Soldier Field vs. Arlington Park: Which stadium would you rather travel to?

Editor's note: This story was originally published on June 28, 2021. The Bears have agreed to buy Arlington Park for $197.2 million.

It's a bit of a long shot that the Chicago Bears would abandon their Soldier Field den for Arlington Park.

But while negotiations between the football team, which has made an offer for the racetrack property, and its owner, Churchill Downs Inc., are in play, here's a question to ponder:

Would you rather travel to football games in Arlington Heights or Chicago?

Several experts agreed that drivers could reach football games at Arlington Park more expeditiously than stalling in the gridlock that radiates from Soldier Field on Sundays in fall.

"Soldier Field is an iconic stadium, but for many people in the greater Chicago area it will be easier for them to get to Arlington Park if they're driving," Northwestern University logistics professor Hani Mahmassani said.

For public transit users, the racetrack has the advantage of its own Metra stop on the Union Pacific Northwest Line.

But "a single Metra line can only do so much," DePaul University transportation professor Joseph Schwieterman noted. "Soldier Field's proximity to a wide range of CTA rail lines is one of its biggest advantages. Throngs of ticket holders rely on the CTA Roosevelt stop, a busy rapid-transit hub."

Arlington Park is expected to close this year, and if the Bears made it their home, transit users near the Metra UP Northwest line would have a seamless journey.

Riders in DuPage, Kane, Lake and Will counties, not to mention myriad Chicagoans from the South and West sides, wouldn't be so lucky.

Those fans would need to trek downtown, then transfer to the UPNW line and travel 13 stops to the stadium.

"Without careful planning, fans will be stuck on all-stop trains that many consider too slow," Schwieterman said. "Express service will be critical."

Pre-pandemic capacity at Soldier Field is 61,500 compared to about 32,000 at Arlington Park.

That could triple if the team heads west, former Illinois Sports Facilities Authority Executive Director Greg Bedalov said.

"Soldier Field is the smallest NFL stadium in terms of attendance," Bedalov explained. "New stadiums are built to 80,000-90,000 capacity. I can't imagine, if the Bears do something like this, they'll build a 50,000 or 60,000 (capacity) facility. They're going to build something World Cup Soccer-ready ... for 80,000-plus."

Arlington Park is close to the Jane Addams Tollway (I-90) and a stone's throw from I-290/Route 53. The Jane Addams "was designed for future traffic loads," pointed out Bedalov, former Illinois tollway chief.

But I-290/Route 53 is already congested without Bears traffic, he said.

That's where Pace suburban bus could carry the ball - offering shuttles from Metra stations on other train lines or from remote parking lots, Mahmassani recommended.

"I'm sure we'd be open to discussions but can't say anything with any certainty at this point," Pace spokeswoman Maggie Daly Skogsbakken said.

Metra officials also said they hadn't "really considered" a Bears move yet. "Of course we welcome anything that would boost ridership," spokesman Michael Gillis said. "And we'd certainly offer extra trains if the demand was there."

RTA Chairman and former state Sen. Kirk Dillard said, "We're pretty nimble with buses. (But) we're taking a wait-and-see approach. We are called the Regional Transportation Authority for a reason, and we'll cross that bridge should the Bears ever not play in Chicago."

Meanwhile, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot is reminding everyone the team has a contract to use Soldier Field until 2033.

Let's suppose Bears do relocate. Will local entrepreneurs convert their lawns to parking lots for fans as Bridgeport residents do for White Sox home games?

"My guess is, yes, you'll see residents doing some creative things," Dillard predicted.

  The UP Northwest Metra line has a station at Arlington Park. Paul Valade/, file photo
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