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Chicago, Bike Grid Now!

Preview what Chicago would be like with a citywide low-stress cycling network on Sunday’s Taste of the Bike Grid ride

The 7.8 side street bike tour takes place this Sunday, August 6, at 9 a.m. leaving from Catalpa (5500 N.) and Campbell (2500 W.) avenues in Lincoln Square.

Wabansia Avenue was temporarily made into a “Slow Street” with limited car access in June 2020. Photo: John Greenfield

What would it be like if Chicago actually had a Bike Grid? That's a network of bike- and pedestrian-priority streets where motorists are forced to drive at safe speeds, and not use residential streets for cross-town trips. That would create a much safer, more relaxing option for biking and walking.

Residents will have a chance to get a sneak peek at the concept this weekend on the Taste of the Bike Grid ride. It's 7.8 side street bike tour leaving this Sunday, August 6, at 9 a.m. from Catalpa (5500 N.) and Campbell (2500 W.) avenues in the Lincoln Square community. The ride, organized by the grassroots advocacy group Chicago, Bike Grid Now!, will take a little over one hour and will include visits to the Glenwood Avenue (1400 W.) and Berwyn Avenue (5300 N.) Neighborhood Greenways, bicycle-friendly side street routes. It will also stop at the Glenwood Sunday Market at Farwell Avenue (6830 N.) and Glenwood.

CBGN's map for the ride.

“One of the biggest obstacles for people using bikes to get around is a lack of safe and connected bike routes,” stated CBGN cofounder Nate Hutcheson, who lives in the 40th Ward, where the tour starts. “We’re organizing this ride and others like it to highlight the opportunity to leverage our underutilized side streets and our existing bike infrastructure to create a network that allows people to ride safely between neighborhoods.”

Alderpersons Andre Vasquez (40th), Matt Martin (47th), Leni Manaa-Hoppenworth (48th), Maria Hadden (49th), and Debra Silverstein (50th) have been invited to take part in Sunday's ride. According to CBGN, most of these City Council members or their staff said they will participate and/or publicize the event.

“A strong city gives residents multiple safe options for traveling to destinations across all of our neighborhoods,” said Ald. Vasquez, who helped plan a car-free block on Catalpa and curb-protected bike lanes on Clark Street in his ward. “I’m excited to start the work of knitting our communities together through a connected system of safe streets.”

CBGN notes that [unlike, say, Temecula, California] Chicago has a relentless street grid that could very easily be transformed into an efficient network of very safe, chill biking and walking routes. That's opposed to how residential roads often function here nowadays: as "cut-through" streets for drivers trying to avoid motorist-created congestion on arterials.

"In recent years, the Chicago Department of Transportation has built bike and pedestrian infrastructure in areas where alders and residents are supportive of it," noted CBGN in a press release about Sunday's ride. "But advocates say that it is disjointed at best and dangerous at worst."

"We hear from our residents that they want safe streets to walk and ride to school, to recreation, and to work,” said Ald. Martin. He is currently helping to create an extended Neighborhood Greenway on Leavitt Street (2200 W.) north of Diversey Parkway (2800 N.) “We are constantly reminded of the need for safer infrastructure for alternatives to cars – from all-too-frequent pedestrian and cyclist deaths, to this month becoming the warmest month of July ever recorded. A grid of protected bike lanes will benefit all our residents and businesses, who need a sustainable, resilient, and safe Chicago to thrive."

The Taste of The Grid route will use existing Neighborhood Greenways, plus other mellow Chicago bike routes that could easily become part of an official Bike Grid, especially if action is taken to calm and divert motorized traffic.

According to CBGN, Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson and a significant number of alders have already endorsed the group's proposal to convert 450 miles, or 10 percent, of Chicago streets to bike/ped-priority roadways. Traffic calming features would include traffic diverters, infrastructure that prevents motorists from making cross-town trips on side streets, but allows people on foot and bikes to use the roads this way.

A traffic diverter in Portland. Photo: Jonathan Maus, Bike Portland

Traffic diverters are common in bike-friendly cities like Portland, Berkeley, and Tucson. But years ago Chicago motorists put the kibosh on the Chicago Department of Transportation proposals for them on Berteau Avenue in the 47th Ward and Manor Avenue in the 33rd Ward because they didn't want to have to alter their driving habits

However, there was some great news at last month's community meeting on the planned Wood Street Neighborhood Greenway in West Town. CDOT and local alder Daniel La Spata (1st), announced that traffic diverters will be piloted on this side street bike route. Many local cycling advocates are excited about that. And with Bike Grid proponent Mayor Johnson in office, hopefully CDOT will soon install more traffic diverters across the city to start building the Bike Grid.

CBGN also suggests installing sidewalk extensions and chicanes (mildly slaloming routes that force drivers to slow down) on Bike Grid streets.

"The 49th Ward Office is happy to support and promote this community bike ride as part of a greater effort to promote a safer and more pleasant biking network that will benefit Rogers Park, our neighbors, and the city as a whole,” said Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) in a statement. “Our streets should be safe, efficient, and effective for all users and I look forward to working to make that a reality."

Here's an interactive map Streetsblog created with CBGN's blessings, plus directions, in case you can't make it on Sunday and want to try the Taste of the Bike Grid route yourself some time.

• Start at Catalpa/Campbell (5500 N. / 2500 W.)

• Head south to Berwyn (5300 N.)

• Head east (on new contraflow "wrong-way" bike lane) to Wolcott (1900 W.)

• Head south to Winnemac (5030 N.)

• Head east to Glenwood (1400 W.)

• Head north to Farwell (6830 N.)

• Head west to Greenview (1500 W.)

• Head north to Greenleaf (7100 N.)

• Head west to Bell (2230 W.)

• Head south to Lunt (7000 N.)

• Head west to Campbell (2500 W.)

• Head south to Catalpa (5500 N.) to end the ride.

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