Use the Wilson Bridge Closure as an Excuse to Try Out These East-West Mellow Routes

Avoid the bridge closure on Wilson (red map pin) by taking these mellow alternatives (green.) Image: John Greenfield via Google Maps
Avoid the bridge closure on Wilson (red map pin) by taking these mellow alternatives (green.) Image: John Greenfield via Google Maps

Many Chicago cyclists appreciate Wilson Avenue as a commuting route because it’s a secondary street that runs uninterrupted for several miles between Albany Park and the lakefront, in a city where good east-west bike routes are relatively rare. Wilson also provides you with a fairly safe crossing of the Chicago river via a two-lane span with a solid bridge deck as opposed to a slippery open grate.

Still, I’m not a huge fan of Wilson. While it’s a residential street west of Western Avenue, it can still feel a little hectic — especially during rush hours — because it’s a popular cut-through route for motorists trying to avoid traffic jams on Montrose and Lawrence. So I usually avoid it when I can by taking routes highlighted on the Mellow Chicago Bike Map, which I released this summer via the Chicago Reader. (The map currently covers the area bounded by 95th, Cicero, Devon, and the lake, but it will be expanded to include the entire city later this fall.)

I read this morning in Block Club Chicago that the Wilson bridge will be closed to street traffic through October for repainting. One sidewalk will be remain open for pedestrians at all times, and if you want to continue using Wilson as a bike route, you can walk your bike on the bridge sidewalk if you like.

Image: Google Maps
Image: John Greenfield via Google Maps

But since the bridge is getting a facelift, not take the opportunity to try out some low-stress east-west alternatives to Wilson that I devised especially for Streetsblog Chicago readers? (They don’t yet appear on the Mellow Map in their entirety.) Both itineraries run between Pulaski and the Lakefront Trail, and they include stoplights or four-way stop signs at all major street crossings. Here’s the link to an interactive Google Map of these routes.

Eastbound, you take Ainslie until Sacramento and then head south to cross the river on Lawrence, then south on Virginia to Leland. From there you continue east to Clark, where the Leland Greenway begins and signs and pavement markings usher you to the shoreline path, including a stretch on the controversial Wilson sidewalk bike lanes under Lake Shore Drive.

The westbound route is more convoluted due to the dearth of uninterrupted westbound streets near Wilson with safe major street crossings, and the presence of Graceland Cemetery and Horner Park. So you won’t hurt my feelings if you stay on Wilson instead, but if you have the time and inclination to navigate this undulating itinerary, I think you’ll find it’s a fun, low-stress route.

From the Lakefront Trail’s Buena underpass, head west a couple of blocks and then zig-zag northeast via Hazel, Cullom, Broadway, Montrose, and Clifton to Sunnyside. Continue west across the Sunnyside pedestrian mall and onward to Greenview, where you drop south to the Berteau Greenway. Roll west to Campbell, north to Montrose, and then southwest through paths in Horner Park to Berteau. From there you can continue west for a couple more miles of very tranquil pedaling.

Take these routes for a spin if you have a chance, and let me know what you think in the comments.

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  • Carter O’Brien

    I am also a fan of going through Horner Park whenever possible, it’s just such a beautiful park. Sunnyside works well for me as an alternate to Wilson going east, but the stretch by Welles is only one-way so it isn’t a great westbound option there.

    Wilson’s biggest failing IMO is how it pinches just west of Western, what is up with that, anyway?

  • kastigar

    Sunnyside is my route to the lakefront too. The only intersection where there isn’t a stop light or four-way stop sign is at Ashland. Four lanes in each direction makes it an impediment to cross, but not impossible.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Right – and in that stretch of Ashland you do have traffic lights at Montrose and Wilson, so it isn’t that hard to find a gap.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    As I think of it, a slightly lower-stress tweak to the westbound route would be to continue on Berteau to Rockwell, then head south to Irving Park, head west on the sidewalk for a bit to cross the river, and then take Horner Park paths northwest back to Berteau. Saves you from having to cross Montrose, ride a block west, and then cross south to the park, or else walk or ride a longer stretch on the south sidewalk of Montrose to get to the park.

    Sunnyside would be a great continuous eastbound route from the river to the Sheridan (at which point you could jog north to Wilson to get to the lakefront), since you can cross under the Red Line on Sunnyside nowadays. The fly in the ointment is that the Ashland crossing is unsignalized with five lanes, so it’s really not safe or convenient to cross at high-traffic times.

  • Carter O’Brien

    Yeah, I really only use Sunnyside as a bridge to get to Lincoln Square and Ravenswood from Avondale/Logan Square, I’m really more of an arterial rider, but age is bringing a new respect for more mellow routes!

  • johnaustingreenfield

    My default Logan to Uptown route is Sacramento / School / Henderson (a rare southwest-northeast diagonal on the North Side) / California / Horner Park paths, and then either Montrose / Greenview / Sunnyside or Montrose / Maplewood / Sunnyside, depending on whether it’s a safe time of day to do the unsignalized Sunnyside/Ashland crossing.

  • Carter O’Brien

    I’ve done those as well, that is definitely a really funny/quasi-secret intersection where School meets Henderson. I guess I feel a need to use the Kedzie bike lane, so I just shoot up that to Roscoe to California, hoping that some day we get our sorely needed river bike-ped bridge.

  • **

    Great you are focusing on Chicago’s side streets! They are fantastic to ride out to many suburbs and way safer breathing than most high-capacity streets. Just a heads up in case folks are looking for the Lakefront Trail’s Berteau underpass—the connecting street is actually Buena (Berteau begins west of Graceland Cemetery).

    Unfortunately one of the 2 ramps used to exit/enter the Buena underpass on the west was recently turned into a curb. Peds and bikes now have to share the same crosswalk ramp across Marine. Be on look out for dog leashes and especially folks with walkers and canes. It was an ironic choice given the whole Lakefront Trail Separation Project on the other side.