Chicago is a frequent location for the business traveler. It is lovely in the springtime, summer, and fall but winter nights in Chicago–the windy city–are often forbidding. Here are some tips for the frequent winter visitor to Chicago.
Surivival of the Fittest
Chicago operates the second-largest public transportation system in the nation. On an average weekday, the Chicago Transit Authority carries 1.6 million passengers to their destinations, either on its buses or rail cars, which serve 125 stations. The CTA isn’t just a convenient option for downtown jaunts. It also offers service to both of Chicago’s major airports and the CTA’s Metra Rail provides transportation to distant Chicago suburbs within a 70-mile radius.
All of those routes can seem overwhelming to an outsider, but getting around Chicago is easy, convenient and affordable. And because Chicago is no stranger to winter weather, you can count on public transportation to be there for you, even in conditions that would cripple cars.
The power of trains
Chicago is infamous for its wickedly brutal winters. Arctic winds sweep over Lake Michigan and come howling down city streets, freezing all exposed flesh and most improperly layered tissue as well. Chicagoans routinely relate stories of meeting “new friends” on the street or in foyers, only to discover that these heavily-wrapped winter denizens are friends, unrecognizable under multiple layers.
In January 2012, as snow caused flight cancellations and traffic jams, Chicago’s Metra train was still humming along, carrying passengers to the suburbs – a testament to the reliability of the CTA, even in the harshest conditions.
Parking: Expensive in many ways
Some city residents choose to own and drive a car throughout the winter. While seemingly convenient, the option is actually an agreement to be gently and slowly tortured for the duration of the winter months. In addition to ridiculously expensive parking fees downtown and street parking a rarity, Chicago residents experience an annual Winter Overnight Parking Ban – an absolute prohibition that takes place between 3 and 7 a.m. – from Dec. 1 to the following April 1, or when snowfall exceeds two inches. Cars parked on main streets during this time are promptly towed, and owners are charged a minimum of $210 to reclaim their automobiles. So if you’re thinking about renting a car for your winter stay in Chicago, think again.
The CTA is a remarkably inexpensive system, particularly when one purchases monthly unlimited passes. The excellent coverage of Chicago’s mass transit system rarely requires more than one change of bus or train and often delivers passengers within a block of their destinations. Plus, one of the best parts of taking public transportation is that when you’re not driving, you’ve got time to catch up on a good book or read your email. Who doesn’t appreciate a little more time to get things done?
Chicago attracts many tourists in the winter, for its world-class shopping, outstanding theater and many attractions – like ice skating in Millennial Park. And because of the numerous CTA stops, you can get anywhere you want to go. Don’t be intimidated by the many maps and routes – you can download a handy app for your smartphone and plan your route with ease. After hopping on a bus or The ‘L’ and arriving at your destination, you’ll feel like a true Chicagoan!