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3 New Things You Should Know About Navigating Chicago

extralargeLast weekend’s Wisch List newspaper column from The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.)

By Dave Wischnowsky

The WISCH LIST

Getting around Chicago is always an adventure.

This past Wednesday, for example, while riding the CTA Red Line my train stopped cold in the subway deep below street level. The conductor squeezed past me in the front car, popped open the door and exited carrying a heavy wooden stick with a metal hook. She was gone for about five minutes before returning, and off we went.

My fellow passengers and I speculated that she had to kill a zombie.

Even for a seasoned city traveler, that was a new one. As a visitor to Chicago, however, there are three new things that you should know about navigating the Windy City by car, train, bus or even bicycle.

Free meter parking on Sundays

Earlier this week, the New York Times’ DealBook blog praised Chicago’s parking meter system as “one of the world’s best.”

Of course, the author of the piece, New York attorney Kent Rowey, didn’t mention that he was involved in former Mayor Richard M. Daley’s much-reviled deal that privatized the city’s 36,000 meters through 2083.

Fitting.

What you need to know about Chicago’s parking meters, however, is that through Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s recent renegotiation of the contract, you can now park for free on Sundays at meters outside Chicago’s central business district. Just be sure to check the signs to make sure your meter is indeed a free one.

Ventra coming to the CTA

Scheduled to debut in August, the CTA’s new Ventra card has been hailed by transit officials as a major improvement for all riders to pay their farers. The card uses contactless technology, which enables riders to just tap it against fare readers on buses and at rail stations. In 2014, Ventra will replace the CTA’s popular monthly Chicago Card and Chicago Card Plus options.

But what you need to know as a visitor is twofold: 1) you will soon have the option of using your own contactless credit or debit cards to pay for fare, and 2) If you’re purchasing a single-ride CTA rail ticket using cash, you will have to pay $3 instead of the current $2.25 fare. The $3 includes a 50-cent service charge to cover the cost of the Ventra paper ticket, plus 25 cents for a transfer, regardless of whether you want or need a transfer.

Divvy bike-sharing now live

Popular in Europe, bike-sharing is a phenomenon that’s not designed for sport, but rather for short errands, connections to mass transit or for tourists looking to take a two-wheeled tour of a neighborhood.

Last month, Chicago became one of the first major American cities to test the concept with the debut of its new Divvy bike-sharing system through 68 docking-stations locations downtown and in River North.

Over the next year, the city plans to deploy 4,000 rent-a-bikes and 380 docking stations in the city’s most densely populated neighborhoods, most at locations near CTA transit stops.

I’m yet to use one myself, but the Divvy stations and sturdy powder-blue bikes already are prominent in the West Loop where I work. In the program’s first two weeks more than 2,500 annual members signed up.

For $7 daily or a $75 annual fee, each Divvy customer can use the bike for trips of 30 minutes or less. After 30 minutes, additional fees are charged. The best feature is that the rental bikes can be returned at any docking station in the city.

But if you use one, be aware that the $7 fee allows for an unlimited number of 30-minute trips within a 24-hour span, not a 24-hour rental of the bike.