Today, I participated in the Four-Star Bike and Chow, which I have done on three other occasions (although it was called the Boulevard Lakefront Tour in 2010). The route this time took us through the South Side, which is a part of town that I have almost never seen, given that there is little that I would think of to be there. As it turns out, there are some really neat landmarks down there. Unfortunately, my camera decided to think that it was out of memory, even though it was not, so I have no pictures this time. So, here come some words.
Starting from the University of Illinois-Chicago, we headed through Pilsen, Bridgeport, and Back of the Yards. The part through Pilsen was a repeat from two and four years ago, so it was familiar to me. The latter neighborhood is named as such with reference to the back of the steel yards. There was a foul stench through the area, but I could not tell what it was. It didn’t prevent me from riding at all.
The longest stretch of the ride without any turns was through West Englewood and Auburn-Gresham, which I have heard are very dangerous neighborhoods. That may be why we stayed on the main street Damen for 3.53 miles. Although I never felt unsafe on Damen (either by drivers or by the threat of violence), I could definitely tell that the area was questionable, with houses with “X” placards on them, boarded up buildings, and more. Still, I would not expect Active Trans to put cyclists in clear and present danger with their routing.
In this vicinity, though, I noticed some things that had recently been in the news (don’t worry, it’s not related to violence). As you probably know, signs are one detail that I always pay attention to. A month or so ago, there was an article in the Chicago Tribune about “block clubs” on the South Side. They are neighborhood associations with explicitly posted rules about their blocks. Oftentimes, these clubs are noticed by a big “NO” on the sign, followed by forbidden behaviors such as speeding, drug-dealing, ball-playing, etc. It was cool to see the signs for myself! In some sense, this made me feel safer in these areas.
There are some nice green areas on the South Side, including the Dan Ryan Woods, Major Taylor Trail, and Sherman Park. Once we got south of 95th Street, I noticed that the houses looked less dilapidated, and it is definitely the case that you can have pockets of nicer neighborhoods–Dad once said that sometimes one side of the street can be perfectly safe but the other side of the street may be bad. It was interesting, and again, I was not threatened.
After stopping at the Historic Pullman Foundation for snacks (including a cheese-and-potato pierogi that I actually liked!), a tortuous route through the Pullman neighborhoods got us out toward the Bishop Ford Freeway. I saw a nice sculpture that said “Go for it” in cursive, but again had no opportunity to take a picture of it. Near the frontage road, a police car was in an intersection to allow us to get through it, and a cyclist near me joked, “Is President Obama in town?”
Oh, and another thing in the news was on our route. We passed by Jackie Robinson Park, home of Jackie Robinson West, the USA champions of Little League Baseball this year. It’s great to see the venues of good news, particularly when it seems that most of the news you hear about on the South Side is bad news.
Continuing on roads that I have never traversed, my route guide described this place as the East Side. Clearly, that made me think of a certain song, which I haven’t heard in a long time, but since it came to mind, here it is!
It was a little difficult after the Velodrome rest stop, as there were some bad directions and some confusing directions too. We got to go on Lake Shore Drive, south of the “freeway” part of the road. This went northbound before a very annoying sequence of stop signs and red lights on Woodlawn Avenue, through Hyde Park. Actually, this included the University of Chicago.
One of the nicknames of UChicago is “where fun goes to die.” For whatever reason, this nickname, together with my adherence to stop signs and stoplights when many other cyclists were blowing through them, made me think of the next song below of which I have not heard in even longer. Yes, sometimes I can be adamant (pun obviously intended) about my code of obeying traffic laws.
The ride finished in a way reminiscent of the Boulevard Lakefront Tour of four years ago, mostly following the Boulevards toward Ping Tom Park, even though the rest stop there was totally extraneous (less than 2 miles from the finish line!)
Although I did only 43 miles, I was satisfied with my ride. I would probably have gotten in trouble if I had done the full 62. My legs were fine, but the writs was glad that I was in the protective brace.
I love making associations with my bike rides, as I have