Essential Guide: How to Get Around Chicago Safely

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, is one of the simplest public transportation systems for getting around the city safely.  

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.

Ways to Get Around Chicago Safely

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!

💲: Free


person sitting in pedicab

Do you have an adventurous mindset? Take a pedicab!

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 passengers 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 pedicabs effectively include:

  • Negotiate the fare upfront before the ride starts rather than be surprised by the cost at the end
  • Ride tandem rather than alone if possible to keep pedaling balanced for the driver
  • 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

You can find them near the Field Museum or Shedd Aquarium, which is a convenient way of getting to a train or bus stop.

Strap 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 | Fees are higher when traveling from O’Hare to downtown

Use the CTA trip planner to help you navigate Chicago IL transit.

“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 to get around Chicago safely.

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.

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.

Chicago Metra

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

The Chicago 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’.

The rail lines operate less frequently than the CTA ‘L’ and are used primarily by commuters. Thus, the Metra is regarded as safer to ride, and it’s more comfortable.

💲: Depends on the start and end zones.

For same-day travel, you can get a $6 day pass for unlimited travel between up to three fare zones until 3AM the next day. Or if traveling with a family of 5 or less, we recommend a 10-ride for round trip fares.   

Fares can be purchased in the Ventra mobile app. If traveling only one day of the weekend, the $7 pass can be used all day on either Saturday or Sunday.

Most Metra stations do not have an agent and tickets are serviced by vending machines. This will allow contactless sales, expedite fare validations, and reduce printing costs. The machines will accept cash or credit cards.

The Ventra app is available for use with Chicago area transportation — Metra, CTA Bus, or Pace. It also has a tracker for Metra trains and an integrated trip-planning tool to help you get around the city. The Ventra and COPS apps may 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.

  • Always watch your belongings, especially your ticket. Some have been known to disappear when the passenger nods or naps.
  • Purchase your ticket in advance of boarding the train. There are cases where conductors are required to add a hefty surcharge if you purchase it on the train.
  • 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.

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

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.

If you love to bike, get the Divvy day pass for $15. It allows unlimited use for 24 hours. You can ride all you like, but each ride must be under 3 hours.

So you will need to find a docking station, dock the bike, then un-dock a bike. 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.

💲: $3.30 per person, single-use for 30 minutes

Shared Scooter Program

Chicago also has an electric scooter program with Divvy, Lime, Spin, and Superpedestrian. 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 been also complaints of scooters left randomly across the city. If you able to find one, just note that the use of scooters in public spaces is restricted. They are not allowed on sidewalks, the lakefront, or on the 606 Bloomingdale Trail.

💲: Lime, Spin, and Superpedestrian – $1.00 unlock + $0.39/minute

water taxi chicago
Chicago Water Taxi

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

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

This is a free trolley that runs to Navy Pier and the Randolph Street Market. The schedule is seasonal and as with anything free, wait times can be unbearably long.

💲: Free

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

Getting Around Chicago at Night

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

To get around Chicago safely at night, consider traveling with a group or using reputable taxi services.

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.

Taxi services and rideshares are reliable options for tourists to get around Chicago safely, especially during late hours.

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 on how to get around Chicago safely, 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 Chicago safely while learning about its neighborhoods, rich history, and landmarks.

While visiting the Windy City, Chicago public transportation is the best way to get around and save money. But don’t just take my word for it! Use this Google map service to find shopping, restaurants, points of interest, and CTA ‘L’ stops!

get google map link

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