So I'm livin' in Chi-town now. I still have a lot more topics in Milwaukee to wrap up, but here's a few notes from 90 miles south.
First off: I never thought I'd miss Milwaukee's mamby-pamby wussy-foot drivers, but now I'm not so sure. When drivers in Milwaukee come across a guy on a bike, they generally act as though they've never seen such a thing in all their lives. They hang out behind it as if they're scared to get too close, and they will not pass unless they can give like twenty feet of clearance. I always figure Milwaukee drivers think their cars are much fatter than they actually are.
It's always annoyed me -- I need drivers to GO, to pass me quickly, so I'm free to dodge and swerve around whatever obstacle come my way. If a car's hanging out behind me, I can't juke around potholes or opening doors or whatever, because I don't know where the car behind me is.
But not down in Chicago! Oh, Chicago drivers know exactly how wide their cars are, they know the biker only needs about a foot to spare, and lord almighty that's about all they give you!
On the plus side, drivers down here aren't so all-fired determined to give up their right-of-way at four-way stop signs. In Milwaukee, it doesn't matter if the driver got there first, it doesn't matter if he's been sitting there five minutes waiting to go, it doesn't matter if he's having a fricking life emergency -- if he sees a bicycle within half a mile of that stop sign, he's gonna sit there and wait for that bike to go! Nothing infuriates me more than coming to a complete stop, only to have some driver insist that I take a right-of-way that's not mine. Dude. I've already stopped. You're not doing me any favors. You're just wasting everyone's time -- yours, mine, and whoever's waiting behind us. You think I'm gonna run out in front of you and your half-ton death machine? What, do I look stupid? If I was stupid, I'd be driving!!
Take your damn right-of-way!!!
*phew*, I needed to get that out of my system.
Second: I have taken an initial measure of the North Branch Chicago River "bike trail", and found it wanting. Much of it's either too rough, too twisty, or too sidewalk-like to qualify as a useful bike path. On top of that it repeatedly changes sides of the river and crosses very major roads instead of ducking under bridges. But the worst offender was a portion near Touhy Avenue that suffers from a severe case of "designed by architects".
"Designed by architects" is my derisive catch-all for any built object that puts style over functionality, to the detriment of the latter. In this case, a portion of the "bike trail" is actually a concrete sidewalk, that repeatedly offsets like a stair. If two bikers were negotiating this in opposite directions, they'd take a path that hits both of the inside corners and inevitably collide. You don't make a bicycle go through a right-angle turn! Oh, but it looks so cool to have this sidewalk that just ends, but only it doesn't end, it actually keeps going! Designed by architects.