Roadside Halloween display in Colchester, IL
On Halloween weekend I took a train-bike-train excursion to western Illinois and northeast Missouri and, fittingly, death was a recurring theme on this fun little trip. My childhood pal Greg recently took a gig teaching political science at Western Illinois University in Macomb, IL. Judy, another old friend from the Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin, moved to Kirksville, MO, last summer to study osteopathic medicine. Since both towns are near Amtrak lines, I decided to link the two visits with a grueling 120-mile day of bicycling. Here’s a map of my bike route.
Friday morning I caught the Carl Sandburg line from Chicago’s Union Station. Like most Amtrak lines that run entirely within Illinois, it allows “roll-on” bicycle service for an additional fee, so I’m able to hoist my unboxed bicycle onboard and simply lean it against the wall of the train car. It’s a relaxing 3.5-hour cruise southwest across the prairie to Macomb, where Greg meets me at the combined train and bus station for this quaint college town of 19,748. In high school we played in a psychedelic rockabilly band called the Glorious Disciples of Freedom, so we greet each other with the band’s secret handshake, grasping each other’s bicep and saying in unison, “Disciples of Freedom.”
Continue reading Western Illinois Death March
Camping in Illinois Beach State Park.
[This piece also ran in Newcity magazine.]
There’s a bunch of state parks near Chicago accessible by commuter rail and/or bicycle including Indiana Dunes, Chain O’ Lakes and Kettle Moraine. But the easiest, oddest camping trip you can take without a car is a weekend excursion to Illinois Beach State Park in Zion, hometown of the band Local H, near the northeast corner of the state. Continue reading A car-free exodus to Zion
The Midtown Greenway, a multi-use rails-to-trails conversion in a sunken railroad viaduct.
I recently spent a day in Minneapolis, Minnesota, visiting friends en route to Duluth for a bike trip along Lake Superior. Last year Bicycling magazine named Minneapolis the best U.S. city for biking (I guess they couldn’t keep giving the award to Portland, OR, every year) while Chicago dropped down to tenth place. So I was curious to see if the City of Lakes offers any lessons on ways to make cycling better here.
In fairness, the Twin Cities area has a few inherent qualities that have encouraged bike-friendliness. The combined population of the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul is about 667,000, not much larger than Milwaukee and only a quarter the size of the city of Chicago. Minneapolis had ample available railroad right-of-way, which made it relatively easy to create a great network of urban off-street bike paths, 84 miles compared to Chicago’s 50. (We do have almost three times as many miles of streets with bike lanes.)*
Continue reading Cool Minneapolis bike features I’d love to see in Chicago
A view of downtown from Promontory Point, about 55th Street and the Lakefront Trail.
Back in 2008, Momentum magazine invited me to write a roundup of the Chicago bicycle scene. The current issue of Momentum features this new guide to biking in Chicago, especially geared for visitors to the city but hopefully of interest to locals as well. Comparing the two pieces shows there have been a lot of exciting developments here in the last three years! Print space was limited so I couldn’t include every great cycling event, not-for-profit, bike shop, etc., that I would have liked to, but feel free to to comment if you think I left out anything crucial.
The city of Chicago by the numbers, courtesy of the Chicago Department of Transportation Bicycle Program:
2.7 million people
227 square miles
.5 miles of car-separated cycle tracks
123 miles of on-street bike lanes
33 miles of marked shared lanes AKA “sharrows”
50 miles of paved, off-street bike paths
12,265 on-street bike parking racks, more than any other U.S. city
60,000 people educated about safety by the city’s Bicycling Ambassadors in 2010
100 B-cycle bike share vehicles at six kiosks
300 parking spaces, showers and lockers at the Millennium Park bicycle station Continue reading A visitor’s guide to biking in Chicago
One of my favorite kinds of bicycling is to just choose a destination, like a library, a restaurant or a beach and then find a pleasant, interesting way to ride there. This summer I’ve been enjoying going out around sunset and doing what I call “dreaming” my way around: I cruise slow and improvise a route on shady side streets while taking in the scenery and letting my mind wander.
Or, if it’s a trip that I often take, sometimes I’ll mix things up by playing a game where every time I come to a red light I have to change directions. Say I’m riding from the Harold Washington Library, 400 S. State, northwest to my home in Logan Square. I might start by pedaling west on Van Buren, then come to a red at Dearborn and turn north, then come to a red at Kinzie and head west, etc.
Some of my favorite suburban destinations are tiki bars and old Chinese restaurants with Polynesian-themed décor. I trace my fascination with “Polynesian Pop” culture to my childhood, when my family used to visit my dad’s cousin Leo’s tiki-themed hotel, the Hawaiian Isle, in North Miami Beach. It’s harder to improvise routes for these kind of suburban safaris, so a little forethought is required.
Continue reading Using Google Maps bicycle directions to access Chicagoland tiki venues
The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore might be the most beautiful place in the Hoosier State—which, to some, might not sound like much of a ringing endorsement, especially since it’s flanked by steel mills and power plants. But this nearby national park features 25 miles of natural beach, hiking trails through forests, prairies and marshes. And, of course, there are the dunes themselves: massive mountains of fine sand, perfect for a sliding barefoot sprint and leap.
Bring your tent, sleeping bag and camping gear and head to Millennium Station at Randolph Street and Michigan Avenue to catch the South Shore Line train (round-trip ticket, $13.60). The South Shore does not allow conventional bikes onboard; however, folding bikes are permitted and would be useful for exploring the greater Dunes area. It’s a relaxing, scenic, 90-minute train ride to the Beverly Shores stop and the national lakeshore’s Dunewood Campground.
Continue reading Car-free camping in the Indiana Dunes