Eyes on the Street: A Helpful Sign Along a Handy Bike Shortcut

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A thoughtful warning sign along the Kingsbury shortcut. Photo: John Greenfield

Ever since they began demolishing the Finkl Steel Mill, I lost one of my favorite bike shortcuts between Near Northwest neighborhoods like Wicker Park and Bucktown and North Lakefront neighborhoods like Lincoln Park and Lakeview.

Before the area was fenced off, it used to be possible to pedal between bike-friendly Cortland Avenue and the Southport Avenue bike lanes via short, privatized stretch of Southport that ran through the steel mill campus. The block had turnstiles to keep private cars out, but bike use was tolerated, so it was a nice car-free route for those in the know.

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It’s quicker to use Kingsbury (diagonal street with white dot) instead of Clybourn to travel between Southport and Cortland. Click to enlarge. Image: Google Maps

Currently, if you’re biking south on Southport and want to get to Bucktown, Google Maps’ bike directions will route you southeast on Cortland Avenue to the intersection of Cortland and Racine Avenue. But you can save a bit of distance, and avoid two stoplights, by continuing south on Southport past Clybourn to Kingsbury Street, turning southeast, and then heading west on Cortland. Accordingly, I saw several bike riders on Kingsbury when I rode it during rush hour yesterday.

The only fly in the ointment is that Kingsbury has railroad tracks that pose a hazard to southeast-bound cyclists. It’s important to bike across the tracks at as perpendicular an angle as possible, so as not to get your wheel stuck.

Fortunately, some thoughtful person put up a makeshift sign on a construction bollard to warn cyclists to proceed with caution. Whoever it was deserves a tip of the hat or helmet for trying to prevent crashes on this useful shortcut.

I’m not sure if these tracks carry rail traffic anymore. If not, it would be great if the Chicago Department of Transportation could make this stretch of Kingsbury safer for cyclists by ripping out the tracks and repaving it.

  • Pat

    Sadly I doubt we’ll see any improvements in that area until they redevelop it. Which is who knows how long from now. :(

    Definitely my favorite route across the river, but not the most bike friendly pavement!

  • David P.

    I’ve ridden that stretch of Kingsbury for the last 8 years to go north on Southport, and I’ve never seen a train car on the tracks. I’m pretty sure they were decommisioned long ago.

  • rohmen

    They were. They kept the tracks for years because the warehouses could apparently then charge rates based on train access, even though a train hadn’t run on them for years.

    I had my worst cycling accident on the stretch of Kingsbury near Whole Foods before they took the similar-style tracks out. Hit train tracks pretty perpendicular, but they were wet, and the skinny road tires I was riding that day slipped into the tracks and I went end over end. Smashed my arm and had to have surgery.

    A kids’ indoor playground (since closed) took my bike for me, and asked in exchange that I write to the alderman and complain about the tracks (I did). He said he had literally watched dozens of bicycle accidents happen, some even worse than mine. If it weren’t for the Boub decision, I think the City would have faced multiple lawsuits, and they likely would have been pulled years earlier. My injury alone kept me out of work for two weeks and likely cost my insurance $100k.

  • tooter turtle

    That was a well-used short cut for me, too. It was always fun to ride past red-hot ingots of steel sitting in the street!

  • skelter weeks

    Dangerous tracks also on Magnolia near Elston.

  • kastigar

    I think the railroad must remove the tracks, not the city and then declare the route abandoned.

    The tracks have been removed on the Weber Spur path, but nothing more is getting done.

  • what_eva

    It’s the former Lakewood Branch. IINM, the last active user was
    Peerless Candy (just north of Fullerton). They closed in 2007.

    Even when Peerless was still open, people thought the tracks were unused because they were only used for a couple of tankers full of sugar a couple of times a week. Unless you were around in the middle of the day on a weekday when the train went by you’d have no idea. I saw a site once that had pictures of the train being run north, they had to go very slow and have tow trucks at the ready because cars would park on the tracks thinking they were unused.

    According to Waguespack’s website, the tracks were officially closed in 2010 and the tracks belong to the city now.

    http://ward32.org/planning-development/infrastructure/railroad/

  • what_eva

    According to Waguespack’s website, the line was terminated in 2010 and the city now owns the tracks, so the city can remove them.

    http://ward32.org/planning-development/infrastructure/railroad/

  • neroden

    These were active tracks owned by CP as of 2005.

    This route was originally a Milwaukee Railroad mainline. This is the original route of the Chicago & Evanston line, before most of it was leased to the CTA’s predecessor to become the Red Line.

    http://chicagoswitching.com/chicago/former-milwaukee-road-cp-rail-chicago-terminal/c-e-lakewood-branch/North-of-Belmont-1984-2002/

    The tracks originally went north and then turned east and connected at Sheridan to what is now the Red Line. Freight ran from Evanston to Chicago on this line until 1973.

    Apparently the stub of the line was finally abandoned in 2010.

  • neroden

    The tracks were active until 2010 and the last railroad user had until late 2011 to salvage the materials if they wanted them. So it’s only been since then that it was possible to remove them. I doubt the road’s been repaired since 2011. The tracks can probably be removed during the next major road work on the road.

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