The Ultimate Chicago Transportation Guide

Chicago cityscape

The third largest city in the United States is not only a major transportation hub in the Midwest, but it is also home to one of the largest and best transit systems in the world. The Chicago Transit Authority’s “L” train system and numerous bus routes can take you just about anywhere you need to go in Chicagoland. Operating 24/7, CTA makes an average of 1.6 million trips per day, but trains and buses aren’t the only way to get around the city. Read on for your complete guide to transportation in Chicago, plus a breakdown of Chicago’s best neighborhoods and what it’s like to commute from them.

The “L”

iStock.com/Shelly Bychowski

The CTA operates eight “L” train lines and 145 stations throughout the city and the surrounding suburbs of Evanston, Skokie, Wilmette, Rosemont, Forest Park, Oak Park and Cicero. It is called the “L” because most of the track is Student above the city, but parts of the system are at street level or underground. The city’s eight rapid transit lines are laid out in a spoke style, which centers all lines around the loop.

The railway lines are distinguished by their color: red, blue, brown, green, orange, purple, pink and yellow. The orange, purple, and pink lines circle the loop clockwise, while the brown line runs counterclockwise before returning to their starting points. The green line is the only service on the loop. All lines operate daily except the Purple Line Express to the city center, which does not operate on weekends. The Red Line, with service between the north and south sides through downtown, and the Blue Line, which connects Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport and downtown, operate 24/7. You can check the frequency of trains on the CTA Train Tracker, but most routes run every 10-20 minutes until late evening.

A standard ride costs $ 2.50, while day passes cost $ 10 and monthly passes are $ 105 and can be purchased through the fare payment system, Ventra. Buy individual tickets, passes or transit value online, by smartphone, by contactless bank card or at participating points of sale. Ventra can also be used on CTA, Pace (commuter bus) and Metra (commuter train) buses.



CTA operates around 2,000 buses with more than 150 routes serving one million passengers per day. Over 12,000 bus stops are conveniently located throughout the city, with stops advertised every two blocks, but you can pull the stop request cord to get off at any designated stop. Most buses run on the same street all day, every day – few trips branch out. Most routes run every 10 to 20 minutes until late evening. Get estimated arrivals with the CTA Bus Tracker. Make sure to check the destination sign, as not all buses go to the end of the line. Night Owl lines run until 2 a.m. or later with service every 30 minutes. All buses are accessible and have bicycle racks. On the bus, you can pay $ 2.50 in cash for a single trip or use Ventra and save $ 0.25.

Doggy style

Greyhound can take you to other cities by bus. Its options include routes to Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Louisville, Nashville, Atlanta, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Washington, New York, Detroit, Toronto, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Madison, Minneapolis, St. Louis, and Memphis.


Meet and greet with Pace, the area bus system that connects suburban Chicago-area towns to downtown. Major routes run daily until mid-evening, every 30 to 60 minutes. Many routes connect to CTA. Pace also uses the Ventra fare payment system, or you can use your own contactless bank card to travel.

Metra commuter trains


With 11 lines operating from 242 stations, Metra, the city’s suburban rail network, serves Chicago and the surrounding areas of Blue Island, South Chicago, Aurora, Joliet, Fox Lake, Elgin, Antioch, Orland Park, Waukegan and Elburn. With four downtown terminals: Richard B. Ogilvie Transportation Center, LaSalle Street Station, Millennium Station (fka Randolph Street Terminal), and Union Station, this high-speed system is a quick and easy way to get to the heart of the city. . Most routes run every day every hour or two with more frequent service at peak times. The fare is based on zones instead of a boarding package like on the “L”. Monthly Metra ticket holders can get a Link-Up Pass to use on CTA and Pace. Bicycles are allowed on board, but not during peak hours or special events.

Union Station

Known for its majestic Grand Hall, Union Station offers connections to Metra and the “L”. Owned and operated by Amtrak, Union Station is the fourth largest intercity passenger hub in the United States, offering multiple transcontinental routes. Anyone passing through Chicago must transfer trains – unlike most Amtrak stations, all trains from Union Station depart or terminate there.

Getting around by car


Getting around the city is easy without a car, which is why many Chicagoans don’t own one. Those who spend a lot of time looking for parking. The Chicago Parking Map provides an interactive map of downtown public parking lots, while iParkit lets you reserve a spot. Other apps that can help drivers find parking include Millennium Garages, ABM Parking, ParkChicago, SpotHero, and ParkWhiz. However, remember that it is illegal to use your phone while driving in Illinois.


Chicago has around 7,000 taxis, so hailing one is not difficult in most areas. Don’t just watch out for yellow taxis, taxis can be any color. Fares go up quickly, so taxis in the city can be quite expensive. It’s $ 3.25 just to get into the cabin, a flat rate of $ 1.00 for the first additional passenger, another $ 0.50 for each additional passenger aged 12 to 65, 0.20 cents for every additional 1/9 mile, another .20 cents for every 36 seconds of “wait time” when you’re stuck in traffic, four dollars more in airport taxes and .50 cents more if you use a credit card. E-hail and e-payment with ARRO and CURB. Lyft and Uber also operate here, which is the most popular form of “taxi” service.

While walking

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Chicago is on a flat plane, so it’s easy to walk or cycle. It’s also easy to navigate since the streets are on a grid starting at the intersection of downtown State and Madison streets. Madison Street divides north from south, while State Street divides east from west. When it’s cold, walk around The Windy City, (and it will be) the Downtown Pedway is your best friend. The underground tunnel and bridge system connects 40 blocks to the central business district to keep commuters warm during the winter months. If you are tired of sabotaging it, many places and events with heavy foot traffic attract cycle riders who you can hire to take you the rest of the way.


With 290 miles of protected bike paths, Chicago was made for cycling. Divvy, the city’s bike-sharing system, operates 5,800 bikes at 580 self-service docking stations in Chicago, Evanston and Oak Park. Bicycles are permitted on bicycle racks mounted on the front of CTA buses and on trains, except during peak hours or during special events.

Getting to and from Chicago airports

One of the busiest airports in the world, the sprawling O’Hare International Airport serves as a hub for United Airlines and American Airlines. Located on the south side of Chicago, Midway Airport is convenient for domestic travel. The L’s Blue Line can take passengers from downtown to O’Hare in 40 minutes, while the Orange Line is the most convenient way between the Loop (the city’s central business district) and Midway, with a journey time of about 25 minutes.

Commuting to Chicago’s Best Neighborhoods


Chicago is widely known as a city of neighborhoods. Here are some pros and cons of transportation in some of the best areas of the city.

Lake view: There’s always something going on here, but if you want to get out of the neighborhood, there are 6 L stations and plenty of CTA bus routes (many of which offer night routes / night service) to connect with the rest of the city. Those who walk along North Lake Shore Drive with express services to downtown Chicago see the most action. Drive down Lakeshore Drive to downtown in about 20 minutes.

Lincoln park: Transportation from this neighborhood is easy, so getting to work will be a breeze. Several train and bus lines run to Lincoln Park, which is also extremely accessible on foot. Board the ‘L’ and take the red, brown or purple line from Fullerton station to the city center. Lincoln Park is accessible by car via the Kennedy Freeway or Lake Shore Drive, which will whisk you downtown in 15 minutes.

West loop: Most people will come to you. The loop is technically accessible on foot, but the green line is a faster option and allows you to easily get around the city.

Logan Square, Bucktown and Wicker Park: This area is served by the North Avenue bus line and several Blue Line stops, including one at the intersection of North, Damen and Milwaukee avenues. Known as the Six Corners, this is a good place to start exploring. The West Blue Line stop connects downtown, the suburbs, and O’Hare, while Bucktown’s bus lines connect the neighborhood to Lincoln Park, Old Town and the Lakeside, not to mention the lines red, purple and brown. Metra has a stop at Clybourn Avenue which connects the downtown area and the northern suburbs. If you are driving, take the Kennedy Expressway / I-90/94 to downtown. It’s only a few miles away, but it will take you a good 20 minutes of traffic.

North River: This classic Chicago neighborhood is right in the middle of the action, so it’s a great place for those who hate the travel. The Red Line stops at the Grand Subway Station on N State Street, carrying passengers through the downtown area between the north and south sides of the city. Get to the Loop in 15 minutes or less via the Brown or Purple Line, both of which stop at Chicago Avenue and Merchandise Mart.

Edgewater / Andersonville: Get away from it all, but always be a train ride away. Take the red line to downtown or take the bus (50) to Lincoln Square and take the Brown line and go straight to the Loop.

Ukrainian Village / Humboldt Park: Neither is near the ‘L’, so be sure to familiarize yourself with the multiple bus lines that run through the Ukrainian village if you don’t have a car.

Transportation in Chicago is plentiful and efficient. Find your next home on Zumper and become a local with this transport guide.

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