Our Transit-Style Map of the Chicago Bike Network Highlights Coverage, Equity Issues

The downtown portion of the map. The "stations" are locations where routes intersection. Click on the lines in the map below for route names; click on the stations for the station names. Image: Google Maps
The downtown portion of the map. The "stations" are locations where routes intersection. Click on the lines in the map below for route names; click on the stations for the station names. Image: Google Maps

Recently the urban planning website CityLab highlighted bike enthusiast and cartographer Michael Graham’s “Spider Bike Maps” idea, translating urban bike networks into subway-like maps. The idea was to simplify bike maps and make them more intuitive for newbie cyclists to use. Graham has created maps for 14 different cities or metro areas across the country and around the world, including New York, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Portland, London, Barcelona, and Bogotá.

However, Graham hasn’t done a transit-style map for Chicago yet, so I thought I’d take a stab at it. While his maps are highly simplified and stylized, which makes them relatively easy to wrap your head around, I went a little nuts and included just about every major marked bikeway in our city. I generally didn’t include routes that are simply indicated with signs but no pavement markings. On the other hand, I was fairly generous about illustrating routes as continuous, even if they have gaps of a few blocks between marked sections. However, I generally didn’t include “orphans,” bike lanes that don’t connect with any other bikeways.

Note that my map assumes that you are somewhat familiar with the street grid, so it doesn’t indicate when routes only work in one direction (most of the itineraries work in both directions), and in some cases couplets of one-way streets are simplified into a single route. For example, the Roscoe and School / Aldine neighborhood greenway in Lakeview is westbound on Roscoe and eastbound on School and Aldine, a block south of Roscoe, but I just illustrated the route with a single line located between the two streets. I did the same thing with Illinois (eastbound) and Grand (westbound) in River North.

Even so, I’d like to think that this map makes it a little easier to choose routes to your destination than the Chicago Department of Transportation’s Chicago Bike Map, which is also a handy tool, but contains a lot of information that can be a little hard to process. Note that both this transit-style map and the Chicago Bike Map focus on main street routes. If you’re looking for relaxing, low-traffic itineraries on side streets, take a gander at the Mellow Chicago Bike Map, which I created for the Chicago Reader. It currently covers most of the city, and I’ll be expanding it citywide this summer.

There's a much higher density of marked bikeways on the North and Northwest sides than on the West and South sides. Image: Google Maps
There’s a much higher density of marked bikeways on the North and Northwest sides than on the West and South sides. Image: Google Maps

Looking at the Chicago bike network as a transit map (click on the lines for the route names; click on the “stations” for local landmarks and destinations) highlights some of the issues with out current bikeway system. Most glaringly, while there’s a pretty good density of marked bike routes downtown and on the relatively affluent, whiter North and Northwest sides, much of the South and West sides have few or no bikeways. Hopefully the $50 million a year that was earmarked for bike/walk infrastructure in the new Illinois capital bill, with measures taken to encourage equity, with help level the playing field.

But even in the more bike-friendly parts of town, the situation isn’t fantastic. On the North Side, there aren’t a whole lot of good east-west marked routes, partly because the CTA often pushes back against road diets to make room for bike lanes on bus route streets. The West Side has a few different east-west options, but a dearth of north-south routes, largely because the area is broken up by the Eisenhower Expressway and several industrial zones. And the South Side, especially the Far South Side, doesn’t have a whole lot of bike lanes, period.

Hopefully this map isn’t too overwhelming and will help you better understand how our bike network functions, and where there’s room for improvement. I may revise it into a simplified version in the future. If you spot any errors or have ideas for improvements, leave me a note in the comments or drop me a line at jgreenfield[at]streetsblog.org. Oh, and if you think you can do a better job of creating a transit-style Chicago bike map, go for it — I’d be interested to see different interpretations. Thanks!

  • Austin Busch

    It seems like your map, and the new Chicago bike map, do not follow the same separation of the lakefront trail around Cricket Hill. I’m still not sure why the city’s official map is inaccurate to that, but I assume that what you referenced.

    Also, the “bike path” at the northernmost tip of Sheridan Road is a 4-foot wide sidewalk that neither Chicago or Evanston seem interested in claiming and/or repairing. Someday it may be a bike path, but only in name for now.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Yes, I find that detour around Cricket Hill pretty annoying if I’m not just out for an aimless cruise, and there never seemed to be an issue with bike/ped conflicts on the old path in that section, so I just stay near Lake Shore Drive there.

    I rode on that sidewalk on my way to Ravinia last night. Yes, it’s not ideal (had to detour onto the grass for a guy walking his dog), but the lake view is pretty nice.

  • Jeremy

    “much of the South and West sides have few or no bikeways”

    How many times have South and West side aldermen blocked bikeways proposed by CDOT?

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Fair questions. Hopefully Lori Lightfoot’s efforts to end aldermanic prerogative will help in this department. Some examples of this phenomenon:

  • Random_Jerk

    The map is kind of deceiving… It makes the bikeway system look way too comprehensive. I wish all those lines meant protected bike lanes, instead many of those are almost faded unmaintained markings. There are plenty of gaps even in “downtown” area. Good start, but Chicago still has a lot of work to do to become bike friendly city.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Yes, like I said, I was pretty generous about overlooking sections where the bike lane disappears for a few blocks. And obviously protected bike lanes make up only a small portion of the bikeways.

  • rohmen

    The bungalow belt neighborhoods—whether on the north, northwest, west, southwest, or south sides—are all lacking bike infrastructure. While it may not be the whole story, Jeremy is very likely right that aldermanic privilege (and the auto-centric nature of some of those areas) is playing a large role here as well. If it was just equity, you’d seemingly see infrastructure in Portage Park, Sauganash Beverly, Mt. Greenwood/Morgan Park, and other areas with similar demographics, but you don’t.

  • ChicagoCyclist

    Curious: John G., what route would you recommend for going from, say the Broadway Armory (or the north end of the Lakefront Trail) to the south end of the North Branch Trail? The map doesn’t appear to offer much …

  • rohmen

    The West Side has a few different east-west options, but a dearth of north-south routes, largely because the area is broken up by the Eisenhower Expressway and several industrial zones.

    I find this to be extremely accurate. In addition to what’s on the map, Madison also has buffered lanes that run from Central to Pulaski. I think they’re also starting to extend the Jackson bike lanes further west from Hamlin, though not sure if that’s happened yet. Austin and East/West Garfield Park aren’t really hurting for East/West routes, and you could also easily add a lane in on Augusta (I actually thought there used to be one all the way out to OP) or Division to cover the further north areas.

    BUT, you’re correct that North/South routes are sorely lacking. Part of the problem is that the majority of the North/West streets that both go over 290 and under the Lake Street rail train raised embankment are four lane major roads with heavy freight truck traffic. Even if they squeezed in a painted lane on those roads, it wouldn’t be a pleasant ride, which results in many doing a sort of patchwork wiggle of quieter side streets.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    Yes, it’s really high time for the city to do a signed route connecting the North Shore Channel Trail to the the North Branch Trail. From the LFT, you can take Bryn Mawr to Rosehill Cemetery, then Bowmanville southwest to Berwyn, which will take to to the North Shore Channel Trail. From there, the Mellow Chicago Bike Map shows a route to and from the south end of the North Branch Trail at Foster and Kostner.

  • Punch

    I also ride on that portion of Madison with the buffered lanes starting at Central. I’m not sure why this fails to show up on maps. Google doesn’t have it either.

  • johnaustingreenfield

    The CDOT bike map shows that two-mile stretch of Madison between Pulaski and Central. I opted not to include it since it’s pretty redundant to the Washington bike lanes, a block north.

  • Punch

    I hear what you’re saying about it being redundant, but frankly have found it to be better than riding on Washington between Central & Laramie where no lane exist. At the moment, Google directs people to Washington for bike directions when a buffered lane exist a block south. This is partially because they don’t even recognize as having a bike Madison despite appearing on their street view.

  • Aidan Kaplan

    The first time I biked downtown from the South Side, I followed King Drive most of the way – it was wonderful until I got past 25th St, when the bike infrastructure suddenly disappeared and I found myself on a wide road sharing a lane with buses and cars going under the Stevenson. Definitely not a route I would recommend to bikers – I don’t think it should be included on the map. I wish there had been a sign directing northbound cyclists to take the bike lanes on 25th over to State.

  • what_eva

    I presume you mean across Sheridan from Calvary Cemetary. There is no issue of claiming, it’s in Evanston. The alley north of Juneway/south edge of the cemetary is the border between the cities by the lake.


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