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Bicycling

Eyes on the Street: A City Bikeway Versus a Mellow Route

11:17 AM CDT on July 3, 2018

The 3500 block of North Damen versus the same block of North Leavitt, a quarter-mile west.

Last month I published the Mellow Chicago Bike Map in the Chicago Reader, highlighting lower-stress side street cycling routes, based on my nearly three decades of navigating our city on two wheels, plus recommendations from dozens of local bike advocates. You can download a PDF of a nicely illustrated version of the map by artist Joe Mills, as well as access the interactive Google Map version of the map, on the Reader's website.

A portion of the illustrated version of the Mellow Chicago Bike Map showing the Leavitt and Oakley/Lincoln/Bell alternatives to Damen. Illustration: Joe Mills
A portion of the illustrated version of the Mellow Chicago Bike Map showing the Leavitt and Oakley/Lincoln/Bell alternatives to Damen. Illustration: Joe Mills
A portion of the illustrated version of the Mellow Chicago Bike Map showing the Leavitt and Oakley/Lincoln/Bell alternatives to Damen. Illustration: Joe Mills

A great demonstration of what the Mellow Map is all about is to compare a city-designated bikeway with a quieter, shadier, less-traveled alternative. Damen Avenue (2000 West) is a recommended route on the Chicago Department of Transportation bike map, and it has wayfinding signs and bike lanes or shared-lane markings along most of its length. But there's plenty of car, bus, and truck traffic on Damen. Tragically, in September 2016 a right-turning flatbed truck driver fatally struck health coach Anastasia Kondrasheva, 23, as she cycled north on Damen at Addison. Her ghost bike memorial is visible at the end of this video clip from yesterday around 3 p.m., which provides a sense of non-rush-hour traffic volumes on the 3500 block of North Damen.

Leavitt Street, located two full blocks west of Damen, is shown on the Mellow Map as a northbound alternative between the river and Rosehill Cemetery. (The corresponding southbound route is mostly Oakley, Lincoln, and Bell. Wolcott, a block east of Damen, is another good alternative, but it has no stoplight at four-lane Irving Park Road, which makes for a tricky crossing. Ravenswood, 1800 West, is yet another option.) Leavitt gets you where you need to go essentially as fast as Damen, and it has stoplights at all major street crossings. As you can see from this clip, the 3500 block of Leavitt, like most of the street north of the river, is leafy and tranquil.

Granted, like many side streets that continue for several miles, Leavitt has speed bumps to discourage drivers from using it as a cut-through route and speeding, which can be annoying for cyclists. (Tip: When biking over the humps, ease up on the pedals and take your weight off the saddle to reduce the jarring sensation.) But the tradeoff is fewer cars, traveling at slower speeds.

What are your favorite side-street alternatives to busy main-street bike routes, whether they're shown on the Mellow Map or not? Let us know in the comments section.

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