Thursday, May 13, 2010

Driving in Chicago

I recently saw a list of The Ten Most Difficult Cities to drive in and Chicago was on the list.

I will readily concur with that.

Besides being the third largest city in the country, there are three things that make Chicago challenging to drive in:

1) The EL
2) The Chicago River
3) Bullets flying through the air.

Okay, I made the last one up.

First of all, the EL: A driver must be able to NOT crash into the EL supports which are huge, steel beams embedded in the middle of the busiest streets. Merging from one lane to another is difficult enough in downtown traffic. But Chicagoans have to contend with giant I-beams sticking out of the street, none of which have any markers. They’re just there. Thousands of them.

Next, the Chicago River winds its way through downtown and has 25 drawbridges crossing it.

These drawbridges have to be a certain height above the water, thus causing the need for a tangle of double-decked streets on either side.

Double-decked streets are confusing enough, but actually, there are numerous triple-decked streets to negotiate as well. The top level will cross the river over a drawbridge, the lower level is for through-traffic on either side and the lowest level is for delivery access to basements of the big buildings.

For example, here is a triple-level intersection of Stetson Avenue, Lower Stetson Avenue, South Water Street and East South Water Street. (South Water Street runs east and west – got that?)

With the maze of lower-level streets, it’s really difficult to tell where you are since you’re unable to see any buildings as reference points. GPS devices and cell phones don’t work on the lower levels, so you really have to know where you're going. One wrong turn, and you’ll be down there for hours, eventually ending up in the basement of the Sears Tower.

Here’s a handy, utterly confusing map of triple-level streets for you.

Then, when you do finally make your way up to the upper level, BAM!
You’ve crashed into an EL support.

So, here’s some advice if you’re ever traveling to Chicago:

Use the EL.

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At 12:30 PM , Blogger Fleeter said...

Now you've done it! My friend, Sharon, has been "after me" to come visit her in Chicago, but windy traffic, swarms of people, and a snarled nest of streets have all been reasons giving me hesitation to make that trip. However, though with much trepidation, I have thought,"How hard can it be?" With the help of my trusty GPS, I have traveled from the Atlantic to Pacific, Maine to Key West, and even through Houston during Friday afternoon's rush hour(s)in the rain. All I would have to do is to follow the GPS's instruction.

But now you tell me I could get sucked into the Chicago Underworld with the guiding hand of my GPS cutoff?! And then be lost for hours, maybe even days? Do they have travel plazas with restrooms and road food down there? How long could a Texan survive in the complex Underworld of downtown Chicago? Would my mobile phone even work to call 911-BUCK? or 911-SHARON?

At 12:38 PM , Blogger Br. Jonathan said...

Fleeter - We would LOVE for you to come visit Chicago and show you around. As far as the scary underworld of Chicago, you could always ask one of the many homeless people down there for directions.
So, don't be scared. C'mon up!

At 1:21 PM , Blogger Sojourner's Moto Tales said...

Hi Buck, Sharon've revealed some closely held secrets and had me laughing out loud. Yes, I admit to not telling Claye all of this 'cause I want her to come visit too!

Don't forget, if one drives in Chicago and fails to pay the meter, s/he might get a taste of real scary stuff: The Chicago Auto Pound on the lower-lower level near South Water. The misfortune of having to unearth an illegally parked auto from there has reduced grown men to tears. I have a place literally next to the auto pound (not with the homeless, who stay there too) but in one of the hi-rises. I meet people regularly who are wandering down there looking bewildered and confused and hyperventilating. It always gives me a perverse chuckle as I direct them to the place and let them know that they can indeed reach "ground" level safely.

I have navigated the lower levels all my life--a lot of us use Wacker Drive (which runs both east and west and north and south) as a sort of reference point for the general area you're writing about (Stetson and South Water area). I still find myself saying Wacker Dr, lower Wacker Drive and lower lower Wacker Drive. I use it to make quick trips through the downtown to the expressway, west loop and other areas. I tell you, it's some of the best two wheel riding in the city--even with the bumpy roads in spots.

People can get lost down there. There are rumored to be many lost suburbanites still down there from last summer visits to Chicago.

Someone who writes about this area well in her mystery novels is Sara Paretesky--a Hyde Parker. She has police and firemen zipping through the underbelly all the time. A friend who is a fireman says there are many secret tunnels and shortcuts that can take one far across the city and serve as wonderful access points for all sort of stuff going on down there.

Anyway--loved your take on Chicago traffic!

At 3:28 PM , Blogger Br. Jonathan said...

Sharon -- Loved your response, Thanks! And yes, we really need to get Claye up here. Actually, you and I are practically neigbors -- I live at Marina Towers.
Yes, like you, I love Lower Wacker and the ability to zip from Lakeshore Dr to the Eisenhower. However, I often use a Zip Car parked at Trump Tower. The exit from the parking garage spins you around and around then dumps you on the lower level of some street and I don't know where the hell I am. I somehow make it to State St from there.
I'd love to take a tour of the tunnels and secret passages. Nice!

Yes, let's get Claye up here and show her our Chicago!

At 9:16 PM , Blogger Miss Healthypants said...

Hmmm...I seem to remember a certain Jonathan bumping an el support while driving--remember that?! *LOL* Liane & I were laughing so hard! :)

At 8:22 AM , Blogger Barb said...

Yeah, I've been to Chicago once and we were involved in an accident in the first 10 minutes there ~ bad enough to render us carless for the remainder of our stay. We did end up renting a car toward the end of our stay to get us home. For the rest of the trip we stayed huddled in Oak Park except to go downtown to the courthouse for Julz' adoption. Still I'd love to come back and be able to see all the stuff we missed.

At 8:56 AM , Blogger Br. Jonathan said...

Barb, we'd LOVE it if you and the family could come up sometime. wow - - we would have SUCH a good time!


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