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Alleys - the urban bike commute shortcut

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Alleys - the urban bike commute shortcut

Old 05-04-18, 10:18 AM
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Steely Dan
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Alleys - the urban bike commute shortcut

despite living in one of the most heavily alleyed cities on the planet (>95% of chicago city blocks have alleys bisecting them), i've never really taken advantage of them for my daily bike commuting.

but since moving to our new neighborhood, i was frustrated by the funky pattern of one-way streets, combined with a (very rare) at-grade el train crossing and a tricky left-hand turn onto a busy main street.

after several months of looping the long way around on the one-way streets in my neighborhood, and often getting stuck at the at-grade el crossing (the gates come down like every 90 seconds for rush hour trains), to get to the side street that has a traffic light that makes it easy and safe for me to make the left hand turn onto the busy main street, i realized that i could just head immediately north from my home (bypassing the at-grade el crossing altogether) and then short-cut down an alley for 2 short blocks to get to the side street with the traffic light. much more direct and quicker (and no potential el train delays).

i can't believe it took me this long to recognize this much superior route. alleys in chicago aren't intended for through traffic, but i don't think the law says anything about bicycles.

what about you guys? does anyone else take advantage of alleys on their regular commuting route to shortcut or workaround tricky traffic/street pattern situations?

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Old 05-04-18, 11:20 AM
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The last/first block of my commute when I started bike commuting was an alley that lead up to the parking lot. It was way easier than riding on the sidewalk or riding the wrong way in the street, and a lot more direct.
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Old 05-04-18, 11:28 AM
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There are no alleys around my house. Sometimes I'll hit one, usually if I'm half lost looking for something at my destination. And, perhaps stuck with one-way streets.

Just be careful of popping out of the alley. Slow down and check the sidewalks and intersecting streets.
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Old 05-04-18, 11:38 AM
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Originally Posted by CliffordK
Just be careful of popping out of the alley. Slow down and check the sidewalks and intersecting streets.
oh, for sure!

chicago alley outlets can be very dangerous because buildings often directly abut both the alley and the sidewalk, meaning that the line of sight between alley and sidewalk, and vice versa, is 100% blind.

in fact, many motorists will actually give their horn a slight toot when coming out of blind alley as a courtesy warning to anyone who might be on the sidewalk because the arrangement often is so completely blind.
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Old 05-04-18, 11:54 AM
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For a few years, they made one of the main downtown streets in Colorado Springs one way south, so I took an alley when I rode north. When I was a kid in Chicago, we sometimes rode in the alleys, but without any motive other than curiosity.

When I was growing up my grandmother lived on Spaulding a half-block south of Lawrence, just around the corner from the Ravenswood El in Albany Park (now the Brown Line). The train would be at ground level at Spaulding and also Kedzie. I always felt bad for the drivers at the crossings as I watched out of the train window (always the front window, a benefit of having the terminus as your el-stop. Later, when I got my driver's license I was one of those drivers frustrated by the train crossing.

I now live in Colorado Springs, and in Denver the light rail goes to street level downtown and for a little bit on the west side. But it's more like a trolley. I did notice that at some street level crossings the Denver trains trigger the traffic lights with no safety arms.
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Old 05-04-18, 01:39 PM
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Originally Posted by BobbyG
When I was growing up my grandmother lived on Spaulding a half-block south of Lawrence, just around the corner from the Ravenswood El in Albany Park (now the Brown Line).
we're just about a mile due east of there, on the other side of the river near the rockwell stop on the brown line.

in fact, in the alley directly in back of our building is where the brown line transitions from elevated to at-grade. rockwell is the first at-grade crossing on the brown line.


Originally Posted by BobbyG
The train would be at ground level at Spaulding and also Kedzie. I always felt bad for the drivers at the crossings as I watched out of the train window (always the front window, a benefit of having the terminus as your el-stop. Later, when I got my driver's license I was one of those drivers frustrated by the train crossing.
yeah, the at-grade street-crossings for the el can be annoying at-times, but sorta cool in their own weird and rare way.

it's cool to just be walking down a cozy little neighborhood retail street like rockwell and then all of a sudden you see an el train rumble by at-grade through the buildings. it's so atypical in chicago.


source: https://www.ericrojasblog.com/2017/07...ossing-in.html

over 90% of the el system is grade separated from street-crossings, either by being elevated, underground, or in an expressway median, but there are places at the ends of 4 of the el lines where the el has at-grade street-crossings, most of them in the burbs. 6 at the very end of the brown line through albany park/ravenswood, 9 at the very end of the pink line through lawndale/suburban cicero, 7 on the yellow line through suburban skokie, and 2 at the very end of the purple line up in suburban wilmette. as far as i know, all of them have safety gates at the crossings.

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Old 05-04-18, 01:54 PM
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Sometimes. I'm wary because there tends to be more broken glass (dumpsters and recycling bins) and it doesn't get swept away by traffic and street cleaners.
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Old 05-04-18, 05:14 PM
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I donít ride in alleys only because there arenít any on my route. Wouldnít hesitate to do so if it was a better route. My commute is a combination of roads, bike paths, bike lanes, stairs, singletrack trails, unpaved towpath, bridges, boardwalks, parking lots, grass and sidewalks. Makes for an interesting ride.
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Old 05-05-18, 07:38 PM
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I start my ride in an alley but this one is no ordinary alley.It actually has garages on one side and businesses on the other but it's not a street. I have to be careful about cars pulling out of their garages, because they don't expect a bike to come whizzing by.. The rest of the alleys have to much glass and debris and I avoid those like the plague. Glad the OP have found a way that works for him.
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Old 05-06-18, 10:38 AM
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& toilet for the homeless.. it should be said..
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Old 05-07-18, 07:32 AM
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many of the alleys in my town are gravel. amazingly enough i have learned to ride on them without a gravel specific bike!.
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Old 05-07-18, 09:05 AM
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Originally Posted by Steely Dan
we're just about a mile due east of there, on the other side of the river near the rockwell stop on the brown line.

in fact, in the alley directly in back of our building is where the brown line transitions from elevated to at-grade. rockwell is the first at-grade crossing on the brown line.



yeah, the at-grade street-crossings for the el can be annoying at-times, but sorta cool in their own weird and rare way.

it's cool to just be walking down a cozy little neighborhood retail street like rockwell and then all of a sudden you see an el train rumble by at-grade through the buildings. it's so atypical in chicago.


source: The Chicago Real Estate Local: Condo sales around Rockwell Crossing in Ravenswood Gardens

over 90% of the el system is grade separated from street-crossings, either by being elevated, underground, or in an expressway median, but there are places at the ends of 4 of the el lines where the el has at-grade street-crossings, most of them in the burbs. 6 at the very end of the brown line through albany park/ravenswood, 9 at the very end of the pink line through lawndale/suburban cicero, 7 on the yellow line through suburban skokie, and 2 at the very end of the purple line up in suburban wilmette. as far as i know, all of them have safety gates at the crossings.
Hey is that black awning Pizzart, the brick oven pizza place? We used to live in Albany park on Kedzie just west of there. Great pizza, and they make their own smoke beef...at least they did 10 years ago . My sister lived about 2 blocks north of there...Rockwell a block north of Lawrence.

Wow we're close. I still ride through there a few times a week - in Jefferson Park now, commute to Lincoln Park.
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Old 05-07-18, 09:41 AM
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Originally Posted by caloso
I'm wary because there tends to be more broken glass (dumpsters and recycling bins) and it doesn't get swept away by traffic and street cleaners.
yeah, broken glass is something to be wary of in alleys here in chicago as well because they aren't streetswept either.




Originally Posted by fietsbob
& toilet for the homeless.. it should be said..
i suppose, but if i worried about the gross crap i roll/walk over on regular city streets, i'd never ride or walk anywhere.

alleys in my neighborhood aren't particularly gross like that, but we don't have a lot of full-time homeless here in lincoln square, so......




Originally Posted by 52telecaster
many of the alleys in my town are gravel.
interesting. in chicago, every alley i've ever encountered has been paved and fully street-lit. the city really treats them like a secondary level of service streets, but without street-sweeping or snow plowing.




Originally Posted by Abe_Froman
Hey is that black awning Pizzart, the brick oven pizza place? We used to live in Albany park on Kedzie just west of there. Great pizza, and they make their own smoke beef...at least they did 10 years ago .
yep, that's it. great pizza indeed!

and only a block away from our home; all the more reason to stay committed to the whole bike commuting thing.




Originally Posted by Abe_Froman
My sister lived about 2 blocks north of there...Rockwell a block north of Lawrence.
we're a block east of rockwell on eastwood (the street immediately south of the brown line). we just moved in back in january coming from edgewater (up by senn high school).

it's a wonderfully cozy and charming little neighborhood tucked away back in there. i feel like we live in a village in the city. and we're surrounded by a lot of great parks, which is nice for our kiddos.
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Old 05-07-18, 09:44 AM
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Originally Posted by Steely Dan
yeah, broken glass is something to be wary of in alleys here in chicago as well because they aren't streetswept either.





i suppose, but if i worried about the gross crap i roll/walk over on regular city streets, i'd never ride or walk anywhere.

alleys in my neighborhood aren't particularly gross like that, but we don't have a lot of full-time homeless here in lincoln square, so......





interesting. in chicago, every alley i've ever encountered has been paved and fully street-lit. the city really treats them like a secondary level of service streets, but without street-sweeping or snow plowing.





yep, that's it. great pizza indeed!

and only a block away from our home; all the more reason to stay committed to the whole bike commuting thing.





we're a block east of rockwell on eastwood (the street immediately south of the brown line). we just moved in back in january coming from edgewater (up by senn high school).

it's a wonderfully cozy and charming little neighborhood tucked away in there. i feel like we live in a village in the city. and we're surrounded by a lot of great parks, which is nice for our kiddos.
Yea. I regret moving west out of Andersonville/Lincoln Square. Wife wanted a house, with a yard...but best as I can tell she got the yard so she can grow weeds
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Old 05-07-18, 10:41 AM
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Originally Posted by Abe_Froman
Yea. I regret moving west out of Andersonville/Lincoln Square. Wife wanted a house, with a yard...but best as I can tell she got the yard so she can grow weeds
LOL!

but i get it. we too were looking for a single family house with a yard, but i just couldn't pull myself away from the more urban areas of the city, and in a neighborhood like lincoln square, the whole SFH/backyard thing was just simply way out of our price range. everyone wants a SFH in lincoln square, but they only constitute ~10% of housing units here, so the supply/demand curve is WAY out of whack. a SFH just sold for $1.2M down the street from us, which is just freaking cuckoo insane because i wouldn't describe LS as a posh area, but i guess it's going that way, or has been for a while.

so we ended up in large duplex-down condo unit in a 3-flat with a small little front yard (better than nothing). we basically traded a single family house and backyard for location. i like to think we made the right choice for us, but we'll see. our kids are still pretty little (3 and 2); maybe we'll move a little further out to a SFH/backyard when they're a bit older. i don't really want to, but my wife has a bit of the "house" bug too. women and their nesting, what can you do? i blame that insufferable scourge of our society known as HGTV.

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Old 05-07-18, 11:29 AM
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Originally Posted by Steely Dan
LOL!

but i get it. we too were looking for a single family house with a yard, but i just couldn't pull myself away from the more urban areas of the city, and in a neighborhood like lincoln square, the whole SFH/backyard thing was just simply way out of our price range. everyone wants a SFH in lincoln square, but they only constitute ~10% of housing units here, so the supply/demand curve is WAY out of whack. a SFH just sold for $1.2M down the street from us, which is just freaking cuckoo insane because i wouldn't describe LS as a posh area, but i guess it's going that way, or has been for a while.

so we ended up in large duplex-down condo unit in a 3-flat with a small little front yard (better than nothing). we basically traded a single family house and backyard for location. i like to think we made the right choice for us, but we'll see. our kids are still pretty little (3 and 2); maybe we'll move a little further out to a SFH/backyard when they're a bit older. i don't really want to, but my wife has a bit of the "house" bug too. women and their nesting, what can you do? i blame that insufferable scourge of our society known as HGTV.
Yea don't do it lol

I mean really..both me and my wife work, I've got goofy hours. So the only time we really spend any real time in the yard is Sunday mornings. And when we DO go outside...we usually go to the park 2 blocks away with the kid anyway.
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Old 05-07-18, 07:05 PM
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I have no need to use alleys on my commute, but I do use the suburban equivalent - the smelly, trash-laden passages behind supermarkets and pizzerias - for certain recreational rides that I take regularly. Some of the roads out here on Long Island are just too crazy to chance riding on, so I'm really thankful that most retail strips have some type of "alley" behind them where they keep their garbage dumpsters and provide employee parking. While these, unfortunately, all-too-often provide an unwelcomed peek at what goes on inside restaurant kitchens, they provide a valuable alternative to the risky roadways that lie in front of the prettier side of these businesses.

On another note, I take a couple of overnight rides to Connecticut and Rhode Island each year. Repeating these rides each summer has enabled me to find remote boardwalks, abandoned bike paths, and dirt trails through county parks that provide safe, quiet, picturesque alternatives to riding the main roads.

Whether you live in a city or in the burbs, alleys, rear parking lots, and other "roads less traveled" are the sh-t for getting from point A to point B in one piece.
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Old 05-08-18, 09:52 PM
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The best part about city commute is to explore the unexplored areas in a familiar setting, and to seek out alternate routes. I do love to ride around onto alleys, when the roads get busy or when the sidewalks get too slow. Sidewalk riding is legal here by the way.

There are a few things that really miff me when the alley ride goes awry, e.g. alley piled with wooden pallets with a narrow passable space, dead ends and curbs. Oh and the smell of some back alley is just ungodly.
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Old 05-16-18, 01:38 PM
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My city also has alleys intersecting nearly every block. However, you would effectively be encountering a 2-way stop sign at every street, because visibility is poor from alley exits and cross traffic is not watching for you. Also, the pavement can be very poor, and they don't get swept like streets, so there is more tire-piercing debris. Finally, you can encounter trash trucks or utility work that you sometimes cannot get around. I have used alleys occasionally, as when streets are being repaved, but I don't recommend it generally.
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