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If you want to know why we're on the road to ecological destruction, head on out to Bensenville, only go there by CTA and bike.
I did it yesterday, along with Dave Glowacz, a freelance journalist also known as Mr. Bike. I was taking him to Bensenville to show him the Dead Zone for a segment of an Internet interview show we do together.
In his role as Mr. Bike--and, by the way, this guy has to know more about bicycling around Chicago than anyone alive--he had plotted our route with maps and the Internet.
As he explained it, Bensenville is about six miles directly west from Harlem Avenue along Irving Park Road. To ride there, we had a choice. We could pedal to Union Station, put our bikes on the train, and take Metra to downtown Bensenville. Or we could take the CTA to River Road and bike south around O'Hare Airport, slipping through Schiller Park and into Franklin Park before riding northwest into Bensenville.
I chose the scenic route.
So at about 10:45 in the morning we boarded the Blue Line at Irving and rode to River Road. In the good old days, when Harold Washington was mayor, it would have taken us, oh, I don't know, maybe ten minutes. This time it took us almost 20--I was timing it on a stop watch--because the tracks are falling apart and there are slow zones galore.
We got off at River Road, then biked south to Bryn Mawr, west to Milton Parkway, south to Balmoral and then--well, after that I didn't know where we were. I was just following Mr. Bike, who had the map. It seemed there were construction crews tearing everything up, like they were constantly rebuilding the same parking lot.
We hooked up with Franklin Avenue at its intersection with Scott Street and headed off on the last leg of our journey.
Remind me never to do it again. Franklin was hardly the warm, fuzzy bike-friendly road I foolishly thought it would be. It was like traveling through an industrial hell: a two-lane, potholed road bounded by a gravel-filled shoulder that's really rough on bike tires.
Cars and trucks whizzed by. Jets zoomed over our heads.
"There's got to be a better way to bike from Franklin Park to Bensenville," I gasped.
"This is pretty much it," said Mr. Bike. "Obviously, they weren't thinking of bike riders when they built these suburbs."
We stopped for water at Wolf's, a restaurant at the corner of Wolf and Franklin. The joint was packed with factory workers waiting in line for hot dogs, burgers, and fries.
Five minutes later, we crossed some railroad tracks and rode into Bensenville.
Ah, Bensenville, glorious Bensenville--it's become my home away from home since I realized that Mayor Daley intended to plow over about 15 percent of it to make way for another one of his Great Ideas, in this case the O'Hare Modernization Program. Before our green mayor is done he will have spent well over $15 billion expanding O'Hare just in time for the collapse of the airline industry. Hey, how's that for planning?
We rode York to Roosevelt and then entered the Dead Zone, passing one boarded-up, abandoned house after another. Not surprising, it was the most bike friendly area we'd passed through all day. I could just imagine what it must have been like before Mayor Daley intruded--little kids riding their tricycles along tree-lined sidewalks and that sort of thing.
Driving by in his car was a grumpy guy from the real-estate management company that has a contract with Chicago to keep an eye on the area. He warned us that we'd better stay on the sidewalks and street because the property belonged to Chicago and we could get a trespassing ticket.
I was going to tell him that I was a taxpaying resident of Chicago so that, you know, technically, the lawns and homes belonged to me. But he didn't look like he was in the mood for conversation.
After about an hour, rain clouds were moving in and we decided to head home. I told Mr. Bike that I'd rather not deal with Franklin, so we took our chances with Irving Park. Man, it was like biking on the interstate--the cars and trucks were pushing sixty. At least it had a pretty decent shoulder to ride along.
At River Road we joined a line of sweaty, anguished-looking travelers getting off the buses from O'Hare. The CTA maps promised them door-to-door service from the airport to the Loop. But, of course, the final leg of the Blue Line is down, while workers repair the tracks.
On the train back to Chicago we sat across the aisle from a lady out of Syracuse, New York, who was in town for a teachers' convention. She said she wanted to make sure her stop in the Loop had an elevator or escalator because she had a bad back and she didn't want to carry her suitcase up the stairs.
Mr. Bike explained that the map on the wall showed which stops had elevators, but there was no way of knowing if these elevators were malfunctioning. It was pretty much a crap shoot.
As the train crawled along, she asked how much time she should give herself if she wanted to take the Blue Line back to O'Hare for her return flight on Monday. "I don't like to take cabs," she said. "But if the service is always like this, you know..."
For no apparent reason, the train stopped just outside Montrose, where we had the pleasant view of the expressway clotted with bumper-to-bumper traffic spewing exhaust.
We got back to Irving Park about 3:30. There's no elevator or escalator so we carried our bikes down the stairs.
There was no exit for bike riders--we obviously couldn't get our bikes through the revolving gate. But a CTA employee was nice enough to unlock another gate to let us out. If he hadn't been there, I don't know what we would have done--probably called the police.
"It's big cars, big airports, big highways," said Mr. Bike. "Just gas `em up `n go."
But, hey, at least we're not Detroit ...