Nov 1, 2010

A Better Way

After several years of using Park and Portland Avenues as the backbone of my basic commute, I have abandoned that route almost entirely. A friend polled me on how best to get downtown these days, expressing some frustration with the noise and traffic on Park and Portland. I suggested Chicago Ave. as a better option. Here's why.

I began experimenting with Chicago last winter. Heavy snow and ice was encroaching on the streets and narrowing them considerably. Parked cars were starting to crowd into the bike lanes on Park and Portland. Add to that the fact that the posted speed limit on these 3-lane, one-way streets is 35 mph, and more typically traffic moves at closer to 40 mph, and the prospect of falling and sliding into traffic, or getting rear-ended, seemed too likely to make that a good option for winter riding.

I set a course on Chicago one snowy wintery night last January, and was pleasantly surprised. Although there was traffic, it was slower and better behaved than on Park or Portland. An unexpected benefit was that it was a lot more interesting to ride. South of Lake street, it's residential and mixed commercial use; north of Lake street we have Midtown Commons and retail until you get to the Abbott Northwestern Hospital campus. Franklin/Chicago is seedy and sketchy to the freeway and then you pop out into Elliot Park, which is marginally sketchy as well, but still feels safe enough on a bike. Connectivity to other good routes downtown is good, too.

The real problem with Chicago was terrible pavement. It was like a third world street early this summer. For about two months it was torn up and then entirely re-surfaced, so it's creamy smooth and a pleasure to ride on.

I am surprised the City has not yet looked at enhancements such as sharrows on Chicago Ave. They are currently working on enhancements to 17th Ave. (the "Southern Connection" project) because 17th is one of the few streets that goes all the way from Minihaha Parkway to near downtown (17th stops at 22nd Street, so it doesn't make it the whole way). Chicago goes all the way from the Crosstown to 9th Ave. downtown. It's wide, and the lights are in place at all major crossings. It's a better route for bikes and more direct to downtown if you are anywhere west of Cedar Ave. and and east of I-35W.

Hopefully others will read this and start riding Chicago and making bikes more visible on this route, which I really do like more than Park/Portland.

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