Getting Around in Chicago
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Chicago has a comprehensive and efficient network of public transportation. Not only does this network cover a vast area but it also operates 24 hours a day. This makes getting around in Chicago very straightforward.
The availability of good public transport reduces the need to drive, especially in terms of commuting in and out of the city centre. However, expats who plan on travelling to other parts of the USA may still find that having a car is useful.
Public transport in Chicago
Chicago is home to the second-largest public transportation system in the USA, which consists of a large network of buses and trains. Operated by the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), the public transport network covers not only the city of Chicago but also the surrounding suburbs.
The CTA operates 24 hours a day, although the frequency of services in the late evenings and on weekends is limited.
Expats who plan on travelling regularly should invest in a weekly or monthly travel pass. The Ventra Card is a smart card system that allows commuters to load a travel pass or credit onto a card, either online or at a machine, and simply tap in and out when boarding or disembarking from a train or bus.
The CTA has bus and train tracker services which uses GPS data to inform commuters when the next bus service will arrive at a given stop. This service can be accessed via text message or online.
Buses are the most commonly used mode of transport in Chicago. They serve local communities and help commuters move across the city. There are also a number of express services available.
The frequency of buses varies depending on the particular route and the time of day.
The rail system in Chicago consists of train lines that span the city and surrounding neighbourhoods, and is known locally as ‘The L’. Parts of the network operate above ground and others run underground.
Although the rail network in Chicago does not cover as large an area as that covered by buses, trains do arrive more frequently.
Taxis in Chicago
As with other big US cities, taxis provide a convenient way to get around Chicago. In the city centre, it's very easy to hail a taxi from the side of the road. However, expats living further away from the city centre should consider pre-booking a taxi ahead of time.
Cycling in Chicago
Chicago has a national reputation as one of the best large cities in the USA for cycling.
Local authorities have also taken steps to make the city more bicycle-friendly by installing bike racks and sheltered, high-capacity bicycle parking areas at many CTA rail stations, which allow cyclists to cycle for part of their journey and then hop onto a bus or train for the remainder. Bicycles are permitted on CTA buses during all operating hours, while they can be brought onto CTA trains during designated time periods.
Driving in Chicago
It's generally best to avoid driving in the city centre of Chicago. Even locals who have cars don't use their vehicles to commute into the city. Traffic can be awful and parking can be very expensive. Even outside Chicago’s city centre, parking is not readily available. Furthermore, there are lots of parking restrictions in place. These rules are constantly enforced in the form of parking fines and towing.
Navigating around Chicago should be straightforward as the city follows a grid system, but in reality many streets have multiple levels that confuse even the most experienced city drivers.
Local drivers are also known for driving aggressively, especially on Chicago’s expressways. Expat drivers will be pleased to know, however, that road conditions and signage are of a good standard in Chicago.