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best US cities without a car

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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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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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I was born and raised in Los Angeles, and I have never owned a car! However, I have lived in other cities, this is how they rate:

Berkeley/San Francisco: I lived here off and on for the better part of a year. No car needed. The BART is marvelous, gets you anywhere you need, quickly. Transfers are lined up for you once you get out of the train. The only downside, they stop service at 12:30pm. The MUNI in SF is great, it runs late, some all day. I would carry my groceries from the train to my house, visit friends in the East Bay, shop all over, and walk the entire city.

Ann Arbor: The University is so close to everything that you basically walk everywhere. However, I really didn't get around all that well. I am more of an urban voyeur and the city/town's buses weren't that efficient. A lot of students did have bikes though.

Washington, DC Definitely no car needed. You can even get to all three airports via public transportation, for less than 4 bucks. The china buses that run out by the metro center get you to nyc, philly, baltimore, and the whole east coast on a dime.

Santa Cruz, CA I did my undergrad here without a car. A car definitely has its positives, easy commute to the bay area, san jose, palo alto, etc. I did catch rides to SF/Berkeley from friends. The greyhound gets you around. The city buses are decent, not the best time tables, but they get you where you need to go. It's a little difficult since UCSC is up on a hill, a bit disconnected from downtown, but buses get you where you need to be.

Los Angeles, CA A car is needed, but if you are poor, the public transportation gets you going. I live in Silverlake and commute to downtown for work-it is one bus and does the job. LA mass transit is a legacy of erroneous public planning, but recently the MTA has stepped its game up and hired more drivers and increased the frequency of its routes. The metro is awkward in terms of its stops, but it will get you around the urban core. Its good if you go to CSULB, USC, and a few of the private small schools. But a car makes everywhere in LA only 20 minutes away.

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I agree with sonjad about Berkeley. I've lived here for two years without a car. We have ZipCar and City Car Share for short trips, and there are tons of rental places for longer trips. At UC Berkeley students get a "free" bus pass for AC Transit... actually, the fee is built into tuition/fees, but it's very small. AC Transit is really reliable, safe, clean (mostly), and covers most of the area, including Transbay service to San Francisco. There's always the Bart, too, which is great. We also have a complete network of Bicycle Boulevards, streets designed with bicycle lanes and traffic calming devices, so it's easy to bike to the grocery store or campus.

Off-street parking is pretty expensive in Berkeley, and on-street parking isn't always easy to find or that safe. My neighborhood in particular has a lot of auto thefts each week. That's just one more reason not to have a car in Berkeley! :)

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I guess I can add to this post based on the cities that I have lived in as a student.

Miami, FL - Attended the UMiami and did not have a car at the time. The public transportation in Miami is pretty poor. I managed to get around for the few years I was there, but not having a car really limited me in terms of what I could do on the weekends and the places I could go (the Metro line/buses do not go out to certain places). Fortunately, I lived right next door to a grocery store, so walked there and bought as much as I could carry. My commute to school from Kendall was like an hour one way.

Austin, TX - Went to UT and did have a car at the time. I lived so close to school that I walked every day. I think I probably only took the bus a couple of times in the two years I was there, but I hear that it is pretty good especially if you commute within the university and downtown areas. For going to the grocery store having a car is super convenient, although there was a bus terminal right outside of the store I used to frequent. For going out, taking a cab downtown is the easiest way to get there. There are always tons of cabs going and coming from downtown.

Madison, WI - A student at UW now and do have a car. The public transportation in Madison is amazing though. I take it to school just about every day. The way the city is laid out (on an isthmus) means that it is pretty compact and so the public transportation can take you virtually everywhere. For going out, there aren't as many cabs as there are in Austin just waiting for passengers and the buses don't run super late, which means that most people drive downtown. Overall though, Madison is probably the best place for public transportation among the place I have lived.

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NYC - You essentially can't have a car. The subways are 24/7, unlike almost every other city, even those with good public transportation. This is huge; don't underestimate it. Perhaps they are open 24/7 in San Francisco, but I've got no idea. The taxis are also a life saver that most other cities lack.

Boston/Cambridge/Somerville - Great without a car, but better if you have one or have access to one via a friend. I didn't have a car for a while, then did. If you don't mind a few parking tickets, the car is nice for shopping. The subways close pretty early, so watch out. There isn't a good taxi system, but the buses are fine.

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I've lived for 10 years in Boston with no car.

I have no friends with cars and it feels weird to visit my family in car towns.

If you ever really need a car, taxis are everywhere (in Boston that is, not so much in Somerville) and then there's always zipcar as many have pointed out.

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You don't need a car in Chicago.

I never had one there, but I imagine they're relatively easy to keep (if you don't mind piling your furniture on the street and parking-regulation-by-mercenary-piracy!) and it would be an asset, unlike NY where it's a liability. Really really don't need one though.

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As an LA transplant living in DC, I'd say Washington, DC is an excellent place to live without a car. It's not as comprehensive/convenient as NYC (but really, nothing else is), but is much cleaner/safer than NYC's. I even lived in a DC suburb (Arlington) and was able to get by without a car. If you live in DC proper, the Metro will get you to most places (except for Georgetown, Mt. Pleasant, 16th Street, etc.), but you're still only a 20-30 minute walk to a Metro station. In any case, it's a small enough city to make the abundant taxis affordable. Plus, there's always Zipcar for those IKEA trips in the 'burbs. And really, I think outside of Chicago, San Francisco, Portland, Atlanta, and possibly NY and Boston is the airport as accessible as DC's Reagan Airport, which is an indicator of the quality of a city's public transportation to me. (If only LA had extended the Green Line all the way to LAX!)

LA is absolutely horrible if you don't have a car. It's true what they say- everything is "20 minutes away" in LA, if you have a car. If you're taking a bus, tack on 30-40 minutes to your commute. I went to UCLA and lived in Westwood without a car for a while, but as UCLA isn't a commuter campus, the surrounding area is pretty well set up to accommodate car-less students. I always had friends with cars though, of course, for those grocery trips and beach days :lol:

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I'll add mine:

Binghamton Univeristy I have only attended one class here, but I live in Vestal, so I can probably comment on it. Unless you plan to use the BU bus all the time (which sounds pretty annoying) you really must have a car. The BU buses are very good and do go to many of the most popular destinations, but if you're living off campus you may find it hard to get home. BU is located on the Vestal Parkway, which is one of the busiest roads in the area. Biking is legal, I'm pretty sure, but I've rarely seen anyone do it. The street is dangerous in cars, never mind bikes. Not to mention, just crossing the street to get to the shops on the other side is pretty iffy. Also, forget about getting a taxi. There is one service, but it is laughably unavailable most of the time.

On the other hand, there are a lot of places to get food and to shop nearby and the area that has these shops is relatively flat (for Vestal).

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Southeast in general (everything from Louisiana/Arkansas eastward and Kentucky/West Virginia southward): Must have car. It is taken for granted in the Southeast that everyone has a car. Some places have something they call "public transportation" but I can personally guarantee you that it will not be useful or even adequate.

Philadelphia: Can definitely get around without a car if you live in Center City or West Philadelphia; it takes more planning from other parts of town but is doable. PhillyCarShare is cheap ($15/mo plus mileage) and Zipcar is also starting to move into the area. Public transportation access varies quite a bit in the suburbs, but is usually pretty good around the college campuses.

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I don't know if this will help anyone

San Diego (Lived here my entire life)- I would not recommend living in San Diego without a car. UCSD is do-able with a bike. Although it could make life potentially hard. San Diego's public transit system is in the works. There is much room for improvement. The trolly system is alright, but trolly stops are few and far between. I would recommend getting a car at least for the winter months when gas prices are low. Use your bike in the summer when the weather is beautiful.

Shreveport Louisiana- (I did my undergrad here) It's virtually impossible to not own a car. There are virtually no walkable sidewalks. And it gets to be a billion degrees in the summer, making being outside pretty brutal. The winters can be rainy and cold and icy. Get a car.

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Gainesville FL:

UF has a fairly good public transportation system. The RTS bus service is free for gators and is clean as well as reliable. The routes run pretty much through all the places you may need to go to in Gainesville. Most students travel to campus on the bus system. Quite a few students with cars also go to the uni by bus because parking is a big hassle on campus. The only cockup is that there is a reduced service on weekends and through the summer. During this period a car might well be indispensable. On the whole having a car is obviously more convenient by far. At the same time, it is possible to survive without one.

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Portland, Oregon. I haven't owned a car for 3 years, and I had another 2 years car-free a few years before that. The closer you are to downtown, the easier it is. There's good public transit and ZipCar has a big presence here, in part because it bought local business FlexCar, which was one of the first carsharing companies in the US. There's also a strong bicycle presence which makes for (relatively) educated car and bus drivers, good signage, and many bike lanes.

The only thing that's missing is a major graduate school, or I wouldn't be moving away! Portland State University has some strong departments but poor funding overall, especially for graduate students. Other than a few professional schools, there aren't other options for fulltime, in-person graduate study here. Oregon State University and the University of Oregon are 1.5 and 2 hours away, by car. Unfortunately, public transit doesn't extend that far (yet), and neither Amtrak nor Greyhound are ideal for commuting purposes.

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How about Burlington, Vermont... can it be done without a car?

From my understanding its quite small, and can be done in the summer just fine. Im more so worried about the winter.

Im not exactly Lance Armstrong and do not expect my tour de france to be anywhere in the near future.

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For the person who mentioned Binghamton University - biking is legal on the Vestal Parkway, but no one does it (for the most part) because too many people have been killed walking/biking there. But, there is a much smaller, safer road that runs parallel to the parkway (Old Vestal Rd.), so you could ride a bike to all the places you need to go without fear of death. I've always had access to a car in Binghamton, but I have friends who live there without cars. Challenging, but definitely doable.

Ithaca, NY: Really, really easy to live in town without a car. Public transportation really is very good, especially if you are living on the college campuses. If you're out late at night, you may have to take a cab, but the town is very compact and most of restaurants/bars/etc are within walking distance of Cornell. Ithaca College is a lot more isolated. I have lots of friends there that bike everywhere. Yes, the town is almost entirely made of hills, but honestly, there are something like 25,000 students + local residents walking up and down those hills, so you can do it, too. Getting out of town without a car is a bit more difficult, but greyhound makes it easy to get to NYC at least.

Washington, D.C.: As everyone's said, fabulous without a car. Just a word about Georgetown. Yeah, it's not on the metro, blah blah, but really - bus service into the area is excellent, especially the Circulator. The Rosslyn metro stop is 1 mile away (15 minutes) over a very scenic bridge. There are multiple shuttles that take you to the Dupont, GWU, and Rosslyn metro stops if you can't walk for some reason. So really, it's not as cut off as people make it out to be. Also, I have a lot of friends who bike in DC without any real problems. I'm actually moving out of the District this month because my new job requires me to have a van, and I have no where to park it.

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