Navigating public transit on campus, in Evanston and around the windy city


Illustration by Angeli Mittal

Northwestern, Evanston and Chicago offer public transportation options — here’s a guide to navigating the North Shore.

Angeli Mittal, Senior Staffer

It’s no doubt the campus shuttles and public transportation options you’ll encounter in Evanston will help you navigate campus, Evanston and downtown Chicago — you don’t have to worry about parking and rush-hour traffic. However, with the multitude of public transit options available, it can easily get overwhelming. What’s the best way to get to the other side of campus when you’re pressed for time? How do you get to downtown Chicago in the most cost-efficient way possible?

Whether you’re trekking the half-mile to North Campus or are looking to avoid walking across campus to get to downtown Evanston, both the Campus Loop and Evanston Loop shuttles operate in the evenings and late at night during the academic year. While the Campus Loop can only get you from North Campus to downtown Evanston, the Evanston Loop connects campus to other parts of the city. 

Both bus routes also offer Frostbite shuttle services that operate throughout the day in inclement weather, particularly during the winter when the temperature is predicted to reach single digits or windchill is below freezing.

The University also offers Safe Ride — think of it as late-night Uber, but free — as an alternative to walking late at night. Operating from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m. during the academic year around Evanston, Safe Ride provides transportation to NU students via the Northwestern Safe Ride app. 

If you’re looking for a free option to get to downtown Chicago, the Intercampus shuttle is the way to go. Operating on weekdays year-round, the Intercampus stops coincide with some of the Campus Loop and Evanston Loop with the added benefit of daytime riding — it’s definitely useful if you’re trying to get to Tech on a freezing winter morning. If you’re simply looking to get to Chicago, the Intercampus is a great way to save money on the trip, with its only downtown Chicago stop being the Feinberg School of Medicine’s Ward Building. There’s also a stop at Loyola University Chicago. 

Instead of memorizing the University shuttles’ schedules or pulling up the website every trip, the TransLoc app allows students to track these different shuttles in real-time. With the app, students can roughly see where the shuttle is and plan accordingly. Just a fair warning — the app might be a few minutes off, so I’d recommend getting to the stop at least five minutes before the projected arrival time to ensure you don’t miss the shuttle.

University-provided transit is also free when students present their Wildcard upon boarding, yet another tip to keep in mind when you’re looking to save a few dollars.

Perhaps you’ve got ample time and wish to navigate the city like a true Chicago resident. The Chicago Transit Authority offers a variety of transit options students can take advantage of.

The “L” trains — short for “elevated” — provide a way to get around the city without having to worry about parking fees. In Evanston, you board the Purple Line, with the Noyes station near North Campus and Foster station and Davis station closer to the south side of campus. From there, if you’re looking to travel to Chicago, take the Howard-bound Purple Line to the end of the line and transfer to the Red Line, which has stops throughout the city. The Purple Line also offers an express service to downtown Chicago on weekdays during rush hours. 

You can also use the “L” to get to Chicago O’Hare International Airport via the Blue Line or to Midway International Airport via the Orange Line. If you’d rather take the bus to O’Hare, the Pace 250 bus will get you there as well. 

Still have a way to go from the CTA train stop? CTA buses provide an additional method for navigating the Chicagoland area. To get off at a stop along the route, pull the stop request cord lining the windows. CTA #201 bus operates at the Howard CTA station and stops at several places in downtown Evanston and on campus — and NU students can ride this route for free with a special University Ventra card.

I’ve found the Ventra app to be a useful way of keeping tabs on my favorite bus and train routes. Rather than carrying a plastic Ventra card to get around, you can also use Google Pay or Apple Pay, which provides you the option of tapping your device to pay for rides. Not only do you minimize the risk of losing your card, but you also get an efficient way of loading fare and unlimited-ride passes onto your virtual card rather than waiting at the stop’s machines to do so.

There’s also the Metra, traveling from Chicago to surrounding suburbs and southern Wisconsin. To get to downtown Chicago from Evanston, you can take the Union Pacific North Line, which has Evanston stops at Main Street, Davis Street and Central Street. In downtown Chicago, it stops at Ogilvie Transportation Center. Compared to the CTA fares, a Metra full fare can cost twice as much one-way — however, the Ventra app has options that allow Monthly Pass holders to purchase a Link-up Pass, granting unlimited rides on CTA buses and trains at a reduced cost for the duration of the Metra pass.

As of mid-July, masks are required on all University and CTA shuttles, buses, and trains, per federal mandate until further notice. 

Email: [email protected]

Twitter: @amittal27

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