Weekend traffic warning for downtown, North Side

November 19, 2010 (CHICAGO)

Huge crowds are expected for the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival downtown, and there could be traffic jams on the North Side as a sold-out crowd will pack Wrigley Field to see the Northwestern University Wildcats take on the Fighting Illini.

The pair of major Saturday events will bring hundreds of thousands of people to the city.

Along Michigan Avenue, the stages are up, barricades too, all in preparation for the 19th Annual Magnificent Mile Lights Festival. There will be a million lights and almost as many spectators: 800,000 people are expected to line Michigan Avenue. They'll be waiting to catch a glimpse of parade grand marshal Mickey Mouse.

The crowds and some festival events will start in the afternoon, but the parade begins at 5:30 p.m., from Oak and Michigan. Traffic around Michigan Avenue will be rerouted. The broadcast on ABC7 runs from 6:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m.

The Office of Emergency Management and Communications is in charge of prepping the city and drivers for the crowds of people expected to attend the festival, which will be shown on ABC 7.

City officials warn drivers that getting around will be a challenge. They say the main street closures will go into effect approximately 45 minutes prior to the start of the festival and will remain in place for most of the evening. Officials also say more frequent CTA service will be provided on the Red Line and longer trains will operate on the Brown and Orange lines. Buses will be rerouted around the parade route.

And up north, Chicago will have its first college football game at Wrigley Field since 1938. Illinois and Northwestern agreed Friday to run every offensive play toward the same end zone in their showdown avoid the possibility of players running into a padded brick wall at the other end of the field.

The surprising announcement came just one day before Saturday's game at the historic home of the Chicago Cubs. Big Ten commissioner Jim Delany said the NCAA waived several playing rules "in the interest of student-athlete safety."

Kick off at a purple-themed Wrigley is at 2:35 p.m. The Northwestern University Wildcats will play the University of Illinois Fighting Illini.

In addition to the 40,000 fans who have sold out tickets, the bars and restaurants around Wrigley are expected to be packed. They're also turning Sheffield Avenue into "Wildcat Way" for a Northwestern street fest.

The parking restrictions and street closures typically in place for Cubs night games will be in effect on Saturday, city officials say.

And, yes, traffic will be a nightmare.

The city is urging people to take the CTA downtown and to Wrigleyville to avoid driving hassles.

If you do it right, you can go to Wrigley first and then rush downtown to catch some of the parade.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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