Time was, we would not think twice about getting in the car to drive to dinner in downtown Chicago (heck, sometimes even downtown Oak Park).
About three years ago, I sold my car, which reduced our household fleet to one vehicle. So we started taking the train when we went downtown for dinner, which is usually several nights a week.
What a revelation that was!
Taking the train enables one to avoid rush hour traffic, which is at its peak around dinner time. When driving downtown in early evening, we find the Eisenhower is usually relatively fine, but once we get on surface streets, we sit through lights in long lines of traffic, endure insane drivers trying to get to their evening's activities, and generally arrive at the restaurant a little later than we should. Using the online CTA trip planner [http://www.transitchicago.com/], we now can take just the right train to get us where we need to be on time, never missing a reservation.
When we're taking the train, we can have a drink or two with dinner without feeling irresponsible. Moreover, walking back from the restaurant to the EL stop is a great way to jump-start digestion.
The train is also way cheaper. Forget the cost of gas, the major cost of driving downtown is parking. Valet parking is usually cheaper than lot parking, and meter parking is best, if you can get it in the busier areas, and even then it usually costs a lot more than we expect. With the train, it's about five bucks for the two of us, so that's nice.
Taking public transit teaches tolerance. I prefer not to sit for 30 minutes next to a raving drunk, a loud kid on her cellphone, or other public nuisances, but on public transit I have no choice. I have to accept these types. Although I don't believe it's true that it takes all types, we definitely have all types, so it seems best to learn how to accept them. All of them. Honestly, though, 99% of the people who take public transit are just as reasonable and wonderful as we are, there are random pains-in-the-arse that we needs must accept.
Perhaps the most compelling reason for training rather than motoring downtown for dinner is that we're moving in a more economical, environmentally sound vehicle. We're still using rubber and steel and energy, of course, but not as much as we would be if we used a car for the two of us.
We still take the car if the weather is fierce, or if the restaurant is located way out somewhere, but most of the time, it makes more sense to train…and now, for us, it's a habit, which makes it even easier.