If you live in Chicago or want to visit the Windy City, you have a number of Chicago transportation options to choose from. The city is well-known for its public transportation options and was ranked fifth when it comes to the top 10 cities with the best public transportation in the U.S. Here’s your guide on how to get around Chicago.
Common Chicago transportation options
If you want to figure out how to get around Chicago, you can start by reviewing the most common Chicago transportation options.
The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA)
The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) runs Chicago’s “L” trains which is a nickname that came from the word “elevated”, as many trains are on elevated railways (but not all of them). According to TransitChicago.com, the CTA executes about 1.6 million rides on a typical weekday, serving Chicago and 35 nearby areas. These cover 140 stations throughout the city and beyond.
- The Red Line
- The Blue Line
- The Brown Line
- The Green Line
- The Orange Line
- The Purple Line
- The Pink Line
- The Yellow Line
The Red Line runs 24 hours a day and goes between the North and South side and through downtown. The Blue Line also runs 24 hours a day and goes between Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport to Forest Park and goes through downtown. The other lines’ hours of operations vary, but many run between 4am to 1am during the week.
You can use the CTA’s Trip Planner to help you figure out how to get around Chicago and get where you need to go. You can pay for your fare at the station or get a Ventra card or Ventra ticket. The base “L” train fare is $2.50 for one-way.
The Metra Rail
Another Chicago public transportation option is the commuter rail known as Metra rail. The Metra rail connects Chicago suburbs to downtown and has the following lines, according to the Metra rail website:
- Milwaukee District North (MD-N)
- North Central Service (NCS)
- Union Pacific North (UP-N)
- Union Pacific Northwest (UP-NW)
- Heritage Corridor (HC)
- Metra Electric District (ME)
- Rock Island District (RI)
- SouthWest Service (SWS)
- BNSF Railway (BNSF)
- Milwaukee District West (MD-W)
- Union Pacific West (UP-W)
You can check out a Metra rail system map here. How much it will cost you to ride the Metra rail will be based on how far you travel on the rail and is based on distance. You may be able to get a $10 day pass as part of a promotion for COVID recovery or get a weekend pass for $7. You can use this tool to find your next Metra rail departure to help plan your trip.
The Water Taxi
One of the unique Chicago transportation options includes taking a water taxi. Residents and tourists can enjoy floating down the Chicago River by water taxi. As of 2018, the Chicago water taxi had more than 400,000 passengers, an innovative solution to dealing with brutal traffic.
You can score a $6 one-way pass or a $10 all-day pass to board a water taxi. It’s important to note that water taxis are only offered at specific times, and the season is currently over but is expected to resume in the spring of 2022.
If you want to figure out how to get around Chicago and have the most control over your time and directions, driving is a good option. Just be aware that you might hit traffic, as Chicago was ranked seventh as part of the top 10 cities with worst traffic in the U.S.
You can also use this Chicago parking map to see what your options are. Chicago is made up of 234 square miles and comes in the third spot in most populous cities in the U.S. For these reasons, driving by car in the city may be good. If you don’t end up driving that often, you could be a low-mileage driver and can benefit from a pay-per-mile car insurance option like Metromile.
Sometimes you just feel like the Queen lyric, “I want to ride my bicycle!” and explore the city on two wheels. The good news is that Chicago is a good place to get around by bike. According to Chicago.gov, the city has 200 miles of bike lanes, 13,000 bike racks, and an 18.5-mile Lakefront Trail. You can get a Chicago bike map here and get info on bike parking.
Biking can give you a sense of freedom when traveling through Chicago, powered by your own two feet. Be sure to helmut up and bring your bike lock to stay safe and keep your bike intact.
One Chicago transportation option to help get your daily steps in is walking. Chicago is a great place to walk, coming in at number 10 in terms of best U.S. cities for walking. By walking through Chicago, you can see the sights in a new way and avoid pesky traffic. Of course, this isn’t an option for all your trips, but if you’re in the downtown area walking can be a good option. Bonus: it’s good for the environment, it’s free, and you can get your steps in for the day.
Alternative Chicago transportation options
Aside from the more common Chicago public transportation options and driving, biking, and walking, there are other types of alternatives to use too. Here are some other Chicago transportation options.
Ridesharing is here to stay and like many other cities, you can hail an Uber or Lyft as part of your travels in Chicago. Whether you’re a resident or tourist, if you’re traveling in Chicago, you can use your smartphone and use the Uber or Lyft app to get a rider to pick you and take you to your destination.
The Divvy bike-sharing program
The Chicago Department of Transportation has partnered with ridesharing giant Lyft to create a bike-sharing program called Divvy. The Divvy bike-sharing program has more than 600 stations and over 6,000 bikes across the Chicagoland area, according to the Divvy Bikes website.
You can use the app or get an annual membership or pass to book a bike, ride on, and return the bike to a Divvy station. A single ride is $3.30, a day pass is $15, and an annual membership is $9 a month.
The bottom line
When figuring out how to get around Chicago, you have an abundance of options to choose from. From the robust Chicago public transportation options to other types of transportation, you can choose to use two wheels, four wheels, your own feet or take the city’s infamous “L” train.
If you’re a resident of Chicago and don’t drive that often, consider the benefits of pay-per-mile car insurance with Metromile. You pay for gas by the gallon, why not pay for insurance by the miles you drive and an affordable low rate to make sure you’re getting a fair quote? See how much you could save by making the switch.
Melanie Lockert is a freelance writer, podcast host of the Mental Health and Wealth show, and author of Dear Debt. She’s a cat mom to two jazzy cats, Miles and Thelonious, an amateur boxer, music lover, and needs coffee to function.