Transportation in Chicago

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Michael Hayden's neon installation "Sky's the Limit" (1987) in a subterranean walkway at O'Hare Airport. Sometimes called "The Gershwin Tunnel", the walkway connects concourses B and C of Terminal 1, which is operated by United Airlines.
A westbound 'L' train crosses the south fork of the Chicago River

Chicago, Illinois is the third-largest city in the United States and a major transportation hub. The city is served by two major airports, and is the main freight rail hub of North America.

Mass transit in much of the Chicago metropolitan area is managed through the Regional Transportation Authority (RTA), which was installed by referendum in 1974. The RTA provides transportation services through the funding of three subordinate agencies: the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra, and Pace.

Roads and expressways


There are several other smaller commercial airports in the Chicago area, these include:

  • Gary/Chicago International Airport in Gary, Indiana, located about 25 miles SE from the Chicago loop. It is operating as the defacto "third airport" for the Chicago area. While the airport's current operations do not include scheduled commercial passenger service, the administration is in talks with airlines and the TSA. Recently completed field improvements included extending the main runway to 8,859 feet, longer than any at Midway by some 2,000 feet. Corporations including Boeing and White Lodging Services base their corporate fleets here, and there are two Fixed Base Operators (FBO). The National Guard has constructed facilities to base their Chicago metropolitan area air operations here as well.
  • Chicago Rockford International Airport in Rockford, which supports scheduled airline service to Denver, Cancun, Punta Cana, West Palm Beach, Punta Gorda, Las Vegas, Orlando-Sanford, Phoenix/Mesa, and St. Petersburg/Clearwater. Rockford officials are positioning the airport to attract customers from Chicago's western suburbs.
  • A public heliport called Chicago Vertiport opened in 2015 near the Illinois Medical District.[1][2]

General Mitchell International Airport in Milwaukee is also used by residents of Chicago's northern suburbs looking to avoid the congestion of the two main Chicago airports.[3] South Bend International Airport in South Bend, Indiana is connected to downtown Chicago via a South Shore Line station.

Suburban airports and airfields

Name IATA Airport Code ICAO Airport Code Location
Aurora Municipal Airport AUZ KARR Sugar Grove, Illinois
Clow International Airport 1C5 K1C5 Bolingbrook, Illinois
Chicago Executive Airport (formerly Palwaukee) PWK KPWK Wheeling, Illinois
DuPage Airport DPA KDPA West Chicago, Illinois
Lewis University Airport LOT KLOT Romeoville, Illinois
Schaumburg Regional Airport 06C (none) Schaumburg, Illinois
Waukegan Regional Airport UGN KUGN Waukegan, Illinois

Proposed airports

Transit systems

Chicago Transit Authority

The Chicago Transit Authority, or CTA, one of three service boards within the Regional Transportation Authority, operates the second largest public transportation system in the United States (to New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority) and covers the City of Chicago and 40 surrounding suburbs. The CTA operates 24 hours a day and, on an average weekday, 1.6 million rides are taken on the CTA.

City of Chicago bus stop, served by CTA buses, with 3D ad

CTA has approximately 2,000 buses that operate over 152 routes and 2,273 route miles (3,658 km). Buses provide about 1 million passenger trips a day and serve more than 12,000 posted bus stops. CTA's 1,190 rapid transit cars operate eight routes and 222 miles (357 km) of track. CTA trains provide about 745,000 customer trips each day and serve 144 stations in Chicago, Evanston, Skokie, Wilmette, Rosemont, Forest Park, Oak Park, and Cicero. The rapid transit system is known as the "Chicago 'L'" or variations of 'L', "El", or "el" to Chicagoans.

Chicago is one of the few cities in the United States that provides rapid transit service to two major airports. From the downtown area, the CTA's Blue Line takes riders to O'Hare International Airport in about 40 minutes, and the Orange Line takes customers to Chicago Midway International Airport in about 30 minutes from the Loop.

Bus services


Pace, another service board within the Regional Transportation Authority, operates a primarily-suburban bus service that also offers some routes into Chicago.


Several intercity bus companies offer service to other cities in Illinois and across the United States. Most operate to and from the Greyhound Lines terminal, located at 630 West Harrison Street (corner of Des Plaines Street). Greyhound Lines operates the majority of the inter-city bus service to and from Chicago, with routes connecting Chicago with Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Louisville, Nashville, Atlanta, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Washington, New York, Detroit, Toronto, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Madison, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Memphis, intermediate points, and connecting with other points beyond. Both Barons Bus Lines and Miller Transportation connect Chicago with Fort Wayne and Columbus. Indian Trails connects Chicago with Kalamazoo, Lansing, Flint, and Bay City. Burlington Trailways connects Chicago with Rockford, Dubuque, Davenport, Burlington, Des Moines, Omaha, and Denver.

Other inter-city bus companies use their own separate inter-city bus terminals. Megabus, a subsidiary of Coach USA, departs from a curbside bus stop near Union Station, on Canal Street south of Jackson Boulevard, and connects Chicago with Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Louisville, Nashville, Cleveland, Columbus, Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee, Madison, Minneapolis, Des Moines, Omaha, St. Louis, Memphis, Kansas City, intermediate points, and connecting with other points beyond. Van Galder Bus Company, another subsidiary of Coach USA, departs from a curbside bus stop at Union Station, on Canal Street north of Jackson Boulevard, and connects Chicago with Rockford and Madison. Several bus companies catering to Hispanic passengers connect Chicago with points in Texas, and with connections throughout Mexico. These companies include El Expreso Bus Company, Omnibus Express, Los Paisanos Autobuses, Tornado Bus Company, and Turimex Internacional.

Rail services


Metra train at Ogilvie Transportation Center

The Northeastern Illinois Regional Commuter Railroad Corporation, the third service board within the Regional Transportation Authority, and under its service mark Metra, operates eleven commuter rail lines that serve 200+ stations across the RTA's six-county service area. Unlike the 'L' lines, fare pricing is based on zones instead of a flat boarding fee. In addition, being mainly commuter rail service, frequent service is generally only provided during rush hours, although Metra is known for its speed and reliability. There are eleven lines, three of which also have service along additional branch lines: in addition to the main lines, the Metra Electric District has two branches, and the Rock Island District and Union Pacific Northwest have one branch each. Each line connects into one of four different downtown stations: Union Pacific North, West, and Northwest arrive in the Richard B. Ogilvie Transportation Center (known more casually as the "North Western Station"); Milwaukee District North and West, North Central Service, SouthWest Service, BNSF Railway, and Heritage Corridor converge in Union Station (which is also the nexus of Amtrak); the Rock Island District arrives in the LaSalle Street Station; and the Metra Electric District arrives in Millennium Station (formerly Randolph Street Terminal).

The Metra Electric District is Chicago's oldest continuing commuter train (1856), and shares the railway with the South Shore Line, operated by the Northwest Indiana Commuter Transit District ("NICTD"), which is a separate but analogous quasi-governmental entity, partially funded by the RTA. The South Shore Line is an interurban railroad that operates between Chicago and South Bend, Indiana. Like the Metra Electric District, it arrives and departs from Millennium Station.


Amtrak's Empire Builder departs Union Station.

Amtrak owns and operates Union Station which is a major intercity passenger rail hub with connections to Metra and the 'L.' Before Amtrak's takeover of passenger service in 1971, trains ran out of Central Station, Dearborn Station, LaSalle Street Station, Chicago and North Western Terminal as well as Union Station.

Tourist trolleys

The City of Chicago offered free tourist trolleys that served the downtown area.[4] The "trolleys" were actually buses painted to look like historical streetcars. They ran every 20 to 30 minutes and served areas popular with tourists that didn't have 'L' stations, such as the Museum Campus, Navy Pier, and the Magnificent Mile. The Free Trolley service was permanently discontinued in 2009.

The free trolleys shouldn't be confused with the private-sector Chicago Trolley Company, which offers guided tours and charge fares. They serve different routes but largely the same downtown area. Their vehicles are also buses rather than real trolleys.


Chicago taxicabs are privately operated under a medallion license from the city. Chicago taxi regulations were revamped in a 2012 reform package backed by Mayor Rahm Emanuel; the package raised the "flag pull" initial hire charge by $1, mandated credit card readers and GPS, and placed new limits on fleet age.[5]

City and private initiatives have increased the proportion of hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles from less than one percent to over 74 percent of the city's cab fleet since 2008.[6]

By water

Water taxi in Chicago

Shoreline Sightseeing offers water taxi service along the Chicago River with stops at Navy Pier, Michigan Avenue, and Adams Street. They offer a separate route from Navy Pier to The Museum Campus. Shoreline Sightseeing also offers architecture cruises departing from Navy Pier.[7]

Wendella Boats operates the Chicago Water Taxi which offers scheduled service along the Chicago River with stops at Michigan Avenue, Clark Street, (Ogilvie and Union train stations) Madison Street, and Chinatown. Ping Tom Park in Chinatown. Wendella Boats also offers architecture cruises departing from Michigan Avenue.[8]


Monument of Thomas Jefferson in front of the Jefferson Park Transit Center

Divvy, a Bicycle sharing system, launched Summer 2013 with 4,000 bikes at 400 stations throughout the city.[9]

Bicycles are permitted on CTA buses during all operating hours, and on CTA trains every weekday except from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.(during rush hour) On Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays, bicycles are allowed on trains all day. If a person boards the train with his/her bicycle before the hours listed above and his/her trip extends into those hours, the CTA allows him/her to finish his/her trip. If trains are crowded, the use of trains by cyclists may be restricted by the rail operator as appropriate. Bicycles are not permitted on trains July 3 due to Independence Day celebrations. Folding bikes may be brought aboard CTA trains and buses during all operating periods, including rush hour.

A maximum of two bicycles are allowed per train car. For example, if the train is four cars in length, a total of eight bicycles are allowed on that train.

Transit operators have the discretion to deny access to anyone with a bike if they decide that conditions are too crowded. The CTA's entire bus fleet is now equipped with bike racks in front which can accommodate two bicycles. All CTA trains accept bicycles, although bikes were discouraged on the 2200-series rail cars with "blinker doors" (if they were turned sideways, they would look like a blinking eye when opening and closing). Only standard-size bicycles are allowed on all CTA vehicles; tandems are not allowed.[10]

See also


  1. Huber, Mark. "Construction Under Way at Two New Chicago Heliports" AINonline, 14 October 2014. Accessed: 19 October 2014.
  2. Mark, Robert P. (2 May 2015). "Chicago Vertiport Opens for Business". Aviation International News. Retrieved 6 May 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. "Mitchell Offers Delay-Weary Chicago Travelers Timely Alternative". Mitchell Memo. Mitchell International Airport. September 2004.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "Chicago free trolleys".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. "Shoreline Sightseeing".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. "Chicago Water Taxi".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Helpful tips and the full guide to transporting bicycles on CTA trains can be found at

External links

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