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Red Line Construction: What's the Fastest Way to Work?

By Casey Cora | June 10, 2013 7:07am
 Using the Lakefront Trail won't save you much time on your commute to work from the Far South Side, but the ride has its advantages.
Using the Lakefront Trail won't save you much time on your commute to work from the Far South Side, but the ride has its advantages.
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CHICAGO — By now, South Side commuters have figured out how to navigate the transit system during the massive Red Line reconstruction project.

But are they using the best route to get to work?  

Using the DNAinfo.com Chicago newsroom at 233 N. Michigan Ave. as a destination, I embarked on separate trips from the 95th Street Red Line station to the Loop using three modes of transportation: The CTA Express Shuttle to the Garfield “L” stop, the No. 29 bus and a bike ride from Calumet Park on the Southeast Side.

Each option presented its challenges, but in terms of speed and ease, one clear winner emerged. Here’s a look at the results:

CTA Express Shuttle to Garfield “L”

 Monday morning marked the first weekday commute of the five-month CTA Red Line South shutdown.
Red Line Commute Day 1
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Only a few seats remained on one of the midday shuttles from the busy 95th Street station, where I boarded one of the CTA’s special express shuttles and departed a few minutes later. Though cruising in the far right lane of the northbound Dan Ryan, the shuttle still hit some near-rush hour traffic nearing the Garfield Boulevard exit.

At the Garfield station, I took the next arriving train to the Loop — one of the shiny new Green Line cars — and the trip to State/Lake took 44 minutes, with a short jaunt to the office.

Total time: 52 minutes

CTA Bus No. 29

It’s a straight shot up State Street from the 95th Street station to the Loop, with dozens of stops in between. On this early afternoon ride, the bus was jam-packed for basically the length of the trip, which carried with it the trifecta of CTA annoyances: bad smells, crying babies and butt-to-shoulder proximity with fellow Chicagoans.

And it wasn’t all that quick.

Total Time: 1 hour, 13 minutes


I’ll admit right here that I don’t know the safest and quickest way to get from the Far South Side to the Loop on a bike, so hugging the lakefront seemed like the best idea.

(In retrospect, it makes little sense. Google Bike Maps tells me I could make the trip in a little more than an hour using King Drive.)

Anyway, after getting a lift from the 95th Street station to Calumet Park — itself a journey fraught with long red lights and short green lights — I headed northbound, right into my first snag: the Ewing Avenue bridge over the Calumet River was under construction, forcing a detour that eventually got me to Rainbow Beach, then Jackson Harbor and eventually the tail end of the Lakefront Trail, which I rode into Downtown.

On a sunny day, that's about as pleasant as city life gets — the skyline beckoning, the lake glimmering and the sky shining a brilliant blue. But by the time I got to the Museum Campus, I was beat, and the prospect of the long ride back after a full day’s work seemed like too much.

Total Time: 2 hours, 5 minutes

It’s no surprise the shuttle-to-“L” route is fastest. Many commuters have said it’s even been quicker than boarding the Red Line when it was operational, a point CTA leaders have said underscores the need for the massive reconstruction in the first place.

Transit agency leaders have said the completed project, which will replace virtually the entire rail system from the Chinatown/Cermak stop to the end of the line at 95th Street, will eliminate "slow zones" and shave about 20 minutes off the commute.

The work is expected to wrap up in October.