Traffic.

Being relatively new to Chicago and a person that doesn’t have a commute in this fine city, I’m rather proud of the fact that I can easily decipher a radio traffic report. There’s a key to understanding the contents of these rapid fire dialogs and I’ll do my best to explain what I’ve figured out in the 18+ months of us living in Chicago.

First of all, one must remember that it’s rare for Chicagoans to use the route numbers for the expressways in the city. While technically the main Interstate through Chicago is a duplex of Interstates 90 and 94, it’s actually known as “The Dan Ryan” and “The Kennedy” (if you’re taking I-90 towards O’Hare), the two names being the names of the expressways that I-90 and 94 traverse.

Secondly, my observations are based on traffic reports on Chicago’s All-News Station, WBBM 105.9 FM. Here’s how they report traffic “on the eights”:

  1. They’ll start with specific pain points/areas of congestion and this can be anywhere in the area. For example if it’s taking 90 minutes to get form point A to point B, usually due to gapers gaping at an accident on the Dan Ryan or something, they’ll mention that first.
  2. They’ll then start with “the Edens” (Interstate 94 north of the split from Interstate 90 between the Loop and O’Hare), measuring the time inbound and outbound from Lake-Cook. “Lake-Cook” refers to the road of the same name along the northern county line separating Cook County from Lake County. “The Junction” or “Montrose” refers to the junction of the Edens at the Kennedy (I-94 at I-90). Free flowing traffic generally takes 19 minutes to get from the Junction/Montrose to/from Lake-Cook.
  3. Next they’ll talk about “the Kennedy”, indicating how long it takes to get to/from downtown to the Junction/Montrose, and then the time it takes to get to/from that point to O’Hare. Then they’ll usually give total time to/from O’Hare to downtown. Locals and Express. I’m usually happy if it’s 20 minutes to Montrose from downtown; I’m really happy if it’s 5 minutes from the O’Hare Extension to Montrose.
  4. “The Eisenhower” (sometimes called “The Ike”) refers to Interstate 290, which comes from the north west into “The Jane Byrne”, which is where the Ike, the Kennedy, the Dan Ryan, and Congress Parkway meet near downtown. Traffic is usually measured to “Route 53” which is in the northwest Suburbs. They also measure to “The Reagan (I-88)” and “Route 390”, which is the Elgin-O’Hare Expressway, which doesn’t go to either, but wavers in between. You’ll also hear time to/from the post office or “Old Post Office”, this means downtown.
  5. Next comes the Stevenson, which is Interstate 55 eventually taking you to St. Louis. They’ll tell you how long it takes to get to “Route 355” and the best I ever hear is an hour. That’s the spur out on the southwest suburbs.
  6. Next we have the Bishop Ford, which is Route 394, hanging south of 80/94.
  7. Then we have the aforementioned Dan Ryan coming into the downtown area from the south. Key points here are Roosevelt, Cermak, 95th, and 130th.
  8. Next they’ll mention “the Drive”, “Lake Shore Drive”, or once in a while “LSD”, which refers to Lake Shore Drive running north-south along the lakefront. Typical choke points are the lights at Chicago, which is not referring to the city, but the avenue.
  9. After Lake Shore Drive they’ll talk about the tollways. The biggest is “Tri-State”, which is generally Interstate 294 that runs from the Edens Extension at I-94 near Lake-Cook to 80/94 on the south side of Chicagoland. Typical landmarks include O’Hare, Bensenville Bridge, which is a big bridge over some railroad tracks and “355”. There’s also chatter about the Jane Addams and what is now “the former Des Plaines Oasis”, which refers to what an east coast person would know as a service area on the Jane Addams tollway (Interstate 90). We’ll also hear about “the Reagan” which is Interstate 88, which will take you towards Iowa.
  10. Now we’ll get what I consider a little bit of filler, probably because we live on the North Side, but they’ll talk about the Skyway (runs from the Dan Ryan to the Indiana Line), “80/94”, which is the duplex of Interstates 80 and 94 taking you east to west (or vice-versa) to/from Indiana. I-65 in western Indiana will go honorable mention, as well as I-94 (taking you to Detroit) and the Indiana Toll Road, which takes you to the east coast.

As I was putting together this blog entry, I found a great guide to traffic reports here. They feature more landmarks and distances, so you’ll know if “36 minutes to Jane Byrne” is good or bad. All I know, when I’m driving back from the airport, I’m looking for “5 min to Montrose” (on the Kennedy) or “19 min to Kennedy” (on the Edens).

Happy Motoring!