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best US cities without a car

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Going to bump this thread up.

I've seen some good recommendations on the urban portions where many campuses are, but don't forget the suburbs as well. All US cities have 'em and some in the Sunbelt are pretty much suburban in nature.

For example, I lived in Norfolk VA, near ODU and never drove to school or basic shopping. My GF at the time and high school buddy both did their entire stint there without a car by walking, bus and catching rides with me (I had free parking at my place). That said, anything other than high-priced essential groceries required a car trip. Since Norfolk was long past its retail prime when I was there (that's changed now), ALL shopping trips other than groceries and laundry had to be made in the suburbs. Unless you had a half day to kill riding a bus you found a way to get a ride.

Another place I see referenced is DC. Great place to go without a car. As long as you stay INSIDE the Beltway, particularly in the "old" areas Arlington, Alexandria, any Metro stop as well as DC proper. Beyond that it SUCKS. Big time. Used to live in the DC suburbs without a car and the trip to DC using the regular suburban buses and a metro transfer took two friggin hours, without traffic. And that was only 24 miles out. Nothing is walkable and unless you get a government or NGO job, most employment has migrated to the edge cities like Tysons. You literally have to drive next door since nothing is internally connected. Yet if you get a car, you are going to sit in traffic. A lot. Commuter rail is mostly a weekday commute thing (unlike NYC, Boston, SF or Chicago) and wont help out mid days or on weekends.

As a rule, I avoid the 'burbs like the plague. Most cities that were settled before 1900 have decent to downright excellent opportunities to live and not have a car. In some places they've become run down, but many are coming back to life, if not already. Wont list them here (just read the thread). Even some sunbelt cities work ok without a car (if you are willing to make sacrifices). San Diego has become much better without a car as long as you stay south of Mission Valley. The trolley runs thru SDSU now and close by USD. The bus system is generally ok in the core (commuted with it for several years, no problem). SDSU gave good discounts for transit riders and their parking prices sucked. But want to go shopping or anywhere outside the core, get a car.

Final word, especially to foreigners: transit is often treated like the unwanted child and kicked around and shortchanged in this country. In a number of places (but not all) it is seen as an "underclass service" more than anything else. Very few offer great service like what you can find in Europe and parts of Asia

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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.

I live in the Montrose area of Houston and go to U of H main campus, and you don't necessarily need to buy a car to get from one point to the other. The ride from my house is about 5 miles, but it does take you through the third ward area of Houston - meaning that there aren't very many places to stop/the streets are pretty torn up.

Overall, I'd say that if you live within the 610 loop, you can get to most places around town, as long as you're willing to work for it (and get up early to be there on time!)

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UCLA - if you live close to school then walking/biking is fine. However, if you live elsewhere (and in LA you most likely will because Westwood neighborhood is INSANELY expensive) car will save you a lot of heartache. Commute from the valley is painful, but possible; same goes for downtown. West LA is better because public transportation is relatively decent and buses run frequently. If you want to take advantage of what LA has to offer during your days off, you definitely need a car.

UCI - just around the school biking is good (walking - not so much). But Orange County in general has horrible public transportation, so you REALLY need a car to get around.

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Atlanta: Impossible without a car. MARTA, the train and bus system, is absolutely horrendous. Very few stops (which are spread extremely far apart), often scary train rides, and as one poster previously mentioned, the ability to only go north, south, east, and west with nothing in between. Not to mention, the system shuts down very, very early. And even though you'll need a car, it will be almost as bad as using the MARTA: endless traffic jams, accidents, and generally insane drivers on all interstates going through and around the city. [source: I was an Atlanta undergrad.]

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I live in the Montrose area of Houston and go to U of H main campus, and you don't necessarily need to buy a car to get from one point to the other. The ride from my house is about 5 miles, but it does take you through the third ward area of Houston - meaning that there aren't very many places to stop/the streets are pretty torn up.

Overall, I'd say that if you live within the 610 loop, you can get to most places around town, as long as you're willing to work for it (and get up early to be there on time!)

Houston is almost impossible to live in without a car. I go to UH-Main Campus as well and live in downtown and I need my car to get groceries, take dogs to the vet, etc. UH has decent enough bus service, but it is nothing compared to New England or European subway/bus lines.

It's a great city, but you need a car if you want to eat or travel outside of your bubble.

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Seattle is wonderful without a car as long as you don't mind the rain. We have finally been rated as having the worst traffic in the U.S., so the bus is definitely a must if you are in the city. They are working on a light rail right now, the downtown is a free ride bus zone and UW sells a pretty cheap bus pass for unlimited transportation. The buses go everywhere and most routes run 24/7. There is even an express route from the UW to downtown. As long as you don't mind walking to a bus in the rain (usually never more than .2 miles), then its great. We are pretty bike friendly too, even though we have a lot of hills.

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My take on east coast cities (what I know the most about, but sadly I don't know much about other parts of the country).

Top cities for getting around without a car (i.e. very doable, extensive metro systems; if you're in the "city," you probably would be better off without a car anyway)

1. NYC

2. DC

3. Boston

4. London (ok not an east coast city but...the tube is awesomeness)

Can get around relatively easily without a car (has plenty of bus routes and trains, has metro but not as extensive; I know plenty of people who fare great in Philly without a car)

1. Philadelphia

Would not recommend- transportation is very spotty (Just the marta with very limited routes); city is quite spread out

1. Atlanta

I would also have to add that in Virginia, Charlottesville & Williamsburg are more difficult to get around in without a car. You could make out in Charlottesville with no car--I did for a few years--but if you want to get off grounds and the immediate area of town, it's not the best. Williamsburg, the same, perhaps even more difficult there.

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Someone commented that Providence, RI is a good city without a car. I live here now and I completely disagree. If you go to Brown, you could get be for maybe a year living close to school and biking to the grocery store in the warm weather, but RI is definitely set up around people with cars.

While it's not the worst city, it is far from one of the best.

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As mentioned a few times in this thread, Minneapolis is GREAT without a car. In fact, it is absolutely awful to live here with a car. You have to move it at 8am whenever there's a heavy snow. Not fun.

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livin' car free in Minneapolis Minnesota. Car free but with one sweet bicycle and an awesome unlimited bus pass.

As mentioned a few times in this thread, Minneapolis is GREAT without a car. In fact, it is absolutely awful to live here with a car. You have to move it at 8am whenever there's a heavy snow. Not fun.

YES.

I have lived in the Twin Cities for ten years and have been carless for seven of those years. It's completely easy to be car-free in many areas of both Minneapolis and St Paul, especially near the U of M. The buses don't go out to many of the suburbs (or they go, like, once an hour on weekdays and not at all on weekends) but within the city public transportation is great. And, yeah, having a car here does kind of suck. It's more convenient for going out to far-flung suburban locations, but digging it out of the snow and moving it during snow emergencies sucks.

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M10, you can buy a decent used car (but with like 70000 miles on it, minimum) starting around $4000-5000. I've looked at used cars recently, and most of the ones I would consider buying are more like $8000 (I would prefer something with less than 60000 miles, less than 4 years old, automatic transmission, etc.).

If you bought a new car and financed it, generally for the least expensive small cars, prices start around $12000, and the lowest monthly payments are like $250 (if you don't put any payment down), although most people pay more like $300-$500 a month for a new car here.

You'll also have to pay for the car insurance, license plates, registration, and yearly inspection (in some states), but that all varies depending on where exactly you live. Leasing is another option, but I have no experience with that so I'll leave it to someone else.

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M10, you can buy a decent used car (but with like 70000 miles on it, minimum) starting around $4000-5000.

If you bought a new car and financed it, generally for the least expensive small cars, prices start around $12000, and the lowest monthly payments are like $250

You'll also have to pay for the car insurance, license plates, registration, and yearly inspection (in some states), but that all varies depending on where exactly you live.

Leasing is another option, but I have no experience with that so I'll leave it to someone else.

Thanks expressionista. That was really informative for someone naive like me.

I am not sure where I am gonna be put up in the US as of yet. But I was wondering how to go around the town (wherever I will be) during winters and hence the question about cars.

Thanks again.

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 UC Berkeley

You can get around easy using buses (AC Transit) and Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), bicycle, zipcar or city carshare...you can even get into the city of Berkeley very easily on public transportation from Oakland and Albany, CA...

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Austin - I know someone has already mentioned this but I have several friends who are international and don't have cars and I can post of their experience. I think of all of the southern cities Austin is probably one of the best for public transport, especially for the students. UT has the biggest shuttle route system in the country so you don't even have to live next to campus to have a fairly fast (20 or less) shuttle ride to get to campus as long as you live in the northern part of the city. Of course you could live in West Campus, that's where most of the international students I know live, and then you can walk to campus. Also there is the E-bus that shuttles people back and forth from West campus to downtown for free on most nights and it runs almost all night, so you don't even have to pay a taxi fare as the previous Austin post mentioned. The only downside is rent in West Campus is pretty high unless you find a roommate to split it with.

Also there is a great international program here that takes trips to different tourist places around Central Texas on Saturdays; big museums, San Antonio, the big outlets in San Marcos, stuff like that.

In conclusion, it's no New York but for the South Austin is a great place to be without a car.

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@M10 - My husband is foreign and I don't know about you but he preferred a manual transmission when we bought our car so if you have this preference you can shave off some of the price for used cars by getting a manual transmission considering most Americans prefer automatics. Just a thought.

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I'll just give a big thumbs up to DC where I grew up. I love going home because I can be so independent and it's so easy to get everywhere by myself. I interned in Baltimore, which also has a pretty good system between the buses and the light rail. It's not difficult at all to travel between the two cities with the MARC train (just don't use the Camden line if you're in a hurry..bahhh!).

I'm currently finishing up my undergrad in Miami, and the system here is so-so. It works for me since I'm walking distance from the busway, but it does take a while to get anywhere (actually, that's true whether you have a car or not. Traffic in Miami is ridiculous). I've even made the trek to South Beach on the Metro....though I only do that if I REALLY want to hit the beach and my roommates are gone. I personally feel safe on Miami's Metro, but I'm probably the only person who'll say that since I've never owned a car and I'm just used to it. It's also annoying that the Metro consists on one line that runs north to south (like I said, I'm from DC). There is also the Tri-Rail, which connects Miami-Dade, Broward, and West Palm counties I believe. I know you can get to both airports (Miami and Ft. Lauderdale) on the Tri-Rail.

I've been told that Raleigh has a good bus system since it can be a pain to drive (hoping this is the case since one of my schools is there).

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I don't consider Raleigh a pain to drive in at all. I've lived in Raleigh, southern California, and northern VA, and of those three, Raleigh is by faaaaar the easiest city to drive in (least traffic, easiest directions, etc.). I'd say the biggest issue with driving in Raleigh is that there is truly a disproportionate number of really bad drivers in that area. Also, no one uses their turn signal. It does have a good bus system, but it's also a sprawling southeastern city, so it wasn't exactly made for people without cars. If you went to NC State and lived near campus, you could get around fine on public transportation though.

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@M10 - My husband is foreign and I don't know about you but he preferred a manual transmission when we bought our car so if you have this preference you can shave off some of the price for used cars by getting a manual transmission considering most Americans prefer automatics. Just a thought.

Hey, I'm American and I hate automatic transmission cars. But you're right, manual transmission cars can be cheaper to purchase.

I'll just give a big thumbs up to DC where I grew up. I love going home because I can be so independent and it's so easy to get everywhere by myself. I interned in Baltimore, which also has a pretty good system between the buses and the light rail. It's not difficult at all to travel between the two cities with the MARC train.

This past week has not been great for Metro, with the system barely remaining operational. Then again, the whole DC area has difficulties in snowy conditions.

Edited by pea-jay

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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.

I have to disagree with you, as a student who lives on campus currently. I am going to grad school at one of about 9 places next year (possibly) so no clue yet, but I think I will be getting a car. Yesterday, to go to a much-needed neuro consult, I had to walk about 3 miles, even WITH the bus taking about 1 mile off my trek. In the winter, people in this part of the state refuse to shovel, so walking becomes icy and dangerous.

The buses are not necessarily reliable. I have waited 3 hours for a bus when ill before to return to campus. It definitely depends on where you live, but if you need to take a 9 anywhere, don't depend on it. They virtually do not run on Sundays and very rarely on Saturdays.

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Can anyone comment on Santa Barbara?

Santa Barbara doesn't have the greatest public transportation. If you're at UCSB there is a bus loop on campus that can take you downtown or into Goleta, but it can take a long time and can be kind of a pain. I wouldn't say it's absolutely necessary to have a car (the campus is extremely bike friendly and if you live in Isla Vista, campus and little markets are within biking distance), but if you plan on going shopping a lot or wanting to go to bigger grocery stores like Albertson's or Trader Joe's, I would recommend having a car.

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I'm actually quite surprised that Davis, CA isn't mentioned here. Actually now that I think about it, it's more a town than a city...

Not known to many people but Davis is the bike capital of the US, yes over Oregon, where there are more bikes than students at the university. It's the most bike friendly town with huge bike lanes and since the weather is great year round riding is the best way of getting anywhere including campus. The campus is huge so a bike is very convenient to have over the bus + walking.

One of the arguments I have against Berkeley is that it isn't so bike friendly. My sister biked to school everyday because she lived so far away but then she had to bike to school but then once she got there she would have to get off her bike and leave it on campus somewhere! One of the worst things too is the bike theft in Berkeley which is really bad, worst than Davis. The BART system really has 3 stops in Berkeley so it's not that easy to get around but if you wanted to go out of town the BART and Amtrak are great! Just my two cents...

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I'm actually quite surprised that Davis, CA isn't mentioned here. Actually now that I think about it, it's more a town than a city...

Not known to many people but Davis is the bike capital of the US, yes over Oregon, where there are more bikes than students at the university. It's the most bike friendly town with huge bike lanes and since the weather is great year round riding is the best way of getting anywhere including campus. The campus is huge so a bike is very convenient to have over the bus + walking.

One of the arguments I have against Berkeley is that it isn't so bike friendly. My sister biked to school everyday because she lived so far away but then she had to bike to school but then once she got there she would have to get off her bike and leave it on campus somewhere! One of the worst things too is the bike theft in Berkeley which is really bad, worst than Davis. The BART system really has 3 stops in Berkeley so it's not that easy to get around but if you wanted to go out of town the BART and Amtrak are great! Just my two cents...

I've spent time in both cities and taken extension classes in Davis. Davis is by far and away more bike friendly than Berkeley. Just look at the topography of both places. Davis is table-flat. Berkeley is...more challenging to put it nicely.

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