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Providing a photographic overview of Chicago's Lake Shore trail system is nerly impossible to do in any usable resolution, as it is so extensive. The trail is impeccably maintained, without a hint of broken glass or any other trash to be seen. In most spots, the paving quality is excellent, although there are some rough spots. Even the underpasses, once the urine-soaked, graffiti-strewn gauntlets you had to run to get to the trail system are now fresh, bright and clean. Mayor Daley takes cycling seriously, and it shows all across the city.

There are lots of resources on line to guide you to and through the lakeside trail and all the other cycle-friendly byways that set Chicago apart from most other big cities.

The map pictured above is available for free as follows:

"This map is available free of charge.
Simply call (312)742-BIKE(2453)
or e-mail cdotbikemaps@cityofchicago.org"

While it is true that the city is cycle-friendly, that is not to say that it is an easy thing to do. The lakefront trail is very congested, with cyclists competing with dog walkers, joggers, in-line skaters and walkers for a relatively narrow strip of trail. The usual trail etiquite in play on the suburban trails goes out the window, and the ride is a very mercenary experience.

It seems to be "every man for himself" when it comes to passing, turning, crossing the trail or even proceeding in a straight line. Lanes drawn to keep people on the proper side are almost religiously disregarded, and so people will walk 6-abreast across the whole trail, then swear when you try to pass through them.

Dogs seem to all be on 20' retractable leashes, all spooled out to the maximum stretch and extended across both lanes. Children dart across, bounce through and even play in the middle of the path with the approval of their parents, while in-line skaters take their half out of the middle.

In short, this is not a ride for the timid (nor the uninsured!), as anything can and will happen very quickly in a given stretch of trail. Marathon trainees on skinny-tire crit bikes pass on blind corners at 30 miles per hour, and pity the fool who ends up too close to the water's edge (where the big rocks protrude above the lake) when the laws of physics catch up to the congested conditions.

Sadly, most of these problems cannot be blamed on "tourists" who don't know better, but by city residents themselves. The only thing you can do is go more slowly than you otherwise might, expect anything to happen in an instant, and don't bother ringing a bell, whistling or yelling to make people aware of your presence, as it just encourages even more unpredictable behavior.

Riding the city streets is much worse, and much less scenic, so it is probably worth the extra anxiety to take this ride when you are downtown, but be sure to go home and teach your kids right from wrong when it comes to trail usage. Treat every trail, paved, singletrack or otherwise, as a busy two-lane highway and demand that your kids (spouse, etc.) follow the same common-sense rules that would apply on such a road.

You almost never see kids playing in the middle of a highway (not for long, at least!), nor two people pulled next to each other chatting as they drive down the road. People don't walk their dogs down the middle of busy streets, and almost nobody drives down the middle or on the wrong side and thinks it's OK. Once we get this point across to our kids, things will get better and safer with each passing year, and our kids will grow up happy and healthy.

Enjoy the ride, anticipate a headwind for at least one half of the ride (sometimes both ways!) and set out on a true urban adventure, one too good to be missed due to a few (thousand) inconsiderate trail users.

 

 

 


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