Chicago Transportation Guide
Chicago is a city that offers plenty of options when it comes to getting around. Whether by bus, train, car, or bike, this blog outlines the different choices you have for getting from Point A to Point B in the Windy City.
Private Transportation Options
Let us preface this by saying owning a car in Chicago isn’t necessary. However, we understand that everyone has their own personal preferences, so the choice to either keep or forgo your car when moving to Chicago is up to you. We can, however, help you weigh the pros and cons.
Why someone might want to have a car in Chicago:
If you are someone that likes (or has) to travel out of the city often, whether its to a job in the suburbs or frequently taking weekend trips to neighboring states, then having a car might be the most convenient option when it comes to traveling longer distances.
If your family includes young children or elderly individuals, having a car to get around may not only be convenient, but necessary.
Maybe you’re a germaphobe and the thought of riding the L makes you cringe. Or you’ve dubbed the hours you spend sitting in traffic as your “you” time. Or maybe you‘re one of those people that just really likes to drive and nothing, not even absurd parking fees, will ever change that.
All of these are perfectly fine reasons to have a car in the city.
Why someone may choose not to have a car in Chicago:
Parking in Chicago comes at a premium, and many apartment buildings do not have private parking or do not include parking privileges of any kind within the lease/rent. This leads to the endless hassle that is finding suitable street parking and can be such a pain in winter months that the Chicago-born and bred rule of ‘dibs’ was created.
Another issue of having a car in Chicago is dealing with the horrendous traffic. Do you really want to waste 3 hours of your day slamming your head against the steering wheel and staring at brake lights?
Having a car is expensive, especially in Chicago. Gas stations located downtown can regularly be found charging $1-1.50 more per gallon than stations located outside of the city. Having a designated place to park can easily set you back $3,000/year or more. Insurance is also an added cost, and those prices are only likely to go up once someone backs into you while trying their best to parallel park.
Or, you can have the best of both worlds by booking a Zipcar, allowing you to rent a car for a period of time (anywhere from an hour to a day) and returning it at the end of your trip.
Chicago has a national reputation as one of the best large cities in the U.S. for bicycling and shows no signs of giving up this title anytime soon. New bike lanes seem to be popping up almost daily, prompting an increasing number of riders to share the street with automobiles. Currently, more than 200 miles of on-street protected, buffered, and shared bike lanes are present within Chicago city limits, and that doesn’t include hundreds of additional miles of off-street paths. Biking is also a relatively cheap and eco-friendly way to get around the city, allowing riders to bypass traffic with ease. And with more than 13,000 bike racks located throughout the city, there’s always an option to lock up your bike nearby.
No bike? No problem! Chicago has its own bike share program, called Divvy. For $3/trip, $15/day or $99 annual membership, users can unlock a Divvy bike at one of the hundreds of stations around the city. After completing your trip, end your ride by returning your bike to any station.
We know winter months in Chicago can be notoriously brutal, so biking isn’t always an option, though some hardcore bikers have been known to invest in snow tires, making riding through the snow a breeze (albeit a very cold one). Also, depending on the length of your trip, biking sometimes isn’t the smartest choice; pedaling from Andersonville to Hyde Park probably isn’t the best option if you’re running late for a meeting.
Many areas of Chicago are extremely walkable, which can play an important role in where residents choose to live. Most people who live within the city limits of Chicago have the benefit of walking to grocery stores, restaurants, bars, and shopping. While we don’t recommend walking the entire city of Chicago (unless you’re a marathon runner), it’s always nice to be able to enjoy the fresh air while running nearby errands.
Popular neighborhoods such as Fulton Market, West Loop (and really all of downtown), River North, Gold Coast, Wicker Park, and Lakeview score extremely high when it comes to walkability.
Public Transportation Options
The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) operates the nation’s second-largest public transportation system that offers users an array of options that range from the subway to bike sharing. On an average weekday, 1.7 million people ride the buses and trains throughout the city. It’s a cost-effective, convenient, and eco-friendly option for those who don’t mind sharing their personal space with the person next to them during rush hour.
The Chicago subway system, known as the “L,” has eight lines that travel to each corner of the city and some of suburbs. An average of 760,000 people ride the L each weekday, with some trains (red and blue lines) running 24-hours. The L has been credited with fostering the growth of Chicago’s dense city core and is one of its distinguishing features; the reason it’s called the L? Because of its “elevated” tracks that crisscross downtown and weave through neighborhoods.
Ventra cards are the preferred method of payment, as users can ‘top off’ their cards through mobile payments that work on the L, city buses, and Metra trains. For more information on how to ride the L, visit the CTA’s website.
Like other large cities, Chicago has an extensive bus network. If your preferred destination isn’t near an L stop, chances are there’s a bus that will take you there. Bus stops are typically located two blocks apart from one another and are marked with a sign. Make sure you always check the bus route before boarding the bus, so you know you are headed in the right direction. If you’re not sure where a bus is traveling, you can always as the driver as well.
Like the L, many locals pay their bus fare with the Ventra card. For more information on how to navigate Chicago’s bus routes, visit this website.
Need to get somewhere in a hurry? Hailing a taxi or getting a rideshare might be a good option. These are private vehicles that will pick you up and take you directly to your destination, without making additional stops along the way (unless you’re in an Uber Pool).
To hail a taxi, you can just wave to one that is available as it passes on the street. You will then tell your driver where you would like to go and pay at the end of your trip. You can also book taxis beforehand by calling or texting a taxi company’s number. To book a rideshare, you will have to do so through an app on your phone and let them know where you’re headed prior to entering the vehicle. Popular options include Uber and Lyft.
If you live in the Chicago suburbs but don’t want to drive into the city (or vice versa), a smart option is taking one of the many commuter trains that travel to and from the suburbs. Most trains arrive and depart from Union Station or Millennium Station downtown and travel as far north as Kenosha, Wisconsin and as far south as Michigan City, Indiana. Thousands of people commute daily into downtown Chicago by riding these trains.
Have additional questions about your options when it comes to Chicago’s public transportation? Chat with one of our friendly experts today!