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best US cities without a car

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Guest intstudent

I think that this is of interest to many of us, especially the international students. What are the best and worst college cities for getting around without a car?

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Guest SHELLY

2 of my best friends live in chicago without a car. i think the only time they wish they had one is when they go grocery shopping, but they just go a couple of times a week. and it's a short walk from their house. :D

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I have lived in Portland and Eugene OR for many years and both are quite good for biking. There are many bike lanes and many people commute by bike, so drivers are used to seeing bikes on the road. It does rain a bit though, so you will probably want to buy some rain gear.

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Generally, the east coast cities like Philadelphia, Boston, NYC, and Washington have pretty good public transportation and are easy to get around without having access to a car. Philadelphia is very walkable.

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SHELLY said:
2 of my best friends live in chicago without a car. i think the only time they wish they had one is when they go grocery shopping, but they just go a couple of times a week. and it's a short walk from their house. :D

I second this. :) We have both trains and buses. You don't need a car.

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I think Bloomington Indiana (Indiana University) is good. I rode my bike to class everyday. There are bike lanes on a lot of streets and drivers are used to it and respectful. I walked to restaurants, stores, and bars downtown. If you want to go to the mall or to wal-mart (icky), you can take the bus pretty easily. Also, parking is very expensive and difficult on campus.

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I've spent a good deal of time in Ames, Iowa (Iowa State), Lincoln, Nebraska, and Syracuse, New York, and of the three, Ames is the easiest to get around without a car while Syracuse is the hardest. The reasons are: Midwest towns are flatter, so bikes work; smaller towns are easier to walk around in, its only four miles from corner to corner of town; snow removal is better where everyone has a truck and does there own neighborhood rather than wait for the city to get to it; College towns like Ames have free busing for students; and all bus routes lead to campus/are geared towards students needs. The reasons go on, and this holds for people I know in places like Lawrence, KS, Urbana-Champaign, IL, Manhattan, KS (Kansas State), etc.

On the other hand, like another poster said, bigger midwest cities like Omaha and Kansas City have large suburban populations that don't care about public transportation. But even in a town with really mediocre busses, like Omaha, you can find places near the universities, Creighton and Nebraska-Omaha, where most everything is within walking distance (but the groceries are expensive in those areas).

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Guest Cridamour

Providence, RI (Brown University) is great when you don't have a car. It's small enough to do everything on foot. The public transportation is also well-organized, both within the city as for getting out. (45 minutes from Boston by train.) Apart from during winter, getting by by bike also seems very easy!

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Guest Mnemosyne9

Lawrence, KS is an interesting case. Having lived here for four years, I can attest that you can probably get to class without a car, if you live in an apartment complex on the campus bus route. I have done it for three years, going by bike for one because I didn't live within walking distance of a bus stop. However, the public city buses are notoriously difficult and do not intersect with campus much at all. (One specific route does, but that's it, for the whole public system. I believe that bus only goes downtown, as well, not to West Lawrence. Correct me if I'm wrong.) Campus buses aside from those serving the dormitories only run every half-hour, as well, so it can be frustrating. Having to wait thirty minutes if you miss your bus can be a real pain.

As for getting groceries, going anywhere outside the city (including to the airport in Kansas City), and getting basically from West Lawrence to East Lawrence or Downtown, you need a car. No question about it. I take the campus bus every day, never drive to class or work (which is also on campus) but I have a car because you simply can't get to the store or run simple errands on the bus.

Re: Bikes, some people try it, and I did for about a semester, but it's not easy. There are only a few miles of bike lanes, which drivers generally ignore. Biking downtown is usually okay, but outside that small area, forget it. The city is car-based, and the streets (and driver attitudes) reflect that. Sidewalks are usually present, but often only on one side of the street and are not always kept in good condition.

In spite of all this, Lawrence is the most pedestrian/bus/bike friendly city in Kansas! I'm not joking. I am, on the other hand, moving to Oregon. And leaving my car behind.

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Guest Mnemosyne9

By the way, Lawrence is not a flat town at all, it's exceptionally hilly for Kansas and the university is built on a hill. So biking is, well, interesting.

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Guest Aggie '05

Houston:

Rice or Univ. of Houston-Downtown, you are ~okay~ without a car.

U of H-Main Campus, buy a car.

Really, Houston is just so spread out, you need a car, but gas prices are lower here.

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I'll second the poster who said that Eugene is a good place to get around in w/out a car. Bikes are good, and the bus system is very good as well.

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I've been in Madison for 6 years now without a car. It's manageable, lots of people bike and there are paths everywhere. The bus goes pretty much everywhere and students get a free year-round bus pass. It's definitely better to have a car, but you can get by without one here.

I'd say best places to not have a car would be NYC or Boston, both cities have excellent local and regional transportation.

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San Francisco and Berkeley are excellent for not having a car. In fact, unless you live somewhere where you can park your car for free, it is best not to have a car. http://www.transitinfo.org/ helps you plan your public transit in the Bay Area.

Davis is also good for not having a car since most people ride bikes and the University's transit system is very good. However, you will go bat shit crazy if you don't get outside Davis from time to time. It is a fantastic college town and I LOVED going there, but sometimes you just have to get outside of the town. You can get to the Bay Area on a bus that goes between Berkeley and Davis and that works for a lot of people. You can get into Sacramento on public transit as well, but Sac's transit is not good as the Bay Area.

Washington, DC is a good place for not having a car though it is kind of annoying that the metro doesn't go to Georgetown (you can take buses though). You can catch trains to other east coast cities as well.

Los Angeles is complicated. In some places, the transit is fine, in other places it is horrible (not available/scary). It depends on where you live and where you go to school. There is a very strong car mentality in LA, but public transit can be done. E.g. http://www.bigbluebus.com/busroutes/index.asp the Big Blue Bus, helpful of you got to UCLA.

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Guest Guest

Atlanta's public transportation is a huge disappointment, unless you only want to go north, south, east or west (forget anything in between), and you're not going to leave the city in any way. Basically, you can take MARTA (the train) to some places, but you'd have to take a bus in addition to the train to get to really get anywhere. A huge pain. I've lived here for about five years, and a car is sadly necessary...and the traffic sucks.

Check out http://www.itsmarta.com for train & bus maps and schedules.

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Guest dym
Houston:

Rice or Univ. of Houston-Downtown, you are ~okay~ without a car.

U of H-Main Campus, buy a car.

Really, Houston is just so spread out, you need a car, but gas prices are lower here.

just slightly cheaper than other places...

But yes, if you plan to go to Texas, buy a car...

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In San Diego you definitely want a car. I can't imagine a day without my car, unless I lived, worked, and did everything downtown, but sadly I am not a multimillionaire so that's not going to happen.

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Just from my experiences, YMMV:

Pittsburgh was fine without a car. I did my undergrad there and did not have a car the entire time--and didn't miss it. Buses run everywhere and are pretty frequent also. The only pain was they closed the grocery near Univ. of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon, so you had to take a bus (which was a pain if you bought a lot of stuff) or a taxi (or jitney, which are private cars for hire that usually hang out around stores). We just made one grocery trip a month and then got snacks and drinks at convenience stores.

Duquesne University is downtown, and I think that everyone that goes there lives out by Pitt and CMU, several busses run that route on a very regular basis. Buses are free for university students (Pitt and CMU definitely, not sure about Duquesne).

Columbus Ohio was walkable/bikable around OSU, and their bus system was okay, but it stopped pretty early. I was only there for 6 months though, and did not attend OSU, so I don't really know.

New Orleans is fine without a car, but I heard that since the hurricane, the buses are pretty unreliable. It has also gotten very dangerous in the neighborhood where I lived. Still I would have loved to go back there, but Tulane is not accepting new grad. students in my area, so that decision was made for me.

Tampa is impossible without a car. Buses are free, but useless (I took one once to a doctor's appointment and ended up walking another mile to his office along the side of a highway), taxis never show up and if they do they are so expensive, even when you can walk somewhere it is so hot and flat that it just seems really far. I could walk to school (University of South Florida) in about 15-20 minutes but would be soaked with sweat by the time I got there. Very gross. Biking around the university is taking your own life in your hands. I did this for a while and just got sick of it. I am so embarrassed that I usually drive to the school even though I live, essentially, right across the street (but their street are like other town's highways).

USF is essentially a commuter school north of the city in a bland area of strip malls, sprawl, apartment complexes, and heavy traffic. Parking can be tough at the university, but the annual parking pass is pretty reasonable (~140.00), compared to other schools that I have seen. Cheap car lots surround the campus, so you could probably pick up a clunker to get you around.

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Berkeley is almost perfectly livable without a car, but it gets awesome with a bicycle. Also, San Francisco, a city of 1million people, is a 20 minute bus/train ride away from Berkeley, can be crossed on feet in about one hour, and has a fine public transport system.

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Atlanta has the worst public transportation system that I have ever seen, while I would say that Washington D.C. has the best by far...

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I have lived in Boston and the surrounding suburbs for 6 years without a car (although my SO has one, and we now live together and I begged him for rides before that). Parking in Boston and some nearby towns (Cambridge, Brookline) is very hard, and with all the snow/salt in winter and horrible potholes year-round, it's a city that is hard on your car anyway. If you're going to a relatively urban school like Harvard, Tufts, BU, Northeastern, or Simmons, I can vouch for the ease of car-free living. Schools further into the suburbs (Brandeis, BC...) you can take or leave the car. BC is on a branch of the subway. Brandeis is on the commuter rail, which is annoying, but they do run free shuttle buses into the city on weekends.

Boston also has Zipcar (zipcar.com), which allows anyone 21+ to get discount car rental, basically. This is great if you don't want a car but want to make several big shopping trips a month (groceries, Target, the IKEA in Stoughton) without dragging your stuff all over the T. You can reserve a Zipcar for a few hours at a time if that's all you need, and they are located in areas all around the city and some nearby suburbs. Maybe not as convenient as an SO with a car, but a viable option that my friends use.

The T is pretty good. A monthly subway/bus combo pass is about $60, and many schools provide free or subsidized passes for students. This gets you all around Boston and nearby towns. Once you learn more about the bus system it seems like a whole new world has opened to you, but even if you just stick to the subway (which is very easy to use and goes to the biggest centers of activity) you can get around to all kinds of things. Carless folks can even take day trips to the gorgeous Boston Harbor Islands (by ferry), or to beaches and quaint New England towns like Salem (by commuter train). The downside of the T is that it shuts down early. The last trains tend to depart the terminal around midnight, although some of the nightlife here is open until 2 AM. If you want to party late you're basically stuck taking a cab home or walking. Walking actually isn't that bad, since the city is not that geographically large, but of course if you're drunk and wandering around a city at night you should travel in a group for safety.

Also, if you want to go visit a friend in another part of New England, or in NYC, there are pretty good commercial buses (less sketchy than in more car-owning parts of the country, because a wider segment of the population including students relies on them) and Amtrak trains that you can take for a range of prices, many quite reasonable.

Coming from the southeast where there is NO public transport I have been quite happy with the state of things in Boston.

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