What to Know About Parking in Chicago, Illinois

What to Know About Parking in Chicago, Illinois

Chicago, Illinois, is one of the most beloved American cities, and for a good reason. It has Professional sports teams, unique food options, and exciting history. The excitement of the Windy City draws millions of people there each year. However, Chicago does deal with one major problem that’s so common to other major cities around the world: the issue of parking.

While car ownership is one of the most convenient things about modern life, driving a private vehicle in a big city like Chicago has its challenges. Drivers need to know which options are available, what the rules and regulations say about parking, and where to go when traveling with a car. Knowing these things will mitigate any potential issues that arise. Luckily, Chicago has many options for people who know where to look. Drivers can drive to a parking garage, find metered parking, or even pay for monthly parking in Chicago.

1. What are the challenges of parking in Chicago?

What are the challenges of parking in Chicago?

Car owners who live in or visit large cities often must clear many hurdles before being able to park their vehicles. Cities are typically filled with road congestion caused by traffic, construction, and streets lacking ample parking space.

Many areas in cities like Chicago were planned decades or even centuries ago. The people who designed the layout couldn’t even dream of the types of vehicles we would own or how many of them there would be. Thus, the infrastructure on many roads can not accommodate the number of cars that need space. Ultimately, it’s a supply and demand problem.

Like many other cities, Chicago has done its best to mitigate parking issues. However, these plans have specific regulations that all drivers must follow if parking around the city.

What to Know About Parking in Chicago, Illinois

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2. What types of parking options are available in Chicago?

What types of parking options are available in Chicago?

A. Metered Spaces

A metered parking space is a designated space for a vehicle that’s available to rent for a small fee. People put money into a nearby machine in order to use the parking space. Chicago has over 36,000 such spaces. Their rates can vary greatly depending on the day of the week and even the time of day.

Parking meters in some Chicago neighborhoods charge around $2.50 per hour during daytime hours. These areas tend to be a bit further out from the more popular downtown areas. As you get closer to the city’s center, parking gets more expensive. The central business district meter rates are $4.75 per hour during the day, and the section known as The Loop has meters that charge as much as $7.00 per hour.

Some areas of the city offer free parking on Sundays or overnight, while others do not. It all depends on your specific location and the rules associated with that area. Knowing this in advance can make it easier to go through the process.

B. Parking Lots

The parking lots around Chicago aren’t functionally any different from the metered spaces. The city owns and operates the lots and typically charges about the same amount of money to park in them. The difference is that in a parking lot, your vehicle will be off the main street and secure in an area with other cars. Some might prefer the peace of mind this offers instead of leaving a car on the main road.

What to Know About Parking in Chicago, Illinois

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C. Monthly Parking in Chicago

Some of the lots around the city offer monthly plans. These plans allow drivers to come and go as they please for an entire month. Like the hourly parking program, though, these rates can vary. Some lots charge fees as low as $43 for a month, while others can run up to around $120. Depending on the needs of each driver, this might be a convenient option.

D. Parking Garages

As in many other cities, parking garages have been a godsend for managing the extra congestion and traffic that comes with all those cars. They are intended to get more cars off the street and into indoor structures that can be multiple stories high or down into the ground. Chicago has several of these garages, and they tend to have a range of costs. The ones that run as standalone businesses tend to be a little cheaper than the ones connected to hotels, so do some research before taking this route.

E. Free Street Parking

Free spaces are trickier, though not impossible, to find. Certain streets do have available free parking, but these areas tend to be further away from the center of downtown. If you need to access the heart of Chicago and don’t want to pay for parking, you may need to take a bus, taxi, or a longer walk to get to your destination.

What to Know About Parking in Chicago, Illinois

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3. What are Some Tips for Parking in Chicago?

What are Some Tips for Parking in Chicago?

A. Plan ahead

In parking, as in any endeavor, it’s always a good thing to plan ahead. Know what time you’ll need parking and allow for delays if it is during peak hours. Have some cash or a credit card available to pay for a metered space. Know where the garages and lots are around your destination. Doing this will make for an experience with less stress that goes far more smoothly.

B. Read the street signs

The city of Chicago has several signs that drivers should be aware of when encountering them. Most of them are probably common in most cities. They communicate where and when parking a car is acceptable and legal. Some of these signs include paid parking signs, indicating a metered zone; standing zone times, allowing cars to park for short periods of time for quick tasks; street cleaning signs, informing citizens of the cleaning schedule; no parking signs; and residential parking signs, indicating that only those with resident stickers can park in the area.

C. Know your vehicle and park accordingly

Parking etiquette can vary depending on the vehicle, and Chicago has some regulations that include these differences. For example, drivers with cars over 6 feet tall, such as trucks and SUVs, should ensure they are parked at least 20 feet away from a crosswalk. Doing so will increase visibility for drivers and pedestrians alike.

Additionally, drivers of smaller cars should take time to ensure their bumper is not over the painted crosswalk lines. Taking these steps into account is a meaningful way to maintain safety in the city’s chaotic streets.

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D. Park at least 20 feet away from stop signs

Staying away from stop signs is, for one reason, to keep everyone safe. By keeping your car a healthy distance away from a stop sign, all will be able to see it and anticipate when to stop.

E. Keep Cars Out of Bicycle and Bus Lanes

This one should be obvious, as every major city with these amenities has the rule. Still, it is extremely important. Keeping all cars out of the bus lanes ensures the public transit system can work efficiently and safely. Similarly, cyclists need to feel confident riding in their designated space. Even though some motorists get frustrated with them on the road, it is their right to use the public thoroughfares and feel safe doing it. Cars that block these lanes may cause cyclists to swerve into traffic.

F. Pay Attention to Winter Parking Bans

Even in areas with free overnight parking, you’ll need to be aware of the time of year to know if you’re in compliance. Chicago bans overnight parking on certain streets from December to March because the snowplows do most of their work late at night. While this ban is always in effect regardless of the weather, motorists should be especially careful when there is snow to avoid damage to their vehicles.

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4. What Should Drivers Do if they Get Towed in Chicago?

What Should Drivers Do if they Get Towed in Chicago?

Chicago tows an estimated 100,000 vehicles per year, which is quite impressive. The implication is that officials will be looking for cars that are in violation of the rules. It’s always important to do your best to avoid the wrath of the meter maids, but even the most stringent rule followers can make mistakes from time to time.

If your car is towed in Chicago, there’s no need to panic. Remain calm and call the city’s Auto Pound Section. Their number is readily available, and they can connect you with the right people to be reunited with your car. The Chicago Police Department even has a tool on their website where you can enter your car’s information and find which impound lot to report to. It is a way to streamline the process and keep people going on their way.


As much as Chicago has to offer as one of the great American cities, it also has its share of challenges. Parking is one such issue. With the proper knowledge, preparation, and frame of mind, people can find ways to alleviate the stress of driving a vehicle downtown. Whether the choice is metered parking, a garage, or monthly parking in Chicago, making the right choice will improve the experience for all parties involved.

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