Chainlinkers share their favorite stealth bike routes


A Midnight Marauders ride on Lower Wacker Drive – photo by Dubi Kaufmann

Last month I posted on The Chainlink, a local social networking site for bicyclists with over 6,000 members, asking them to share their favorite little known cycling routes and ways to escape the hustle-bustle of the city’s most commonly traveled bikeways. I’ve compiled some of their responses for your reading and riding pleasure.

Tony Adams wrote:

Three alternative routes I frequently use are:

1. The Oakley (2300 W.) route often referred to as the “Hipster Highway” is a way to travel between the South Side and the North Side without suffering the atrocious Damen (2000 W.) viaduct or the appalling Damen bridge over the Sanitary and Ship Canal. It requires veering onto and off Western (2400 W.) between 18th and Ogden (1300 S.), but Western is super-wide here and the eastern sidewalks are generally devoid of pedestrians and storefronts – so despite it being illegal, it is perfectly OK to ride on (cautiously of course). But watch out for broken glass. [Google map of the route.]

2. I find Loomis (1400 W.) to Blue Island (SW/NE diagonal) to be a pleasant way to get downtown from the Southwest Side. I’m always surprised that Google’s bike directions will always send a person up Archer (SW/NE diagonal) all the way over to Halsted (800 W.) or Canal (500 W.) Archer is totally treacherous. As a bonus, when going southwest via Blue Island and Loomis, if you cut west on Eleanor (2600 S.) right after crossing the Loomis bridge [over the canal], you get a rare opportunity to take a fast 90-degree right turn after a bit of a hill. [Google map of the route.]

3. Plymouth Ct. (30 W.) only gets you off State St. (0 E/W) for a mile or so, but from 15th all the way up to Jackson it is pretty much a car-free route passing by some parks and the Printers Row neighborhood, and past Chicago Curry House, 899 S. Plymouth, a hidden gem of an Indian-Nepalese restaurant. [Google map of the route.]

Jennifer James, who writes the family and kid transportation blog Chicargo Bike, wrote:

We have a Good Routes page on our blog with a couple of nice routes on it. As we mention often on Chicargo Bike we love Peoria (900 W.) from Fulton (300 N.) to Van Buren (400 S.) in the West Loop – it’s good for families as the stops are all four-way stops or have traffic lights. Most of our fave routes are anchored by four-way stops and lights, especially when we are traveling with our bike train or with our guys. [Google map of the route.]

Iggy wrote:

Hubbard! (430 N.) It’s such a clear route between Western and Milwaukee (700 W.) It’s wide and barely traveled by motor vehicles. There is some truck traffic, but the trucks are generally stationary or slow moving. Crossing Ashland is a bit of a bitch. You also get to pass fun murals along the rail line. [Google map of the route.]

Paul Fitz wrote:

76th Street is a pretty solid residential street route from the lake to Damen. [Google map of the route.]

Lawndale (3700 w.) is a nice way to avoid Kedzie (3200 W.) and Pulaski (4000 W.) from Archer (4700 S.) to 71st. [Google map of the route.]

Joel wrote:

I like 21st Street between Racine (1200 W.) and California (2800 W.) There are stoplights at the major intersections, but it’s a quiet residential road with very little traffic. [Google map of the route.]

John Wirtz wrote:

1. Going to and from Evanston, I like to avoid Sheridan Road and the narrow sidewalk along the lakefront across from Calvary Cemetery. Instead, I use Custer Street in Evanston, which connects to Damen (2000 W.) in Rogers Park. Going south into Chicago I use Damen and going north to Evanston I use Wolcott/Winchester (1900 W.) for between Greenleaf (7100 N.) and Howard (7600 N.) Greenleaf is a great way to get across Clark Street (1800 W.) to Ashland Blvd (1600 W). [Google map of the route.]

2. Downtown, I sometimes like to cut through the Lakeshore East development between Upper Randolph (150 N.) and the Lakefront Trail. Going north, you turn left from Upper Randolph to Field Blvd. (600 E.) Then you can either head east through a parking garage or continue around the park to Lower Lower Wacker by the car impound lot. There is a crosswalk across Lower Lower Wacker, and an opening in the fence that allows you to get onto the River Trail. You can wrap around from there onto the Lakefront Trail. [Google map of the route.]

Juan wrote:

I commute from the central Loop to the west Loop via Lower Wacker. I take the Garland Court (an alley at 130 E.) ramp down to Lower Wacker (300 N.), head west on Lower Wacker and exit at Post Place (an alley at 230 W.) It’s a straight shot that avoids many cross streets and pedestrians, and there’s only one tricky intersection in the middle. [Google map of the route.]

Anne Alt wrote:

If you want to go from the Far Southwest Side (Auburn-Gresham, Beverly, Morgan Park, etc.) to points a lot further west, 83rd St. is a pretty sweet ride. It’s a quiet residential street that has stoplights at all the major intersections and actually goes slightly past Harlem (7200 w.) If you want to continue all the way to Toyota Park (7000 S. Harlem in Bridgeview) for Chicago Fire soccer game or a concert, you have two options.

1. You can take 83rd past Harlem, then go north on Oketo Ave. (7400 W.) all the way to 71st St., where Toyota Park is across the street.

2. Take 83rd to Sayre (7000 W.), then go north on Sayre to 71st, and go west across Harlem to Toyota Park. The last section of this route is industrial. If you prefer to ride in a residential area, you may like the Oketo option better. [Google map of the two routes.]

I’ve also got a couple of cross-the-border to Indiana routes for you.

1. This one starts at 95th & Ewing (3630 E.), near the State Line Generating Plant, uses the Burnham Greenway, passes Wolf Lake and crosses the border at 134th St.

2. Here’s one that starts at 95th & Ewing, also uses the Burnham Greenway, climbs the access ramp to Horseshoe Casino, follows a lakefront path in Whiting, passes through the BP refinery and ends at East Chicago’s Marktown historic district.

John Greenfield appeared to be kind of skeptical of its usefulness as a bike route, but Goose Island to Cherry Street Bridge to North (1600 N.) to Kingsbury (1100 W.) is my standard north-south route while the southern Halsted bridge is out. I find it much more pleasant than the “official” Chicago Ave. detour. Although I have to admit that that stretch of North Ave. is one of the very few places in the city where I tend to ride the sidewalk. I feel guilty about it though. [Google map of the route.]

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John Greenfield

John has lived in Chicago since 1989 and has worked a number of bicycle jobs, from messenger to mechanic to managing the Chicago Department of Transportation's bicycle parking program, arranging the installation of over 3,700 bike racks. He writes regularly for Time Out Chicago, Newcity, Momentum and Urban Velo magazines and works at Boulevard Bikes in Logan Square.

4 thoughts on “Chainlinkers share their favorite stealth bike routes”

  1. I also use Peoria, in conjunction with Green Street, to get to UIC from Milwaukee Avenue. The four-way stop that is most problematic in this route is at Randolph Street. People traveling north and south here and far from view of the drivers who’ve stopped who are traveling west. They don’t see you, or ignore you, and move through the intersection regardless that it may be the north/south traveler’s turn to move through the intersection. You must attempt to make eye contact with the westbound traveler. 

    1. This is one of the problems with all-way stops on busy streets.  The drivers on the main street (Randolph) rarely encounter cross-traffic on the minor street and experience unnecessary delays.  They develop disrespect for the stop signs and a habit of just rolling through with little consideration for the side street. 

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