Twofold question about biking in Chicago for a newbie
August 3, 2006 6:28 AM   Subscribe

Twofold question 'bout biking in Chicago for a newbie

The specific question I really want to know about is... is it safe to just bike up and photo Chicago's public housing neighborhoods and structures listed here: chicago public housing (also here online, not google maps) or are these in neighborhoods where it is unsafe to venture generally speaking?

Any tips for a person visiting Chicago who will be bringing along a bike and staying about 4 days? I ride my bicycle everywhere in my home town, but it is no where near the size of Chicago. What should I be aware of, avoid, or do to be safe and have fun?
posted by pissfactory to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Each neighborhood is different. You might have to get specific recommendations for each site you wanted to visit.

LeClaire Courts is one I'm familiar with, and you would have no problems there.

(Unasked-for advice: However good your intentions might be, be prepared for resistance from residents who spot a stranger taking pictures of their HOME. These aren't just public buildings, these are people's homes. I personally wouldn't appreciate someone taking pictures of my house. LeClaire Courts, for example, is a group of 1-2 story buildings around courtyards. It would be hard to be discreet about picture-taking in such a neighborhood.)

Metra, the CTA and Pace all have some type of bike program.

The lakefront bike path will get you from Evanston to the Museum of Science & Industry. However, "bike path" is a bit of a misnomer. It's actually a walker / baby stroller pusher / skateboarder / rollerblader / runner / toddler wandering / ost beachgoer path.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:39 AM on August 3, 2006

"ost beachgoer = lost beachgoer"
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:40 AM on August 3, 2006

there are a number of CHA places and environs where a non-neighbor standing around taking photos would be in a precarious position at best. we used to do this when i was a public defender. a lot of our staff were law students (who don't, generally speaking, look like The Man, but look like Kids); some times we'd be hassled, threatened and overtly challenged. sometimes we'd just be glared out. sometimes we'd be completely ignored. we did not send anyone other than huge burly process servers to Ida B Wells or Robert Taylor and everyone avoided Rockwell without police escort (hard to get when you're PD and only likely to make it more impossible to what you need). we'd had things thrown at us, threats shouted, been surrounded and herded, but no-one was ever actually attacked while i was doing that work.

Rockwell is coming down, but you would not be safe there. residents aren't safe in Rockwell. nor in Robert Taylor. Lathrop Homes (not on your map) would likely be perfectly safe although (as SuperSquirrel points out), you might get called out for being rude. Ida B changes. it's been a while since i've been in touch with anyone who would know what it's like for outsiders to venture into Ida B. Cabrini's also coming down, and right slap next door to some very expensive and still largely unoccupied (i think) new construction. 15 years ago, crowds of thugs would rush your car as you drove past Cabrini; now it's not the nicest part of town, but, again, if you mind your manner, you should be fine. seward park is right there and it's one of chicago's prettier neighborhood parks.

on the other hand, they are just neighborhoods and in the daylight, if you're just minding your own business, or are polite to people who want to know why you're taking pictures of their homes, there's not much more to worry about than there is anywhere else where you could get mugged or caught in the middle of someone else's violence. it could happen, but it probably won't.

i have no advice for biking around here, but the CTA does accommodate bikes on both the trains and the buses.
posted by crush-onastick at 7:56 AM on August 3, 2006

Chicago is one of the most bike friendly cities in the country and there is much to see and do by bike here.

That said I've heard plenty of horror stories from bikers who commute through rough neighborhoods. Mostly the abuse comes in the form of airborne beer bottles, although some people have been jumped, mugged, or just had their bikes taken. I read an account of a guy on a recumbent who was hit in the face with a basket ball (broke his glasses.) Then again these stories come from people who ride through rough parts of town every day on their commutes. I know one commuter who carries a pistol... which is batshitinsane, IMHO.

If you plan your route well, don't tarry too long in any one spot, and go during the day you'll probably be fine. Set a speed dial button on your phone for 911. Mostly just be aware of your surroundings... if things feel weird, get out fast.
posted by wfrgms at 10:34 AM on August 3, 2006

Chicago's a great place to bike. There are bike paths and racks all over the place. Drivers are used to bikes on the road and aggresive behavior on their part is rare (although not totally unheard of, unfortunately.) Be carefull about drivers running red lights, making quick lane changes without signaling, and pulling out across trafic to make a left turn as soon as the light turns green. Naturally, the usual safety precautions about lights, helmets and watching for car doors also apply.

The Chicago Bicycle Federation puts out an excellent map of the city with bike lanes, recommended routes, etc. You can get it at bike shops all over town, or request on in the mail or look at it online here.

As for biking in unsavory parts of town, if you go in the daytime and look like you know where you're going and have a reason for being there, you probably won't have a problem. But a nice bike and an expensive camera will attract attention. Trust your instincts and avoid trouble spots. If you see cars blocking the street and a lot of young adults hanging out, take another route. Lock your bike well. Accessories will likely be messed with--I've had water bottles stolen and reflectors snapped off. Check your quick release levers and brakes before you start off again.

If your prefer to see the sights within the safety of numbers, take a ride with Critical Mass or do the Boulevard Lakefront Tour.

Other ideas: Chicago's got a lot more urban decay than just the public housing. There are a lot of fantastic ruins in our many industrial zones. Or, if this is a long-term project you could contact a community arts program and team up some young photographers who could help you see the blight from the eyes of the people that live there.

Somewhat tangentally, you might find these pictures interesting.
posted by hydrophonic at 10:58 AM on August 3, 2006

If you are going to do this you should probably pick a "safe" hour, like 8 am when there are not a lot of people out and about.
posted by sic at 11:53 AM on August 3, 2006

Chicago is a great biking city, I definitely recommend taking the path on Lake Shore Drive. You'll get a beautiful view of the city. It can get pretty crowded, especially near Downtown, and the near North Side. The last time I was in Chicago (a few months ago), there were new bike lanes all over the place! Some of the drivers are agressive, but at least they're "good" drivers and actually use turn signals (most of the time).

The Raymond Hillard Homes were recently rehabbed and are architecturally interesting (at least from the outside). (Though, I don't think that they're considered CHA housing anymore, though. I saw "Now Leasing" signs on them a while back.) I think these would generally safe in the daytime, definitely a neighborhood I'd pick biking in, over the Robert Taylor Homes or Cabrini Green. It's not an area that I'd classify as one with "urban decay", however.
posted by hooray at 8:29 PM on August 3, 2006

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