3

Not sure if location specific questions are on topic here but, here goes:

I live in Chicago, and I'm curious about biking Lower Wacker Drive. (If you're not from Chicago, it's where the underground scenes were shot in Batman: The Dark Knight). It never seemed like the best idea, but 1. It is easily the most direct route between my house and work and back 2. I do occasionally see bikers on it when I'm driving down there

Specifically I am interested in the chunk between Harrison and Franklin to Lower Michigan and Illinois (which is a fairly large chunk).

Lower Wacker is a multilevel street that runs through downtown along the Chicago river. Since it's underground, it doesn't intersect with a lot of streets, making it an ideal shortcut through downtown if you know your way around. They don't specifically have a bike lane, but I do see bikers down here from time to time.

The obvious risks are that there is no bike lane; I tend to prefer routes that offer a bike lane, and since there are typically few to 0 bikers down here, drivers are likely not used to looking out for bikers.

Is it a horrible idea to bike here? Is it reasonable if I am paying close attention and taking care to be aware of my surroundings? I would especially value a response from someone who has experience biking down here.

enter image description here

enter image description here

  • 2
    Lower Wacker has no shoulders, and no affordances for pedestrians. It's two lanes of dense traffic in each direction. I don't recall the speed limit, but I'm also pretty sure that the speed limit doesn't really matter. As for as good ideas go, this is not one of them. – Donnie Feb 28 '17 at 3:32
  • I think it technically has the same speed limit as a normal street, 30 or 35, can't remember which – chiliNUT Feb 28 '17 at 3:33
  • Just look at it this way. You will be taking up a lane of traffic the whole time you're down there, as there's no way to give enough space for you to bike safely without using a lane. Do you think you'd feel safe on a bike blocking an entire lane of for the duration of your transit through the tunnel? I know the answer for me. – Donnie Feb 28 '17 at 3:35
  • 2
    Also, my wife's reaction of "OMG are they crazy" is telling. – Donnie Feb 28 '17 at 3:36
  • 2
    @Donnie neither does upper wacker, and people ride on it every day, from experienced couriers to divvy riders – ebrohman Feb 28 '17 at 23:26
8

Answer (tl;dr) Find another route.

I checked around using google street view to get the image in the question. Some observations...

  • There are no cyclists visible anywhere. There are also no motorcyclists I noticed.
  • The lighting is poor and patchy
  • Many of the vehicles travelling the lower deck do not have lights on.
  • The road surface is patchy and potholed
  • There are a lot of unforgiving kerbs and concrete barriers
  • The signage disagrees with itself (speed limit is 30 mph and 20 mph just along)
  • Access ramps are just as cycle-unfriendly as the lanes.
  • Plenty of cover if someone wanted to lurk in the dark and accost a hapless cyclist.
  • Culture of bogans, chavs, yobbery and dangerous driving later at night.

Street View has a real problem following the level - it pops you between levels on the same road, which leads to the point that there is an upper and a lower deck, that both follow the same course. Why would you confine yourself to the narrow dark and dingy lower deck?

The one advantage of the lower road is if its raining, you'll be covered for some of our journey. However the cars will also be wet, making for slipperier roads and dirtier road spray. The driver's vision will also be obscured to some degree, lowering your safety just as much if you were in the open.

This idiot has recorded a ride on the lower deck. He's giving all cyclists a bad name with his riding style, and I see no lights at all.

Other Routes This PDF has some useful info http://chicagocompletestreets.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/2016-Chicago-Bike-Map.pdf

Here's a snip showing just the whacker drive area. Franklin, Wells, Dearborn and State are all north/south roads with some kind of bike space. Washington, Lake (?) and Harrison are all east/west roads with some bike considerations. You've got some options.

enter image description here

Supporting Links

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-lower-wacker-drag-racing-met-20150717-story.html

  • I do note that in 2012 the lighting was improved on one end, but not the other. – Criggie Feb 28 '17 at 10:02
  • 1
    I was so focused on the lack of intersections since it was underground it never occurred to me try upper wacker which still has the directness of the route. (facepalm) thanks for all if the insights! also just noting that due to recent construction work it's possible some potholes and defects from street view may be out of date. – chiliNUT Feb 28 '17 at 13:47
  • @chiliNUT Looking at the video there are still intersections and traffic lights on the lower road. So you're more vulnerable to crime while stopped. – Criggie Feb 28 '17 at 22:59
  • during rush hour I realize crime is a possibility but not something I would really worry about – chiliNUT Feb 28 '17 at 23:44
5

No, it's not a good idea

If you said that you see many cyclists every time you drive there, then that would be a route to consider.

But you see only a few cyclists. The Wikipedia page says

the lower level [is] for through-traffic and trucks servicing buildings on the road

Forget it. Find a route cyclists use. Your first priority should be to survive every ride.

3

About me - I live in downtown Chicago and have been riding seriously in the city for 10 plus years, for most of the year, multiple days per week.

For the last 2 years, I have been walking to and fro work each morning mostly down upper Wacker for the bulk of the way. I come home for lunch on the same route, and then back to the office in River North. I keenly observe the riders every day, which range from professional curriers to daily commuters, to tourists and divvy riders. I ride in the area myself.

Michigan and Illinois is north of the river, lower Wacker runs south of the river and doesn't cross to Michigan and Illinois, but will hit lower Michigan (which is somewhat similar to lower Wacker) and that can be taken to Illinois. So I will assume the journey you are talking about is just most of lower Wacker.

I'm going to play devil's advocate and say that if you feel confident with the route, the traffic patterns, and are a fairly strong rider, then go for it! Make sure to use bright lights on your bike, reflective clothing, etc.

People ride upper Wacker every day, people that probably shouldn't even be riding downtown. There isn't that much difference between upper and lower except that there is much less natural daylight. Everything the others have said about lower Wacker is valid (mostly), but the same can be said about upper Wacker and it's ridden heavily.

Personally, I don't ride upper or lower Wacker - except on Saturday and Sunday mornings when CTA busses are not running as often and traffic is generally clam. By noon this calm subsides and I'm off of Wacker.

I can guess the general area where you live or are starting your ride from and based on your destination, going through lower Wacker to lower Michigan might be the route that offers you the most cover from the elements, is the most direct, and will have the least traffic lights. So, while it might feel more dangerous, I hesitate to say it is. There is a "tent city" that has started under lower Wacker and by the river walk, with homeless people living there, but I don't fear them or worry about being attacked during a ride.

To reiterate, lower Wacker wouldn't be my choice, but if I were riding your route, I might consider it after some practice on the weekends. One more thing - if you do start riding lower Wacker, or upper Wacker for that matter - take the whole lane. Don't try to share it with a car. People might get mad but that's not your problem. Better to let them slow down and pass in the left lane then get sideswiped or surprised by someone who is too close for comfort.

  • Yes, I am of course referring to turning onto lower Michigan from lower Wacker, taking the bridge over the river to Illinois. It makes sense to try ang get a feel for it on weekends without busses, I had to do the same thing just to get to know it for driving since the signage is pretty bad. These are all good tips. I can't find a hole with the argument that it is quite similar to upper Wacker in a lot of ways and lots of bikes bike that. One con I can think of though is if some accident did happen on lower, there would be a dearth of pedestrians to witness it. Thanks for the counter point! – chiliNUT Mar 1 '17 at 16:54
  • 1
    @chiliNUT try it out and let us know how it goes, it might sway me to wander down there more often : ) – ebrohman Mar 1 '17 at 18:01

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.