Two grocery panniers, six errands and some thoughts
Starting location: Sauganash (Bryn Mawr & Kostner). Destination: Village Crossing shopping center, Skokie. Trip length: 8 miles. Route: improvised, see below.
Carried with me: 2 boxes to be taken to the Post Office, 1 small carton of incorrect cat food to be returned to PetSmart, 1 1/2 grocery bags filled with books and DVD's to sell to Half Price Books. Carried on return trip: small purchase from Verizon and two large sacks of groceries.
Bike equipment: rear rack, a pair of rack mounted grocery panniers enhanced with stiff-sided reusable grocery bags (for extra height), u-lock.
First stop: Edgebrook Post Office at Devon & Central.
Challenges: it is necessary to cross Caldwell and Devon, both major, 4-lane thoroughfares in this area, neither having either a traffic light or stop signs at the points of intersection with an officially designated biking route. Can’t decide if the Central/Devon construction is a help or a hinderance: it slows down traffic for sure, but creates it’s own obstacle course.
Perks: (1) The route consists mainly of quiet neighborhood streets adjacent to the forest preserve. (2) On a bike, you don't get stuck in the traffic back-up at the Metra tracks in Edgebrook. You can pull up to the one parking meter left in place for the convenience of cyclists, lock up and run your errands while everyone else is waiting for the train to pass.
Half Price Books and PetSmart at Village Crossing in Skokie
Challenges: cycling is unsafe on Central Ave./Carpenter Rd, with no shoulder, and drivers effectively taking two lanes each way.
Perks: You can't do this in a car, but a bike allows you to sneak through the cul-de-sac behind the post office onto more neighborhood streets to bypass the nightmare that is Central Ave.
Cheat: Once over the Skokie border, you can ride two blocks on the little-used sidewalk along Carpenter Rd. until you get to the Village Crossing access drive.
Note: Though Village Crossing is not exactly made for strolling, I elected to leave the bike parked at Half-Price, and carried the carton of cat food to the pet store on foot, since I could not remember any other bike racks on the other side of the shopping center.
Verizon store on the other side of Touhy Ave.
Challenge: nightmarish crossing at Touhy. Despite the fact that there is a pedestrian push button, there is no pedestrian signal to cross Touhy at all, at either side of the intersection. Vehicles turning in and out of adjacent parking lots make for a nerve-wrecking crossing. No pedestrian or bike friendly ingress into the parking lot at all.
Fresh Farms market around the corner.
Challenge: no bike parking facilities. Had to resort to using a flimsy sign post.
Perks: Fresh Farms!
Chase Bank one block east on Touhy.
Challenge: another street crossing that fails to take into account the needs of pedestrians and cyclists. The irony is that pedestrians actually frequent this crosswalk to get to a Pace bus stop. Despite the fact that there were about six or seven individuals on foot and two cyclists at the intersection, we were unable to activate the Walk signal.
Perks: none that I can think of.
Unplanned stop: Panera & Goodwill
Challenge: bike parking, again, only this time I had two fully loaded grocery bags. There are actual bike racks around the corner from Panera, but they are not placed within convenient sightlines, so I took a chance that no one would steal my groceries while I grabbed a quick iced tea and a peak into the thrift store.
Perks: found two pairs of brand new boots at Goodwill to sell on eBay! (Strapped to the rack on top of my groceries with bungee cords I always carry for such emergencies).
Challenges: (1) more tricky street crossings at Central & Sauganash and Lenox & Devon. (2) Forced to ride on the sidewalk for four blocks on Devon due to cars driving aggressively in the right lane.
Perks: using the Sauganash Bike Trail for the final mile of my ride home.
Did I have fun? Oh yes. If I drove, it would probably still have taken me two hours, I would have been more frustrated, possibly made more stops, and most likely spent more money. And, I would not have gotten any exercise. But what about my comfort level? It could have been better. I am a very experienced urban rider. If you are new at this, and venturing out on your own errands by bike, here's my advice: stay flexible.
You cannot count on consistent bike-friendly features on your way, especially if you move between wards or municipalities. Use sidewalks where you can get away with it, walk your bike if you have to, whatever you need to stay safe.
As it turns out, you can't even count on traffic signals. It's pointless to get mad. Stay alert and maintain your composure as you find the safest way to navigate.
Bike locking facilities may be inadequate or non-existent. In addition to a u-lock, carry a cable which will give you an option to lock to a tree, bench or fence if you have to.
Maintain a sense of adventure. As urban cyclists, we are still pioneers.