Last month, we ranked some of the best commuter towns near Boston by looking at four distinct indicators: commute time, housing values, school ratings and crime rates. We’ve applied a similar methodology to highlight ten of the most attractive neighborhoods for Chicago commuters.
A study by Educated Driver measured the average time on the road and money spent by Chicago commuters over a lifetime. According to their estimates, workers spend up to $142,880 on gas and car maintenance throughout their active years, and drive 225,000 miles, enough to circle the Earth nine times. Car-related expenses are 31% higher in Chicago than the national average, and the distance traveled is 30% farther.
We found that the average commute time to Chicago was roughly 38 minutes, with a 200% difference between the shortest (Oak Park, with 24 minutes) and longest travel times (Palatine, with 48 minutes). Housing costs range from $179,800 in Berwyn, to $407,100 in Park Ridge, with an average $300,790 overall. Keep reading to find out more about the best commuter towns near Chicago.
Lombard: Highest Overall Score
Part of DuPage County, Lombard lies 19 miles west of Chicago, where I-290, I-88 and I-294 intersect. The village landed in the first position after garnering a total of 66 points, receiving its highest score for housing costs. However, Lombard is only the fourth best option for those looking to buy a home near Chicago, receiving 21 out of 30 points. Even though the village lost some points because of its 41-minute commute time, its average performance for safety and school ratings was enough to secure a 2-point advantage ahead of Oak Lawn.
There were 470 new housing units built in West suburban Lombard last year. The village is also seeking to redevelop existing sites, like the former DuPage Theater along South Main Street, to better suit the growing need for housing. Village officials have chosen a four-story, 120,000-square-foot building by Holladay Properties as the winning project for the former theater building. The developer is planning a $31 million mixed-use building with 120 luxury apartments, 3,000 square feet of commercial space and a restaurant on the ground floor. A second, 12,000-square foot property will be built as a Prairie Food Co-op.
Oak Park: A 24-Minute Ride to Chicago
With a 24-minute average commute into Chicago, Oak Park is the most conveniently located of the ten towns on our list. The suburb’s commute time score contributed roughly 67% of its total points. It got a further 9 -point boost from its 6.9 school rating, occupying the third spot, behind Park Ridge (with 14 points) and Elmhurst (10 points). Roughly 69% of residents drive into Chicago, but for those who opt for public transit, both Metra and the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) have multiple trains stops in Oak Park.
The village has plenty to offer besides proximity to Windy City. Dubbed Illinois’ first municipal arboretum, Oak Park has plenty of recreational spaces, including the recently redesigned Taylor Park. You can go for a swim at Rehm Park and Ridgeland Common Recreation Complex or enjoy the tropical scents and burst of colors at the Oak Park Conservatory.
The suburb is known as the launchpad of famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright, who worked in Oak Park for the first 20 years of his illustrious career, leaving his mark on the architectural heritage of the place. Novelist Ernest Hemingway was another renowned resident of Oak Park and tourists can visit his Birthplace Museum on North Oak Park Avenue.
Berwyn: Best House Prices
South of Oak Park and seven miles west of Chicago, Berwyn is third on our list with 64 points. The suburb has the most affordable home prices of the towns we looked at, with a $179,800 average price tag. That’s 56% less than Park Ridge, which had the highest housing price, and 40% below the average of all the towns in our study.
Nearly one third of the city’s housing stock consists of Chicago-style bungalows, accompanied by reasonably priced farmhouses, American four-squares, Victorian and Tudor-style houses. Each September, Berwyn’s Historical Society hosts a bungalow tour to celebrate the city’s iconic single-story homes. According to data published by the Center for Neighborhood Technology, Berwyn has one of the lowest levels of carbon emissions from homes and private vehicles in the Greater Chicago area. This is partly due to the prevalence of small residences as well as the community’s efforts to make the city increasingly bike and pedestrian-friendly.
The city’s 32-minute commute was 52% of its total score, the second-best commute time overall, tied with Evanston. Commuters can hop on the CTA’s Blue Line, the Metra BNSF Line, or take I-290 and I-55 into Chicago.
Park Ridge: Highest School Ratings
Park Ridge received 14 points for its 8.8 school rating, making it the number one choice for in terms of educational prospects. Maine South High School was ranked 36th in Illinois in a recent U.S. News & World Report and was one of the top schools for studying science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Another local school, George Washington Elementary, was included in a group of 24 Illinois schools recognized as Blue Ribbon Schools by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in 2018. The honor is given for both academic merits and progress made in closing the performance gap between students with different backgrounds.
Park Ridge is also the safest entry in our list, with another 14 points for its low crime rate. The average house price is $407,000, the most expensive in our top 10, followed by Elmhurst and Oak Park. At the opposite end, Berwyn, Oak Lawn and Des Plaines have the lowest average housing prices.
Would-be residents shouldn’t worry about finding something interesting to do in their spare time, as the suburb has plenty to offer throughout the year. Fancy yourself a foodie? Check out the Taste of Park Ridge summer food festival to sample delicious dishes and desserts from some of the most beloved local eateries and restaurants. Take a stroll and enjoy Concerts in the Park, a free series of open-air concerts near Hodges Park, from late June to early August. You can also visit Chinatown and Greektown or enjoy the holiday season during Park Ridge Winterfest.
We looked at towns located between 5 and 30 miles from Chicago. Each town was allocated points based on the following metrics: commuting time, housing value, crime rate and school rating.
Points for commute time, housing cost and crime rate were awarded inversely proportional to their value. Points for school ratings were awarded directly proportional to their value.
Entries could gather a maximum of 100 points, spread across the four metrics as follows: 40 points for commute time, 30 points for housing value, and 15 points each for crime rate and school rating.
The average commute time by car or mass transit was calculated by Google directions. We’ve considered the shortest typical trip time for arriving in Chicago between 07:40 – 08:10 on a Monday.
Housing values are based on a 5-year Census estimate (2013-2017) of the median price of owner-occupied housing units.
FBI crime rates indicate the number of violent crimes committed per 100,000 residents. We only included towns that have a violent crime rate lower than the state average of 341 crimes per 100,000 residents.
School ratings were calculated based on the average score by town for schools that had a review on GreatSchools.com by May 2019.
Cities with less than 30,000 residents, based on 2017 Census estimates, were excluded from the list.