10 Ways to Get Around Chicago Safely for Hassle-Free Transit

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Navigating the bustling streets of Chicago can be an exhilarating yet daunting experience, especially for those new to the city.

Whether you’re a daily commuter, a tourist eager to sightsee, or simply seeking a safer way to get from point A to B, this essential guide will equip you with the knowledge and strategies to get around Chicago safely with confidence and security.

How to get around chicago without a car:

  • Hired Car Service
  • GEST carts
  • Pedicab
  • Chicago CTA or ‘L’ Train
  • Chicago Metra
  • CTA Bus
  • Divvy Shared Bike Program
  • Divvy Shared Scooter Program
  • Chicago Trolley
  • Chicago Water Taxi

Ways to Get Around Chicago Safely

Is Chicago safe?” is a question many travelers ponder when considering their transit options. When visiting it’s important to prioritize safety and consider the best ways to get around Chicago safely.

The Chicago Department of Transportation, or CDOT, maintains the network of public transportation systems.

Not only is it cost-effective, but it’s also an environmentally friendly way of getting to the Magnificent Mile, an architectural tour, a sports game, visiting Oak Park or nearby suburbs, or wherever your transit needs. 

Whether you are looking for an inexpensive way to transfer from O’Hare or Midway airport to downtown, or to move around the city, the Chicago public transit is a great option.

Navigating Chicago safely requires a combination of caution, awareness, and choosing reliable modes of transportation to travel. Consider downloading navigation apps on your smartphone to assist you in finding the most efficient routes to get around Chicago safely.

In this post, we will cover methods of transportation in Chicago and safety tips.

Hired Car Service

When time is of the essence or you need a more direct route, utilizing ridesharing services like Uber, Lyft, or local taxi companies which were recently added to the Uber app.

For cost-conscious travelers, the “taxi” option available on the ridesharing apps can provide a budget-friendly alternative to standard single-rider services like UberX, with pricing typically comparable to traditional taxi fares.

Hired car services are popular in large metropolitan cities. As always, it’s important to exercise caution and be smart to ensure your safety.

Hired Car Safety Tips

Always check the driver’s rating and reviews before accepting a ride, and confirm the vehicle’s license plate and the driver’s name match what is displayed in the app.

By staying vigilant and following basic ride-sharing safety protocols, you can leverage the speed and flexibility of hired cars to explore Chicago’s diverse neighborhoods or reach your destination quickly and worry-free.

GEST Carts

What is GEST? The GEST acronym stands for Green, Easy, Safe, Transportation (which is free). The rides are available for limited hours in the downtown Chicago area.

The open-air electric shuttle provides rides within a 2-mile radius and can carry a maximum of five passengers. GEST can offer free rides through advertising revenue.

Gest can also be used for private or corporate parties, weddings, and parades.

To use the free Guest Cart services, you’ll need to download the GEST app, enter the location, then wait!

They are typically out and about on weekends between 11am-5pm. Your best bet is to try through the app or just to catch them if you can.

💲: Free

Pedicab

person sitting in pedicab
Pedicab

Do you have an adventurous mindset? Take a pedicab!

They are great for traveling in the loop or to and from venues with large crowds like Wrigley Field, Soldier Field, Millennium Park. They are also in the museum campus near the Field Museum, or the Chicago Shedd Aquarium, which is a convenient way of getting to a train or bus stop.

A pedicab is a small, human-pedaled vehicle that often operates as a type of taxi service in urban areas.

The pedicab itself typically consists of a three-wheeled bicycle containing a padded passenger seat in the back.

It relies on the pedaling power of a single person driving in front to transport passenger’s short distances within city centers or tourist spots.

Riding in a pedicab provides an eco-friendly, open-air way to experience local surroundings from a unique street level perspective.

Passengers get an intimate tour passing key attractions, restaurants, and architecture as the driver pedals along.

Tips for Using a Pedicab

  • Negotiate the fare upfront before the ride starts rather than be surprised by the cost at the end.
  • Allow extra time for slower speeds compared to cars – expect about 10-12 mph.
  • Hold belongings securely since most pedicabs lack formal storage space.
  • See if certain routes are offered or create your own itinerary focusing on key sights.
  • Bring small bills and change for tipping purposes if satisfied with your personalized city tour.

Settle in and enjoy the ride!

Chicago CTA Train

chicago L train
CTA – Chicago Elevator Train

The Chicago Transit Authority elevator train, referred to as the ‘L’, has eleven lines that travel through specific parts of the city in all directions.

The L makes transportation in Chicago from the airport a breeze. Station stops from the Midway Airport (orange line) and the O’Hare International Airport (blue line) are the cheapest ways to get to downtown Chicago.

You can also transfer to other stations, where allowed, and switch rail lines without incurring additional costs.

The ‘L’ travels through Chicago and to nearby Chicago suburbs (eg. Evanston, Oak Park, River Forest, Forest Park, Rosemont, and Skokie).

Travelers can enhance their safety by being aware of peak traffic hours and planning their commute accordingly to get around Chicago safely.

💲: $2.50 per person | Fee is $5.00 when traveling from O’Hare to downtown

Use our train fare calculator to help you decide if you should purchase a single card ($2.50 per person, per ride) or a day pass.

Train Fare Calculator





Is the Chicago Subway Safe

Concerns about “is the L train safe” underscore the need for continued improvements to public safety particularly on the L trains. When you hear of the crimes that take place, you can’t help but wonder is Chicago safe.

There is no smoking nor eating allowed on the ‘L’ but since cannabis became legal, offenders smoke on the cars without minding the rules.

I’ve even seen offenders walking through the cars saying “Squares. Squares.” — they are trying to sell cigarettes or other inhaled products.

The homeless seek refuge from cold weather by sleeping in stations and on the train. Most of the CTA crimes fall within the following communities. It’s better to be cautious and aware of your surroundings during the day and night.

  • Near West Side – It generally includes the districts of Fulton River, Fulton Market, and Greektown.
  • The Loop – the downtown commercial area of Chicago, including Grant Park. 
  • Near South Side – The Near South Side’s boundaries include museum campus (the Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, and the Planetarium).
  • Armour Square – Armour Square is a Chicago neighborhood on the city’s South Side which also includes Chinatown and the CHA Wentworth Gardens housing project.
  • Douglas – The Douglas community area stretches from 26th Street, south to Pershing Road along the Lake Shore.

Theft and battery occur more frequently than other CTA crimes.

graph of CTA train crime in Chicago
Source: Chicago Data Portal – CTA Crimes

Is the Chicago ‘L’ Train Safe at Night

From my experience, the time of day doesn’t make much difference. Crime is happening during the day as well as at night.

We are trained to be leery of traveling in the dark, but it is for good reason.

I rode the CTA as early as 4:30 AM and as late as midnight without any negative incidents. The trains are barely occupied, and I only encountered late shift workers or the homeless.

If you must use the train at night, my best advice is to ride in the first car with the train operator.

‘L’ Train Safety Tips

Depending on the time of day and where you are going, you may be exposed to those who are homeless, addicted, or have a mental illness. Most of the time, they are not out to hurt anyone.

Always keep an eye on your belongings and be aware of your surroundings when using public transportation for getting around without a car.

Common sense is the rule of thumb when using Chicago CTA:

  • Don’t leave belongings unattended (eg. in a seat next to you).
  • Don’t expose valuables like your wallet, jewelry, or other expensive items.
  • Don’t buy anything from anyone; solicitation and begging are prohibited.
  • Don’t engage in any games to win money, those activities are scams.
  • Be careful of divulging personal information when on the phone.
  • If possible, avoid traveling alone at late hours. Otherwise, ride in the very first car with the train operator. There is a security presence in some stations, but not all of them.
  • If you feel unsafe because of other passengers or something you see, move to another car, then use the operator call buttons to report what is happening. They will engage law enforcement for onsite support at the next train stop.

There is a long list of rules that could result in a $300 fine, or arrest if violated.

If you see something out of the ordinary, or if someone makes you uncomfortable, move to another car or use the emergency call button and report it.

If you will be traveling for multiple days, consider buying the 3-day CTA/Pace pass.

The CTA trip planner and Chicago transit map will help you navigate the city.

Chicago Transportation Authority (CTA Bus)

The CTA buses have routes in the city and nearby suburbs. They are also great to use for very close drop-off points of famous locations.

It’s a much slower mode of transportation, but it will be useful for getting through downtown Chicago when you just can’t walk an extra two or three miles. We recommend using the CTA bus tracker.

One of the great things about the CTA system is that the Ventra Card can be used for the ‘L’ and the bus routes.

The re-usable plastic card is $5 but if you register at ventra.com, that cost is transferred to your account for use. You can replenish the account balance as needed.

Unlike other cities where everyone needs a transportation card, the Ventra allows you to share it.

So, if you have a family of four, only one card is needed, and it can be used by everyone at the same time.

💲: $2.25 per person, exact change required

Are Chicago Buses Safe

Compared to the CTA trains, the buses are by far the safest mode of transportation when you consider the crime statistics.

graph of CTA bus crime in Chicago
Source: Chicago Data Portal – CTA Crimes

I ride the bus from the Loop to the Gold Coast to save time, or to the museum campus to save on parking. The drivers are helpful if you need directions, they are knowledgeable about the city’s attractions and events.

Taking the bus allows me to avoid the hassle of navigating traffic and finding parking, making it a convenient and cost-effective way to get around Chicago’s busy downtown areas.

The buses run frequently, so I can easily incorporate public transit into my schedule without significant delays.

If I plan my route ahead of time, the bus is often the quickest and most stress-free option for getting to my destination from the Loop.

Tips for Using Chicago CTA Buses

  • At some bus shelters (mostly downtown in the Loop), you’ll see a large button the outer post. When pushed, it will tell you when the next bus(es) are scheduled to arrive.
  • Contactless payments are accepted for transit with a credit or debit card, so you don’t have to purchase any cards.
  • If you have a bike, or rented a bike, they can be loaded onto the CTA bus so that you can explore other neighborhoods

Chicago Metra Train

woman and kid on bikes
Divvy Bikes
metra train chicago
Chicago Metra Train

The Chicago commuter rail system within the metropolitan area serves the town of Chicago and its surrounding suburbs. It is a great way to visit towns that are further from Chicago and can’t be reached by the ‘L’.

“Are Chicago trains safe?” is a common query among both commuters and tourists visiting the city.

The rail lines operate less frequently than the CTA ‘L’ and are used primarily by commuters. Thus, Metra is very safe for travelers, it covers surburban towns in and around Chicagoland, and the ride is more comfortable.

💲: Depends on the start and end zones.

For same-day travel, you can get a day pass for unlimited travel between fare zones. Fares vary between zones but reduced rates are available.

Fares can be purchased in the Ventra mobile app. If traveling on the weekend, the $7 pass can be used all day on either Saturday or Sunday. This will allow contactless sales, expedite fare validations, and reduce printing costs.

The Ventra app is available for use with Chicago area transportation — Metra, CTA Bus, or Pace.

The app has a tracker for Metra trains and an integrated trip-planning tool to help you get around the city. The Ventra and COPS apps can be downloaded from Google Play or the Apple Store.

Metra Safety Tips

To serve the increased traffic, schedule exceptions are announced and posted when there are city-wide festivals (i.e. The Taste of Chicago), or Federal holidays.

As with any public transportation system, there are some things to keep in mind.

  • Purchase your ticket in advance of boarding the train and keep an eye on your belongings.
  • If using the app, be ready to display it in advance because sometimes the connection is delayed. The conductor will expect you to tap the ticket to make sure it is not a screenshot.
  • Make sure you purchase your ticket for the correct zone. The conductors are keen and will eject you from the train before your desired stop if your ticket has the incorrect zone.

The Metra Police Department services six counties in Chicago to keep riders safe. The Metra COPS app can be used to report safety and security issues on Metra trains including aggressive behavior, suspicious activity, panhandling, and other concerns.

Divvy Bike Share Program

The Divvy bike-share program is a great way to explore the city. There are designated bike lanes that make it easier to share the road with vehicles in Chicago.

The introduction of electric bicycles has been a game-changer for getting around Chicago. With a pedal-assist motor, you can tackle bridges, shave time off your commute, and explore more neighborhoods with ease. Just start pedaling, and the bike will give you the power boost you need.

If you love to bike, get the Divvy day-pass for about $18. It allows unlimited use for 24 hours.

Docking stations can be found on the divvy.com app.

The state of Illinois does not have helmet laws. Only messenger and delivery cyclists are required to wear them.

💲Classic Bikes: $1 to unlock and 18 cents per minute

💲E-bikes: $1 to unlock and 44 cents per minute for non-members

Divvy Shared Scooter Program

Chicago also has an electric scooter program with Divvy Lyft, and you can find them at the Divvy bike stations.

Now that there are docking stations for scooters, they are a bit easier to find. Divvy has member pricing that will save you .14 per minute.

There have also been complaints of scooters being left randomly across the city.

If you can find one, just note that the use of scooters in public spaces is restricted. They are not allowed on sidewalks, the lakefront, the Chicago Riverwalk, or on the 606 Bloomingdale Trail.

💲: $1.00 unlock + $0.44/minute

Water Taxi

water taxi chicago
Chicago Water Taxi

Two companies operate water taxis, The Chicago Water Taxi and Shoreline Water Taxi. Traveling along the river offers you great views of the city and its architecture.

The water taxi is like having a mini sail to one of many great destinations like Chinatown, Goose Island, Navy Pier, the Riverwalk, and Michigan Avenue.

For the Chicago Water Taxi, you will want to purchase tickets in advance as they are not available onboard. The Chicago water taxi service is seasonal.   

💲: Chicago Water Taxi – $6 one-way on weekends or $10 for an all-day pass

The Chicago Shoreline has docks near major attractions such as Navy Pier, the Willis (Sears) Tower, Michigan Avenue, Museum Campus, and Union Station. Tickets are only sold at the taxi docks (no cash exchange).

💲: Shoreline Water Taxi – $9 to $20

Navy Pier Trolley

Conveniently, Navy Pier offers visitors a complimentary trolley service to help navigate the area.

This free shuttle circuits from the pier itself west along Grand Avenue to State Street, then heads south a block to Illinois before making the return trip eastbound.

The schedule is seasonal and as with anything free, wait times can be unbearably long. But if you time it right, you could be on your way to see the Centennial Wheel and great lakefront views!

Given the costly parking options at Navy Pier, this free trolley provides an excellent budget-friendly solution for getting around the popular tourist destination without the added expense of driving and parking.

💲: Free

Another travel option to Navy Pier is CTA Bus #29 or #124.

Tips for Traveling in Chicago at Night

Chicago is just as busy in the evening. Locals go out to dinner, walk their dogs, meet up with friends, and sample the nightlife.

To get around Chicago safely at night, consider traveling with a group or using reputable hired car services like Uber and Lyft. Taxi services and rideshares are reliable options for tourists to get around Chicago safely, especially during late hours.

Staying alert and using well-known routes can help ensure that you get around Chicago safely, even if you’re walking.

When exploring Chicago, prioritize your safety by using well-lit and busy streets to get around the city.

Final Thoughts on How to Get Around Chicago Safely

Chicago is a walk-friendly city that is safe to explore in day.

Before you start your sightseeing adventure, make sure to familiarize yourself with the best routes to get around Chicago safely.

Tourist-friendly maps and guides are essential tools to help visitors get around Chicago safely and efficiently.

When planning your itinerary, allocate sufficient time to get around Chicago safely and avoid rushing between destinations.

During your stay, feel free to ask hotel staff for advice, and they’ll be happy to assist you.

If you prefer a guided experience, consider a Big Bus Tour or walking with a tour group to ensure that you get around while learning about its neighborhoods, rich history, and landmarks.

While visiting the Windy City, public transportation is the best way to get around Chicago and save money.

Travel safe!


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