By the Telephony Staff
Jun 19, 2007 12:00 AM
Many NXTcomm 2007 attendees have grown accustomed to getting around Chicago during a major trade show. For those who aren’t as familiar with navigating our fair city, the first thing you need to know is that this is road repair season—one of two official seasons of the year in Chicago, the other being snow removal.
With major highway reconstruction also underway on the Dan Ryan Expressway, very near to McCormick Place, it has become even more imperative for visitors to consider alternatives to cabs or other cars.
Those willing to use public transportation can often skip the cab lines frequently, if not altogether. Because the system can be confusing, however, many people don’t even try to take the trains.
Here’s what we think you need to know: Chicago has multiple forms of public transit, including the Chicago Transit Authority and Metra. There are also suburban mass transit authorities, but we’re going to skip those for now to avoid unnecessary confusion.
The CTA operates both trains, sometimes known in Chicago as ‘El’ lines for the elevated tracks, and buses, sometimes known as smelling, traffic-clogging monsters. Not all ‘El’ trains run above ground, however. Two lines run underground in the downtown area.
Metra operates commuter trains—bigger, nicer and designed for longer travel—that serve the suburbs but aren’t as widely used to go from place-to-place downtown.
A CTA line that will take you downtown serves both of Chicago’s airports, and, during rush hour at least, save you time in the process. The Blue Line goes to O’Hare and runs underground in the city, and the Orange Line, which uses the elevated tracks in the city, goes out to Midway.
Both airports have ample signage to direct you to the trains into the city. Once there, you will need to buy a fare card, which costs $2. There are numerous downtown stops and if none of them is right next to your hotel, at least the cab ride will be shorter.
It is important to note that neither of these lines is impacted by the recent track expansion on Chicago’s North Side, which has slowed traffic on the Red, Purple and Brown lines as they head north.
If the color schemes confuse you, you can easily find information about CTA lines at www.transitchicago.com, but we would add a few words of caution. No matter what anyone tells you, CTA trains do not run on a schedule. They show up when they show up.
Having said that, the trains do run frequently during morning and evening rush hours, and can be a convenient way to travel, depending on your destination. The CTA has a trip planner built into its Web site, so you might want to check out your options.
If you are planning to take in a White Sox game while here for NXTcomm—the Cubs are out of town, sorry—your best bet is to take the Red Line south to U.S. Cellular field and back to the city.
None of the CTA lines comes particularly close to McCormick Place, however.
The only train service into McCormick is the Metra Electric Line, which comes right into the basement of the exhibit hall. Unlike the CTA, Metra does run its trains on a schedule and you can find the Metra Electric Line schedule at http://metrarail.com/Sched/me/me.shtml.
You can board a southbound Metra Electric Line train to reach McCormick place from two stations on Michigan Ave., one between Randolph and South Water Streets, and one between Jackson and Van Buren Streets. Both are close to many downtown hotels.
The fare between downtown Chicago and McCormick Place is $1.95. You can buy a fare card at the station or you can purchase a 10-ride pass for $16.60, which is much less than the cost of three cab rides from McCormick Place to downtown. Metra fares vary, depending on how far you are traveling, so if you are going farther than the Michigan Ave. stops, your fare will go up. More information about fares is on the Metra Web site.
Last but not least, before you jump into a cab line at rush hour, it’s wise to consider using the shuttle buses that NXTcomm provides. In Chicago, there are special lanes of traffic, separate of the existing road system, which have been dedicated to shuttle buses from McCormick to downtown. These enable shuttle buses to skip the traffic, traffic lights and pesky pedestrians that slow down other surface traffic. So while you may have to wait for a bus, or sit on a bus briefly waiting for it to fill up and leave, once the bus starts moving, it is likely to be your fastest way of getting to downtown Chicago.
Besides which, the shuttle bus is unlike any other form of transportation—other than your feet—it’s free.