Chicago – O’Hare to North Shore

Whoops another unfinished draft, this time from way back in 2009! NB Multimap is now Microsoft’s Bing Mapping, but it still has that excellent birdseye view last time I looked.

I had to spend a few days in Evanston, visiting Northwestern University just north of Chicago on the lake shore. Cycling from O’Hare Airport was very easy and seemed to be as quick (under 90mins) as taking the metro.


My first piece of help was to find Bob Kastiga’s website describing how to bike in and oput of O’Hare. It’s second hit if you Google “O’Hare Field”. Bob’s instructions are for the domestic terminals (1-3) which are in the heart of the airport complex. It’s actually a bit simpler to get in and out of the International Terminal 5 as it’s more on the edge of the airport. However if you fly with American Airlines (as I did) they arrive at T5 (because of the immigration and customs) but depart from T3 so you need both methods.

I’ve seen various comments from cyclists about doing this including people who say they would not dare to, and others who say it’s no trouble. The best advice seems to be to avoid the morning and evening rush hour. I arrived at 1pm on a Wednesday and left at 3pm on a Sunday and it was OK both ways. Apart from the immediate area of the airport there were no traffic problems at all. The alternative is to take the Blue Line Metro a couple of stops out of O’Hare and start there but the Metro only goes from T1-3, no easy route to there from T5 except by the airport’s light rail shuttle which is possible but can be too crowded for full-sized bikes.

Here’s my full route to and from T5 on Google Maps. I worked it out with the help of a number of tools.

First Google Maps itself made it relatively easy to work out, I drew a red line between start and finish and tried to follow it as closely as I could.

Second Bob Kastigar very kindly sent me an old copy of the Chicagoland cycling map which grades roads by relative safety/ease for cyclists.

However I found the best tool by far was the “Birdseye” aerial photography (Now Bing Maps), much better than satellite images for really working out a route. It enabled be to quickly see the conditions and style of the different roads and especially show me where I could go through the back streets. More than half my journey was on quiet residential streets. For example here’s a clip from multimap showing where my route on East Prairie Road crosses a main road (Main Street in fact). The central divide of Main street does not allow cars to cross so E.Prairie cannot be a through route, except for bikes who can use the pedestrian crossing.


My hosts seemed to think I was some kind of hero for doing this but actually it seems a very nice way of refreshing yourself after a long flight. Chicago is not a bad place for cyclists as long as you look out for some shockingly deep potholes caused by the very harsh winter. I joined some local cyclists for a group ride which was interesting but became a bit boring given that we were criss-crossing a flat grid of streets most of the time.

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