Chicago-pedia: Streets

An encyclopedia of the terms that define our city. In this edition, we cover some of Chicago’s streets and highways.


A view of the Chicago skyline and Wicker Park seen from the rooftop of the Robey Hotel in Wicker Park.


Some call it “Chicago-ese,” or “Chicago-speak.” Whatever you call it, we’re capturing it here, in Chicago-pedia — highlighting our local terminology and linguistic quirks (sometimes with humor and obvious exaggeration).

THE MAGNIFICENT MILE: The stretch of North Michigan Avenue bordered by the Chicago River and Oak Street (the Wrigley Building to the Drake Hotel). The Greater North Michigan Avenue Association trademarked the name “The Magnificent Mile” in 2001. Now called the Magnificent Mile Association, the group considers the borders of the “district” to be Randolph Street and North Avenue, plus Lake Michigan to the east and the North Branch of the Chicago River to the west. The name was coined in 1947 by developer Arthur Rubloff. Sometimes called the “Mag Mile,” and, incorrectly, the “Miracle Mile” (see: Coral Gables, Florida). Populated by high-end stores, flower planters and people from Iowa. Not to be confused with Northern Ireland’s “Murder Mile.”

LAKE SHORE DRIVE: Not only a highway but one of the more iconic Chicago songs, recorded by the group Aliotta Haynes Jeremiah. Among the lyrics:

And there ain’t no road just like it Anywhere I found Running south on Lake Shore Drive heading into town Just slippin’ on by on LSD, Friday night trouble bound

Also known as:

THE DRIVE or LSD: A psychedelic drug and, locally, the abbreviation for Lake Shore Drive.


Lower Wacker.

Susan Smith/For the Sun-Times

LOWER WACKER: 1. Long a frigid and filthy harbor for the down-and-out, now a fenced-off, wrought-iron labyrinth.

2. A threatened, worst-case-scenario destination. “You keep it up, you’ll end up living on Lower Wacker.”

3. An underground shortcut through the city. Elwood Blues: “This is definitely Lower Wacker Drive. If my estimations are correct, we should be very close to the Honorable Richard J. Daley Plaza.”

THE CROTCH: The unflattering nickname of the busy (and often foul-smelling) North/Damen/Milwaukee intersection in Wicker Park.


The Crotch.

Susan Smith/For the Sun-Times

WESTERN: The longest street in the city — 23.5 miles from Howard to 119th. It’s still “Western” in the south suburbs, but changes to “Asbury” in Evanston. It got its name for being the city’s western border from 1851 to 1869, according to Streetwise Chicago. It has so many auto dealers, it’s been known by some as “Auto Row.”

ROOSEVELT ROAD: The east-west street in the city and suburbs that’s often mispronounced as “RUE-suh-vehlt rohd.” It’s named for Theodore Roosevelt, who once wrote: “As for my name, it is pronounced as if it was spelled ‘Rosavelt.’ That is in three syllables. The first syllable as if it was ‘Rose.’ ”

OUT SOUTH/OUT WEST: This general announcement lets people know what part of the city one was at in a story or where someone grew up. “I’m from out west.”

OVER EAST: Pretty much anything east of Stony Island on the South Side.

RUSH HOUR: Known on the Eisenhower Expressway as 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

ILLINOIS STATE TOLL HIGHWAY AUTHORITY: Cash-rich government agency controlled by governor that thrives because of a collective loss of memory by the public — which was promised decades ago that the pay-as-you-drive toll roads would eventually become freeways. Which, of course, never happened.

THE RAVINES: The brief but exhilarating stretch of Sheridan Road through Winnetka that dips, climbs and slithers its way through glacier-carved ravines. Driving it is a rite of passage for North Shore teens. Driving it fast is another pastime — that’s why police often wait at the end. The road, named for Civil War hero Gen. Philip Sheridan, opened in Winnetka in 1893. Architect Thomas Hawkes is credited with the road’s design.

DAN RYAN: South Side expressway with no known speed limit or other traffic laws. Named for the former Cook County Board president who died in 1961.

LONGWOOD DRIVE: A trip down Longwood between 95th and 115th streets offers views of some of the most impressive single-family houses in Chicago. It’s also one of the few areas of the city to feature rolling hills.

ELSTON AVENUE: 1. Where North Siders traditionally went to get their driver’s licenses; now, the secretary of state’s facility on Elston is one of many options.

2. An industrial-flavored alternative to the Kennedy Expressway into and out of the Loop.

3. A street that, curiously, begins and ends with an intersection with the same street — Milwaukee Avenue.

THE LOW END: South Side ranging between 30th and 40th streets.

THE WILD HUNDREDS: Far South Side ranging between 100th and 138th streets.

PAULINA: A north-south street whose name is a good indicator of whether the person mentioning it is from Chicago. If they pronounce it “paw-LEEN-ah,” they’re probably not. The street at 1700 West runs the length of the city and into the south suburbs, though it’s frequently interrupted. Named for Paulina Taylor, the wife of real estate developer Reuben Taylor, according to the book “Streetwise Chicago.”



Susan Smith/For the Sun-Times

DEVON: East-west road, with a stretch on the North Side teeming with Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi restaurants, grocery stores, houses of worship, halal meat markets and beauty parlors that specialize in intricate mehndi (henna) body art and eyebrow threading. Note to visitors horrified by the occasional red splatter on the sidewalk: The stains aren’t blood, but spit from those who have been chewing paan, a betel leaf-based pick-me-up that is popular after a meal.

87TH/PULASKI/COLUMBUS: A three-way intersection on the Southwest Side — on the border with Hometown — notorious for lengthy traffic delays due in part to the nearby freight train tracks.

GOETHE: 1. An elegant little street at 1300 North.

2. The statue of a buff guy with a bird on his knee in Lincoln Park.

3. Some German poet. Pronunciation guide: “Gothe” or “Goetha” is preferred by Chicagoans who work for a living. “Gerta” is used by show-offs.

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