Things to Know About Driving in Chicago – The Ultimate Guide for Newcomers

October 26, 2020US Cities
Michael Vaughan

Moving through the Bay Area, Michael works as a freelance writer in the moving and transportation industry.

If you’re coming here as a new resident who likes to commute with a car, then you should read a bit about driving in Chicago so that you can be more prepared. Getting around by driving through Chicago is one of the many options you will have once you move here to explore or just go to work or for a cup of coffee. We gathered the most important info every new resident should know.

The Windy City, as every other metropolis, can intimidate you when you start driving through its streets. There are traffic jams since 2,7 million people live in the largest city in Illinois, and cars became a necessity a long time ago. Being behind the wheel in unknown territory can surely cause driving anxiety. That’s why everyone who enters this place with a car must know all the facts about Chicago driving. Even if you prefer riding a bicycle most of your time, you still need to know how driving in Chicago works. Also, if you’re moving to Chicago soon and you’re not coming by driving here, be sure you learn how to transport cars from state to state. To make that easier as well, we prepared some car shipping advice.

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Is It Difficult to Drive in Chicago?

In case you chose to avoid public transportation, cycling, and walking, and you want to know how is driving in Chicago, we have the answer. Chicago driving is not complicated at all – it’s pretty straightforward, there’s a grid pattern, and the chances of getting lost are close to none. Google maps are very reliable here, so whatever street you’re headed to, you’ll find it easily.

However, if you ask someone how to drive in Chicago, you might hear that you have to prepare for a lot of difficulties. There are many jaywalkers, cyclists, drivers who aren’t following the rules, and of course, the rush hours. These factors can cause a lot of driving stress and even road rage.

If You Want a Smooth Ride, You Should Know the Best Times to Drive Through Chicago

The best method to avoid getting stuck in your car is to know when the rush hours are and not to drive then (if you have the chance). Every metropolitan area has the same problem, so a similar situation is also when you’re driving in New York City or driving in Los Angeles. Just be smart and don’t drive in Chicago from 6 to 8 AM and from 4 to 6 PM. Of course, this depends on the day and the neighborhood. Mondays and Fridays are really heavy with traffic because of the people who leave the metropolis during the weekend or return there.

Times Square
Each metropolis faces the same issues when it comes to commuting

You Should Be Getting Ready for a Parking Hunt When Driving in Chicago

You won’t be surprised when you see someone blocking the road trying to parallel park because you will soon feel the same when seeing a spot, no matter how unlikely it might be to fit in. Empty places aren’t easy to find, but it’s not all that bad. The thing that will do the trick (even if you don’t know the area so well yet) is to use these apps – SpotHero and Parkwhiz. Keep in mind that the prices for an hour aren’t cheap, and that you have to know the rules of the specific parking meter.

Driving in Downtown Chicago, Illinois Might Be a Problem Because of the Parking Spots

There’s a very small chance that you’ll find a spot to park when in Downtown, or near any attraction site here. Again, it’s the same as everywhere else, so it’s no wonder. However, if you’re headed downtown, you don’t have to park there. The map of parking spots will help you enormously. Again, it’s always the best option to use public transportation when going Downtown, but in case you can’t, know that driving in this part of the city mostly depends on the peak hours. Downtown can get clogged because of the highways that lead in and out of it.

Tips for Avoiding a Parking Ticket

As someone who recently moved here or plans to, there are some regulations you need to learn if you don’t want to get a ticket. Once you get in your car and find a spot, look for signs nearby. If you see a red Anti-Gridlock Zone sign, that means you aren’t allowed to park there during peak hours. No Stopping or No Standing zone is pretty much self-explanatory, so if you see that sign, be sure you don’t linger there. You can pick up someone or drop them off, but pulling up isn’t allowed, even if you’re sitting in the car. If you park and see a meter, check what type of payment does it accept and do you have a free hour or two.

A man and a woman sitting in a car looking at their phones
Using an app to find a place to park when drinking in Chicago is a smart decision

The Most Important Driving in Chicago Tips

There are more things you should pay attention to when driving in Chicago. When choosing to move here, you must consider weather conditions, yearly and monthly events, and rules. Here’s what you have to know about Chicago driving:

  • Whenever you’re coming to a new location, buy a map and learn what the main streets that get crowded during the day are. This way you will also see what the one-ways are and how to enter and exit them. There are signs showing that you’re entering a one-way, and there’s plenty of them Downtown. Learn the diagonal streets to avoid the busy roads.
  • If you want to get from point A to point B by car, you cannot use your cellphone. It’s not just when driving in Chicago, but in the whole state of Illinois. You can use the device only if you have a hands-free phone or a headset.
  • You’re allowed to make a right turn on a red light unless there is a sign that specifies otherwise. Of course, you should check if there are some other cars coming before turning.
  • Don’t be surprised by construction zones. Check online if there are any before you decide which route you will take.
  • Beware of the winter conditions on the road, especially if you’re coming from a state that doesn’t have much snow. Icy roads, cloudy and dark skies, and snow will impact the conditions for commuting. You’ll have to get a nonfreezing window washer fluid, and you should have your windows fully cleaned and defrosted. The following distance should be increased, and you should brake early.
  • Pull to the right side of the street when you see or hear an emergency vehicle, or stop your vehicle and allow it to pass.
  • There is a large number of pedestrians and cyclists, which is a good and healthy thing. However, drivers don’t like them because most of them don’t cross the streets on crosswalks or they go near or among the cars in traffic. Pay attention to your surroundings and have your eyes wide open for any sudden encounter with pedestrians and cyclists that share the road with you.
  • The limit for alcohol in your blood is lower than .08. Drinking and driving don’t go together, we don’t have to emphasize that.
  • Always check if there’s going to be an event in the city during the day, like a baseball game or a concert. Residents here love their sports teams, and many of them come from nearby places for the event, so that means that there’s going to be a mission impossible to get somewhere by driving. If you’re not Tom Cruise, don’t even bother – just take some of the alternative transportation methods.
  • You will hear about the angry and competitive drivers here that you will have to share the road with. Raging on the street isn’t uncommon, but here you’ll become familiar with people yelling, honking, cutting others, or suddenly hitting the brake in front of you. If you’re not easily triggered, you’re safe.

Driving in Chicago to the Airport – What’s the Best Way?

Another important tip for those who plan to come here by air is that Chicago has two airports – the main O’Hare International Airport and a smaller one called Midway Airport. Avoiding the traffic when going to the airports can be difficult, so make sure you leave plenty of extra time. The closest expressway may not be the fastest – if you choose to go to O’Hare on Friday afternoon, the best option is to skip I-90 and to use I-290 to I-294. The fastest way to get to Midway is to go on Archer Avenue or the Eisenhower (I-290) to Cicero Avenue and then go south.

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What Types of Cars Are the Best Option for the Chicago Road

Since you’re going to be frequent on the streets of Chicago, you should know that some popular import cars are better suited for cruising through a large city than others. There are huge boulevards, but there are also narrow streets and small parking spots that can be tricky for bulky SUVs, pickup trucks, and minivans. In case you’re searching for the best model that will suit the roads of Chicago, we have some suggestions that we’d like to share. Consider this as the best car show for driving in Chicago:

  • Toyota Corolla has a practical hatchback design, and it’s one of the best cars for city driving.
  • Toyota Prius is efficient, unique, and stylish.
  • Honda Fit looks small, but it has a 1.5-liter 4-cylinder engine with a 130 horsepower.
  • Honda Civic – affordable, but yet good looking, it’s one of the best cars for women.
  • Honda HR-V has plenty of space inside and 141 horsepower.
  • Mazda CX-3 doesn’t fail on performance and has a lot of space in cargo.
  • Toyota C-HR is another option for those who are looking for an affordable option.
A man in a convertible on the road
Choose your vehicle depending on where you will be commuting

What You Need to Know If You’re Using Car Shipping Services

In case you’re planning to hire an auto transport company and to relocate your vehicle from one state to another, make sure that you know how to pack a car for moving. You can choose between an open trailer and enclosed trailer, but your car must be operable. You can also consider getting one of the best car insurance for young drivers. That isn’t your only option – you can also figure out your own cheapest way to ship a car and avoid working with a company, but then you might not get a door to door auto transport, and your car might get damaged. Once you’re here, you will need a new driver’s license, and you need to check out how to register your car in a new state. If you own an expensive model or a modified one, consider enclosed auto transport since it offers maximum protection to your four-wheeler.

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