While I wait for Chicago to be covered in gloriously safe bike infrastructure, I have to work with what I’ve got. As some mentioned in the comments to yesterday’s post, small side streets can provide a calm and safe way to travel through the city – no special bike infrastructure needed. Using such routes to get from one place to another may require practice, familiarity and extra time, but it can be well worth the trouble for those who value peacefulness above efficiency.
Over the past two years, when it no longer made sense to take the car-free Lakefront Trail on a regular basis due to the location of my new office, I have been adjusting my 5-mile commute route from the efficiency side of the scale to the peacefulness side of the scale.
I started with the most obvious and direct bikeable route: a left and a right and I was there (Lincoln to Wells). Most of the ride consisted of a diagonal street with either sharrows or bike lanes the whole way, popular with both bikes and cars. Unfortunately, vehicle traffic moved quickly and there were lots of trucks, buses and giant six-way intersections. After a while I grew tired of the traffic and aggression, such as drivers shouting at me to get out of the way or just generically being awful. The stress was really getting to me.
Looking for an alternative, it occurred to me last summer to sacrifice some efficiency and try taking slightly calmer streets. The new route amounted to a right, left, right, left and right, instead of a straight diagonal (basically, Southport to Armitage to Wells). I still had to deal with congestion, often riding down the bike lane past grid-locked vehicle traffic, but the cars moved considerably slower, the intersections were smaller, and the bike lanes more consistent.
This route served me well for a year, but lately I have been craving a more peaceful commute. Participating in the super calm Critical Lass rides helped me realize that Chicago has lots of small, tree-lined, neighborhood streets to ride, as long as one is willing to meander: these magically quiet streets have a tendency to end or become one-way suddenly. For the past few weeks, I’ve been experimenting with different side streets, backtracking and exploring a lot.
As of today, I’ve finally discovered The Calmest Route from My Neighborhood to My Office (patent pending). My route is now: right, left, right, left, right, left, right, left, right, left, right, left. That is no exaggeration: I typed while visualizing my ride with my eyes closed.
The difference in my stress level from my first commute route to my current commute route is night and day, with my current route being virtually stress-free. Of course, this comes at a cost. First, it takes about 10 minutes longer than more obvious route. Second, the potholes are especially bad on side streets. Third, this route probably won’t be an option during the winter, when side streets are neglected by snow plows. Finally, I have to be extra cautious at each block’s four-way stop sign because drivers in neighborhoods love to roll through stops, unless there’s another ton vehicle staring them down. Despite these costs, the calmness of the route is worth it to me.
I wish I’d thought of adjusting my route like this a long time ago, but I guess such a paradigm shift is obvious only in hindsight.
I know this kind of meandering commuting is not for everyone, but I’m curious: does anyone else seek out the most peaceful routes possible?