Driving in Chicago - 6 Things You Need to Know About Driving in Chicago

front view of chicago theater

Chicago Rush Hour Traffic

If there’s one thing driving in Chicago is known for, it’s the rush hour traffic. Driving downtown in rush hour often comes with a competitive spirit from fellow drivers, eager to make that light and honk their horn. Many drivers weave between traffic at a moment’s notice, so be on guard as you drive. If you have a flex time schedule at work, consider arriving early and leaving early, or arriving late and leaving late to avoid driving during hours with the most overwhelming traffic. Consider taking a defensive driving course if you’re concerned about the amount of traffic you will face and are unaccustomed to downtown driving conditions.

Be Aware of the Ballgames

Chicago has two major baseball teams, the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Cubs, both play at famous ballparks around downtown. When a ballgame is on the schedule, expect even more traffic. Look for shortcuts or alternative routes rather than sticking to major streets that are likely to be packed with baseball fans. For example, when the Chicago Cubs play at Wrigley Field. avoid Clark Street, Rogers Park and Andersonville– even if your alternative route is less direct it may be quicker. Both Cubs’ fans and White Sox fans can also take the ‘L’ (Chicago’s elevated train) out to a ballgame. 


Parking downtown can be difficult, and if you do find a great spot it is likely to be expensive. One way to get around expensive parking is to do your research ahead of time to find free or cheaper parking spots. Some parking garages offer special rates on event days or you may want to consider booking parking in advance from one of the many services such as ParkWhiz where you often pay a cheaper price for parking in advance.  

Cyclists and Pedestrians

If you’re used to driving along country roads or suburban streets with few cyclists or pedestrians in sight, driving in Chicago will be a different experience for you. Downtown Chicago is not only packed with traffic, it is teaming with pedestrians, aimlessly crossing the street while many are distracted by billboards and technology. You’re also bound to see countless cyclists next to you at any stop light – ready to run a light and bike into traffic. Driving in Chicago takes extra care and attention as there’s so much going on with other drivers, commuters, and tourists distracting you at every turn. 

Travelling from the Airport

If you plan to travel by air from Chicago Midway Airport or Chicago O’Hare International Airport, ensure you leave plenty of extra travel time for traffic. On the plus side, when you arrive into one of these airports as a tourist, you can expect taxis to be readily available. Renting a car at the airport is convenient as well.  

Other Options - Public Transit

If you know your route is fraught with traffic and are looking to avoid road rage, public transit is an option in Chicago. Many residents of Chicago choose to ride the Metra, a train system that reaches far out into the suburbs and even into Wisconsin. The Metra is an easy way to travel and it allows commuters to read, relax or finish up work while they ride home. Commuters and tourists can also travel around downtown Chicago on the ‘L’, the elevated train run by the Chicago Transit Authority. This is an affordable way to travel, and trains run very regularly. 

The Chicago Water Taxi, which runs along the Chicago River, is a fun way for any tourist to see Chicago without getting stuck in traffic. The Chicago Water Taxi has 7 dock locations along the river enabling you to explore a great deal of the city in this fun way. 

Those that love cycling can also consider making use of Divvy, which enables anyone to rent a bike downtown, picking it up and dropping it off at countless designated spots across the city. Those interested can pay $9.95 for a 24-hour pass, or choose an annual membership of $99 per year. 

Walking is another option. Once you’re downtown, walking is a great choice for many tourists who will enjoy strolling along Michigan Avenue or walking along the beaches of Lake Michigan. If you get tired, consider renting a Segway! 

Enjoy Your Drive!

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Driving in Chicago is a great way to see the city, and having your own car brings the freedom you need to explore this unique place on your own terms. Having a car is also essential to many commuters who commute into the city. Make the most of your time in Chicago by driving safely, researching short cuts, and being aware of other drivers around you. United Auto Insurance is here to keep you protected and help you make the most of your vehicle. Get a free quote in minutes!