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NATO commuting headaches return for rush hour, though the end is in sight

A Department HomelSecurity police officer checks bag commuter before she headed inChicago Metrstatiduring morning commute MattesIL Monday May 21

A Department of Homeland Security police officer checks a bag of a commuter before she headed into Chicago at the Metra station during the morning commute in Matteson, IL on Monday May 21, 2012. The officers were there due to the NATO summit. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: July 1, 2012 12:56PM



It looks like drivers listened to the city’s warnings of NATO-related street closures.

For three days, downtown streets were barren. And on Saturday, Lake Shore Drive in both directions from downtown to North Avenue was a breeze. The only traffic was by foot or bike as Chicagoans enjoyed a nice day on the city’s lakefront paths and beaches.

For those who did come to work in the Loop on Monday, commuter traffic — both on the roads and trains — was lighter than usual as the NATO Summit entered its second and final day.

“I suppose I should thank #NATO because me & my briefcase each have our own seat,” one Chicago commuter tweeted.

And on the CTA, there was a clear drop in ridership during the summit.

On a normal Monday morning, for instance, it’s standing-room-only, bump-into-the-person-next-to-you at the Paulina stop on the Brown Line. But on Monday, there were plenty of seats available on the train into the Loop.

On the L, uniformed Chicago police officers were checking passengers. At Grand and State, officers got on and questioned a passenger with several pieces of luggage whether the bags belonged to him. “Yes, sir,” he said.

Underground pedways — usually open between CTA stations downtown — were closed.

Metra warned its riders less than two weeks ago about restrictions and closures; riders couldn’t carry on bags or beverages on any of its trains; numerous stations would be closed on the Electric Line, including the line’s entire Blue Island branch.

Although some Metra riders said they weren’t being checked, spokesman Michael Gillis said the agency hadn’t eased its restrictions.

Matteson resident Art Wasik, 85, carried a suitcase and a trumpet case onto the 7:30 a.m. Metra Electric Line train bound for downtown Chicago. He was headed to the International Trumpet Guild meeting in Columbus, Ga., a four-day excursion he’d been planning for six months.

Department of Homeland Security officers initially told Wasik he would have to find an alternate route to O’Hare Airport but eventually let him board after a dog sniffed his luggage and his trumpet case.

Motorcades seemed to be the only headache for drivers Monday evening. The NATO Summit ended at 2 p.m., but drivers dealt with rolling closures on the outbound Kennedy Expressway for hours as heads of states were ushered to O’Hare International Airport. Around 5 p.m., drivers on the inbound lanes saw something they’re quite used to: bumper-to-bumper traffic.

Some closures hadn’t been lifted Monday night, but officials say all will be clear for the Tuesday morning rush. The lack of train riders and drivers for most of the day was due in part to warnings about anticipated problems getting to work on Monday. Many Chicago companies allowed people to work from home Monday, including Boeing and Aon. Some bank branches also are closed, along with Illinois Secretary of State offices downtown.

Contributing: Casey Toner, Francine Knowles, Lisa Donovan, Fran Spielman and AP



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