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Lake County Bike Infrastructure
After my summer bike tour, I had my bike shipped home to Chicago, where I reassambled and stored it sometime in July. While I'm in the city and have Lyft Pink / Divvy included in my credit card, it makes sense to use the bike-share for local trips.
Last week I put more air in the tires, made sure everything was ship-shape, and planned a trip up to the Illinois-Wisconsin border. That trip didn't go exactly to plan, but gave me a couple of useful new biking experiences:
This was my first time on Metra (Chicago commuter rail). The only place to buy a ticket is in the Ventra mobile app. You put in the origin and destination, and the ticket is valid anytime in the next 14 days, so you can order in advance. Note that some stations (including UP-N) have the train on the left-hand track because of the history of how they were constructed. Look for the signs saying "from Chicago" and "to Chicago" on your platform.
Ever since 2020, Metra allows bikes and e-scooters on all trains including during peak hours (first-come-first-serve until capacity). My early afternoon train had a dedicated bike car with plenty of room!
Metra has a video for riders. You do need that bungee cord even on a bike car. I got a 36" offbrand bungee cord from Home Depot. Also, wait around the middle of the platform until you see the bike car. A gruff conductor will start shouting as the train comes to a halt, and you might need to move against people-traffic. After boarding, open the Ventra app and click "Use" to activate your ticket.
With Milwaukee-Chicago Amtrak not taking bikes currently, this is the best way to go north from Chicago.
I didn't want to over-extend myself after my previous trip, so I was looking for places to stay between Chicago and the Illinois-Wisconsin border. The hotels right at the border / Illinois Beach State Park are expensive and poorly rated on Google Maps. I found a few hotels in Mettawa, which don't have bike parking, but you do get horse/bike trails which connect most of the way to the Lake Bluff Metra station (North Shore Bike Path) and to the Des Plaines River Trail.
The North Shore Bike Path goes from the Lake Bluff Metra Station and McClory Bike Path, west to the Des Plaines River Trail (DPR) and Mundelein. I didn't go that full distance, but generally it was well-constructed, separated from the road, etc. There are several places where you need to stop and poke a pedestrian crossing button or cross the strip mall intake (so it's more of a bike-friendly wide sidewalk). If they want bikers they could start with larger crosswalk buttons.
Des Plaines River Trail
I've been looking at the DPR since a few /r/chibike posts about apple-picking and going on longer offroad paths. In Lake County the trail is hard-packed sand, surrounded by greenery, well-marked, wide enough for passing, cleared and well-maintained, etc. In my original plan I was going to take it north to Wisconsin and return via Google Maps's preferred route (McClory Bike Path -> Green Bay Trail, which follows the Metra rail line). Instead I went south.
When the trail hits Cook County, there is much less effort to keep the trail continuous. For example at Dundee Road riders are told to venture 1000 ft or so to a crosswalk, and then its unclear if you go back? Then at Winkleman Road you have to accept a compromise with no sidewalk or bike markings for some distance. I took Sanders Road, which is an industrial park stroad, past H Mart, then Carol Lane which reconnects to the trail via a narrow forest path. I probably was supposed to go through Allison Woods, but Google Maps thinks that's pedestrian-only. Oh also there's an active railroad track (??) around Ceres Food Services on Google Maps, which they've barricaded and put up "trail ENDS" signs, but everyone and their dog seems to walk over it like it's nothing.
Once you're this far south, you need to consider where you break off from the trail and take roads east into Chicago. I had considered a route taking Devon Ave to try connecting up all of the bike trails along the North Branch of the Chicago River. Ultimately I trusted in Google Maps, which put me on Northwest Highway -> Milwaukee -> Lawrence Ave -> Lake Front Trail. This introduced me to some cute town squares and then some familiar Blue Line and Brown Line stations.
If you're going for the southern end of the DPR, I would look up Sunset Bridge Meadow on Google Maps.