Own a car? Chicago's 3 best neighborhoods for drivers

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The South Loop is an insider favorite for renters with cars. This 2-bedroom corner unit at Met Tower, 310 Michigan Ave., is priced at $2,500.

So you've decided to brave the congestion, hidden speed bumps, zealous meter maids, pot holes, annual fees and wayward pedestrians that plague the motored life in our city.

Either out of desperation or insanity, you've decided to become a Chicago driver. You're going to need all the help you can get.

As a Chicago Realtor who logs 50 or 60 intra-city trips a week, I feel your pain. Fortunately, you can take some of the edge off your road rage by considering one of the more driver-friendly neighborhoods when you choose where to live.

I considered two important factors in these rankings: cost and convenience (or lack of congestion). I also focused on neighborhoods relatively close to the Loop, as these tend to provide the most access to the rest of the city. The price information below comes from an MLS survey of rented units in last nine months:

SOUTH LOOP
Median 2-bedroom condo price: $335,000
Average 2-bedroom rental: $2,270
Average parking rent: $200
This 'hood takes the gold for its overall well-roundedness. It has quick access to I-90/I-94, I-55 and Lake Shore Drive. The congestion is minimal, (unless the Bears are playing), so on an average day you'll sail down Michigan, Indiana or 18th Street. Street parking is usually metered, but plentiful. Off-street parking will run you about $200/mo for a heated garage space, which isn't bad for downtown.

See listing for photo at Met Tower.

BUCKTOWN
Median 2-bedroom condo price: $359,000
Average 2-bedroom rental: $2,112
Average parking rent: $125
Note: I'm talking about Bucktown, not its twin Wicker Park, where there is no street parking to be heard of unless you drive a Kids Wheels car. North of North Avenue, you'll actually find some pretty decent street parking, especially East of Damen.

If you do want off-street parking, it's cheap: from $75/mo for an outdoor spot to $150 for a garage spot. Add to that easy access to I-90/I-94 via three different on-ramps and relative proximity to downtown, and you've got the makings of one drive-tastic neighborhood. Only the congestion on Damen and Milwaukee knocks it out of the number one spot.

EAST LOOP / LAKE SHORE EAST
Median 2-bedroom condo price: $535,000*
Average 2-bedroom rental: $2,900
Average parking rent: $275
Here's a sleeper. Yes, you'll pay some of the highest parking costs in this hood - $225-$275/mo. That's why it's third. But it's on the list because you can't beat the convenience.

(*Revised; and by the way, this is the median price, but you can easily find a condo in the high $300,000s to low $400,000s.)

In order to take advantage of this convenience, you have to make like Batman and navigate Chicago's network of lower and service level streets. Many parking condo and apartment building garages in this 'hood have exits directly onto Lower Wacker, Lower Randolph or Even Lower Wacker (also known as Service Level Wacker). Get to Lake Shore Drive in under a minute (seriously). Get to I-290 in three minutes or to I-90/I-94 in four minutes via I-290 (trust me, it's faster than Randolph, even if you backtrack a bit).

RUNNERS UP
The West Loop offers many of the benefits of the South Loop, but only if you stick close to the highway. West Lakeview offers fairly easy parking options and the congestion could be worse (as long as the Cubs aren't playing). But the long slog to either I-90/I-94, Lakeshore Drive or downtown via Ashland or Halsted knocks it off my list.

Mike McElroy is the owner of Access Chicago Realty, Inc., in Lakeview, which assists buyers, sellers, renters and investors in Chicago.