Tired of Chicago Rush Hour? Try Commuting by Bike

In 2017, the online retailer Auto Accessories Garage compiled data from the US Census Bureau and found that Chicagoans spend the longest time on their daily commute of all Americans in major cities. Studies show that longer commute times can lead to headaches, sleep disturbances, fatigue, and problems concentrating.

But that was almost five years ago and since then, we’ve been through a pandemic, a cycling boom, and a massive shift from in-office work to remote working. The way people commute has changed drastically across the US, and many are hesitant to go back to crowded trains or solitary driving through endless traffic jams - especially when the alternative is cycling to work.

Whether you’re a seasoned commuter or just moved to the Windy City, here are our top tips for beating the rush hour blues.

When is Rush Hour in Chicago?

In 2019, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute studied which cities in the US had the worst travel delays and Chicago came third on their list, with residents spending the equivalent of 3 days in gridlock in 2017. 

The study rejected the notion of “rush hour”, pointing out that traffic was increasingly being seen outside of the standard working hours across the US. They noted that a third of congestion happened during midday or midnight (both times that have been historically quiet for commuters). 

Although they believe that “rush hour” will soon become an archaic term, there are still times in Chicago that are worse than others. 

On weekdays, rush hour is between 7AM - 9AM and 3PM - 7PM. The absolute worst time for traffic in Chicago is between 4PM - 5PM on Friday afternoons.

Avoid Rush Hour by Timing Your Commute

With the pandemic forcing many businesses to adapt to remote work, you may be lucky enough to find yourself in a situation where you only need to bear the traffic a couple of times a week or you may have the option of flexitime that allows you to commute during off-peak hours. 

For those who work in more rigid environments that require in-office work at set hours, it may be worth timing your commute to try to align with “lonely trucker hours” before 6AM.

Waking up early has been shown to have a number of positive cognitive effects, such as improved mood, better health, and less stress. 

Especially if you have kids, it’s great to be up before them so you can carve out some “me time” by making yourself a nutritious breakfast, exercising, or simply by starting your day with your feet up and a good cup of coffee while the rest of the world is asleep.

The downside of trying to match your commute times with off-peak traffic is that you may end up getting to work at 6AM and only leaving at 7PM. A 13-hour work day is hardly anyone’s idea of a good time, even if it means you spend less time commuting.

If you can’t negotiate an “arrive early, leave early” arrangement with your employer, it may be worth reconsidering whether it’s right for you. While long commutes have proven effects on mental health, so do long work days.

Beat the Commute by Changing Your Route

Public transport agencies have been struggling for years to get Chicagoans to cut down on driving their cars to work, but the effects of the pandemic have only made people more hesitant to hop on trains or buses.

If you’re one of the almost 50% of Chicagoans who drive to work each day, there’s a strong possibility that you take the shortest, most direct route - even if it’s the route with the heaviest traffic. Studies show that drivers tend to have a single route they favor and will use over and over again, even when their mapping apps show there is a more optimal route for reaching their destination faster.

While the reasons for this are varied, they include passing by landmarks, preventing wear and tear, gas consumption, and route reliability.

If you find that you’re constantly using the same route and hitting traffic, why not try another one to test whether it lowers your stress levels, even if the distance is the same or slightly longer?

Make Your Commute Happier by Riding a Bicycle

This year, Chicago was ranked the 30th best cycling city in the US. While it might not sound like a particularly high placement, 200 cities were ranked according to their access to cycling, climate, and safety - so Chicago is definitely one of the country’s leading cycling cities, although they can still do more to improve accessibility and infrastructure, a challenge the city is rising to meet.

Chicago offers over 250 miles of bike lanes (of which almost 80 miles are protected by barriers or buffers), and the city recently announced the biggest cycling expansion project in their history: a $17 million budget towards 100 miles of new, upgraded bike lanes with 50 of those miles expected to be completed before the end of 2022.

“By building more bike lanes than ever, we will help to bring Chicago back from the disruptions caused by the pandemic as well as encourage more residents to ride bikes – thus creating healthier, better-connected communities,” says Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot.

The Mayor is right - cycling really does create healthier (and happier!) communities. Here are some research-backed statistics on how cycling can improve your life:

  • Cyclists have a 46% lower risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.
  • People scored higher on memory, reasoning and planning tests after 30 minutes of cycling.
  • Cyclists are less likely to be overweight than those who drive to work.

It’s not just the physical activity aspect of cycling that can improve your mental health, the route you choose can also work wonders. 

A study by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health surveyed over 3,000 people and found that those who walked or cycled through scenic landscapes, such as parks and greenbelts, or along bodies of water, received a significantly higher average on their mental health scores.

When it comes to parking your bike in Chicago, it’s also much less stressful (and cheaper) than parking a car. There are over 13,000 bike racks around the city, and you can see a full map of them here.

While Chicago is generally considered a safe cycling city, like any other large city bike theft is a reality. Ensure you use a reliable lock and lock your bike through its main frame to an immovable object. If you’re a Sundays Insurance customer, make sure you’re using one of the approved locks on our list.

In 2020, there was almost a 50% spike in reported thefts, but it remains to be seen whether this increase has carried through into 2021 or was an unfortunate side-effect of the cycling boom combined with low supply during the peak of lockdown.

Enjoy cycling (and parking your bicycle) with peace of mind with Sundays Insurance.