chicago traffic question
February 17, 2009 4:55 AM   Subscribe

Chicago traffic question: I have to pick up a friend from O'Hare at 5:30pm on Thursday. I'll be driving from the loop. What can I expect?

Are conditions horrid at that time? Will I be in Hell? What time should I leave?
posted by Jason and Laszlo to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Ugh. If you can find any way of not doing this, that'd be awesome. The drive to O'Hare that time of day is just awful.

You're going to want to go up I-90, because it's the most direct route and any long-cuts are likely to be just as mobbed. But give yourself a good hour, at least, to get there. You probably won't be back until at least 7:00.

Unfortunately, the NCS train into Union Station leaves from the O'Hare stop a little after 6:00PM, which is a bit tight. If your friend can make it, great, but I wouldn't count on it. If the plane is touching down at 5:30, I seriously doubt they'll be able to make it to the station in time.

I think you need to resign yourself to a few hours of commuter purgatory.
posted by valkyryn at 5:10 AM on February 17, 2009

The Tribune ran an article a couple weeks back that featured totally awesome congestion graphs.

I think you'll find what you're looking for there.
posted by GamblingBlues at 5:47 AM on February 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think you need to resign yourself to a few hours of commuter purgatory.

valkyryn is right. That is a very congested route at that time of day, and slightly unpredictable. I'd start listening to WBBMam around 3 to get a feel for what's going on traffic wise. Their travel times are fairly accurate, and they cover I90 very well.

The only workaround available is, if you and the traveller are headed back into the Loop, see if they'll take the CTA (Blue Line, I think?). It's pretty much a direct connection from the airport to downtown. If you are headed somewhere else, the CTA will be of little use.
posted by gjc at 5:48 AM on February 17, 2009

Note that the Blue Line always took me at least an hour to get home from OHare (I lived near the loop), so the travel time will be about the same, it's just cheaper and less frustrating. Dealing with baggage on the train is a little touchy, but at least your guest will be boarding an almost empty train. They'll be able to stake out a seat.
posted by WowLookStars at 6:04 AM on February 17, 2009

The above advice about 90 and blue line are all correct. I drive a stick shift, and have made that drive a few times, and hate 90—so I take the scenic route. From the loop, I'd head west to Halsted, and then take that north to Lake. I'd take Lake west to Cicero, then north to North Avenue, and west to River Road, and then north to Irving Park. Take Irving west to Manheim, then north to 190, and the airport. For a rookie, I'd recommend taking Halsted north to North Ave, but then you get more traffic and miss the ultracool opportunity to drive under the Lake Street el.

Both routes are pretty scenic, though the Lake street one is more so. Not recommended for sensitive types. Taking Lake, I make that drive in 30-40 minutes. Lake out of the loop is a little rough, and has a bunch of stop signs.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 6:15 AM on February 17, 2009

i forgot--north to manheim would probably be better then river road.
posted by lester's sock puppet at 6:17 AM on February 17, 2009

I'd take the blue line, personally. MUCH less frustration.
posted by desjardins at 6:26 AM on February 17, 2009

Nthing the Blue Line. Plus, if they're new to Chicago, it's a great way to see the city.
posted by nitsuj at 6:27 AM on February 17, 2009

Note that the Blue Line always took me at least an hour to get home from OHare (I lived near the loop), so the travel time will be about the same, it's just cheaper and less frustrating.

The Blue Line is much less frustrating now than it has been for the past two years, now that the slow zone elimination project is for the most part completed. If you still want to meet your friend at the airport, take the Blue Line up there yourself and laugh and point at the cars parked on the Kennedy as you whizz by.

valkyryn: is there any particular reason you suggested Metra over the Blue Line? The O'Hare Metra station isn't that easy to get to, at least compared to the Blue Line.

(Of course, all of this is contingent on you and your passenger going back to the Loop or elsewhere in the city after meeting up. If you're headed out to suburbia after the pickup, then yeah, God help you.)
posted by Johnny Assay at 7:01 AM on February 17, 2009

I'd go ahead and be prepared to deal with the traffic. Don't try to avoid it, you can't. Your friend just owes you a beer and a chaser for making you go to O'Hare at rush hour. Just resign yourself to it. The light at the end of the tunnel is that short term parking at O'Hare is very accessible, close to the terminal, cheap, and feeds right back out onto the highway.

If you're not going back downtown (broadly defined as anything btw Fullerton and Archer for access purposes), I'd try to get to surface streets as quickly as possible, which will at least give you the illusion of motion on the return trip.
posted by nax at 7:20 AM on February 17, 2009

I drive that stretch pretty often, and I think that there is a bit of exaggeration here. By Chicago standards, that is not that awful, mostly because it's just not that far. It will probably take 30 - 45 minutes, and you could get stuck and get in a little more traffic so that it takes more like an hour. If you are lucky, it could take as little as 20 minutes.

On the scale of traffic aggravation, I would put it well below several other Chicago-area traffic situations, including several involving 55 and 294 and a few others within Chicago and related to construction. You will only be in Hell if you are from Montana or somewhere else without traffic, or are not familiar with your car or driving or something. In the grand scheme or traffic frustration, it is minor. Unless it is otherwise a good idea for your trip (i.e. light baggage, need to go somewhere on the Blue Line immediately afterward, don't own a car), I would always take drive in this situation.
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 7:54 AM on February 17, 2009

I'd prefer not to ask my friend to take CTA since she'll have already spent hours on the plane. Would like to whisk her away in a comfy car. Lester, I might try your detour. sigh...
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 8:46 AM on February 17, 2009

I've done it in 30 min at that time, and I've done it at an hour and a half at that time. Coming back will at least take 45 mins. It's not going to be THAT bad, but it will be bad rush hour traffic.
posted by xammerboy at 9:41 AM on February 17, 2009

It's slow but usually not too terrible. I'd plan on leaving at 4:15-4:30.

I drive from Rosemont to Wicker Park every day at 6pm -- lately Kennedy inbound has been around 40-45 minutes on a Thursday, and outbound I think will generally be a little heavier. It can be unpredictable though, and if it's raining/snowing it can really be a pain in the ass.

Taking the scenic route is probably not going to help you, unless it's "one of those days." If the traffic times are running over 90 minutes you might consider jumping off the highway.

Check this site out for traffic times:

And there's always 780 AM -- "traffic & weather together on the eights!"
posted by Ultra Laser at 10:04 AM on February 17, 2009

Lester, I might try your detour.

Don't plan to take the detour, take it only if you get to the Kennedy and it is totally stopped. even then, I doubt anything local is going to be much faster.
posted by iknowizbirfmark at 10:22 AM on February 17, 2009

Ah. The plane shuttle service. The Chicago skyline at night on I-90 will be quite impressive, and is one of my favorite views of the city, if it's clear. I don't recommend surface roads, it will take longer, you'll have to pay most of your attention to navigating and many of those streets are currently full of giant pot holes. Even if it looks mostly red on the GCM site still take I-90, only take an alternate route if something is crashed or broken. Expect the trip to take a little while, guests will have no idea that you should be moving twice as fast. I hope they like their stay. Encourage future travelers to be mindful of when and where they land. Midway is a much nicer visitor experience, and you don't have to hike for miles. Taking the Blue line and meeting them means you can also help them navigate the airport. Have fun.
posted by zenon at 10:31 AM on February 17, 2009

Nthing doable but ugh. Worst time to pick someone up.

Since your friend is coming from out of town, I'd do it for their convenience. Driving out you'll have a choice between the express lanes and the local lanes. It is my experience that at peak times the express lanes actually gain you nothing (they don't allocate the gain to the express lane users, they grant it to the commons of all Kennedy users by spreading out the traffic), and they get terribly jammed up right before the Edens. So stay in the locals but in the middle or left lanes as much as possible. It eases up at the Edens junction, at least. But there tends to be stop-and-go traffic from Jefferson Park out. Make sure you edge into the right lanes early because that's where I-190 breaks off from and there's a lot of "oops I'm in the wrong half" movement.

When you have a regular business traveler to pick up there are some decent worthwhile options such as them taking the train to the Rosemont Park-'n'-Ride.
posted by dhartung at 4:16 PM on February 17, 2009

What Ultra Laser said. GCMTravel is awesome.

Some empirical info(I used to live in the NW suburbs and my fiance lives in the city):
- With zero traffic, it would probably take about 30 min. to get from the loop to O'Hare.
- In the evening, all the express lanes are heading outbound, which has a dramatic impact on traffic.
- Random events can make double or triple travel times. Events include: A crash on the other side of the road. Sunlight. Rain. One person having a bad day.
- Inbound traffic from O'Hare is TERRIBLE between 4pm and 7pm because of the express lane thing I mention above.

Either way, your best chance is to monitor GCMTravel for the hour leading up to your expected departure time, then if traffic is bad, you can leave earlier.

As a positive mark for the L, if traffic's bad(and heading inbound, it will be), your friend will just be trading a cramped airplane for a frustrating ride in a (potentially) cramped car. On the L, you can at least laugh at all the suckers in stop-and-go traffic. :)
posted by specialnobodie at 11:40 AM on February 18, 2009

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