Overnight on the Chicago El

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I am arriving on a flight to O'Hare about 5AM on Thursday 5/26/22. I was hoping to ride the El (first time) from O'Hare to the Clinton stop and walk from there to Chicago Union station. What are my chances of making it to Union Station by 8AM without being assaulted, robbed or killed?
You probably have a greater chance of being killed if you take a taxi from O'Hare to Union Station. I would think you have more of chance of getting killed on the L by accidentally falling off the platform and hitting the third rail. As for assault of robbery, the chance might be marginally higher, but it is still so low that it's probably not worth worrying about. The news media over-reports spectacular incidents of subway crime, and people think that's typical. Back around 1970, when crime was really spiking, I commuted to school for four years on the Broad Street Subway through the most crime-ridden neighborhoods of Philadelphia, and except for one incident when I was in 9th grade, I was never, ever bothered. Also, my experience with big cities is that by 5 AM, all the criminal types have worn themselves out, and have gone off to sleep. Also, by 5 AM, a lot of the service workers are up and about, commuting to work, so it might be busier than you expect.
 

NorthShore

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Please translate into English.

You don't speak L?

Let me offer you bargain. Here's the ball. Under this shell. Keep your eye on it, now...

Sqaures are cigarettes. There are guys on the Red Line (especially south of downtown) who, regularly, walk through trains selling them and other tobacco stuff to riders. Last night's guy was saying one for 75 cents, 3 for 2 bucks. A passenger who bought one gave him a buck and reminded him to not forget about that extra quarter as credit for next time. The guy quickly said he sells them for a buck for one, three for two. They had at least a couple dozen boxes in their backpacks that were unloaded on seats and repacked, doing inventory.

Pulling the cherry refers to the red ball and rod in a pocket above doors which releases/opens them. Properly used in case of emergency, they're commonly pulled to release doors that were already closed at a platform by the train operator, forcing the operator to wait and try to close them again, after passengers decide they either still want off or are trying to hold a train. These levers also get used at terminals to allow people out, if the doors were closed, or in if they're looking to wait seated in a car where a train is standing. A lot of people, erroneously, think these levers also stop trains by throwing them into emergency brake. They do not. Those cherry levers are located at the #2 (far/inside) end of each car. They are rarely pulled. I've never seen anyone grab one in my decades on riding the L. Occasionally, someone will pull a door lever while the train is moving. The doors open but the train keeps moving, until it can be stopped by the operator who will see an indicator in the cab showing there is an open door.
 
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NorthShore

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I am arriving on a flight to O'Hare about 5AM on Thursday 5/26/22. I was hoping to ride the El (first time) from O'Hare to the Clinton stop and walk from there to Chicago Union station. What are my chances of making it to Union Station by 8AM without being assaulted, robbed or killed?


You'll be fine. 100 percent. It's big city life. Can't promise somebody won't come walking through the train soliciting monetary help. Or that there won't be a homeless person sleeping in your car. But just ignore it all and take the ride.

Word from the well traveled local commuter, get off at Monroe (or Jackson if you want elevators) and walk up to Adams, then take a bus to Union Station. Everyone here likes to use Clinton because the map apps say it's closer. I don't know any Chicagoan who actually does that. Same arriving to Chicago at Union Station. You cross Jackson and take the bus to Dearborn for the L or your hotel or wherever. Even if no bus was coming (there are several routes along that street, so one will though possibly not immediately) the walk along Adams to Union Station is nicer, if slightly longer, than from Clinton.
 
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Trogdor

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Everyone here likes to use Clinton because the map apps say it's closer. I don't know any Chicagoan who actually does that.

If I was already on the Blue Line and was headed to Union Station, I would absolutely do that (provided I didn’t need an escalator/elevator). If I’m downtown and not already on the Blue Line, I wouldn’t.

There’s really no reason to add an extra 3/4 mile walk, or a transfer to a bus on Adams.

If headed to Ogilvie, sure. It’s a longer walk from Clinton (Blue) and the buses on Madison are more frequent.

I have less faith in the frequency of bus service along Adams not making such move a complete waste of time, except maybe during rush hour. If you’re getting into downtown at 6 or 6:30 am as the person a few messages up is probably doing, it’s not going to be rush hour yet. And if you’re unfamiliar with the area, it’s a lot easier to find your way through the block and a half from the Clinton (Blue) stop to CUS than figuring out which exit to use from the quarter-mile-long Blue Line platform that can put you on the surface a block or more from the actual street the station was named after, and then figure out which bus stop to go to.
 

jebr

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I am arriving on a flight to O'Hare about 5AM on Thursday 5/26/22. I was hoping to ride the El (first time) from O'Hare to the Clinton stop and walk from there to Chicago Union station. What are my chances of making it to Union Station by 8AM without being assaulted, robbed or killed?

99% chance you'll make it to Union Station by 8 AM. 99.99ish% chance you won't get robbed/assaulted, and nearly 100% chance you wouldn't get killed. The main issues on the CTA are reliability and "quality of life" issues like homeless people sleeping, someone smoking on board, or a panhandler trying to get money.

That said, given your schedule I'd consider taking Metra's "North Central Service" from O'Hare Transfer (accessible via the just-reopened ATS) - there's a train that leaves at 6:17 AM and another at 6:56 AM, both of which would arrive before 8 AM. It also arrives directly into Union Station instead of a few blocks away, which means a lot less hassle (especially with luggage.)
 

NorthShore

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There’s really no reason to add an extra 3/4 mile walk, or a transfer to a bus on Adams.

Luggage. Plus, the bus drops you right across the street from Union Station entrance/exit. And the escalator at Clinton is narrow. And, if you want the elevator. Depending upon bus connections/traffic, you might even be at Union Station by the time you get up the stairs at Clinton. And, maybe you want to grab something to eat in the Loop.

Given, if you're just taking Metra and carrying nothing, Clinton can be worthwhile.

If headed to Ogilvie, sure. It’s a longer walk from Clinton (Blue) and the buses on Madison are more frequent.

There are numerous routed on both streets. You, usually, won't wait more than 10 minutes during the day, often less.

I have less faith in the frequency of bus service along Adams not making such move a complete waste of time, except maybe during rush hour. If you’re getting into downtown at 6 or 6:30 am as the person a few messages up is probably doing, it’s not going to be rush hour yet. And if you’re unfamiliar with the area, it’s a lot easier to find your way through the block and a half from the Clinton (Blue) stop to CUS than figuring out which exit to use from the quarter-mile-long Blue Line platform that can put you on the surface a block or more from the actual street the station was named after, and then figure out which bus stop to go to.

Apps help. And there's plenty of signage. Plus, people here.

Coming from O'Hare? Walk towards the platform exit at the front of the train at the Monroe stop. Stay left and straight ahead at the Mezzanine level. At street level, walk to the corner straight ahead and turn left. Your bus stop is just down the block in sight.

Alighting at Jackson? Walk towards the rear of your arriving train after you alight. You can can take the elevator or escalator to mezzanine level. Exit the fare area. Take the elevator up to the steeet or stay right and walk up the stairs. Continue half a block to Adams. Cross the street. Turn right, the bus stop is down the block.

So basically, straight ahead and left or behind you and right, depending which stop you choose. Easy peasy.
 
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Luggage. Plus, the bus drops you right across the street from Union Station entrance/exit. And the escalator at Clinton is narrow. And, if you want the elevator. Depending upon bus connections/traffic, you might even be at Union Station by the time you get up the stairs at Clinton. And, maybe you want to grab something to eat in the Loop.

Given, if you're just taking Metra and carrying nothing, Clinton can be worthwhile.
Last time I used Clinton, there was no elevator/escalator from the mezzanine to the street. And the escalator from the platform to the mezzanine wasn't working. (Shades of the Washington Metro!) This is really a pain if you're hauling luggage.

Another thing one can do is walk up Jackson to the Quincy L where there's an elevator and ride the L around the loop to Clark/Lake (or is it Lake/Clark?). There's a free transfer there using a series of escalators that will get you down to the Blue Line.
 

Deni

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That said, given your schedule I'd consider taking Metra's "North Central Service" from O'Hare Transfer (accessible via the just-reopened ATS) - there's a train that leaves at 6:17 AM and another at 6:56 AM, both of which would arrive before 8 AM. It also arrives directly into Union Station instead of a few blocks away, which means a lot less hassle (especially with luggage.)
Solid suggestion. I'm always wanting to use the North Central Service but the infrequent schedule never lines up with when I need to arrive/depart at the airport. If you need to go from O'Hare to Union Station and the times match up this is your best option. (The infrequency is probably why most people don't even consider it)
 
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If my plane is late, I will ride the North Central Service bus since it goes directly to Union Station. I'll be carrying a backpack on my back and a small wheeled suitcase which can be on the step in front of me on an escalator. I may even stop at Lou Mitchell's for breakfast before going into the station.
I'll be hanging around the station for a long time waiting for the Capitol Limited to board. Transferring to the Pennsylvanian in PGH early Friday morning. Renting a car in Harrisburg to go to my high school reunion in northern PA.
 

Michigan Mom

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I am arriving on a flight to O'Hare about 5AM on Thursday 5/26/22. I was hoping to ride the El (first time) from O'Hare to the Clinton stop and walk from there to Chicago Union station. What are my chances of making it to Union Station by 8AM without being assaulted, robbed or killed?
I think you're actually OK. Major airports are fairly active with humanity starting at 5 am or so. It will be closer to 515-530 by the time you get down to the CTA stop. And you're in the secured area until just before boarding your train. By the time you're in downtown near CUS, it's more like 6 am and the morning rush is underway. You won't be assaulted, robbed or killed.
 

Trollopian

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Regarding "ghost trains/buses":


From the link: "More than a month after Streetsblog asked the CTA for an explanation of the the ghost train and bus problem, this week the agency finally got back to us. 'It’s a complex subject,' a spokesperson explained shortly before we received the full statement. 'We’re trying to come up with the most-accurate language for you and your readers.' ”

Well, it took a month. And I don't know if the resulting language is "most-accurate" but it's certainly full of words. Many, many words. Words that took a month to craft.
 

WWW

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Sane hours - - -
Probably much better than the odds of doing it in the late evening hours.
In the early am the thugs morons gun toting drug infused idiots are sleeping off their nightly capping of the public -
this unlike New York City (the city that never sleeps).

I would expect that there will be a few airline workers traveling with you - crew members from other red-eye trips and 3rd shift employees.

The O'Hare to Union Depot is about twice as long a ride as the Midway - really really could use an upgraded limited stop trip.
As for arriving timely at or 8am - no problem - a two block walk north to the south entrance (Great Hall) and voila (are we there yet?)

Looking back in review you needed/traveled 3 days ago - oh well wasn't going to waste the writing of this post !
 

EchoSierra

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From the link: "More than a month after Streetsblog asked the CTA for an explanation of the the ghost train and bus problem, this week the agency finally got back to us. 'It’s a complex subject,' a spokesperson explained shortly before we received the full statement. 'We’re trying to come up with the most-accurate language for you and your readers.' ”

Well, it took a month. And I don't know if the resulting language is "most-accurate" but it's certainly full of words. Many, many words. Words that took a month to craft.
My local transit agency fixed this problem easily. The tracker/countdown timer doesn't track/show the bus/vehicle unless it has a firm record of it leaving the terminal station and/or was tracked/detected at the first few stops. If a trip gets skipped, this filter would make sure that it doesn't show up as a ghost trip. It's not rocket science!
 
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I'm back here in Oregon ready to say that my trips on the blue line on 5/26 and 6/1 were uneventful. Even though they say to get off at the Clinton stop to go to Union Station, it is very difficult to get a 38 lb. suitcase and a backpack up over 100 steps to get up to the street. I did treat myself to a good breakfast at Lou Mitchell's before going into Union Station. I hung around the station mostly in the Great Hall for many hours before checking my suitcase to Pittsburgh on the Capitol Limited.
On the return trip, I checked the suitcase and backpack back to Chicago in Pittsburgh. I went back to Lou Mitchell's for breakfast before picking up my bags. I then walked east on Jackson Blvd. to get on the blue line at the Jackson stop. They have elevators and escalators at Jackson to get down to the platform.
The trip on the Pennsylvanian to Harrisburg was the first trip on a single level Amtrak train in over 10 years.
 

WWW

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In review the Clinton stop on the BLUE Line is it.
Unless getting off earlier and taking a taxi the rest of the way -
or later cross the river and walking back to US from Jackson.

So you have a 2 block with steps versus a 7 block walk ***
*** and hang on to your gear (hat) crossing the river !

Other than steps - once topside the streets are flat level -
then depending on how you enter US there will be more steps escalators
and then the ramps or steps down to the tracks.
 
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Last time I was at the intersection - maybe two months ago - of Van Buren and Clinton there was a lot of construction there - obviously I was driving (well, maybe that's not obvious, but I was) and the sidewalks may have been affected. Your mileage may vary of course.
 

neroden

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I found that with a wheelchair, the best choice for connecting from the Blue Line to Union Station was Clark/Lake, transfer to the Loop, Quincy, walk along Adams St.

Clinton isn't accessible. Jackson has one very slow and hard to find elevator. The Chicago sidewalks are bad enough in general that you want to minimize the amount of time on them. Getting a wheelchair on and off a bus is a hassle not worth considering if you can possibly avoid it.

Getting a wheelchair across the bascule bridges across the Chicago River usually sucks, but the one on Adams Street is particularly good and the sidewalks near Quincy station are in good chape.
 

Trollopian

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Getting a wheelchair across the bascule bridges across the Chicago River usually sucks, but the one on Adams Street is particularly good and the sidewalks near Quincy station are in good chape.
Thanks for boosting my vocabulary, Neroden! "A bascule bridge is a moveable bridge with a counterweight that continuously balances a span, or leaf, throughout its upward swing to provide clearance for boat traffic." There appear to be none in Pittsburgh though it's deservedly known as a city of bridges. A very fine word and, hey, I'm an economist, not an engineer.
 
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