Get Around Chicago

Navigating Chicago is easy. Block numbers are consistent across the whole city. Standard blocks, of 100 addresses each, are roughly 1/8th of a mile long.

(Hence, a mile is equivalent to a street number difference of 800.) Each street is assigned a number based on its distance from the zero point of the address system, the intersection of State Street and Madison Street. A street with a W (west) or E (east) number runs north-south, while a street with a N (north) or S (south) number runs east-west. A street's number is usually written on street signs at intersections, below the street name. Major thoroughfares are at each mile (multiples of 800) and secondary arteries at the half-mile marks. Thus, Western Ave at 2400 W is a north-south major thoroughfare, while Montrose Ave at 4400 N is an east-west secondary artery.

In general, "avenues" run north-south and "streets" run east-west, but there are numerous exceptions. (e.g., 48th Street may then be followed by 48th Place). In conversation, however, Chicagoans rarely distinguish between streets, avenues, boulevards, etc.

Several streets follow diagonal or meandering paths through the city such as Clark St, Lincoln Ave, Broadway, Milwaukee Ave, Ogden Ave, Archer Ave, Vincennes Ave, and South Chicago Ave.
[edit] By public transit

The best way to see Chicago is by public transit. It is cheap (basically), efficient (at times), and safe (for the most part). The Regional Transportation Authority (RTA) oversees the various public transit agencies in the Chicagoland area. You can plan trips online with the RTA trip planner [16] or get assistance by calling 836-7000 in any local area code between 5AM-1AM. The RTA also has an official partnership with Google Maps, which can provide routes with public transit.


The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) [17] operates trains and buses in the city of Chicago and some of the suburbs. Put simply, the CTA is Chicago. It is a marvel and a beast, convenient, frustrating, and irreplaceable. Even if you have the option of driving while you're in town, no experience of Chicago is complete without a trip on the CTA.

Fares are paid with transit cards, which can be purchased and re-filled at kiosks in the lobby of every CTA station. All accept cash, and some accept credit cards. Many locals use the Chicago Card, which cannot be purchased at stations, but can be ordered online [18] and also purchased at grocery stores and currency exchanges. Visitor passes are sold for unlimited travel on the CTA and Pace: 1 Day (24 hours) for $5.75; 3 Days for $14; 7 Days for $23 and 30 Days for $86. These passes are on sale at certain train stations (notably, the O'Hare Blue Line station), currency exchanges and some convenience stores, and online [19]. Transit cards for single rides or larger increments can also be purchased online.

Train rides of any length, from one side of the city to another or just one stop, cost $2.25. At certain stations, you can transfer to other train lines at no extra cost. Once you have exited the turnstiles, entering another CTA station or boarding a CTA bus costs $0.25 — and doing it a third time is free, provided it's still within two hours of when you started the trip.

Locals refer to Chicago's public train system as the "L". (Most lines run on el-evated tracks — get it?) All train lines radiate from the Loop to every corner of the city. The "Loop" name originally referred to a surface-level streetcar loop, which pre-dated the elevated tracks; that any form of transportation preceded the present one may come as a surprise, given how old some of the stations look. But they work.

CTA train lines are divided by colors: Red, Green, Brown, Blue, Purple, Yellow, Orange and Pink. All lines lead to the Loop except the Yellow Line, which is a nonstop shuttle between the suburb of Skokie and the northern border of Chicago. The Red and Blue lines run 24/7, making Chicago one of only two American cities with 24-hour rail service. Hours for the other lines vary somewhat by day, but as a general rule are from about 4:30AM-12:40AM, slightly later on weekends.

Before you travel, find out the name of the train stop closest to your destination, and the color of the train line on which it is located. Once you're on-board, you'll find route maps in each train car, above the door. The same map is also available online [20]. The name signs on platforms often have the station's location in the street grid, e.g. "5900 N, 1200 W" for Thorndale.

There should be an attendant on duty at every train station. They can't provide change or deal with money, but they can help you figure out where you need to go and guide you through using the machines.

Buses run on nearly every major street in the city. Look for the blue and white sign, which should give a map of the route taken by the bus and major streets/stops along the way. Once inside, watch the front of the bus — a red LED display will list the names of the streets as they pass, making it easy to stop exactly where you'd like, even if it's a small side-street. To request a stop, pull the cord hanging above the window and make sure you hear an audible 'ding'. Hollering at the bus driver will raise tempers but works in a pinch.

Rides of any length cost $2 with a transit card or Chicago Card, and $2.25 in cash. Major bus routes run 7-15 minutes apart during daylight hours, depending on the route. Less-traveled routes or routes during off-peak hours may run less frequently. Check the sign to be sure the bus is still running. There are several bus routes that are on a 24 hour/7 day a week schedule — these are called OWL routes, and the signs usually have an owl to belabor that point. (See individual district articles for major bus routes through different parts of the city.)

CTA buses accept transit cards but do not sell them. They also accept cash, but do not provide change. If you overpay, the CTA keeps the extra cash, so carry exact change.

In compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act, all CTA buses and some train stations are accessible to wheelchairs. Wheelchair-accessible 'L' stations are indicated by the international wheelchair symbol and have elevators or are at ground level. If you are trying to get to a place with a non-accessible station, there will be alternate routes by bus — contact the CTA for more information.

Crime on the CTA is low, but as with any major urban area, travelers should be aware of their surroundings when traveling in the wee hours of the night, and sit close to the driver if you feel uncomfortable for any reason. Buses are being equipped with video cameras as the fleet is upgraded. Some train cars have a button and speaker for emergency communication with the driver, located in the center aisle of the car on the wall next to the door. Do not press this just to chat — the driver is required to halt the train until the situation has been confirmed as resolved, and your fellow passengers will be unamused.
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