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Change is in the Windy City for 2011

Today’s column from The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …

Change is in the Windy City for 2011

The WISCH LIST

Jan. 8, 2011

The first week of 2011 is gone, but there are still 51 more to go. And, if you haven’t done so already, I’m guessing there’s a decent chance that you’ll visit Chicago at some point before the calendar flips over to 2012.

And if you do, here are some things you ought to know about the Windy City in 2011 …

Street parking is more expensive

Chicago already has the highest parking meter rates in the U.S., but that isn’t stopping them from going even higher. So, if you plan to drive to the city, brace yourself.

In the Loop, metered street parking is rising from $4.25 to $5 an hour. Neighborhood parking, meanwhile, increases from $1.25 to $1.50 an hour. And downtown parking outside of the Loop is going from $2.50 to $3 an hour.

The changes began Jan. 2, but according to city contractor Chicago Parking Meters LLC, it will take up to a month to change the rates at the pay machines covering the city’s 36,000 metered spots – all of which take cash or credit. So, at least you don’t need to lug around a sack full of quarters.

CTA Train Tracker is coming

One of the more frustrating experiences when navigating Chicago is standing at an “L” station wondering when the heck the train will arrive – especially if you’re standing outside in single-digit temperatures.

This month, however, that will change for many rail travelers who should be able to make their trips more efficient when the Chicago Transit Authority launches its long-awaited Train Tracker pilot program. The Train Tracker will post arrival times on a website that will refresh about every 30 seconds.

CTA president Rich Rodriguez (not the ex-Michigan football coach) said the new system will track trains on all eight rail lines, making travel “more convenient and reliable” because riders will have the information to better plan their trips. Also as part of the pilot program, electronic signs featuring arrival information have been initially posted at 10 CTA stations.

The Train Tracker website has not yet officially been launched, but check www.transitchicago.com for updates.

Rule changes for Red Light cameras

In Chicago and the suburbs, few things are worse than driving through an intersection one millisecond late – and then receiving a $100 ticket in the mail for it.

Well, the controversial red light cameras throughout Chicagoland haven’t gone away in 2011 – although some people are pushing for a ban – but the rules governing them have changed a bit. Under a new law, towns will no longer be able to tack on extra fees to the $100 fine if a ticket is appealed, something that has deterred drivers from fighting citations.

Another change is that while drivers still are required to come to a complete stop before making a right turn at a red light, they now can stop beyond the painted line without being ticketed as long as pedestrians are not in the area.

Museums offer free visits

Throughout January (and many other months), you can enjoy free-admission days at many of Chicago’s major museums and cultural institutions, including the Adler Planetarium, Museum of Science & Industry, Field Museum and Shedd Aquarium. To learn what days are free at which institutions, you can visit www.explorechicago.org.

However, there’s no need to search dates for the Art Institute of Chicago this month, as it’s offering free admission on every weekday through Feb. 4. The Institute (111 S. Michigan Ave.) is open from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, and 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays.

See? Not everything in Chicago is expensive.

(Just most things.)