Let’s bicycle Chicago

 

When you think of Chicago, you may think of its architecture and art, politics, crime, businesses, shopping, entertainment, beaches, even gangs or gangsters — I’ll bet bicycling isn’t one of the first things about Chicago that pops into your head. But all that changed a few years back and you may be surprised at just how many bicycles are suddenly traversing the streets of Chicago — everywhere you turn, from the lakefront to the parks to the heavily-trafficked Loop.

ART-CoverThere have been popular cycling events in Chicago for years. But bicycling in Chicago really blossomed when Mayor Emanuel added bike lanes cutting through one of the busiest streets in downtown, Dearborn, much to the lament of the locals who were used to hopping a bus from Printer’s Row and making it to the office in 10 minutes flat or hailing a cab by Congress Parkway and Dearborn and shooting down Dearborn to make it to work in a jiffy. Those days are gone. To accommodate bike lanes down such a busy street, the parking lane was moved inward and serves as a border between traffic and the bikers, and although this provides better safety for bikers, it brought rush hour traffic up downtown Dearborn to an exasperating crawl.

Mayor Emanuel decided he wanted to make Chicago the most bike-friendly city in the nation, emulating Copenhagen; and in 2012, he set that in motion with the Chicago Streets for Cycling Plan 2020. We were at #10 when this article was written; now we are probably higher on the list. When Dearborn Street was converted to accommodate this plan, commuters and cabbies alike complained bitterly, especially since the bike lanes were carved out of a street that was a vital vein across the Loop–and in the winter when there was barely a biker in sight and, the whole idea seemed ludicrous. Also, sitting at a light waiting to turn left seems to take forever now and is a true practice in art of patience, especially if one is in a hurry. But time moves on and people have adapted and now Dearborn Street’s bike lane is thriving!

ART-securedownload (2)Still tricky, though, is remembering to look both ways when crossing Dearborn on foot — a one-way street for motor vehicles but newly a two-way thoroughfare for cyclists — when previously one never had to give it a second thought. Cyclists are to adhere to Chicago bike laws for everyone’s safety. Dearborn Street is now known as a “complete street,” mimicking those in the Netherlands, which is reputed to be “the most bike friendly nation in the world.” A complete street includes bicycle lanes and proper signage and signals, including stop and go lights for bicyclists as well as motorists and pedestrians. Many more complete streets have since been created in downtown Chicago and the surrounding area.

Cycling in Chicago really seemed to come into full bloom at the advent of two happenings: the summer of 2013 and Divvy bikes, brought to us by the Chicago Department of Transportation. Bicycle rental stations have and continue to pop up everywhere, and people are using them. Often whole Divvy docking stations are empty because they are so popular. When one sees several cyclists, at least one of them is sure to be on a Divvy bike.

ART-securedownload (6)It used to be just bicycle messengers zipping through downtown. Now it’s also guys in suits and ladies in dresses. Another recent trend: Whereas for years there appeared to be just one strong, young rickshaw guy offering rides in his bicycle buggy in downtown Chicago, now there are numerous. What a great way to sightsee Chicago! And speaking of sightseeing, what better way to do it than on a bike along Lake Michigan or through the countless gorgeous parks in Chicago.

Although it is still taking some getting used to as more busy thoroughfares are transformed into complete streets, it is exciting that Chicago has become such a bike-friendly city and is set to become even more so through the next several years as the mayor continues to create more bike routes throughout the city.

ART-securedownload (160)Hopefully more bike-friendly paths will also be laid throughout the park system. For example, crossing Lake Shore Drive to Buckingham Fountain, there is no bicycle-friendly way to ascend to the fountain. One has to either get off and attempt to walk a bike up steps or a steep grassy hill or ride around the long way to eventually access the fountain area.

Because there are so many more bikers, there are also more bicycle stands at which to lock up bikes. The Chicago Bike Program, brought to you by the City of Chicago, is happy to add more and point the way to those currently in existence.

ART-securedownload (140)But there are also more bicycle accidents. Motorists, watch for cyclists! Pedestrians, you too! And cyclists, please bike safely! And then there’s always the annual Naked Bike Ride – put that on your bucket list to see or maybe even join — which in part strives to bring to public attention how very vulnerable cyclists are, especially in the city, as well as promote alternate-energy-friendly means of transportation, namely, the good old bicycle.

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Alert: The World Music Fest is in Chicago!

Every year as summer turns into fall, something wonderful happens in Chicago: The World Music Festival! It  kicked off last night, September 8, at SummerDance with an amazing, high-energy band, Underground System — a band from Brooklyn, but their musical style, Afrobeat, hails from Nigeria. The temperatures dipped into the 50’s and there was a pretty strong constant cool wind off the lakefront, yet once this hot band got going, the outdoor dance floor in the Spirit of Music Garden in Grant Park was hopping. I had to strip off my coat to cool off!

20160828_184131Their show was incredible. Never had I seen such wild dancing except in movies. It was exciting: With each song, the drum beat pulled us in, and there was no way to not dance. This band was unique in that the front line was women, dancing in unison while singing, playing flute, drumming and including a tenor saxophonist who could really belt it out – while dancing! She was petite — the sax was almost as big as she — but she played with resounding power. They were backed by more than one drummer plus bass and guitar.

The good news is even if you missed Underground System last night, you can catch them tomorrow, September 10, at Navy Pier. It’s Chicago Music Festival’s Women of the World concert series from 3:00 to 6:00 p.m. Ecos Del Pacifico Afrocolombia and LePercolateur, also featuring female frontwomen, will also be playing. Don’t miss this!

1457086400The World Music Festival lasts over two weeks and is a marathon of music from around the world. Get your calendar handy and click here for the full schedule so you can plan to experience musical acts you would never otherwise get to see. I regret not jumping on this sooner, as last night was an event I’ve wanted to catch: An all-night (yes, you read that right: from 6:30 p.m. till 10:00 a.m. the following day) celebration of Indian music divided between Millennium Park and the Chicago Cultural Center, which are right across the street from each other.

But there’s still time to make it to Millennium Park by 3:00 p.m. today, September 9, to hear the Bharath Symphony, a musical celebration of India and commemorating the 70th Anniversary of India’s Independence — and so many other great acts around the city happening soon. One would need a clone to be present at them all at once, so choose wisely, and hopefully what you miss this year you can catch next year.

For example, while there’s Duo Scofano-Minetti, an Argentine group, playing at SummerDance tonight (including Tango lessons), there are two other World Music Fest events happening tonight as well at distant parts of the city. Concerts happen almost daily — some are indoors, some are outdoors; some are all ages, some are 21+ only — so take your vitamins and get your sleep to maintain your stamina so you can see and hear as much as possible.

Mexican Independence Day also happens during the Festival (on September 16); so after the parade, music of Mexico will be featured in the evening.

The World Music Festival is a delightful dive into world culture. It includes not just music but dance lessons and performances; yoga and gong meditation; a movie that’s a Saharan Desert style homage to Prince’s “Purple Rain” and a global peace procession and picnic in Humboldt Park.

To really make these next two weeks special, consider pairing up your musical experiences with visits to many of the restaurants around Chicago that serve exquisite ethnic food. Immerse yourself in the world, right here in Chicago!

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Food trucks add zest to meal options

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Food trucks at Adams and Wacker

Though temperatures have dipped a bit in Chicago, officially it’s still summer and a great time to be outdoors. The sun is setting notably sooner, and mornings and nights are chillier. It feels like autumn is on its way: It’s light jacket weather. Yet weather predictions throughout September this year look to be very hospitable (mostly in the low 70’s), so “get it while you can.”

Most of us can’t spend nice days in Chicago’s many parks or at the fabulous beaches. Employment in the Chicago Loop usually involves working in towering office buildings that don’t even have windows that open and are generally overly air-conditioned. But one way to get the most out of summer while it’s still with us — while at the same time getting some exercise and some Vitamin D from the sun — is to take a walk during lunch hour.

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Willis Tower

If you work in downtown Chicago, consider strolling the impressive Wacker Drive corridor, the land of tall, modern buildings, and stopping to grab lunch at one of the many food trucks parked in the shadow of famous giant Willis Tower. The corner of Wacker and Adams is vibrant and alive with various food truck vendors.

Food trucks are all over the place around Chicago. Click here to find the type of food you’d like and to ascertain its location. There are even food truck fests once a week at Daley Plaza. Expand your world; try them all!

Come winter, it will be tempting to sequester ourselves indoors again to stay warm, and we will experience a return to limited options — namely the same old indoor eateries and fast food places with which we may be quite bored. But now, while it’s still summertime and the weather is pleasant, there’s no reason not to visit many of the interesting food trucks for something different.

Also of note: Food trucks are small businesses — and what could be more gratifying than supporting local vendors. It’s not easy being a food truck owner/operator. The laws are stringent. Food trucks became legitimized not that long ago. Now food carts (smaller and often hand-pushed) are struggling for the same, though the city has considered shutting them down.

Not only do food trucks – and food carts – add variety to our food options, they add a shot of color and character to our city and a great reason to spend your lunch time outdoors.

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CBS covers food truck phenomenon

Farmers markets for city folks

PerfectTwice a week right downtown in Chicago’s Loop, the City of Chicago and several sponsors host summer-long farmers markets from 7:00 a.m. till 3:00 p.m. One is on Tuesdays at Federal Plaza (Adams & Dearborn) from May 16 through October 31; the other, Thursdays at Daley Plaza (Washington & Dearborn) May 11 through October 26. Not a downtowner? Check this website for a farmers market near you.

We are continuously being admonished to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables; while the farmers markets are on, there is no excuse not to. And there’s so much more on offer including: baked goods, candy, snack foods, cheese, preserves, honey, herbs, plants, flowers, trinkets by local designers and students, essential oils, personal care products, candles, and lunch to go. For city dwellers, this is often more convenient than a trip to the supermarket.

If you’re an early bird, you’ll get the freshest foodstuffs by shopping on your way to work. Yours truly once negotiated a pint of strawberries at the Federal Plaza from the back of a cab at a red light! But if you go toward the close of the market, you may score better deals, especially if you barter and leave the vendors with less to pack up at day’s end.

It’s probably best to bring cash. Some stands only handle cash, though some also take credit and Link cards. It pays to walk around and comparison shop. A pint of berries for $7 at one stand may be $3 at another. And many sellers offer a discount for buying a combination of their products. In any case, you’ll get a bang for your buck. I discovered recently that $20 bought so much, I could barely carry it home.

Be sure to bring your own large bags, just as if you were shopping for groceries. In fact, be aware that vendors don’t give you their pint boxes; when you buy something that was sitting in a pint box, they generally pour it into a plastic bag to go. These aren’t ideal; I’ve gotten back to the office only to find my berries did not hold up well.

Remember to put your flowers in water and plunge your fresh fruits and veggies into the coolness of the office refrigerator as soon as you get back. If your commute home is lengthy and it’s extremely hot, taking them home in a portable cooler might be wise. In fact, bringing the cooler with you to the farmers markets may be even better.

There are farmers markets all over Chicagoland, but if you happen to work or live downtown, you’re in luck, especially if you go Thursday to Daley Plaza where lunch is served. You can find all the food groups at the farmers market and put together your own healthful lunch, or buy from one of the vendors serving lunch. Various samples are plentiful, so much so that one could make the rounds, do some grazing, and manage to consume a light lunch.

Daley Plaza has plenty of seating for those looking to chow while shopping. Yet seating in the shade, especially during a sweltering hot summer, is like trying to find a parking spot in the city; it’s possible, but you must be alert and quick.

Benches are available, and be prepared to graciously share that bench with someone who may squeeze on next to you. There are also tables with canopies, but I’ve never seen one that wasn’t already occupied, so I imagine you’d have to take an early lunch break or have good timing to get one of those. Others sit around the fountain, soaking in the sun and dabbling their feet. And obviously there’s the option of taking your lunch back to eat in the comfort of your air conditioned workplace.

FountainThe deals get better as the harvest season nears its end. But don’t wait! Although some of the stands at the markets also have shops and perhaps even sell online, many do not. So if you don’t grab and maybe even stock up on these special food items now, you’ll miss your chance to enjoy them until next summer. And as we Chicagoans know, that will be a long, cold wait.

Lincoln Park Zoo is a wild scene

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Lincoln Park Zoo is free and is open 365 days a year. That is something few zoos of its  size and splendor can boast. There’s nothing else like a hot summer day at the zoo with the sun shining brightly. And there’s nothing else in the world like the aroma of zoo popcorn in the air and the laughter of children eating cotton candy.

Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago is a keenly unique zoo experience. There you are inYES-Tiger sprawling  Lincoln Park, wedged between the elegant condos along the Inner Drive and high-speed Lake Shore Drive along the deep sparkling blue Lake Michigan on the other side.

Surrounding the zoo are other fascinating mini-escapes from the city: the Lincoln Park Conservatory, a lily pad pond hideaway, a butterfly museum, gardens and lagoons and grassy knolls as well as numerous statues of famous people by famed artists. And a real sight to behold to the south is the mighty and breath-taking Chicago skyline.

The zoo itself and all of the surrounding area is a nice place to visit, even stay awhile, in any season. But this is no ordinary zoo. Year-round, the zoo hosts all sorts of activities. There’s plenty to do at the zoo, from tours to workshops to yoga (not just for adults — there’s also a parents/toddlers class) to sing alongs at the farm in the children’s zoo.

Yes-gorillaHere are some of the special events happening at Lincoln Park Zoo throughout this summer season:

Wine & Wildlife (a “wilderness story slam”)
Tuesday, August 22
6-8 p.m. at Café Brauer
Register here ($17; $14 for members)

WTTW The Big Idea Show (for kids/families)
Thursday, August 24
10:30-11:30 a.m. at Foreman Pavilion
FREE

Lincoln Park Zoo Challenge (adults: costumes and games; prizes awarded; food andYes-Giraffe margaritas available)
Friday, August 25
6:30-10:30 p.m.
Register here ($25; $22.50 members)
NOTE: Wear a costume; come as a team of two to five, or contact them in advance to be added to a team.

Night at the Zoo (adults 21+ only, particularly popular with folks in their 20’s and 30’s)
Saturday, September 9
6:30-11 p.m.
Buy tickets here (Early bird tickets now being sold for $17.40)

YES-RhinoZoomba at the Zoo
Sunday, September 17
9-11 a.m. at the Main Mall
Register here ($20; $17 for members)

Why hesitate: Make plans now to enjoy the Lincoln Park Zoo! Any time of the year, Lincoln Park Zoo is a beautiful place for animals and people in the middle of a beautiful city.

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What’s happening at Chicago beaches, parks and other summer events

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Beaches

Chicago boasts terrific beaches from the south side to the north side and beyond along Lake Michigan and even inland. This link gives an alphabetical list of them all including directions and information. Hyperlinks to each beach are included on this website so you can see pictures and learn more about each beach, including current water conditions; at times, the water may be too tumultuous for swimming or the water quality may not be safe; these things are vital to know before going to the beach if you’re planning to be in the water. Lifeguards are available at these beaches from Memorial Day through Labor Day weekend. You can still swim off-season, at your own risk.

Some beaches have bands and special events all season. North Avenue Beach has volleyball tournaments and other games plus Castaways, a fun restaurant/bar in a structure that looks like a beached ship where a predominantly young, sporty crowd gathers to play. Beware: The tropical-style drinks are delicious but deceptively strong. There are DJs spinning music through Labor Day (September 4).

North Avenue Beach is also where the Chicago Air and Water Show happens, which is coming right up August 19 and 20, although you can see — and you will definitely hear — the planes from many other locations in the city, including the day before when they are practicing. If you can’t get to the lakefront that weekend – or perhaps you want to avoid the crowds – try to find a rooftop or high window view overlooking the lakefront from where you can watch the show.

The Dock at Montrose Beach (not the actual Montrose boat dock but a restaurant/bar) features live music on stage in the summer. This is a pleasant place to enjoy live music with good food and drinks as the sun sets and is low-key compared to Castaways at hyper-popular North Avenue Beach.

Also worth mentioning: Adjacent to 12th Street Beach is Huntington Bank Pavilion, hosting big name artists all season. Outside the pavilion, in the park and on the beach, is like a party where people come to enjoy the lakefront, hang out and listen to the music. Sometimes officials close the beach during these concerts, but there’s plenty of room to spread out in the park. 12th Street Beach has a good taco place that has expanded into a sit-down restaurant with live music at times.

In case you missed it this year (it was in mid-July), be sure to be a part of this charitable beach event next year: Paws Chicago Beach Party. This is a very good cause: To help homeless animals. Your pets are welcome at this event! There is no reason any animal should ever be put down just because they find themselves homeless. Let’s become a humane civilization! Plan on this event next year, and in the meantime, you can donate the this important cause here.

Choose your beach to fit your taste – or try them all! While some of Chicago’s beaches (Oak Street Beach, North Avenue Beach) are almost like pick-up spots for the tanned and toned, others are more family-oriented, like Grand Avenue Beach (almost secretly tucked away nearby Navy Pier) and 12th Street Beach. Some are small, some are crowded. Montrose Beach is huge and sprawling where you can really spread out and not feel hemmed in.

Back in the day, Meigs Field was adjacent to 12th Street Beach, a small airport for private planes that was shut down after 9/11. It used to be kind of a thrill to watch planes fly in and out while laying on the beach. But now, 12th Street Beach is quite peaceful, except during concerts at Huntington Bank Pavilion, and a good spot to find sea glass.

A good day can be had bicycling to 12th Street Beach; a great route for this is via the lakefront along the backside of the Shedd Aquarium — and while you’re in the area, cycling down at Burnham Harbor (where you can fish – be aware of the rules and that you’ll need an Illinois fishing license, about $5 – $15 for a day; get it here) and around Northerly Island, a beautiful nature preserve from which you can also enjoy the Chicago skyline.

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Northerly Island, just one of Chicago’s many parks, also features special events, even camping. See other Chicago Park District events at several locations throughout the city here.

Paid Events

Worth mentioning are a couple of not-to-be-missed pay venues for your summer entertainment:

Through September 13, Wednesday evenings – Take in some jazz along with a stupendous view of the skyline at Shedd Aquarium’s Jazzin’ at the Shedd. It’s $20 for tickets, unless you’re a Shedd member in which case entry is free. For $60 ($46 for members), you can upgrade to Jazzin’s happy hour which includes open bar plus hors d’oeuvres and allows access to the Aquarium, including the hottest new exhibits.

Through September 17 – Take a trip outside the city to experience Ravinia Park, the classic, original, one and only Ravinia, an especially magical venue for concerts. They host famous musicians from classical (accompanied by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra) to almost every type of music including famous modern bands.

You can sit in the pavilion — but what’s really popular is to stretch out on the lawn. Ticket prices vary per show; season passes are available. Pack your most elegant picnic-ware, including candles, vases with flowers and tablecloths: Ravinia is a one-of-a-kind setting where folks go all-out classy.

Heads up: For more popular performers, be sure to get there early (before doors to the park open) to claim a piece of land and get parking closer in. Be prepared, during super popular concerts to wait in long lines of traffic – from every direction – to get into the Ravinia parking lot (which costs $25). Sometimes the lots fill up, in which case parking is available at a nearby train station. Parking there yields a charming walk through the woods to Ravinia – but if weighted down with chairs and tables and coolers, the walk may seem arduous, especially at the end of the night in the darkness, although with the memories you’ll take away from Ravinia, it will be worth it.

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You need never have a dull time in the city of Chicago if you know where to go. Nor do you need much money to enjoy Chicago in any season, especially summer! Follow my blog and I’ll keep you informed, with helpful insider tips only a savvy Chicagoan would know.

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August is here; live it up!

 

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This year, Chicago is enjoying a near perfect summer: Not too hot, not too humid, not much rain – mainly temperatures in the 70’s and 80’s and mostly sunny days! And now it’s August, the most summery time of the year. Chicago is the perfect place to be during summer. If you don’t live in Chicagoland, visit us soon!

Native Chicagoans know summer is a short season. So if you’re a resident, every weekend of your calendar, and even some week nights or days off for a staycation, could be jam-packed with activities to make the most of it!

Get out there and socialize and get your exercise walking around, bicycling, dancing. Now is that rare time of year Northerners can actually absorb enough Vitamin D from sunshine. All this while gleaning the most out of life. Nighttime in Chicago is just as alive as daytime. There’s nothing like a perfect summer night when you can comfortably wear your sleeveless shirts outdoors all night until dawn.

Here is a list of FREE events and activities, most involving live music, food and drink. This will keep you busy for the rest of summer:

Through mid-August – The Grant Park Music Festival (classical) takes place in Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion (through August 18) which also hosts the Millennium Park Summer Music Series (through August 21). This is like downtown Chicago’s answer to fancy Ravinia picnics for city folk; bring your food and drinks and relax on the lawn or grab the seats up front, while available.

Through September 4 – Navy Pier’s Miller Lite Beer Garden: Free live music with available food and drink (don’t bring your own alcoholic beverages; the police patrol Navy Pier heavily, and your drinks will be confiscated, along with your cooler). Fireworks happen every Wednesday and Saturday night. There are also free exercise classes, performances, special rotating exhibits, carnival rides and lots of beauty and good food to be enjoyed at the Pier. It’s Chicago’s #1 tourist destination. Join the crowd, at any time of year, to find out what the excitement is all about.

Through September 14, Wednesday through Sunday – If the idea of dancing under the stars to unique live music appeals to you, SummerDance is the place for you! It happens mainly at the Spirit of Music Garden in Grant Park but also at other locations throughout the city. Music from all over the world is featured, including dance lessons. Food and beverages (including alcohol) are available as well as chairs (but come early for those). If you haven’t been to SummerDance yet, make this summer the one!

Through September 26, Tuesday evenings – The Museum of Contemporary Art features Tuesdays on the Terrace with free live jazz shows plus museum admittance. Food and drink are available, but I recommend you bring your own. The lines are long for drinks and snacks which are pricey. The MCA also has farmers markets during the summer and fascinating productions year-round.

Through October 26 – Don’t miss Movies in the Parks; there are many movies happening throughout the city all summer and into autumn. While you’re at it, check out the schedule for varied, fascinating events produced by the City of Chicago at Night out in the Parks which take place throughout the year.

There are also many smaller festivals sprinkled throughout Chicago neighborhoods, far too numerous to mention here, but here’s a link to find them all and be where the action is.

Stand by for my next post about what’s happening at Chicago beaches, including the Chicago Air and Water Show. To stay up-to-the minute, subscribe to my blog so you won’t miss any of the fun!

Check out the links I’ve included above, making it easy to plan your calendar; and come autumn, instead of regretting that you didn’t make the most of summertime, you can look back with wonderful memories at the summer of ‘17.

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