Welcome to Chicago! To Hyde Park, specifically. You’ve landed in what some have called the most mysterious neighborhood in America. Your next four years here will be consciousness-expanding and loaded with complex and confusing experiences and observations. An obvious part of the neighborhood’s draw is its proximity to the rest of Chicago. I will take some time to explain to you your options for getting around, and go so far as to make recommendations, pronouncements, and judgments.
Your options begin when you choose which mode of transportation you will use to get around. The obvious modes are walking, biking, taking the bus, and taking the train.
When you are in Hyde Park, walk! The neighborhood is compact enough that you are rarely more than 15 minutes from your destination. Walking is the best way to experience a new place. Observe the streets, buildings, humans, etc. and take it all in. Simply add more layers as it gets colder. There is no shame in wrapping your face in a scarf (or two!) as you walk home from the library in December. There are some safety concerns around walking but you will be briefed elsewhere about those.
Almost as good as walking. Try it when you’re in a rush. Also good for leaving the neighborhood. The Lakefront Path is beautiful year round and the city’s evolving network of bike lanes offers relatively safe passage to the rest of the city. Pick up a refurbished bike at Blackstone Bicycle Works on East 61st Street. The bikes there are assembled and worked on by youth from the surrounding neighborhoods.
Often maligned, the bus is simply the best way to get around Chicago. No need to disparage train travel, but the bus will be your best friend while you live here. Chicago’s bus routes are much more comprehensive than its rail routes. Buses run (by law) on streets at half-mile intervals throughout the city, so you are never far from one. I will now take a minute to explain Hyde Park’s bus options.
#55- The #55 is your trusty route to and from Midway Airport, the Red Line, the Green Line, and many other South Side neighborhoods. It passes through an incredible diversity of places and is a great introduction to the city. Be warned that during rush hours not all buses go as far as Midway; pay attention to the marquis to make sure you do not get stranded halfway.
#6- “Route 6, Jackson Park Express”: You will hear this refrain many a time for the next four years. The #6 is the neighborhood’s fastest connection to downtown. Pick it up on South Hyde Park Boulevard (or South Lake Park Avenue north of East 51st Street) and enjoy your express ride downtown. You’ll make it in 20 to 30 minutes if the traffic’s not bad. It also continues further south, ending at East 79th Street. Do not discount this direction, as there’s a lot to be seen in Woodlawn and South Shore. The #6 usually stops service around midnight or 1 a.m. depending on the night, but you best look this up to be sure.
#2- The Hyde Park Express is similar to the Jackson Park Express, but it runs a slightly different route, only during weekday rush periods. Try it out.
#4- Route #4 is the Cottage Grove bus. It runs from downtown to the South Side primarily via South Cottage Grove Avenue. Surely you have been told terrible things about Cottage Grove, but it is undeniably an important artery. The area’s history is legible in the ornate buildings that surround the bigger intersections. If you have business in North Kenwood, Bronzeville, or at the Chatham Target, the #4 will be your conduit.
#15- The Jeffery Local will take you to and from the East 47th Street Red Line station. Unlike the #55 at the Garfield station, you can wait for the #15 indoors at 47th Street, making it a good winter option. It goes south all the way to East 103rd Street.
Chicago is famous for its elevated rail system. Now operated exclusively by the Chicago Transit Authority, the elevated railway lines were run by private corporations until their consolidation in the 1940s. Seven of the nine lines pass through downtown and move people to and from more outlying neighborhoods. The phrase “the Loop” refers to the set of elevated tracks the Orange, Green, Brown, Purple, and Pink Lines share in the central area. The Red and Blue Lines pass through downtown as subways. They are also the only two lines that run all night.
Your options for leaving Hyde Park on CTA rail are the Green Line and the Red Line. The Green Line is about 10 minutes closer, though both are best accessed via the #55 bus. The Green Line runs on elevated tracks through Washington Park and Bronzeville before arriving downtown, and from its windows you can see the contours of the neighborhoods. The Red Line runs down the middle of the Dan Ryan Expressway, affording it much less access to scenery. The Green Line is a bit faster than the Red Line and a good artery for destinations west of the Loop, like the Garfield Park Conservatory, but if you are headed to the North Side a continuous ride on the Red Line may be your most enjoyable option.
So, there are your options. Enjoy using them to explore Chicago. Try to think of Hyde Park’s unique location and the many hours you will spend on the CTA navigating it as a blessing rather than a curse.