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5 Things to Know About the Dan Ryan Expressway in Chicago

Driving on Chicago’s Dan Ryan Expressway isn’t for the faint of heart or the nervous driver.

While being alert any time you’re behind the wheel is important, it’s crucial for navigating this highway. The road provides convenient transportation in the city, but knowing a few things about it before heading out will certainly help.

Buckle up and get ready to drive the Dan Ryan.

Let’s get going!

The History of the Dan Ryan Expressway

In 1939, the President of the Cook County Board of Commissioners, Dan Ryan, submitted a proposal to build a giant highway in Chicago. It later became known as the Kennedy Expressway or I-90/I-94. Ryan proved himself instrumental throughout the 1950s in developing roads around Chicago. 

In honor of his contribution to transportation in Cook County, officials decided to name an expressway after Ryan. The Dan Ryan Expressway, called the South Route initially, connects major highways in Chicago. It partially opened in 1961, with the rest of the road opening the following year. It cost $209 million and became the biggest highway in Chicago.

The Dan Ryan runs north to south but can be considered part of I-90/I-94, which runs east to west. Therefore, the posted signage along the Ryan will say west if you travel north and east if you head to the south. 

Throughout the years, the expressway has undergone several renovations. In 1989 construction crews wrapped up a rebuild of the Elevated Bridge. The Illinois Department of Transportation spent nearly one billion dollars to repave the entire length of the highway in 2007.

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Driving on Dan Ryan Expressway
Driving on Dan Ryan Expressway is not always the easiest adventure.

#1 The Dan Ryan Is One of the Busiest Roads in Illinois

Once completed, this highway was considered the biggest stretch of concrete in Illinois and certainly the largest in Chicago. The road’s size leads to a large number of motorists using it daily. On any given day, over 300,000 cars drive on the Dan Ryan Expressway.

At its narrowest point, the highway has four lanes in each direction. The eight-lane expressway expands to sixteen lanes at its widest section. The Dan Ryan sees more traffic than any other road in the state, mainly because it provides convenient access to downtown Chicago. 

If you plan to utilize the expressway during your next trip to the Windy City, try not traveling on it during peak hours. Otherwise, you could find yourself in a long line of traffic.

#2 You Should Avoid the Dan Ryan During Rush Hour

If you’ve ever driven around Chicago, you know it can be a total nightmare. Of course, you probably already know to avoid downtown and to steer clear of Wrigleyville during a Cubs game. But we want to warn you about the traffic jams on the Dan Ryan Expressway. 

Every workday from about 6:00 am to 8:00 am and then from 4:00 pm to 6:00 pm, Chicago experiences a rush hour. With more than two million residents heading to work, it’s no surprise that the city has heavy congestion around these times. 

If your plans include driving the Dan Ryan, be sure to check your favorite navigation app before you decide on a route. Besides rush hour, the expressway can get backed up due to accidents and construction. Plan ahead if you don’t want to spend your time sitting in traffic.

#3 The Dan Ryan Enforced Segregation

While the expressway creates convenient transportation options, the designers of the road may have had ulterior motives. The Dan Ryan Expressway reinforced already existing racial segregation between Chicago neighborhoods.

The mayor at the time, Richard J. Daley, resided in the Bridgeport neighborhood. Most of the city’s Black residents lived in nearby Bronzeville. Daley intentionally built the road between both communities, creating a physical barrier. He even insisted on redesigning the route, making it less efficient, so that it could act as a divide.

The road exacerbated the already tense racial divide in the area and provided a clear example of what some local citizens consider institutionalized racism. Even today, less than two percent of Bridgeport residents are Black.

Driving on Dan Ryan Expressway
The Dan Ryan Expressway has a surprising history rooted in racism..

#4 The Red Line Runs in the Median of the Dan Ryan

We think Chicago’s L train system makes it easy to get around the city without needing to drive. Conveniently, one of the routes, the Red Line, even runs down the center of the Dan Ryan. 

In 2021, nearly 75,000 people rode the Red Line every weekday. This train route connects to all seven L lines, making it vital for public transit users. So whether you want to head to Wrigley Field, DePaul University, or Chinatown, the Red Line can get you there. 

You might consider riding this train along Dan Ryan’s median to reach your destination instead of driving on this notoriously dangerous road. It may get you there quicker than driving.

#5 The Dan Ryan Is One of the Most Dangerous Roads in Illinois

The expressway has been considered the most vital route for workers to get to downtown. Over 300,000 cars can be counted on the road on any given day. With so many vehicles, accidents occur regularly. But that isn’t even the scariest part about driving on the Dan Ryan. 

In a two-year study conducted from 2019 to 2021, researchers saw a 57% uptick in shootings on the expressway. At least 530 people died, and 1,200 were injured due to gun violence. In 2022, a stray bullet fired by a driver on the Dan Ryan killed a passenger on the L train. This convenient route to downtown has become a drive that locals dread.

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Use With Caution

On your next trip to Chicago, be cautious when driving on the Dan Ryan Expressway. You don’t want to get stuck in traffic for hours, and you also don’t want to become part of the crime statistics. If traveling the road becomes necessary, we suggest driving it during non-rush hour times. And definitely practice defensive driving and keep your eyes on the road. 

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