What is the best time to avoid Chicago traffic

I live in Indiana and may be travelling to and through Chicago soon on the way to Madison. I have driven through Chicago interstate traffic before and found it pretty intimidating.

What are the best times to drive and avoid driving to avoid the heavy traffic? I don’t live in or near a big city, but when I was in San Diego I was told to avoid traffic from 3-6pm, and that aside from that it wasn’t too bad. And that was true. At 4pm it was rush hour traffic, at 9pm it was leisurly. As long as I avoided traffic from 3-6pm on a weekday, interstate traffic wasn’t bad at all in San Diego

So what times are there to avoid in Chicago? Is it the same thing, avoid when people are going to (about 6-9am) and from (3-6pm) work?

Are the weekends heavier or lighter in traffic?

This is mostly a question about interstate traffic, not traffic within the city.

I don’t drive every day, so those who do may have differing opinions…

Morning rush hour usually starts to tighten up sometime after 6am, and is probably at its densest by 8. It’ll usually begin to lighten up by 9.

Evening rush hour can start as early as 3, and typically will be loosening up by 6.

Of course, road construction or accidents can change this, but weather is the biggest wild card. A thunderstorm or (heaven forbid) snow will make the commute a very long, very slow mess.

Weekends are, indeed, typically lighter, especially in the mornings. My favorite time to drive on the expressway is Sunday morning; it’s usually very empty. However, on Saturday evenings (and Friday evenings, as well), we often have pretty heavy traffic inbound, as people head into the city for entertainment. In addition, you can get very heavy traffic leaving the city on Friday evenings (and returning on Sunday evenings), particularly in the summer months, as people head to weekend destinations, often in Wisconsin, Indiana, or Michigan.

Also, if there’s a sporting event or other big event in the city, that will usually cause traffic tie-ups.

I’m not sure of the distinction you’re trying to make between “Interstate traffic” and “traffic within the city”. Do you mean surface streets in the latter? Nearly all of Chicago’s expressways are also Interstate highways (the primary notable exception is Lake Shore Drive). We have two separate sets of expressways / Interstates in the Chicago area:

  1. Those which head towards the downtown area (and which tend to be more strongly affected by rush-hour traffic)
  2. “Bypass” routes, which specifically go around the city itself. There are two primary “bypass” interestates: I-294 and I-355, both of which are tollways. While they don’t necessarily get as jammed up during rush hour, there are enough people who work in the suburbs, and use them for commuting, that they can get very busy at those times.

If you’re coming from Indiana, and heading towards Madison, your best bet may be to take I-80 to I-355, then I-355 to I-90. Or, if you want to avoid the Chicago area as much as possible, take 80 all the way west to 39, then 39 north from there.

Take 294, it will be much easier. Rush hour is always bad but NB on 294 you’ll be better off going in the afternoon against the flow so to speak.

When you are in Madison, check out Graze, a restaurant right on the main square across from the capitol. Fantastic locally sourced food and home made pie, good micro beer selection.

I would shoot for noon-time if your schedule permits, putting maximum distance between you and both rush periods.

You also might want to think about using Lake Shore Drive to get through the city. It may have traffic just as bad as 90/94 or 294, but at least its pretty. Then you can scoot over to I-90 on Devon or Touhy Avenues.

All the time. We drove there a couple of summers ago, and that’s my best advice. :slight_smile:

Alas, this is kind of true. I once had to be someplace in the north suburbs at 5 AM and was staying in the South Loop that morning. I was sure I would have the 90/94 to myself. There was still plenty of traffic.

Depending on where in Indiana you are, you could take 74 and 39 through Champaign, Bloomington, and Rockford instead.

It’s one thing if heavy traffic freaks you out, but the actual time lost in the worst part of rush hour is less than a half-hour. To me it just seems silly to go via Bloomington or even to see 40 miles of sound walls on I-294. Just take the shortest route and listen to the radio.

You can see actual driving time statistics for different times of day at this website.

Around 2 AM, there’s usually not a problem. I agree with taking 294. Yeah, it’s a toll road (you’ll be slowed down at the toll booths if you don’t have iPass or some equivalent), but you’ll skirt the City and traffic flow will be better. Espesh since you’re headed to Madison.

Then you’ll catch 90 westbound at Elkgrove Village and take that straight on to Madison.

Watch your speed, though, the Wisconsin Highway Patrol has been… vigilant recently.