Driving in the city can be a convenient way to get around. Or a major pain in the ass. As my husband, John, and I head downtown, our patience is constantly tested. Our morning commute typically begins with something like this:
The only way out of our garage is in the alley, and because of an ill-placed pole outside said garage, we can only turn one direction. Technically, it’s a two-way alley, but rarely can two cars fit. So we start off playing chicken with my neighbors, a garbage truck on its route or construction workers (illegally) blocking the exit. And so begins the aggressive start to a Chicago commute.
After fighting our way through the alley, I’m usually forced to a make a right turn onto Foster Ave. This adds extra time in my route to get to Lake Shore Drive. Instead of turning left and heading east on Foster, we have to go west, turn north onto Broadway, and then back east through the side streets in Edgewater. We approach the Sheridan and Foster intersection a few minutes later, with Lake Shore Drive in sight. Finally, we arrive to the Foster Ave on ramp and begin the main part of our journey.
From June to August, this is the best part of the commute. School is out and at 8am when we’re heading downtown, traffic is wide open. We are free to take in the sights of the city and lakefront with little traffic. Windows down, sunshine beaming and WBEZ in the background, the stress from our alley encounter fades away.
For the other nine months of the year, the drive is less smooth. Unless we're out the door before 7:20am, Lake Shore Drive will be a mess. Traffic rolls along at a snail pace as we head south, really slowing when we reach Montrose.
Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we’ll get a few minutes of actual speed in before moving at a solid 15mph until we reach downtown. The four lanes on the drive don’t provide much relief either. After years of making the commute from Edgewater to downtown, I’ve tried many methods of maneuvering to get there faster. No single lane is better than the others, despite the far left lane appearing to move faster.
Once we pass North Ave, the drive improves. The skyline is in full view, and I’m reminded why I love living in Chicago. The way the lake and beach line the city is unbeatable. John studied architecture at The University of Texas, so he is always full of facts about the city’s buildings. Even with the stress of a traffic-filled commute, watching the John Hancock building rise into view makes it all worthwhile..
Lake Shore Drive might be an awesome boulevard to traverse… but what’s next has got to be one of the best parts of living in the city: Lower Wacker, easily one of the most efficient ways to travel east-west downtown. It’s nearly impossible to follow the windy, dark drive and not feel like Batman.
When we time it just right, we make every green light and barely have to slow down the whole drive. Since the street runs directly below Upper Wacker Drive (unbelievable, right? /sarcasm), many map apps struggle with navigating drivers through the curves. I prefer that people who don’t know their way around Lower Wacker just keep off it, but that’s probably just my native chauvinistic Chicagoan showing through.
With eastbound traffic soaring by on my left and the Riverwalk on my right, I know the feeling of flying won’t last much longer. We approach the exit ramp at Randolph, already backed up at least a half mile. The downside to Lower Wacker is being at the mercy of limited exits to return to the city streets above. The stoplight here hardly allows enough time for more than 5 cars to make it off the ramp and onto Upper Wacker; 3 if one of those vehicles is a bus.
Making it through that light is an accomplishment, one that usually involves accelerating a bit harder than you normally would at an intersection. This also means I’m closer to finishing my commute. We pull up outside the Chicago Lyric Opera House to drop off John. He works one block down, but this is the perfect spot to drop him off and make my way west to my office. As he opens the door, the sounds of the street pour in, along with the music from outside the Opera House. A brief kiss goodbye and the last leg of my commute begins.
With a quick turn onto Madison, I head west and make my way to my office. A pit stop at the Greektown Starbucks is necessary. The morning crew recognizes me and quickly preps my Tall Skinny Vanilla Latte. I grab my drink, a chocolate croissant and head back to my car.
Another five minutes in the car and I’m heading north, winding my way through Fulton Market. I pass by Google’s headquarters and pause for a moment, wondering what it would be like to work there. Of course, after staring at their front door, I’m annoyed again and again by their off-centered logo. That’s one of the toughest parts about being a designer – it’s hard to ever turn off the voice inside that’s critiquing everything you see.
As I pull up to my office and mentally prepare for my day, I take a moment to breathe in. My nearly hour-long journey started with stress, but as my day really begins, I reflect on how much I love what I do. My day is full of creativity and adventure. I get to spend the bulk of my day in an awesome building – a historic, renovated church-turned-studio – doing what I’ve always wanted. I really couldn’t ask for much more.