Getting around Philadelphia by car can sometimes be difficult—and at rush hour, it can be a nightmare. The main east–west freeway through the city, the Schuylkill Expressway (I–76), is notorious for its traffic and delays. The main north–south highway through Philadelphia is the Delaware Expressway (I–95). To reach Center City heading southbound on I–95, take the Vine Street exit.
From the west the Pennsylvania Turnpike begins at the Ohio border and intersects the Schuylkill Expressway (I–76) at Valley Forge. The Schuylkill Expressway has several exits in Center City. The Northeast Extension of the turnpike, renamed I–476 and often called “The Blue Route” by locals, runs from Scranton to Plymouth Meeting, north of Philadelphia. From the east the New Jersey Turnpike and I–295 access U.S. 30, which enters the city via the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, or New Jersey Route 42 and the Walt Whitman Bridge into South Philadelphia.
With the exception of a few thoroughfares (e.g. the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Broad Street, Vine Street, Spring Garden Street, parts of Market Street), streets in Center City are narrow and one-way. Philadelphia's compact 5-square-mile downtown is laid out in a grid. The traditional heart of the city is Broad and Market streets, where City Hall stands. Market Street divides the city north and south; 130 South 15th Street, for example, is in the second block south of Market Street. The diagonal Benjamin Franklin Parkway breaks the grid pattern by leading from City Hall out of Center City into Fairmount Park.
Most downtown gas stations can be found on Broad Street or Delaware Avenue. A majority are 24-hour operations, except in rural areas, where Sunday hours are limited and where you may drive long stretches without a refueling opportunity.
In most cases, a spot at a Philadelphia parking meter will cost $2.50 an hour. Parking garages are plentiful, especially around Independence Hall, City Hall, and the Pennsylvania Convention Center, and rates vary. Philadelphia Parking Authority (PPA) employees are famously vigilant about ticketing illegally parked cars and vehicles with expired meters. Fortunately, Center City is compact, and you can easily get around downtown on foot or by bus after you parking. If you plan to stay in a hotel in Center City, check ahead of time to see if they have their own parking facility or if they’ll direct you to a nearby parking garage for a reduced rate, as this can significantly affect your overall parking budget.
Traffic flows relatively freely through the main thoroughfares of the city. Just pay attention: You will often see Philly natives employing both the "rolling stop" at stop signs (found plentifully in South Philly) and the "red light jump" when drivers sitting at a red light will drive through it just as (or just before) it turns green. Road and house construction is a way of life for residents, particular in South Philly neighborhoods, so be prepared to detour if you plan on driving in and around this area. Use extra caution when maneuvering the narrow one-way streets of Center City. Drivers on the Philadelphia stretch of the Schuylkill Expressway (I–76) routinely drive well over the speed limit, and frequent accidents on this highway attest to this. If you’re a slower motorist, consider gentler, more scenic routes to your destination, such as Kelly Drive or West River Drive.
If you have a AAA membership card, you can dial the group's toll-free number for emergency road service.
AAA Mid-Atlantic. 10 Penn Center, 1801 Market St., ground fl., Pennsylvania, 19103. 215/399–1180; 800/222–4357; midatlantic.aaa.com.
Rules of the Road
Pennsylvania law requires all children under age four to be strapped into approved child-safety seats, and children from ages four to eight to ride in booster seats. All passengers must wear seat belts. In Pennsylvania, unless otherwise indicated, you may turn right at a red light after stopping if there's no oncoming traffic. When in doubt, wait for the green. Speed limits in Philadelphia are generally 35–40 mph on side streets, 55 mph on the surrounding highways.
If you plan on spending the majority of your time within the immediate city confines, especially in Center City, you don't need to rent a car, but you may want to rent them if you plan to do a lot of day trips. For rental cars, rates in Philadelphia begin at around $50 to $60 a day.
Generally, you must be at least 21 years old to rent a car in Philadelphia and the surrounding areas, though there are a handful of areas that hold to a 25-and-over rule. (Rates may be higher if you’re under 25.) Non-U.S. residents need a reservation voucher (for prepaid reservations that were made in the traveler's home country), a passport, a driver's license, and a travel policy that covers each driver, when picking up a car.
Avis. 800/633–3469; www.avis.com.
Budget. 800/218–7992; www.budget.com.
Hertz. 800/654–3131; www.hertz.com.
National Car Rental. 888/826–6890; www.nationalcar.com.