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A Chicago Bike Path Goes Underused

While a federally-funded network of bike paths is in the works elsewhere in the city, the Major Taylor Trail gets little use from Chicago residents. The main problems are a lack of awareness and the South Side's fearsome reputation.
May 31, 2016, 10am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Brandt Absolu

Many Chicago bike enthusiasts frequent the 606, a popular path following an old railroad bed on the Northwest Side. But to the south, the Major Taylor Trail gets little love, though it was built eight years earlier. Mary Wisniewski discusses why that is.

In many respects, Chicagoan cyclists enjoy a widening array of options. One of them is the Cal-Sag trail and the adjacent 86-mile Southland Century bike loop. "The Major Taylor will link to the popular Cal-Sag Trail, being built with $21 million of mostly federal funds. [...] If all goes as planned, in 2018 the Cal-Sag will be the northern leg of a mostly off-road loop that will include the Old Plank Road, Thorn Creek, Centennial and I&M Canal trails and the Burnham and Pennsy greenways."

The biggest drawback for the Major Taylor is crime, or the perception of it. Snaking through low-slung less well-off suburbs of color, the Major Taylor Trail feels deserted. "The trail's solitude adds to the feeling of insecurity: The southern end leading to the Little Calumet River is lovely but on a quiet weekday feels like Fangorn Forest in 'The Lord of the Rings' — vaguely unsettling." 

More users means a safer trail, but users won't show up until they think the trail's safe. A catch-22. Meanwhile, "Supporters keep publicizing the trail through the bike community, social media and holding group events to get more people to try it."

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Published on Sunday, May 8, 2016 in Chicago Tribune
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