ALA Annual Visit: Getting Around Chicago

As a resident of Chicago for many years, I’ve learned to love a lot about the city – including how easy it is to get around.  It’s wonderful to be in a place that has world-class museums, a free zoo, lakefront parks, quality theaters, and much more, all easy to get to with public transit!

Chicago TrainsI often tell people that one of my favorite things about Chicago, and one of the reasons I have no plans to leave the city anytime soon, is our network of trains and busses run by the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA).  For just $2.25, you can use the CTA to get from one end of the city to the other, and find restaurants, entertainment, and more.  Since many of you will be visiting Chicago for the first time, I thought it might be helpful to highlight some of the great parts of our public transit system.  Your best friend when it comes to navigating Chicago via CTA will be Google Maps, which will tell you which train or bus you should take, where you should get on it, and which direction you should take it in.  But there are a few basics that will make your transit experiences in Chicago easier.

Let’s start with the trains.  Chicago’s CTA train system is called the “L,” in reference to the fact that most of the system is elevated rather than underground.  Each train line is labeled with a color, but they all converge in the main Loop area, near many of the conference hotels.  As far as entertainment goes, you’ll be able to access a lot of the night life in Chicago from the red line, which runs north to south, and the blue line, which runs northwest in one direction and west to the suburbs in the other.  The blue line or orange line will get you to our airports, but you can find unique landmarks and neighborhoods along every branch of the L.  Take the pink line to the colorful Pilsen neighborhood and the free National Museum of Mexican Art, or shop and eat in the trendy Southport neighborhood by taking the brown line.  And if you’re a baseball fan, the red line will take you to the doorstep of both Cellular One Field (home of the Chicago White Sox) and Wrigley Field (home of the World Champion Chicago Cubs.)

Chicago Transportation Map

The other part of Chicago’s CTA system, and an often under-rated part in my opinion, is the bus system.  With busses running along every few streets in Chicago, you can get almost anywhere on what are, in my completely biased opinion, some of the nicest city busses I’ve ever been on.  If you’re heading far enough north or south, the Lakeshore Drive express busses will not only take you up towards Loyola and Evanston or south to the Museum of Science and Industry and Hyde Park, but allow you to enjoy breathtaking lake and city views on one of the most beautiful stretches of highway in America.  Even if you’re not going far, a bus can be a great way to get to places that aren’t close to train lines, or haul your bag of ARCs and other conference swag from point A to point B.

While there’s plenty to see right in Chicago, if you’re staying past the end of the conference or heading to the suburbs for family, friends, or fun, the Metra commuter lines also offer affordable transportation.  Based mainly out of Union Station and Ogilvie Station in the western part of the loop, Metra also offers a train from the Millennium Park that goes south towards Hyde Park – with a convenient stop right at McCormick Place where the conference will be.  With Metra trains, you’ll want to check out the schedules at www.metrarail.com, but they offer a great blend of convenience and distance for longer trips.

No matter where you’re going, Chicago’s public transit system has got you covered.

Hannah Rapp is the Head of Reader’s Advisory and Teen Services at the Berwyn Public Library.  She is a Chicago dweller in love with Lake Michigan, and an audiobook aficionado.

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