Do I Need A Car While Living Downtown? The Answer is No.

So you’re contemplating a life without a car and trying to weigh out the options. Chicago is the perfect city to go car-less, but if you don’t believe me, here are four things to consider when trying to make the decision.

Parking 101

I would love to be writing about all of the amazing free parking lots in downtown Chicago, but let’s face it, parking in a big city is never cheap. So, let’s take a look at some parking basics in the city:

  • Average cost of onsite parking (garage) – $250/month
  • Average cost of offsite parking (typically garage) – $185/month
  • Permit street parking – $30/year
  • Free street parking – Free

Onsite parking goes without saying – you get what you pay for. Offsite parking really just saves you a little money, in exchange for a short walk and potentially an uncovered option. If money isn’t a concern, these options are both great and often can be done month to month as well.

Street parking comes in the form of both permit parking and free parking… well, sort of. In some neighborhoods, such as River North, Streeterville or Lakeshore East, it comes in the form of “not at all.” For some apartments, such as in the Loop, there is no onsite parking or a limit on the number of resident parking spaces available. In these cases, if you need to have a car, you should strongly consider the benefits of living in a more parking friendly neighborhood. We can help with that!

If you plan on relying on a neighborhood that offers permit street parking or free street parking, consider how often you will need to move your car and how diligent you are about remembering to move it. Free parking can be scarce, but permit parking is a bit more plentiful. Keep in mind, a permit is a permission to park – not a guaranteed spot. A lot of us have found this out the hard way. Here’s a little chart to help break down the parking by neighborhood.

Snow, Street Cleaning and Those Darn Parking Tickets

The fine folks who put up the street parking signs in Chicago have an odd sense of humor – and geography. Apparently, when it snows, the parking authorities have determined that is the right time to limit the number of street parking spaces. Brilliant! And, just to keep you on your toes when the weather is nice, some streets aren’t marked very well, so you will have to make sure to read those signs carefully – even the ones at the end of the block! Don’t worry about tickets – you’re going to get them. The goal is to make sure you pay them so you don’t end up getting booted or towed. At some point, you have to just take it in stride. It’s all part of owning a car in Chicago!

Or, if you can live without that car, think of all the money you’ll save on car insurance.

Amazing Public Transportation

If you’re worried about how you will get around without a car, don’t. Chicago is one of the best cities you’ll find when it comes to public transportation.

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) manages the buses and trains in Chicago. Get yourself a transit card and jump on. Depending on the time of day, your wait will be between five and twenty minutes – less than the time it will take you to park!

Another option to consider is a ride service like Uber and Lyft. While the city still has a ton of taxis, I find them to be cheaper, cleaner and nicer. And now that Lyft is getting bigger, it seems to have kept the pricing in check. You will be able to get to most parts of downtown for about five to ten dollars.

Chicago has recently been introduced to a bike sharing program, Divvy, which allows you to rent a bicycle to get around town. With over 500 pick-up and drop-off points, and almost 6,000 bikes, it’s an awesome way to travel and enjoy the outdoors. Prices are ten dollars daily or $99 for the entire year – and you don’t have to store the bike in your apartment!

Another great option is the Pedway. The Pedway is a series of underground walkways that connect Central downtown Chicago to a multitude of stores, hotels and train stations. Perfect for the cold and unpredictable weather in Chicago, the craziest part is that many Chicagoans don’t even know about it. Check out this map of the Pedway and see for yourself what it connects.

Finally, for the times that you absolutely must have a car to get around, you have Zipcar. Zipcar allows you to reserve and rent a car as low as $8-$10 per hour and has pick-up and drop-off locations all over the city. I’ll bet there’s one closer to your apartment than free street parking!

Life Just Got Easier

You may feel like not having a car will increase the time you need to do personal errands. Think again. Apartment homes downtown are now being built with the idea of being more self-contained, hoping to keep you on site or at least close by. Thus, you may find that you don’t use that car much after all!

If you live in an apartment building with lots of amenities, you’ll likely have a laundry facility onsite, dry cleaners, and even a door staff that will receive your packages. Pressbox is also an extra option for getting your dry cleaning done on demand. With over 100 drop off points, you can just drop it off and place your order anytime.

There are also some properties that have retail space attached to the building or are attached to shopping centers, like Marquee at Block 37, allowing easy access to coffee shops, restaurants and various other businesses.

As we all know, you don’t even have to leave your apartment to go grocery shopping anymore! Instacart, Amazon Prime Now, and Peapod all offer the option to do your grocery shopping online and delivered directly to your home. There’s also been a trend in home meal prep, with services such as Plated and Blue Apron. These guys will ship you exact amounts of ingredients for specific meals – all at about $12 per meal. Long gone are the days of wasted food!

Maybe it’s time for you to consider ditching that car and enjoy some “car-free living!” If you plan on living and working in the downtown area, feel free to reach out. We would love to help you find a new apartment – whether you have a car or not.