Detroit Driving & Commute Times: How to Drive in Detroit
What to Know About Driving in Detroit

Learning how to get around in a new area is equal parts exciting and intimidating. It can take some time to learn the best major roads to take, where to expect roundabouts, and how to navigate the unconventional road layout in the heart of Detroit. Taking time to study up on the best local tips and tricks can help with the challenge and lead to a more pleasant time out on the roads as you explore the neighborhoods of Detroit.

Get to Know Your Major Roads

Getting around Detroit is generally easy because of the area's extensive toll-free highway system combined with the area's status as a major port city. The city is serviced by a number of interstates and US Highways. Many of the numbered roads also have formal names, such as I-75 also being known as Walter P. Chrysler Freeway, but it's much more common to see the numeric names. One of the few exceptions is M-10, which is more commonly known as the Lodge. I-75 starts at the tip of the Upper Peninsula, goes across the Mackinac bridge, and continues south through the state until entering Ohio. This freeway connects with I-275, which allows a bypass through Detroit's western suburbs. I-94 runs from east to west, serving Ypsilanti, Ann Arbor and Port Huron. I-96 runs east to west through Wayne, Oakland and Livingston counties before terminating in downtown.

The major arteries within Detroit are set up in a radial fashion to make it easy for drivers to get to and from the heart of the city. The major roads meet at Grand Circus Park in the theater district and are connected by a series of tree-lined boulevards. The most prominent of those main spokes in the wheel-shaped roads are Jefferson, Woodward, Gratiot, Grand River, and Michigan Avenues.

What to Expect During Rush Hour

In general, peak traffic hours in Detroit last from around 6 AM to 10 AM in the mornings and 3 PM to 7 PM in the evenings on weekdays. How much time you will spend on the road depends on what area you are commuting from. The average one-way commute time from Warren, Troy, and Farmington Hills is around 27.6 minutes. Drivers coming from Dearborn or Livonia spend an average of 25.2 minutes on the road each way. This puts them close to the nationwide average commute time of 26.9 minutes. Drivers in the Ann Arbor area have a slightly shorter commute time, with around 24.4 minutes each way, while those around Monroe spend about 24.4 minutes on the road.

If you can avoid the most congested freeways, you can often save time on your commute. The most frequently cited problem spot is I-94 around the Midtown area. In part, the slow-going is partially due to the age and condition of the interchange between I-94 and the Lodge Freeway. This interchange was one of the first constructed when the interstate system was built back in the 1950s.


Instead of parking meters, the City of Detroit allows drivers to park on the street and pay through either a nearby kiosk or the city's ParkDetroit app. Parking spots will have signs posted that tell drivers which zone they are parked in. Whether someone can add time after initially booking parking can get tricky, however: if a driver is in a parking space with a maximum of two hours parking, for instance, they cannot add time until their two hours have completely expired. When using the ParkDetroit app, drivers will get a text message 10 minutes before parking time expires.

The city uses a "digital chalking" system that uses cameras to document the position of cars' tires when they are parked in timed spaces. This allows parking enforcement officers to ticket people who buy consecutive blocks of time that exceed the maximum amount of time in a given zone.

The cost of failing to pay for parking can be steep. The usual parking ticket in Detroit is $45. However, someone who feels they have received a ticket they did not deserve can contest the ticket online at

Other Helpful Things to Know

Knowing the rules of the road in a new place can save drivers from a ticket, or even an accident. One thing that it is vital to know is that Detroit law does not allow drivers to use their cell phones without a hands-free device. Fines start at $100 for a first offense, then go up as high as $300 for repeat violators.

People who are used to driving in other metro areas may be surprised at the common speed limits within Detroit. Because it is a large and active city, local authorities decided to set lower speed limits than those seen in other areas. The speed limit is generally set at 25 mph. However, drivers may see some areas with speeds up to 30 mph. On freeways and highways, speed limits are typically about 70 mph, so commuters can make up a bit of time there.

During the winter, Detroit gets plenty of snow. Whenever there are three inches on the ground or more, the Department of Public Works will deploy plows to remove it. Keep an eye out for plows when finding places to park, because it is not legal to park in an area where plowing is taking place. Having winter tires put on the car can help keep drivers safe during snowy conditions.

One perk that many newcomers will appreciate: there are no toll roads in Michigan. This means that, no matter what route drivers take, they don't need to worry about suddenly needing money to cross a bridge.

Getting Around the Motor City

Like any city, Detroit has many unique quirks that make it unique. Some of these can be clear-cut bonuses, such as the lack of toll roads. Some are mixed blessings like the lower speed limit: while some drivers may find the lower speeds frustrating, they can make it easier to change lanes, see the sights of the city, and make it safer for pedestrians. By learning the rules of the road and the special tips that make it easier to get around, drivers can have a more pleasant experience, whether they are just visiting or are making Detroit their new home.

Posted by Michael Perna on
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