Chicago-pedia: Commuting

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


Lisa Laws is bundled up as she has a CTA bus to herself.

Rich Hein/Sun-Times

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 L: Short for “elevated,” as in the CTA’s elevated commuter rail system; also oddly refers to that system when it’s not elevated — at street level or a subway.

THE THIRD RAIL: 1. High-voltage electrified track that powers L trains.

2. A topic fraught with peril if discussed in public, such as race and religion.

CTA BUS: Mass transit vehicle that does not contain a public bathroom, though many riders seem to think it does.


CTA Bus.

Susan Smith/For the Sun-Times

GREEN LIMOUSINE: Longtime nickname for CTA buses, so called not because they were environmentally friendly but because they used to be colored green.

STANK: That unpleasant, hard-to-define smell inside a CTA bus.

EYE CONTACT: Something you should never make with other passengers while riding the L or a CTA bus.

UBER: 1. Word used universally to describe any ride-share company, including competitor Lyft.

2. Godsend if you’ve had a few too many drinks.

3. The drivers that you conjure hell upon as they cut you off, block fire lanes and idle over crosswalks throughout the city.

4. Killer of taxi companies, public transit.


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