Biking to the Loop is Getting Easier

I spent this past winter working in the Loop, and commuted by bike as much as I could. If it was windy, or I was pressed for time, I took Clark Street all the way downtown. Clark is a great urban street, that transits many great neighborhoods. I was a bike messengers for a few years back in the 90’s, and I have a perverse affection for urban traffic. The lumbering buses, the backed-up traffic, the darting pedestrians, the curb-diving cabs, it’s my version of an IRL video game. 

But when I had time I took the new 49th Ward Greenway through Rogers Park. It connects Evanston to the lakefront bike trail, and if you haven’t ridden it yet, do so ASAP.

The headwaters of the Greenway start at Chicago Avenue and Juneway, just north of the Howard el station train yard. After zipping through that small neighborhood north of Howard you head south on Greenview Avenue (easy to remember, right?). The route is signed mostly with sharrows on the roadway itself. It’s rider’s option, you can bike down to Granville and then east to Winthrop and on south to the path, or turn at Albion, cut through the Loyola Campus, and then down Winthrop. I usually cut through Loyola, because it’s fun.

Some notes:

  • There are no protected bike lanes, you are sharing the road…
  • But don’t worry: there were very few cars, even during rush hour…
  • Probably because there are a lot of speed bumps, some of them worthy of categorization (Tour de France joke).

The route includes several sections of painted lanes that go against traffic on one ways, which is actually a super safe way to bike (counter intuitive maybe, but you can see the cars coming). 

The Greenway is an easy, peaceful, safe, actually pleasant way to transit Rogers Park.  One word of caution: the signage is not perfect, and it is easy to get disoriented in the endless blocks of mixed housing. So you should study a map before heading out, know your turns, and look for the sharrows: they are your only truly reliable guide.

Once you hit the Lakefront there are big changes, as Chicago (with the help of a super, super rich guy who is into biking) has built what amounts to a two lane road that stretches the entire 18 miles of lakefront park. One lane is for pedestrians. The other is for bikers (and presumably other wheeled modes. I don’t know where rollerbladers go, but if I am honest I just wish they didn’t go at all). I was biking in the dead of winter, and so it was pretty empty out there, but the few people that did come out for a walk seemed to naturally gravitate to walking in the biking lane. Such is human nature.

The (in)famous flyover at Navy Pier is now partially done, and lets you bypass Grand and Illinois Avenues, which is worth the trip just to check it out. The plan calls for finishing the whole flyover this year, which will get you from Oak Street Beach across the Chicago River without having to cross a single road or dodge a single rusty bridge support pylon.

The path connects to a bike path at Randolph that takes you, with some maneuvering, to the McDonald's Cycle Center in Millennial Park. There you can lock up your bike in a covered and secure location, shower, and rent lockers. There is also a bike repair shop. The whole ride, door-to-door, takes me about 55 minutes, though results may vary depending on ability. 

Headed downtown for a massive music festival this summer in the Loop? The new Greenway to the new bike path, to the new flyover, and then to the sorta new Cycle Center, is a rockin’ way to get there. Go test it out. 

By John Hennelly