The joy of Chicago traffic reports

I just don’t use the highway that often. Even in Milwaukee, I mostly got on the highway just to leave town. In Chicago, I’ve learned that, apart from Lake Shore Drive, highways are a traffic-snarled nightmare to be avoided at all costs.

Shoulda taken the train

Still, sometimes I have to leave town, and wind up taking the Interstate. And doubtless like legions of new residents before me, I have found that the radio’s traffic reports are utterly incomprehensible, even more so than in other cities.

I was certain that someone had addressed this problem, and indeed, Gaper’s Block has a fairly good starting point, telling you what the hell stuff like “the Stevens inbound” and “the Circle” and “the Dan Ryan” are. Believe me, if you’re not from here, it’s utter nonsense. I can barely remember the Interstate numbers, let alone some arbitrary new names slapped on a ten mile stretch of highway as it passes through the city.

But even with guides and explanations, nobody seems to have put an actual map together. I’m a visual learner (duh), so it helps me much more to see a line labeled “Stevens Expressway” than to read a paragraph about it.

And what about travel times? Knowing that “you’re 30 minutes to the Junction” doesn’t help you at all if you don’t know what the travel time is supposed to be. Is that fast? Ungodly slow? Who knows?? Again, a labeled map is what’s needed.

And then, there’s the use of random exits as reference points. I was once traveling southbound on I-55 (oh, sorry, I was outbound on the Stevens) and the traffic guys warned repeatedly of a deathly traffic tie-up at “Arsenal”. Shit! Where’s Arsenal? Is it coming up? Is it on my map? I drove on, expecting certain doom at any second.

Turns out “Arsenal” is waaaaaaaaay the hell out in the ‘burbs, past the warehouse district, past Joliet even. It’s pretty much the final marker of Chicago civilization. And by the time I got there, all signs of the traffic tie-up were gone.

So, uh, yeah. Thanks for nothin’, Chicago radio.

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6 thoughts on “The joy of Chicago traffic reports

  1. I’ve lived in Chicago since 1989, but I rarely drive (haven’t owned a car in 15+ years) so the local traffic reports/highway system are a mystery to me as well–even back when I did drive, I never REALLY ‘got it’. The confusing nature of highway traffic here was a factor in my decision to finally ditch the car (which I realize not everyone can do.)

  2. Heheh. All facetiousness aside, I assume that the traffic reports are oriented towards people who make the same drive every day. Those people surely know where the big landmarks are, and whether “45 minutes to the Junction” is a good or bad thing. If you’re not a regular commuter, or you’re just passing through, well… you just gotta suffer, I guess!

  3. Google Maps labels the expressways, although neither the interchanges nor landmarks. And I have never in my life heard of the “Moline Expressway,” but apparently it’s I-80 west of I-57.

  4. OK. I love the StL page. My wife is from there, but I have never really seen the North Side.It is the Stevenson. As in Adlai. In fact, with the exception of the Ike and the Kennedy, the expressways (not highways) are named for locals (Dan Ryan, for instance) or people who made a mark in Chicago (Jane Addams). The problem with not learning their names is that the locals don’t know the numbers, so you can never get directions.

  5. The radio reports just read off the same info you’ll find (more or less) at the same GCM Travel “intelligent” traffic site that Milwaukee uses. That, in turn, feeds the traffic info you’ll find on GMaps.

  6. If I ran a radio station, I'd want our traffic reports to be as helpful as possible, but I sort of miss some of the code names: Spaghetti Bowl, Circle, Hubbard's Cave, and so on. I think my favorite was "cash box" for "toll plaza": "The North-South tollway hits the brakes just before the Devon cash box." Also, when things get hot and heavy, the reporters would just start listing the segments of stopped traffic: "The Kennedy solid Hubbard's Cave to the Junction, Lawrence to Nagle, Canfield to Cumberland…"

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