Andersonville: Is it just too damn far?
July 9, 2007 10:42 PM   Subscribe

Andersonville, Chicago: Great neighborhood, swell apartment, lovely community, but let's discuss commute time downtown! Did I make a mistake?

My partner will be attending the School of the Art Institute this autumn. Because neither of us is Oprah (or Gayle), we can't live in the downtown core, and as such, I knew finding a place near the el was paramount.

So I found us a cute little place in Andersonville, very near the Red Line Berwyn stop. Now I hear the Red Line is in terrible condition and she can expect to be traveling an hour at the least each day, and I feel like a heel because I thought it'd be much faster.

What kind of travails can one commuting from Andersonville to the downtown area expect? What is the best and fastest method? CTA, Metra, Zipcar?

And, all things considered, because of the commute and its distance, do you think I made a mistake picking A-Ville, despite its many amenities and loveliness?
posted by Lieber Frau to Travel & Transportation around Chicago, IL (19 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
An hour? That'd be a really awful morning and I'm fairly sure you're hearing worst-case scenarios. You may get a few of those slow mornings, and they are indeed frustrating, but I'd estimate closer to 45 (or less) to downtown on an average day. The biggest problems are in the heart of rush and can be alleviated by leaving a little earlier or later.

The biggest problem is that a good deal of the north Red track is very old and there is not capital funding to fix it (not to mention the logistical difficulty of keeping track under repair functional so as to avoid MORE headaches) and so much of it is declared "slow zone" for safety's sake. This means that the trains can only travel 5-15 mph (I think those are the numbers) over these portions. As long as trains aren't crunchy, it doesn't add a huge amount of time to the trip. When trains bunch up, the slowness becomes obvious, as the trains must constantly start and stop for signal clearance.

Commute's part of living in a city! If you have a good attitude about it, you can get a lot out of it and not turn it into a headache. Don't give in to believing the horror stories about the CTA--it certainly is not an organization without major problems, but they also do a great deal without proper funding and a relatively ancient infrastructure. Patient people who understand the importance of public transit or who have no choice (I fit both) learn to deal with and even appreciate the quirks.

(For what it is worth, I do not live on the North Side, but the South Side has problems of its own and I do a good deal of traveling between the Loop and Howard/Ravensville/Evanston. Feel free to contact me if you have other questions!)
posted by rhoticity at 11:11 PM on July 9, 2007

RAVENSWOOD. Good morning, Chicago.
posted by rhoticity at 11:12 PM on July 9, 2007

If she got the Metra from Ravenswood, she'd be at Ogilvie (ther terminus for Metra trains from the north) in about 15-20 minutes; she could then, were she feeling spry, walk the few blocks to the Art Institute from there for another 15-20 minutes, or hop the 14 or 127 bus for 5-10 minutes. Metra schedule here, CTA map here.
posted by mdonley at 11:13 PM on July 9, 2007

Response by poster: Well done, Chicagoans.

Rhoticity, I believe you are right about the commute being a part of the Chicago experience. I lived in Hyde Park for four years and getting downtown from there was really a nightmare, this situation pales in comparison. I just moved from Toronto and New York before that, and their trains are so much fast that I expected ours to match them, and I guess they can't.

Mdonley, thank you for addressing the Metra situation. Their site to me is clear as mud but your description of the trip helped.
posted by Lieber Frau at 11:20 PM on July 9, 2007

An hour is, frankly, a reasonable commute in Chicagoland. Consider the lilies of the field suburbanites who have to take a car or shuttle to catch a Metra, then a bus from Ogilvie or whatnot.

I used to live in Evanston, and the Purple Line from Davis was 40 minutes on a good day, and 65 on not a good day. We still liked it because it was still faster than transferring at Howard. Really, it would be the rare commute where you had to transfer at all that would be just 45 minutes from any of the more reasonable Chicago neighborhoods.

No, it won't be fun to have a longer commute than people who lived there before you used to have, but since you haven't experienced it, don't sweat it.

The biggest problem is that a good deal of the north Red track is very old and there is not capital funding to fix it

Taking the looooong (alas) view, this is just another instance of the brinksmanship that has characterized the CTA/RTA/Daley/Springfield/DC relationship for, well, forever. About the only time -- as a Chicago native who has kept tabs on the place his whole life -- that I think things seemed to be working the way they should was around 1985-1995. What I mean here is that the CTA is just possibly hoping that the pain and inconvenience clouty voters must deal with will spur loosened purse strings.

The commuters? Yes, pawns.
posted by dhartung at 11:47 PM on July 9, 2007

If she has to be downtown on the weekends for school/work, make sure she's aware of repairs that warrant one-track operation for the next few months during "off hours".

Probably not a big deal for a Monday-Friday nine-five schedule, but I've had a glut of co-workers and friends with food service/retail jobs hurt by the unpredictable el operations of the last few months.

If you have time to reconsider, check out the blue line. Its reliable transportation wise, in closer proximity to her school, and a way better deal overall when it comes to being in your early twenties and relying on your own devices in Chicago. I highly recommend anything within a four block walking distance between the Belmont and Division stops.
posted by macrowave at 1:19 AM on July 10, 2007

Yeah, just allow an hour most days. Sign up for the cta alert rss feeds and check them in the mornings when you get up. If something is fishy, allow a little longer. Get a book or some sort of music player, zone out and you'll be there before you know it.

I lived at Winnemac and Clark a couple of years ago and I could go door to door with my work downtown in about 45 minutes most days. It's gotten worse since then, but it is reasonable. How close are you to LSD? Don't forget about the buses!!!! The 147 in the morning can get you downtown right on the steps of the AIC pretty quickly, it runs express from Foster to downtown. It's a different story in the evening coming back, traffic is horrendous on most days.

I live a couple of blocks from LSD in Lakeview East. I can take either the 135, 145, 146, or as a last ditch effort, the 151 buses downtown. It's been great. I take the redline home every evening unless there is a cubs game or police concert. It takes about 40 minutes door to door.
posted by corpse at 4:50 AM on July 10, 2007

Aside from the commute, no, you did not make a mistake settling in Andersonville. When all the Jimmy Johns and Potbelly Sandwich places are closed on the weekends in the Loop when the workers are gone, you'll be glad you have tons of cute cafes and restaurants all over Andersonville to hang out at.

In my opinion, a lot of the neighborhoods outside and away from the Loop are far more interesting and homey than the highrises closer to downtown. So relax, and start planning your first trip to Hopleaf for some mussels one of their great beers.
posted by awegz at 5:19 AM on July 10, 2007

Just voicing my support for those glorious LSD express buses. I have to get from State and Jackson to Bryn Mawr and Kenmore (north of Berwyn) or vice versa a couple of times a week. When it's not rush hour, it's a 20 minute trip door to door on the 147. It is a little longer during rush hour because the bus has to battle with traffic on Michigan Ave but it's nice to have an alternative route for when the Red Line goes tits up or for when you just can't bear to sit in a smelly, dirty, train or for when you would feel safer being in an enclosed space with an authority figure. (Sorry, I've got a little Red Line fatigue and am really into buses these days. I took a 156 for the first time yesterday and it was hot shit, let me tell you.) The LSD express buses also come pretty regularly during peak hours. The only downside is that they can get crowded (and, um, sometimes break down (but at least you aren't resultantly trapped on them when it happens)), but if you have to stand, it's not for very long. Conversely, you should always be able to get a seat on the train at Berwyn.

In summation: Buses! Buses! Rah rah rah!
posted by jennyb at 5:25 AM on July 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Aside, re: the Hopleaf - corpse and I had our wedding reception there. :)
posted by jennyb at 5:25 AM on July 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think the express bus in the way to go. I use to take the 145 from uptown everyday and it it was worth it to be able to have a seat and read. There were much less problems than the trains... you are in a great neighborhood !!! woot chicago!
posted by mcbietila at 6:54 AM on July 10, 2007

The commute time from that area is horrible, in my opinion. I ride my bike every day (I'm on the Uptown/Andersonville border) and get to my office in 35 to 40 minutes. The few times I've taken express buses (the 145 or 148), it's taken 45 to 50 minutes during rush hour. The express buses definitely are better than the Red Line at rush hour, but you might want to consider biking in. It'll be faster, and you won't have people brushing up against you on the bus.
posted by smich at 9:55 AM on July 10, 2007

Oh no, you didn’t make a mistake! Andersonville is such a fantastic neighborhood...and you know, the commute isn’t all that bad. I live very close to Andersonville in Ravenswood (soon to be moving to Lincoln Square) and commute to UIC every day - three el lines (brown, to red, to blue) it turns out to be around an hour and fifteen minutes, but it’s usually not that bad. I bring schoolwork, a book, or my iPod. Its completely worth it to live up here, I wouldn’t want to live downtown, even for a short commute. :)

Furthermore, as long as your apt is fairly close to the el and she doesn’t have to walk that far it shouldn’t take more than 50 minutes during rush, unless it’s a bad day. Most Chicagoians I know have a love/hate relationship with the CTA...sometimes it’s horrible, and it’s been bad of late, but if you build the commute time into your day it just becomes routine. And you see the most interesting things on public transportation...I’d also third the 147 or 145 buses. But actually, what I’d most strongly suggest is for her to buy a bike and ride the lake path down. :) Chicago is a beautiful city to ride in, and biking would most likely be just as fast as driving/taking the el. :)

Welcome to the neighborhood though! Be sure to check out my very favorite place in the city, Women and Children First. Also Kopi Cafe and Andie’s (Their falafel sandwiches are great). There is also a great produce market across the street from the Jewel on clark. And the Hopleaf is a kickass bar, if you’re looking for a dive though check out Simon’s which is a tad further up north on Clark.

Oh yes, and for reading material on the el... The CTA Chronicles. :)
posted by gleea at 10:07 AM on July 10, 2007

Lieber Frau--Hyde Park for me too! UChicago? :)
posted by rhoticity at 10:20 AM on July 10, 2007

The 147 FTW!!! I used to live in Andersonville (now I'm even further north in Edgewater - near the Thorndale stop on the Red Line). I switched to the 147 express bus in anticipation of the Three-Track hullabaloo, and even though it hasn't turned out as bad as advertised, I've stuck with the bus. Even from way up north where I am and during rush hour, my commute is usually 35 minutes from my front door to my office desk (Michigan near Wacker). Not only that, but the buses are usually cleaner and less stinky than the Red Line. Plus, no worrying about Cubs games - the express bus that I take doesn't stop anywhere near Addison so there aren't hundreds of clueless tourists/suburbanites trying to take the bus.

Just as a note, my Red Line commute back when I was in Andersonville was usually 45 minutes, and I had to either walk from Ashland or take the Lawrence bus to the Red Line - so even with Three-Track going on, I bet 45 minutes is a good estimate if you're right near the Red Line.
posted by misskaz at 1:23 PM on July 10, 2007

You may find your partner learns to like her commute time - I actually really enjoy mine. If it weren't for my commute, all 100% of my issues of the Economist would go completely untouched, instead of the 50% that I average now. :) Podcasts and music are great for drowning out the talkative ladies next to you. When I'm home, there's always TV, Internet, dog, boyfriend, cat, dinner, whatever vying for my attention. My commute is this built-in time for me to slow down and read. Oh, that's another thing I like about the express bus over the red line - being able to look out the window and stare at Lake Michigan and just mentally be in my own little world. It's really not bad at all.
posted by misskaz at 1:32 PM on July 10, 2007

I agree with misskaz about learning to like the commute time, specifically on the Red Line from Andersonville. A major perk of boarding so far north is that you are practically guaranteed a seat. That makes the built-in reading time much more doable. Get on just a few stops farther south and you stand for the whole trip.
posted by Fred Mars at 2:21 PM on July 10, 2007

Response by poster: Wow, fantastic response!

Rhoticity: Yes to the U of C, AB English '03. What a party school!

To those of you who suggest she will learn to love the commute time, I hope you are correct. We're moving from Toronto where 45 minutes IS a really long commute for the subway system. Part of the problem, in my estimation, is she hasn't seen Chicago and how its geography differs from Toronto's, yet. While it is totally affordable in Toronto to live fairly close to downtown, it is not even close to reasonable to do so in Chicago, and a commute is really just part of the Chicago experience. I'm hoping she'll see Andersonville's charms as a good trade off for its relative distance from the school, but you know what? 7 miles isn't even really that far.

I like hearing all these positive responses, I find it reassuring. I hope people aren't done posting yet.
posted by Lieber Frau at 7:10 PM on July 10, 2007

How did it work out? I live in Andersonville. When you get settled in, let's have a meetup in the 'hood.
posted by rbs at 4:12 PM on August 8, 2007

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