avoid the door zone, but I well know that is not always possible in Chicago. The entire bike lane where the incident occurred basically is the door zone. Grid Chicago wrote a more detailed examination of this infrastructure problem.
Biking home from work yesterday with this tragedy fresh on my mind, I took care to bike extra far from parked cars. Almost immediately, a driver in an SUV honked at me. I assume he wanted me to move over to the right. We have a long way to go in Chicago.
I have been feeling road fatigue lately and the best antidote is always the fresh air of Lake Michigan and the open space of the Lakefront trail, which is once again a calm and pleasant place to ride a bike, now that the summer crowds have dispersed.
Can’t you almost feel the sunshine and crisp, early fall air?
The absolute best music for a fun and stress-free bike ride like this is Janelle Monae’s Archandroid.
Here I am, being unprepared for my camera’s self-timer once again. :-) I wore a skirt and cardigan over my t-shirt for work, then traded those out for shorts and kicked off my heels for the ride home.
I hope everyone is having a beautiful Monday!
Now try to listen to this song without dancing. Impossible!
A fun concept has popped up in Chicago this summer: people spots! These public areas, also called parklets, are created simply by reclaiming two to three on-street parking spots and setting up tables and chairs to encourage community.
I happened upon this people spot featured below while biking down Lincoln Avenue, conveniently located in front of Heritage bike shop and cafe. This people spot will be a permanent feature, except during winter for snow plowing purposes, and you can read more about this parklet here.
What a lovely addition to my neighborhood! I’m so happy that the Alderman and the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce are embracing the vision of a people-centered community. Surely more of these people spots would help local businesses and property values, in addition to bringing residents together. Cities need more of this forward-thinking and action.
Have you seen people spots popping up where you live? Isn’t this such a fun idea?!
Big bicycling improvements are happening in Chicago! I heard that the city recently installed a separated bike lane on Elston Avenue, so I went a little out of my way yesterday morning to check it out.
The city calls the Elston bike lane “protected,” but as you can see below, plastic bollards do not provide any real protection from dump trucks.
But I am not knocking the lane at all. I love it! Biking down this wide industrial road with fast traffic is now easy as pie. Bikes have their own area and cars seem to respect it.
Intersections and parking lot entrances are marked with green paint to remind drivers to watch for bicyclists. Some stretches of the lane have car parking to the left, providing real protection from moving traffic.
Look at that wide open lane with the Sears Tower beckoning – beautiful!
After a while, the separated lane ends and turns into a buffered lane, which is also new. Although this design forces bicyclists to watch out for opening car doors and cars pulling out of parking spaces, there is a lot of breathing room that helps bicyclists feel more comfortable.
Finally, I turned on a side street for the last few blocks to my office. This is the only street on the route that does not have a bike lane, but it does boast the beauty that is the underside of the L train tracks.
Biking my entire commute on mostly separated bike lanes was awesome. I’m excited for the city to create more of these safer lanes. Mayor Emanuel recently said, “By next year I believe the city of Chicago will lead the country in protected bike lanes and dedicated bike lanes and it will be the bike friendliest city in the country.” Sounds good to me! (That is how a big city mayor should talk, in contrast to Toronto’s horrible mayor.)
I think an abundance of separated lanes in a city would result in a massive increase of everyday cycling – don’t you?
Stairs are my biking nemesis. (Well, after cars, train tracks, and black ice.) My heavy Dutch and Danish bikes, Oma and Coco, are extremely difficult to navigate up and down stairs – or even impossible to navigate, depending on the number and steepness of the stairs. My Betty Foy weighs much less but she’s also tough with stairs, since her handlebars and basket are unwieldy. I deal with this simply by avoiding stairs, which is usually easy, since I park my bikes on the ground level at both home and work, plus there are ramps or elevators near almost all stairs, thanks to the Americans with Disabilities Act.
A couple of times a year, though, I come across a small flight of stairs that presents the most convenient route by far. For example, the stairs above in the Lurie Botanical Gardens are much faster to descend than the far-away ramp. In those cases, I grab hold of the handlebars, squeeze the brakes, and make a spectacle of myself as I grunt my way up with a worried look in my eyes. Not fun.
Too bad all stairs do not have convenient bike ramps alongside, as is common in Amsterdam. Chicago has one that I know of, leading down a Lakefront Trail underpass.
The incline is so steep that the process is still a pain with a heavy bike, but it’s certainly much better than nothing.
I have a couple of friends who regularly carry their bikes up and down stairs and therefore could never buy a Dutch-style bike. I wonder how many of you out there are in the same situation.
Do you encounter stairs regularly while with your bike and, if so, does that keep you from buying a heavier bike?