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Underneath the southern building of the old Montgomery Ward complex, 758 N. Larrabee

Saturday night I led a group of cyclists to Won Kow, 2237 S. Wentworth in Chinatown, for our traditional Christmas Eve dinner. Afterwards people wanted to go hang out at Delilah’s, a punk rock bourbon bar at 2771 N. Lincoln in Lincoln Park. Remembering that the Halsted Bridge over the North Branch of the Chicago River is currently under construction, I recalled a cool riverside route we could take from downtown to Division and Halsted, bypassing the missing bridge.

I stumbled upon this route a few months ago while exploring bits and pieces of riverwalk and riverside bike paths which I hope to eventually string together into a tranquil itinerary from the Loop to the start of the North Branch Trail on the far Northwest Side. My companions on the Chinatown ride seemed to dig this “secret” path, so I thought I’d share it with Grid Chicago readers. Here’s a Google map of the route. You might try it next time you’re traveling from downtown to Lincoln Park or Wicker Park.

Map of the stealth route from the Loop to Division and Halsted

From the Loop, take the bike-friendly Franklin/Orleans bridge north over the main branch of the Chicago river and proceed past the Merchandise Mart, rolling downhill to Hubbard Street, 400 N.

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Head west on Hubbard a block to Kingsbury Street, 400 W., and the East Bank Club, the fancy schmancy gym where Rahm Emanuel trains for triathlons.

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Turn north and continue a few blocks up Kingsbury, under the Ohio feeder of the Kennedy Expressway, to Ontario Street, 630 N. You’re now at Erie Park, a recently created green space that’s refreshingly hilly.

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Ride west on the sidewalk at the south end of the park to a curving riverwalk that hugs the North Branch of the Chicago River. Turn north on this path and continue along the river for a couple of blocks, heading underneath the southern building of the old Montgomery Ward Company complex.

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Soon you’ll come to the bridge house for the Chicago Avenue Bridge, which you’ll actually ride through, passing by the huge, yellow gears of the lifting apparatus as you take tight turns through the dungeon-like space.

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You’ll emerge underneath the northern Montgomery Ward building at 600 W. Chicago, now home to 298 luxury condos, a gym, spa, restaurants and other businesses, plus offices for Wrigley and Groupon. You’ll pass right by the outdoor seating area for the swanky Franco-Japanese eatery Japonais – lock up at the nearby bike rack and duck in for a saketini if the mood strikes you.

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Continuing north, watching out for pedestrians emerging from the various storefronts along the riverwalk, you’ll see the south end of Goose Island to your left, home to a garage for Greyhound buses. As you come to the end of the path you’ll see the blue arches of the recently opened new bridge on Halsted over the North Branch Canal.

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You’ll be passing a line of three-story townhouses; just past the one labeled 1017, head east up a small ramp and take a winding sidewalk up a small hill to a circular green space.

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Take a hard left on the sidewalk, which will take you to Hobbie Street, 1030 North. Head east a block on Hobbie to Crosby Street, 630 West, where you’ll catch a nice view of the Hancock Center, currently lit up red and green. Here’s a blurb I wrote for Time Out Chicago about how they do this.

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Roll north on Crosby two blocks to the giant vacant lot where several towers of the Cabrini Green housing project stood until the last one was demolished last spring. A sign is posted by the site giving public notice of an application for a zoning change, although the writing is rain-smeared and hard to decipher.

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According to the community newspaper Skyline, Target is working on opening a store on the land, including a large commercial garden on the property, operated by the urban farming group City Farm.

Turn west on Division Street, 1200 North, and pedal one block to Halsted. From here you can proceed west to Wicker Park or North to Lincoln Park. I hope you’ve enjoyed your stealthy tour of Chicago’s riverfront.

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  • Jim Presley

    I will check this out…even though I live no where near the route, It will be an adventure and a challenge(to find it). thanks

    • John Greenfield

      Actually, it’s pretty easy to find and follow the route. Maybe I made it seem more complicated than it is!

  • http://westnorth.com/ Payton

    I remember taking the Wicker Park Critical Mass on this route once — a great hit, except for having to hoist the giant sound trailers up around some of the wheelchair-ramp switchbacks. The crowds at the riverwalk-facing businesses were really puzzled to see us!

    • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

      Has anything changed about this route since you last used it? (Aside from the bridge detour.)

      • http://westnorth.com/ Payton

        Nope, it’s still the same. A friend who lived in the Montgomery Ward Administration Building alerted me when the bridge-anchorage passage opened.

  • Eli

    My husband discovered this and showed it to me a couple of months ago.  I was trying to describe it at the streets for cycling event, but couldn’t remember exactly where anything was.  It’s a really nice route.  Though there are some tight areas that may not work well if they ever get really popular.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

      Hmm, if it gets popular we could modify it to work even better than it does now. 

  • ardecila

    It’s beautiful as a pedestrian, too. The bridge anchorage is one of my favorite places in the city, after the Caldwell Garden.

    Cyclists should note that this will be a very tricky, dangerous ride in summertime when the esplanade is full of pedestrians and dining tables. Also, many access points are locked up at night – I haven’t checked every access point but it may even be totally locked up.

    • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

      We rode this route at about 8:30 pm last Saturday. I believe the riverwalk is park district property, which means it may close at 11 pm. Possibly there are gates that are locked after this time.

      • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

        Did you tell me that at one of the Riverwalk entrances (from Kinzie, west side of river) that you had to buzz the security guard to be let in?

        • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

          Correct. When new developments are built along the river, an ordinance requires the developer to (grudgingly) build a riverwalk with public access, at least during park district hours. Therefore, there are lots of little bits and pieces of riverwalk like that one that don’t really lead anywhere, but hopefully they will all eventually link up.

        • http://westnorth.com/ Payton

          Yes. There’s another building south of Erie Park that has similarly closed off its riverwalk:
          http://www.flickr.com/photos/paytonc/246554458/
          I’m pretty sure that both developments received zoning bonuses for building their respective riverwalks, and as such were “paid” to build public riverwalks,

      • ardecila

        Weird.  I was over there the other night and both of the access points at the Chicago bridge were locked, as well as the gate at the north end by Oak.  I gave up after that point.

      • ardecila

        Weird.  I was over there the other night and both of the access points at the Chicago bridge were locked, as well as the gate at the north end by Oak.  I gave up after that point.

        • ardecila

          er…  forgot to mention that this was around 7pm on a weeknight.

          Maybe the guy who unlocks the doors and gates was on holiday break.  I wonder if this is done by a city employee or by the management of each building?

      • Greg

        FYI:  The River Walk at the former Montgomery Ward buildings is privately owned.  

  • martha williams

    I love secret routes!  I’m taking this way when I’m headed to my next Lincoln Park photo shoot. 

  • Kingdufus

     Cool. I miss Cabrini.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

      How come you miss Cabrini?

  • Bmbcgo-chat

    Love it ! I work out at the David Barton gym along the river walk and its a nice ride for me from the north to the gym. I never thought of using that route to get downtown. I’ll have to try it!

    • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

      Off-topic: What is your judgement of the bike parking availability at the 600 W complex? Did you know there’s bike parking in the parking garage?

  • Greg Osborne

    Thanks for the post! That Chicago Ave bridge house is a great find. By the way you can use mapmyride.com and draw lines essentially anywhere on the map.

    • http://www.stevevance.net/ Steven Vance

      I told John about Google My Maps and that it can do that as well. I’ve never used MapMyRide to draw a map. 

  • Jane

    Critical Mass rode this route on Friday.  It was a real eye-opener!  (The mass was small–approx. 100 riders, so it was a perfect time to take the group through a narrow passage like this).

    I was familiar with Erie Park as I’ve taken the kids to the playground before, but I had no idea that the river walk piece continued past the bridge.  The entire family ended up going back on Sunday for another ride along this fascinating piece of urban geography.  We piggybacked it with our first foray onto the new protected bike lane on Kinzie.  

    My now 14 yr old son was hit by a drunk driver several years ago while on his bike in the city.  He rides his bike everywhere, but he still gets jittery sometimes on streets in Chicago, usually when he hears a vehicle rapidly accelerating behind him.  The protected bike lane got thumbs up from all of us, but especially Will and my youngest daughter, Genevieve (who’s 8).  I can see that protected bike lanes will make a huge difference in mode share for cyclists having experienced one first hand.  There is no doubt that women and children will feel safer with this kind of amenity.  I am a very confident, comfortable rider on city streets, regardless of whether they have bike lanes or not.  But as a mom, there is no doubt in my mind that I’d prefer to ride with my kids in a cycle track.   (On another note:  a stupid cab was PARKED in the protected lane at the 555 Kinzie building–at least 30 feet from any logical access point to the lane on Friday night.  Yes, I reported him.).

    OT:  Um, to comment to Kingdufus below, I don’t think there was anything nice about Cabrini Green.  While I don’t like the thought that low income housing is vanishing from the area, the Projects were NOT the answer.  To quote Obi-Wan:  “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy”.  NOT a place to raise children, as the horrific murder of Dantrell Davis in 1992 will testify to….  I love the idea that some of the land will be retained for urban gardening.  Bringing forth sustenance from the ground that once housed gangbangers, pimps and drug runners seems like a fitting reuse.

    • http://gridchicago.com John Greenfield

      That’s awesome that Critical Mass rode the stealth route! Where did the ride end?

      It’s inspiring that your son is still riding after being hit, and I’m glad that separated facilities will make more families feel comfortable riding in the city.

      A couple of positive products of Cabrini Green that spring to mind: Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions and The Jesse White Tumblers.

    • Greg

      I would like to caution riders of this route to be very careful riding their bikes by the Japonais Restaurant.  They have an outdoor seating area and sometimes patrons may be standing close to the river.  Stay as close to the river as you can and go s-l-o-w-l-y through this area. If it’s too crowded, walk your bike.  

      Also, Erie Park is now officially known as A. Montgomery Ward Park.  

      This is my favorite “stealth” route.  I live in this area and use it all the time.  

  • Pingback: Stealth River Route III: Diversey to Montrose | Grid Chicago

  • Dominique Ap

    I’m so glad I found this.  I just bought a swanky, new Yuba Mundo cargo bike and the kids have been begging me to pick them up from school with it.  This route is exactly what I’m looking for and will cut out a lot of street traffic (which still makes me a little nervous – I’m a newbie).  Cheers.