Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Back to School on Milwaukee Ave.- love it or hate it?

Last Tuesday was a delectable day to go back to the school after break. Glorious weather to get zooming away with the guys into the West Loop, before I realized that I had forgotten my helmet.  Whoops, back home to get it.  My kids gonged me for making them late. 

Wednesday we hurried out under menacing skies with one raincoat. Just as soon as the older guys disembarked, fat raindrops waterfalled into a downpour and lightning flashed. I wrapped my small guy in his thick wool sweater and snugly into my raincoat for a mad soaking dash the four miles home. He was warm and dry as a bone under my jacket pulling into the garage. Not so lucky, I wrung myself out, rivulets of icy water streaming down my arms and legs.

By Thursday and Friday, we were back to pulling up before the other kids poured into school. It's been such beautiful cycling this week and last, I can barely get off my bike to go inside.

Our school ride is my daily rendezvous with Milwaukee Ave. Each day we rip west down Milwaukee from Noble to Wood in the last push before school.  It's a happy stretch to many a Chicago biker I know. For me, the beloved crossing guard at Noble and the folks (and food) at the Lovely bakery make it work. I have to admit I'm more a Milwaukee hater.

Often, riding west between eight and nine in the morning is fairly quiet, until just before and after Ashland, through the Polish triangle. But on a rough day there, it's hard to decide which is the worst. The sadistic bus drivers? Reams of parked cars waiting to royally door you? Yellow light jumpers trying to kill? Psychotic taxis? The potholed bottleneck of the Polish Triangle? You have to ride fast and stay alert. The catch is that if that stretch of Milwaukee were not so fast I could not get the guys to school on time as easily...

Probably my most important practical considerations on this stretch are the right-hand-turning drivers at Ashland, and the buses. I need to keep my eye out and place the bike between the straight going cars and the right turning drivers, because they are in such a hurry they will either cut me off or almost hit me if I end up on the far right side of the lane. I also often cross into the triangle across Division on the pedestrian light that changes before the green light turns. It saves me from the buses.

The buses have a tendency to sandwich us at the triangle if I am not out in front of them at the first light at the Division intersection. If I am behind the bus I tend to let it get across the intersection and wait. If I am a little ahead I keep going if I have the light and try to pull up to the cross walk at Ashland way before the bus can get across the Division intersection.  The lanes between Division and Ashland are potholed, narrow, and parked full of cars waiting to open the door until a cyclist is within range.

We don't sidewalk ride unless we are stopping at Lovely bakery, which just happens to be on the south (wrong) side of Milwaukee. We cut down the alley from Noble just behind Milwaukee and hop on to the sidewalk at Milwaukee going the wrong way slowly for about thirty feet, run into Lovely, and pull across the street and back onto the bike lane. The kids sitting in the box start in on their muffins or croissants. The bike lane is safer and much faster that the sidewalk on that northwest stretch for us because of all the cars pulling out of garages. The car drivers see us on the road, but absolutely not on the sidewalk.

I wonder if the ride on Milwaukee would work with a separated bike lane that isn't just paint on the road -- a heinous thought to some Chicago riders I know. It has enough bicycle usage that it could be a great place for a bike commuter lane with its own signals and protected from the other traffic.

Not to worry if you love Milwaukee as it is. The current CDOT project there won't change anything if you're on two wheels. 

So I'll have my crazy ride and the guys can eat their chocolate croissants. 

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