Chicago transportation is a touchy subject. In order to travel up to ten miles in a car, an inhabitant of the city may as well be taking a sixty mile road trip in another state. So when it comes to commuting or even exploring the eclectic city, a very important subject that should be broached is transportation. How far is it to Navy Pier from here? How should I get there? When should I leave? What is my estimated time of arrival, or ETA?
I mapped out a simple 5 mile route from Belmont and Sheffield in Lakeview, Chicago to Navy Pier, located in the downtown loop. Walking 5 miles is a daunting task, especially in the summer heat, but it may be less stressful than dodging cars while biking or being cramped on a bus or train. Shown below is a flow chart of the typical amount of time it takes to move 5 miles in the city of Chicago.
Click on these links to view Google Maps and the CTA tracker, both useful sources in navigating the city.
When you think about transportation in Chicago, you may not think about water taxis right away. But you might be surprised how many options you have to navigate the Windy City and to do it traffic-free and with a view you can’t get anywhere else.
Where you can go on a Chicago water taxi!
Chicago Water Taxi operates the purple route, while Shoreline SightSeeing operates the three remaining lines.
At the end of Belmont Avenue lies Belmont Harbor. Secluded by the tempestous weather of Lake Michigan by break walls and surrounding greenery, the harbor is home to hundreds of sail boats. Each mast glistens in the sunlight and the sound of rythmic tapping of lines hitting poles can be heard as the boats sway back and forth in the harbor. A lip of land outstretches the opening of the harbor, keeping the waters inside calm.
Belmont Harbor is a perfect location for those living in Lincoln Park of Lakview to dock their vessels. However, for those living in the city without a boat, another option is available- sailing lessons.
Four different sessions are offered through Chicago Yacht Club for beginner and intermediate learners. Although it is halfway through the summer already- how times flies!- there are two sessions still available.
Chicago is a loud and busy city, and many times the expansive Lake Michigan that lies to the east is often ignored. Yet, there are many opportunities for tourists and residents alike to learn how to sail.
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Visit the sites below to learn more information and prices on sailing:
Students, there’s really only one thing you need to know about public transportation, and it’s the U-Pass. Treat it like your baby. Don’t lose it.
U-Pass is a cooperative program between local colleges and universities and the CTA. If you attend a participating school, the cost of your U-Pass is embedded in your tuition, but you’re saving a ton of money.
U-Pass basically gives you unlimited use of CTA rail and buses. Unfortunately U-Pass is not accepted on Metra trains or Pace buses, but these routes are generally suburban.
A few things to be careful of: don’t share the card, don’t put it in the cash slot on buses, and don’t try to use it at the same station in succession. The CTA is strict about U-Passes that need to be replaced if lost or stolen. It’s a long process and it costs an extra $50. For a full list of participating schools as well as the rules and conditions of the U-Pass program, visit the CTA website.
The traffic study that was released last week will be a surprise to no one who travels around the Chicago area in a vehicle. It confirms what many drivers had long thought was true—Chicagoland ranked at the top of the list as the area with the most congested roadways in the country.
The new 2010 Urban Mobility Report issued by the Texas Transportation Institute measures congestion in 439 urban areas in the U.S. in an attempt to identify the problems facing urban travelers.
The study found in Chicago commuters spent an extra 70 hours a year in their cars in 2009. The national average was 34 hours.
According to a recent article in the Chicago Tribune, Chicago commuters now have the longest delays, a distinction has Los Angeles long held.
But it’s more than just time being wasted in our cars. Money is too. Congestion costs each commuter and extra $1,738 on average in 2009, reports the Tribune.
All this may ring very true with Chicagoland drivers, but although the Urban Mobility Report receives a lot of media attention it is by no means a comprehensive study on overall mobility.
“The report is actually a very crude way of looking at congestion and is quite arbitrary. It just measures traffic and not public transit and mobility in the broad sense,” says Hani Mahmassani, director of the Northwestern University Transportation Center. “What I’m more concerned with is the ability to move trucks and freight and merchandise and the logistics of that.”
Chicago has long been a hub of freight transit, and congestion can be detrimental to the city’s status in this arena. That may not seem like a big concern to the average Chicagoan, but according to Mahmassani, when Chicago becomes too incompetent to move freight around efficiently it effects the city’s overall economy all the way down to consumers who have to pay more for goods.
Traffic, of course, effects freight mobility, but so does aging bridges, construction and a host of other complexities. The Federal Highway Administration has studied the freight transit issues in Chicago in hopes of combating them. There’s also an initiative called CREATE, a massive undertaking to improve and increase the efficiency of the region’s rail infrastructure and quality of life of Chicago-area residents. The overall goal is to reduce traffic congestion, deliver shorter commute times, better air quality and increased public safety. You can read more about the initiatives here.
Plans for the near future and beyond are also in the works. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning recently debuted “Go to 2040,” a regional plan with recommendations for officials and local businesses to improve quality of life in Chicagoland. You can learn about the comprehensive regional mobility plan here.
Keeping the trains and buses running is a year-long job for the Chicago Transit Authority. During the winter months, its difficulties are compounded by freezing temperatures and varied snowfall.
“Cold weather ages transportation infrastructure at a troublesome rate in a difficult way,” said Joseph Schwieterman, professor of DePaul University. “Especially the chilling and thawing process is extremely hard on roads and railroad tracks.”
The CTA prepares for the winter months in advance, said CTA Spokeswoman Noelle Gaffney. Many of these preparations include ensuring that the proper tools and equipment are available should the need arise. The CTA garages stocks are updated in case equipment or machinery needs to be replaced and conducts regular inspections, she said
In addition to preparations, the CTA constantly checks current conditions.
“There’s a lot we do in advance of winter that we just we’re going to need to have done,” said Gaffney. “But we also monitor the weather and if there is sleet or snow forecast, we respond accordingly with making sure the proper resources and staff are in place when snow does come.”
Trains are outfitted with sleet scrapers that remove ice from the rails as trains pass. Additionally, de-icing fluid is sprayed onto the rails when ice builds up. Snow plows are placed on the front cars to handle any snow banks that might pose a problem, Gaffney said.
Additionally, in case of difficulties that normal train operations can’t handle, CTA workers are on call to fix winter-related problems using special heavy equipment, she said.
“The other thing for trains when it gets really cold, switches freeze and that’s a huge problem for the CTA and Amtrak, especially when you have snow mixed in,” Schwieterman said.
Snow would become caught in the switches, preventing movement. Sometimes the electrical circuitry controlling the switches would freeze as well, but is not as common, Schwieterman said. To handle this particular problem, the CTA has heaters at switch locations which are activated by track workers allowing operations to continue and prevent derailment, Gaffney said.
The CTA doesn’t forget about the customers either. The station heaters are checked before the season and during times of snowfall, the CTA staff and outside firms are sent to shovel sand to prevent people from slipping, Gaffney said.
Ultimately, when it comes to cold weather, it depends on the conditions. How heavy or light the weather is and how long it lasts determines the CTA’s response, she said.
- Chicago Ranked the Most Road-Congested City
- Rolling Out the New CTA Train Tracker
- Metras New Quiet Cars: Boom or Bust?
- Braving Chicago’s Winter on Two Wheels
- CTA Train Tracker: What’s Chicago Saying?
- Parkin’ Yo’self in Chitown
- Construction in Chicago
- No Expansion for O’Hare as City Puts off Bonds Sale
Want to know when the next train’s coming? Don’t worry – there’s an app for that.
In January, the Chicago Transit Authority officially rolled out its beta version of the CTA Train Tracker , available as a mobile application for smart phones and on the Internet. The authority’s bus tracker has already been in place since last year.
In the press release, the CTA stated that estimated arrival times are generated through a combination of scheduling information and the data collected by the QuicTrak program, “which monitors signaling systems and indicates when a portion of track is occupied by a train. Average transit time is determined by measuring how long it takes a train to travel a portion of track and by averaging the travel times of the last five trains to move across a portion of track, the CTA can calculate the estimated arrival times for trains at each station.”
Okay, so it’s a little confusing. But what Chicagoans really care about isn’t methodology, it’s how well the tracker works, right?
So far reaction seems to be positive – in large part because commuters have been waiting for this for awhile now. The CTA Tattler blog even wrote about the CTA pre-testing the tracker on the Brown line back in April.
The Twittersphere has been praising its introduction, which many say was a long time coming. Twitter user Jose L. Torrez went so far as to call it a “WIN!” while Anne Haley, aka Anniebannanie91 tweeted “Cta train tracker= my bff.”
“Train tracker seems to work well,” said Ryan C. Miller, coordinator of orientation and parent programs at the Illinois Institute of Technology. “I’ve not been burned by it – yet.”
Time Out Chicago also did their own little test to see what people’s reactions have been, as did The Huffington Post. Blogger Steven Vance got a chance to try out the tracker before everyone else did. His verdict? It needs a few tweaks for mobile devices but other than that, he’s “extremely impressed.”
So far, it sounds good. Now if we could just do something about those pitiful French -fry warming lights at the stations….and maybe WiFi underground. Yes, please?
- From WBEZ: CTA proposes closing several stops on the Red Line
- CTA: Red and Purple line modernization plan
- CTA: Alerts
- CTA Tattler: Theater troupe to act out Red Line riders’ stories
Our guide features information from local experts about taking the streets of Chicago on your bike during the most bone-chilling conditions.Want more in-depth information about biking during the winter? Check out these informational links and videos made for Chicago bikers:
- Winter Biking Primer – Streetfilms.org
- Bikers Brave the Winter Weather: How Cold is your Commute? – Vimeo.com
- Bike Winter
- Chicago Bike Blog: Winter Biking
- Ice-cycle – Chicago Time Out