Best streets for biking in Chicago

A familiar internal debate: Elston Ave., or... something else?

For many Chicago cyclists, the diagonal streets: Lincoln, Milwaukee, Elston, are the preferred routes, simply because they shave distance off of the commute (remember Pythagoras?). While generally faster and more efficient, these streets also tend to be favored by motorists trying to avoid highway congestion, and they are punctuated by complicated, and decidedly cyclist-unfriendly, three-way intersections where they happen to intersect two other major streets running on the grid pattern.

The problem you run into in Chicago when you choose smaller streets, at least on the north and north-west side of the city, is that most of them dead end at either I90/94, or the Chicago River, various train lines, or some combination of all three. There is a handful of "happy medium" streets that offer a good compromise. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Sacramento. A nice little spur from Elston to Milwaukee, in case you've gotten sick of one and are a ready for the other. Sacramento gets you conveniently under the highway at a point where there is only one little-known ramp for cars. (If you're going further south than Milwaukee, you have to make some choices around Humboldt Park, as Sacramento abruptly turns into a boulevard with heavy car traffic.)

  • Bryn Mawr. A great street from getting to the lakefront from the north-west side of the city. But it dead-ends at Rosehill Cemetery! Pssst... just go right through the cemetery (you didn't hear it here). Very few cars, nice scenery, quiet, and you'll come out right around Ravenswood. I hear they plow, too.

  • Kostner. A good way to sneak from Old Irving to Gompers Park (where you can now pick up the North Branch Trail extension). Like Sacramento, it gets you under the highway in a fairly stress-free way.

  • Sunnyside. Residents of the NW side neighborhoods of Portage Park and Jefferson Park marvel at the boulevard-width (really) of this calm, residential street. A positively luxurious way to get from Six Corners area to the vicinity of Wright College.

  • Long. A little narrower, but slower-moving street than Laramie, with signals at most major intersections. From Jefferson Park, it's a nice, straight shot south.

  • Granville. Good way to get from east to west Rogers Park. Traffic-calming round-abouts have been installed, and the street has traffic lights at most major crossings. If you're heading into the city, at Kedzie, ride two blocks south, and join the riverfront path that takes you underneath Lincoln Ave, and all the way to Lawrence.

To virtually explore other good streets for cycling, visit the Chicago Reader's Mellow Bike Map, which currently stops at Cicero. West of Cicero component to be added in the fall. In the meantime, what are your favorite mellow routes on the NW side?