Calgary is laid out in a grid

The Bow River and Centre Street are the centre of the grid, the river dividing north from south and Centre Street dividing east from west.  (The imaginary intersection of the grid is on the Centre Street Bridge above the Bow River.) This creates 4 main quadrants:  NW, NE, SW, SE.  One of these suffixes appears on almost every Calgary address.  Using a 'hundred-block' system, each block represents 100 in "house" numbers.  For example, 333 - 2nd Avenue NW would be 2 blocks north of Centre Avenue and on the 3rd block west of Centre Street. Note that it will be very difficult to find an adress on a numbered street unless you know the quadrant that it is in. Downtown adresses are in either the southwest or the southeast quadrant.

Because the river does not run in a straight line, one must allow for street quadrant references relative to the river, not other streets: for example, a street with a NE designation may actually be further SOUTH of a street in the SW, because the river dips southward towards the east of the city.

In Calgary, all numbered avenues run east-west (e.g., 5th Avenue S. through downtown), and all numbered streets run north-south (e.g. 1st Street E., which runs past City Hall and the Stampede Grounds). 

16th Avenue N is the Trans Canada Highway ( Highway 1) and runs east-west. In the west section of the city, Hwy 1 is the dividing line between the NW and SW quadrants. 

When driving through the downtown core, be aware that most of the streets downtown are one-way; have a careful look at your map to make sure you're not routing yourself down a one-way street in the wrong direction!   But almost every second street is the opposite way, so you rarely have to travel more than 2 blocks further than planned to circle around to where you were.

7th Avenue S in the downtown core is reserved for trains and buses; the signs that say "transit only" mean that only vehicles belonging to Calgary Transit are permitted; the signs do not simply mean "no stopping"!

Deerfoot Trail is also Highway 2 and is the main artery running north-south along the eastern side of the downtown core.  It extends from well south of the city, to well north of the city.

Trails (Stoney Trail, Crowchild Trail, Deerfoot Trail, Blackfoot Trail, etc.) are generally expressways that cross the city.  However, some streets which are called "trails" are not expressways (e.g., Macleod Trail, Morley Tr., Sarcee Tr.) and some "trails" do not cross the city (e.g. Sarcee Tr., Edmonton Tr.). The term "trail" for a major road is not some modern, cowboy-themed imposition on the city; actually, it's a preservation of the original names for the major routes through and out of the city (Macleod Trail to Fort Macleod, Edmonton Trail to Edmonton, etc.). But new major roads continue to be given the "trail" designation, with the most recent example being Métis Trail (2006).

Through to the end of the Second World War, most of Calgary was built on the grid system.  After that the suburban development style switched to themed neighbourhoods with meandering streets with names that followed the neighbourhood's theme.  To illustrate, all the streets in the community of Silver Springs start with "Silver"  (e.g., Silver Mead Cres., Silver Springs Blvd., etc.), and the streets in Lake Bonavista are all named after lakes (Lake Crimson Dr., Lake Erie Way, Lake Linnet Cres.).  This can be extremely confusing to non-residents of those neighbourhoods, and even Calgarians get lost within neighbourhoods they do not visit regularly.  There are no signs pointing to the "Road" or "Cres." or "Ave." so you will need a map, a helpful pedestrian, or extra time to look for the address you need to find.

Downtown Parking

For several years now, Calgary's downtown parking lots have been the  most expensive parking in Canada  - more expensive than Toronto, Vancouver, or Montreal. (New York is the only North American city that charges more.) So if your hotel charges you $25/day or more to park, that is simply the going rate, it is not your hotel taking advantage of you.  They may also require you to use valet parking, so that they can use their parking spaces more efficiently.

If you decide to park on the street, you need to know that all of Calgary's downtown parking meters were removed in September 2007. However, if you park on the street anywhere in the downtown core (bordered by the Bow River on the north, 9th Ave S, 11th St W, and 4th St E), you will still have to pay, using the ParkPlus system. ParkPlus is also being introduced to areas outside of the downtown core, such as the Beltline (south of downtown) and Kensington (north of downtown). Follow these steps:

1. Park in a legal parking spot. (Not too close to a corner, alley, or driveway, and not in an area with a sign banning parking.)

2. Note your car's licence plate number.

3. On the sidewalk, look for a sign near your car which tells you the ParkPlus zone number that you have parked in. Note it.

4. Find a ParkPlus pay machine. This is a large machine, roughly similar in size and appearance to a bank automated teller machine. There is probably one nearby, but you can use any machine.

5. Enter your zone number and licence plate number into the machine. 

6. Enter how long you want to park. Your payment won't be accepted if you want to park outside of the allowed hours, or for longer than the maximum time.

7. Pay with exact change or credit card.

8. You're done! You may request a receipt (to remind you when your parking expires), but you don't need to return to your car to put anything on display in the window there. A special camera car roams downtown, scanning licence plates and checking them with the database of paid parking.

If you will be parking downtown a lot while visiting Calgary, it may be worthwhile to get an account through, which allows you to pay with your cellphone, and only pay for the time that you are actually parked.

If you are caught in a parking violation, you will get a ticket through the mail, not on your windshield. If you are renting a car, it is quite likely that the rental company will receive the ticket and deduct the fine amount from the credit card which you used for the rental.

Outside the downtown core, parking meters are being gradually phased out in favour of the ParkPlus system, but there are many meters still in operation. They take coins (quarters, looneys, and twooneys) and special electronic parking cards. Call (403) 537-7000 if you're interested in buying a pay card before your visit. Because the meters take looneys and twooneys ($1 and $2 coins), petty crooks sometimes put a small folded slip of paper in the coin slot. This keeps the coin from dropping (and paying for your parking time), but it also keeps it from being retrieved by the unwary parker. (The scammer comes later to pull out your coin and keep it.) If you carry a Swiss Army knife with those tiny tweezers, you can probably retrieve your coin; use your cell phone to dial the number on the parking meter to tell the Parking Authority that the meter needs to be fixed, and carry on with your activities. (This is one of the two major reasons for replacing all the downtown parking meters. The other is the anticipated creation of 200 additional downtown parking spots by removing the designated meter parking locations.) If you don't carry tweezers, remember to check the coin slot before putting in your money, or put in a quarter first.   There is no charge for parking at parking meters on Sunday, or outside of the hours noted on the meter (below)

Downtown treet parking rates and hours (as of Aug 2011)

 Mon - Fri   9 a.m. to 6 p.m.  Up to $5/hr, 

   ($1 buys at least 12 minutes,  depending on location
  Sat    9 a.m. to 6 p.m.   $1.50/hr

On weekdays, after two hours, you must move your car to a new parking spot to avoid a parking ticket; you can't just pay for additional time. If you are sitting inside your vehicle at a metered parking spot outside of downtown, or in the downtown core outside of a standing or loading zone, you must pay; a small army of bylaw enforcement officers patrols Calgary, checking for payment and politely reminding people to pay for their parking.

Some parking lots have Pay and Display meters. Park in the lot, go to the meter (they are very large and hard to miss), pay for your time, and then take the ticket that the meter issues and place it in your car so that it's visible through the windshield. A few indoor downtown parking lots (parkades) are operated by the City of Calgary as hourly parking; the rate for parking here is $6.50/hr (as of Jan 2009).

 For the most detailed and up-to-date information about parking on streets and in City of Calgary owned parking lots, check the  Calgary Parking Authority website.

Finding Parking

Online: You can find parking online by searching on this map for  Calgary Parking. Just enter the duration of time you will be parking for in the "Compare Rates" box on the left and current prices will be shown to you.  Click on individual bubbles to get more information on specific parking structures (rates, hours of operation, payment options, etc.).

Smartphone Apps: The Calgary Parking Authority operates all of the city-owned pay parking, as well as street parking through the Parks Plus system. The CPA's free MyParking app for iPhone offers real-time information on street parking, and estimates availability in their parking lots.It can help you find your car too!

You can also find parking using your smartphone by downloading the  ParkMe app for iPhone, for  Android, or by visiting on your mobile browser. 

Traffic Trouble Spots

Due to Calgary's amazing growth in recent years, road construction is struggling to keep pace. This means that some areas have bottlenecks which are best avoided, either due to a lack of road capacity, or due to road construction. Note that very little road construction takes place during the winter months (November to May).

Some construction zones have speed limits that are in effect 24 hours a day, not just when workers and equipment are active. They will be indicated by white speed limit signs instead of orange (construction zone) speed limit signs. This is generally the case for long-term construction projects, where there can be changes on a daily basis and the road configuration may not be safe at higher speeds, due to lane reductions, road re-routing, narrow lanes, and so on. 

See the City of Calgary's Construction and Detours website for up-to-date information on road construction projects within the city.

Northeast Quadrant (includes airport)

Most of the Northeast is industrial/commercial, with residential areas further out from downtown.

Airport Trail: In 2012, Airport Trail near the Calgary International Airport is undergoing major changes in order to integrate the new Airport Tunnel. Travellers arriving and departing the airport via Airport Trail should expect reduced speed limits near the airport, down to 50km/h from 90 km/h. The project is expected to be complete in May 2014.

Northwest Quadrant

Most of the Northwest is residential.  

Stoney Trail: The last remaining traffic light on Stoney Trail has now been removed by constructing an interchange between Stoney Trail and Nose Hill Drive (Feb 2014). However, the interchange is not yet complete, and a temporary and distinctly make-shift interchange is currently in place. So expect lanes to be moved or rerouted in this area, and all the other usual construction hassles.  

Southeast Quadrant

Much of the Southeast is industrial zoning, which gives way to primarily residential areas as you get further from downtown.

Deerfoot Trail: The Calf Robe Bridge is the very congested bridge going over the Bow River, as a result of the "Glenmore Squeeze", a traffic bottleneck at the Glenmore Trail exit. Further south, traffic gets bottlenecked once again at the Anderson Road/Bow Bottom Trail exit. Both of these areas are good spots to avoid during rush hour.

Southwest Quadrant 

Most of the Southwest is residential.   

Crowchild Trail Traffic during rush hour on a normal day will be gridlocked going northbound before the Memorial Drive exit due to a bottleneck squeeze as you are crossing the river via the bridge. Sometimes, traffic does back up to almost 33rd Avenue, so it is an area you will want to watch for.

Rush-hour lane reversals

Rush-hour lane reversals are when traffic direction is changed to allow traffic to flow more smoothly during rush-hour. They are marked with signs and overhead signals. When you turn onto these roads, be very careful that you are turning into the right lane! Make sure that you read the signs that warn you about the lane reversal.

Centre Street: During the morning rush hour, there will be three lanes going into downtown and one lane going out of downtown. During the afternoon rush hour, there will be three lanes going out of downtown, and one lane going in. There are overhead signals telling you which lanes are okay, and which ones are not.

5th Avenue connector: During normal times and afternoon rush hours, this one-lane segment leads out of downtown as 4th avenue. It goes from 9th street (after the LRT crossing) westbound, before merging onto westbound Bow Trail. During morning rush hours, however, this segment of road is eastbound traffic, with an exit from eastbound Bow Trail towards the 5th avenue connector. Traffic will then follow the signs and merge onto 5th Avenue. Signs will show wether the connector is open (morning rush) or closed (other times). 

Traffic Enforcement

Expect police to be watching for speeders in construction zones, using marked police cars, unmarked "ghost cars", police motorcycles, and photo radar. There is frequently a police presence on the final stretch of 16th Ave N (Trans-Canada Hwy, Hwy 1) between Canada Olympic Park (with the ski jump towers) and the western city limits.Since the Stoney Trail route to Banff ends with you driving this section of 16th Ave N, travellers choosing both Stoney Trail and the Trans-Canada Hwy to travel to & from Banff should take note. The speed limit on this section of westbound 16th Avenue is 80 km/h (50 mph), not 90 km/h. However, lots of vehicles go 90 km/h or more in this area, especially on the weekends. There is photo radar on that stretch (both westbound and eastbound into the city) on a very, very regular basis. Note that between the Calgary city limit and Canada Olympic Park, the eastbound speed limit is slightly higher, at 90 km/h. However, it drops to 80 just before the Canada Olympic Park intersection.

Calgary Police Service (CPS) doesn't mind the locations of speed enforcement activities being publicized. As police spokespeople have stated to the media on many occasions, their goal is to get people to slow down, and publicity helps them to achieve that goal. In fact, Calgary police publicize many enforcement locations on the CPS website.

Other TripAdvisor Inside Pages that help with getting around are Inside Calgary : Hotel Districts, Inside Calgary : Taxis & Rental Cars and Inside Calgary : Public Transportation . The City of Calgary has a comprehensive online brochure, Traffic Tips, which gives details on Calgary's traffic and parking regulations; very helpful for those driving in North America for the first time.