08 October 2006

Illinois & Michigan Canal State Trail and National Heritage Corridor: Where I GIT back on track

[In progress, but at least now all the figures have captions.]

Just when I seriously start to think "screw it, I should move to Arizona," the fickle midwest weather finally gives us one last warm spell, giving me one more chance to stop whining about cars and hit the Grand Illinois Trail again. So I biked up to LaSalle St. Station, rode the Metra Rock Island District line to Joliet (where I somehow managed to get lost), and wound my way over to the Illinois & Michigan Canal State Trail head at Brandon Road in Rockdale. I got as far as the Dresden Mule Barn before I finally forced myself to turn around and head back to Joliet (where I somehow managed to get lost again) just barely in time to catch my train back to Chicago. A splendid trail, a gorgeous day, a perfect way to end the "summer"--I think now I can come to terms with the fact that the warm, sunny weekends are gone for good until spring and start looking around for a cheap old mountain bike to trick out with fenders and a carrying basket so I can go around talking about how "brisk" it is outside. Grrrrrr... Hopefully next summer I'll get a chance to explore the rest of the trail.

This is the trail head at Brandon Road, where I let out a "woo" of excitement because I'd been trying to get out there since early spring.

The information kiosk at the trail head included the best map I've seen of the I & M Canal National Heritage Corridor, so I took a picture of it for reference. Unfortunately, it doesn't appear to be in print or online anywhere. [Note to self: Re-upload this inage from home; it will be larger and hence show more detail.]

I took a close-up of the section of trail that I'd be traveling on for lack of a better map. It's cartoonish and not to scale, but it does show more detail as far as landmarks go.

Is this a blue heron?

The Grand Illinois Trail is more than just a big loop around northern Illinois. Well, formally, I suppose it is, but I like to think of it as an even larger network of interconnected trails. For example, from the I & M Canal Trail you can access the Rock Run Trail, managed by the Forest Preserve District of Will County. If I read my Chicagoland Bicycle Map correctly, it looks like there are several trails that loop through the area and several preserves that more or less link together as the Rock Run Greenway. I'm not very familiar with the area, though, so I guess I'll have to go back next year and figure this out. But anyway, it looks like a lovely preserve.

On my computer at home (and in real life) you can see some gorgeously red poison ivy twined around those trees ahead, but I see now that I must have the monitor's brightness set too high. Drat.

West of I-55 the area suddenly becomes heavily wooded, which is nice if you're out for a hike but makes for tricky riding on a bike. There were leaves and broken branches all over the trail (being autumn and all), and if you avoid getting a big stick caught in your chain drive there's still the possibility of skidding right off the trail and either crashing into a tree or two or falling right into the canal.

This is an enormous sycamore that's been hollowed out at the bottom (with my helmet hung on a low branch to better show the scale). The tree is in fact still alive, although there's really no way of telling that from this picture. I didn't look too closely, but inside it looked like it had been burned. I can only guess how or why.

[The following will be completed at some indeterminate future time.]

Historic locktender's house at lock number whatever it was at the state park in Channahon.

Another view of the lock.

Across the river. Is that the Illinois River or the Des Plains River? And if the river's right there, then why did they need to build a canal? I need to read about the history more carefully.

You know you're in the country when... you see a herd of goats.

Nonflatness! I believe those are the Kankakee Bluffs, but I'll have to get my topographic map out to confirm that.

Festive fall foliage in a flatness-free photograph. Say that five times fast.

Some pretty asters blooming in this view toward the river, whichever it is at that point.

Another view of the river. Where I grew up the Des Plains River spends most of its time as a marshy area that flows vaguely southward, but down here it can acommodate barge traffic.

Small plane towing a glider? I saw either swarms of these or the same one circling around and around all afternoon. I took a picture so that I could ask my coworker the aviation dude, and he found a glider club at a small airport in the area. So, probably.

Dresden Island Lock and/or Dam. At this point is is in fact the Illinois River.

Dresen Mule Barn across the canal. It's historic, but I can't find anything online about it.

Heading home.

I took another self-portrait.

Another in my series of Unidentified Waterfowl in Northern Illinois.

Ghost GIT dots from a GITAP gone by. Say that five times fast, too.

03 October 2006

More bike trails, mixed feelings

For now [well, indefinitely] I'll just say that I have mixed feelings about all of the state grants that have been awarded for the construction of bike trails in Illinois. On one hand, yay! I know that some of these projects have been floating around in funding limbo for some time. On the other hand, is the construction of yet more designated bike/pedestrian routes really the best way to solve the problem? For that matter, what is the problem? Is it possible that the money could be better spent on making streets and roadways safer for bicyclists and pedestrians, instead of on building more and more "alternate" routes for "alternate" modes of transportation? Or am I just being a badass bike snob again?

Edit: Nice to know I'm not the only cyclist who feels this way.
From DJWriter:
The Bike Path Trojan Horse

Pertinent links:
Gov. Blagojevich awards $1.2 million in bicycle path grants to northern Illinois
Gov. Blagojevich awards $1.3 million in bicycle path grants to downstate Illinois
League [of American Bicyclists] responds to auto dealers' analysis of fatalities

Notable quotes:
"These projects will help to build on Illinois’ already impressive trail system. Not only will the grants improve the quality of life for residents in communities that are getting new trails or updating existing trails, they’ll also help make the communities even more attractive to visitors." -IL Gov. Rod Blagojevich

"In countries such as Sweden and Germany--both notable for their successful international car brands--cities enjoy ten times the levels of bicycling of their U.S. counterparts and have far fewer crashes and injuries per mile traveled. Motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians successfully coexist, sharing streets and public space with respect and care for each others rights. Bicyclists and pedestrians are not shoved to the side on second-class 'off-pavement areas' for the convenience of motorists." -Andy Clarke, Executive Director of the League of American Bicyclists

02 October 2006

The true cost of not driving

Last week I commented here on the true cost of driving, inspired by a post on the subject in Julie's Health Club (Chicago Tribune). The resulting discussion has brought up a number of good points, which I suppose that in fairness I ought to address here as well.

The consensus is pretty much that bicycle commuting is a really great idea in Chicago, where traffic is awful, parking is expensive and/or difficult to find, and the Chicago Transit Authority rarely can get its act together. But in the suburbs, where people live 20 miles from where they work (for various understandable reasons) and nondriving options simply don't exist, commuting by bicycle is impractical, if not impossible.

Much as I hate to admit it, I have to agree. I grew up, learned to ride a bicycle, and worried the heck out of my parents in the outskirts of Chicago's suburban sprawl at a time when people out there had never even heard of bike lanes, spent a couple of afternoons biking from point A to point B in DuPage County (a place where efforts at promoting bike-friendliness are commendable but somewhat limited to recreation), and made the mistake of trying to get from Lincolnshire to Northfield on a Friday afternoon on my bistate journey last month. I know--it's hell. In most cases there's just no good way to go anywhere by bike. The communities simply aren't designed for it, and necessity often forces people to live, work, and shop in completely different areas.

It's sad but true. And I think that needs to change.

Anyway, to the person who countered with Steven Dutch's page on why people don't use mass transit as an example of how the "true cost of driving" doesn't account for the value of your time, all I have to say is this: I love bicycling. (I also happen to hate driving, but curiously--and perfectly honestly--it has nothing to do with my being an avid cyclist.) I consider any time on my bike to be time well spent, even if I'm just pedaling one mile to work in the morning. I realize how lucky I am to live and work in an area where it isn't necessary to have a car just to get around, and I know that probably skews my worldview somewhat when I look at the suburbs and shake my head. But I still maintain that the best solution isn't just to sigh and say that it's just the way the world is. That's just giving up without trying.

I know, it's a matter of values, and those are personal. Maybe bicycling is something that you just have to grow to love, or maybe you just have to spend a lot of time doing it for lack of other options. I know I definitely fall into the latter category.