DOWNTOWN — Ninety-nine percent of the time, Lake Shore Drive is not a safe place to pedal.
But once a year, the city shuts down the eight-lane road and lets the two-wheelers take over for the Active Transportation Alliance's biggest fundraiser, MB Financial Bank Bike the Drive. This year's event is Sunday.
Proceeds from the event help the alliance advocate for cyclist-friendly infrastructure improvements.
Last year, the group set its sights on expanding the number of protected bike lanes in the city. Since the 2012 ride, Chicago's seen an increase from 3.25 miles of buffered and protected lanes to 30.1 miles and counting.
Ethan Spotts, a spokesman for the alliance, said the once-a-year event appeals to all cyclists, even those who hug the Lakefront Trail every morning on their commutes, like him.
"Lake Shore Drive is much higher up in many places than the Lakefront Trail, and the views are much different," Spotts said. "We hear people really enjoy catching the sunrise. It's so quiet without any car traffic that people can hear the waves in Lake Michigan, and hear the birds and bike bells and whizzing of chains. And you get to see these really beautiful views of the city and experience Chicago's famous lakefront with more than 20,000 of your bicycling friends."
That's the expected turnout for the five-hour bike ride Sunday, which will close the drive from 5:30 a.m. to 10:15 a.m. between Bryn Mawr Avenue and the Museum of Science and Industry.
Other group cycling initiatives, like the rule-bending Critical Mass collective, entice packs of bikers to tackle Chicago's most scenic road, but Spotts said "usually the police shut that down pretty quickly, and there are tons of safety concerns."
Registration this week costs $48 per rider, which includes access to refreshment stations and admission to the after-party festival, which includes free breakfast, live music, a rock-climbing wall and more.
Four-wheeled travelers, be wary: Cars won't have access to Lake Shore Drive from Hollywood Avenue south to 59th Street until after 10:15 a.m. Sunday. The Museum Campus will be accessible via 18th Street, and Navy Pier via Illinois Street. Traffic on streets passing under Lakeshore Drive won't be interrupted.