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best US cities without a car

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good: san francisco, berkeley

Definitely agree that Berkeley is fine without a car. Lots of public transportation, AC Transit buses every where. Nice BART access to nearby cities, shopping and San Francisco.

I only take BART to get around SF -- pretty easy -- to avoid Muni buses since they've had some weird accidents lately, but they're actually alright. The San Francisco Bay Area is good about public transit in general, although the economy-related service cuts are a nuisance to get used to during odder hours.

I've never biked on the UC Berkeley campus, but I see plenty of people do. I'd probably only take a cheap bike, though, since bike theft is high.

Edited by Jae B.

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I'm in my fourth year in Austin, TX and until about a month ago did not have a car. Now I share one with my boyfriend, who has it most of the time because he uses it to get back and forth from work. I don't know how to ride a bike (go ahead and laugh; everyone does) so I can't speak for that other than that trying to *learn* to ride a bike in Austin was difficult because it is so hilly. There do seem to be plenty of bike lanes though and when I do drive I notice bikers here must feel very safe (read: entitled) because they have no problem riding in the car lanes when there isn't a bike one, making the cars go 15 mph in a 35-40 zone. I read somewhere that a well-respected biking magazine rated Austin the #1 biking city in the US, but as I don't bike I couldn't tell you which magazine that is. Lance Armstrong owns a house in Austin, so that must say something about how bikers feel about the city.

As for the bus system, which I know really well, it makes car-free transportation in Austin a breeze. I haven't lived in West Campus for three years (and honestly wouldn't recommend the area for grad students because it is very noisy and filled with frats/sororities and ever-drunk freshmen) and I have done just fine getting around. It is handy to live on the 1L/1M route, because it runs about once every 12 minutes, but even off the route there are plenty of frequent bus lines. And the campus buses go all the way to Far West one way and Riverside the other way, which if you look it up on the CapMetro website you will see is pretty impressive. As a bonus, UT students ride all the buses for free!

Overall, I would have to give it 4/5 stars. If only we had something like the Boston T, New York subway, or DC Metro, then it would get that fifth star.

edit: I haven't noticed an opinion on Dallas, TX yet. I've never lived in the city, but I grew up nearby and my older brother went to college in Dallas. I get the distinct impression that it is not at all livable for those without a car. There is public transportation but everyone there drives and everyone expects you to drive. And the housing around college campuses is typically very expensive, so you can't really plan to walk/bike to school unless you're willing to shell out big bucks for an apartment.

Edited by HelloKaty37

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I'm in my fourth year in Austin, TX and until about a month ago did not have a car. Now I share one with my boyfriend, who has it most of the time because he uses it to get back and forth from work. I don't know how to ride a bike (go ahead and laugh; everyone does) so I can't speak for that other than that trying to *learn* to ride a bike in Austin was difficult because it is so hilly. There do seem to be plenty of bike lanes though and when I do drive I notice bikers here must feel very safe (read: entitled) because they have no problem riding in the car lanes when there isn't a bike one, making the cars go 15 mph in a 35-40 zone. I read somewhere that a well-respected biking magazine rated Austin the #1 biking city in the US, but as I don't bike I couldn't tell you which magazine that is. Lance Armstrong owns a house in Austin, so that must say something about how bikers feel about the city.

As for the bus system, which I know really well, it makes car-free transportation in Austin a breeze. I haven't lived in West Campus for three years (and honestly wouldn't recommend the area for grad students because it is very noisy and filled with frats/sororities and ever-drunk freshmen) and I have done just fine getting around. It is handy to live on the 1L/1M route, because it runs about once every 12 minutes, but even off the route there are plenty of frequent bus lines. And the campus buses go all the way to Far West one way and Riverside the other way, which if you look it up on the CapMetro website you will see is pretty impressive. As a bonus, UT students ride all the buses for free!

Overall, I would have to give it 4/5 stars. If only we had something like the Boston T, New York subway, or DC Metro, then it would get that fifth star.

edit: I haven't noticed an opinion on Dallas, TX yet. I've never lived in the city, but I grew up nearby and my older brother went to college in Dallas. I get the distinct impression that it is not at all livable for those without a car. There is public transportation but everyone there drives and everyone expects you to drive. And the housing around college campuses is typically very expensive, so you can't really plan to walk/bike to school unless you're willing to shell out big bucks for an apartment.

Haha, I can't drive or ride a bike so I completely understand. I'm basically useless without a good public transportation system.

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I'll talk about the places I'm very familiar with:

Atlanta: I'm a Georgian, born and raised, incredibly familiar with the ATL area. Do not come down here without a car. Others have said the same thing in this thread, but I can not stress this enough. I've been on MARTA once and I won't do it again; the buses are atrocious. Even with the traffic, your life becomes much easier when you have access to a car.

re: traffic: in Forbes' list for worst traffic in the nation, we were #4. Just saying.

Nashville is similar, though smaller and with not as much traffic. I was ecstatic when I was finally able to take my car (I went to Vanderbilt for UG). You can't go to a grocery store without one (Harris Teeter and Kroger are the closest, but they are way beyond walking/biking range), so yeah. Also, I thought that Atlanta drivers were bad....Nashville drivers are horrible.

Edited by VUbrat08

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I can personally vouch for San Diego and parts of Los Angeles.

San Diego: I did my undergrad at UCSD without a car, and it was enjoyable. You get a free sticker on your student ID card that gets you unlimited rides on all bus routes that connect with campus or the medical center. A bike will get you around the campus neighborhood, transit will get you downtown and to some fun parts of town, and zipcar/friends with cars can get you to the less accessible places.

Los Angeles: I've spent the past two years living in Koreatown, commuting to USC for work daily. Bus access to campus is wonderful, and many routes run 24/7. The subway is ideal for getting downtown or into Hollywood. Parts of this area are even decently bikeable - I bike to the Hollywood Farmers Market and Trader Joe's on weekends with no problems. Driving is a chore, and parking is obscenely expensive. There's zipcar on campus if you need it. Staff can get a subsidized Metro pass through USC very easily. Students *can* get a discounted Metro pass, but it's a hassle. A group of students and I are currently working to make the pass easier to access and cheaper to purchase, so by the time you get here, you should have an easier time of it. Oh, also, the Expo line is due to open soon, which will connect USC to Culver City and downtown LA by lightrail!

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I hope someone could comment further on Houston, as I'm seriously considering BCM (I'm still waiting on other schools, but the info would still be very helpful). So I've read that cars are a must, but what about the bus + bike combo? Are bikers treated well there, maybe as good as in Austin?

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Atlanta: I'm a Georgian, born and raised, incredibly familiar with the ATL area. Do not come down here without a car. Others have said the same thing in this thread, but I can not stress this enough. I've been on MARTA once and I won't do it again; the buses are atrocious. Even with the traffic, your life becomes much easier when you have access to a car.

re: traffic: in Forbes' list for worst traffic in the nation, we were #4. Just saying.

I think that's only true if you're living in Atlanta but not on a college campus. As far as Georgia Tech goes, essentials (grocery stores, fast food, some decent restaruants) are easily in walking distance, although I don't think the city is bike friendly. There's lots of student housing right off campus, and there's even some nice apartments about a mile away (they might be pricey). Now on the other hand, the metro system is awful, so if you DO plan on going out a lot you will need to own a car or know someone with a car. Also, if you want to live somewhere cheap and nice and are willing to drive, that's possible, but avoid Atlanta rush hour at all costs.

Edited by Slarti

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I noticed that a while back in this thread someone was asking if Binghamton is a good place to be without a car. Yes, it is very possible! I am finishing my undergrad degree there now and I've lived here for 4 years. Binghamton University has their own us system, the "blue buses", which are completely free for anyone with a BU campus ID. There are also many county buses that are all free with a campus ID as well. If you are living within the most populated student housing areas, transportation shouldn't be a problem at all. (Most of these buses are easily accessible from downtown binghamton, which is where the majority of students live anyway)

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Charleston, SC is a very easy city without a car. The transit system is rough, but you can seriously bike accross the city in 30 minutes. No bike lanes (except on the highway to the beach). You can bike to the subburbs and the beach with a little courage and the strength to bike the bridges. You don't even need a bike for downtown (it is nice though). Plenty of bikers and drivers are mostly used to it. There is also a bike co-op for repairs...

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Anyone get funding info from CalArts yet?

Anywhere in Arizona will require a car. The *only* place I can see getting away without one *might* be the Phoenix Metropolitan area, but only because they have reliable and regular buses at all times of day.

Tucson bills itself as a "bike friendly" community, but I disagree, wholeheartedly.

Everywhere in Arizona is sprawling, hence the need for vehicular transport.

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Thank you. I've heard that transportation is generally rather poor in the south east. What's your opinion about that? What about the midwest?

As a native Southerner I feel qualified to answer this. If you go to school in Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Lousisiana, Arkansas, Carolinas or Florida, you will need a car. No way getting around that. The only exception is MAYBE Atlanta, but even then I'd still get a car, but it is doable to not have one.

I went to undergrad (still do for 6 more weeks I guess) in DC, and having a car here is more of a hendrence - metro works fine.

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Boulder, CO!

I've lived in Boulder for over 2 years car-free. Boulder is ranked as one of the best bike-friendly cities, which I think is fairly accurate. There are plenty of bike lanes and bike paths, and most drivers are accomodating at sharing the road. It's okay to bike on sidewalks here too. Bike safe with a helmet, a bike light at night, and use hand signals and you're pretty much set. There is some animosity between motorists and bicyclists, but most if it is directed at reckless bikers (namely CU students who don't use hand signals, don't wear helmets, bike too fast, and weave in and out of pedestrians and traffic) and the 'spandex wearing elite bikers', who get mocked regularly in some circles and are accused of hogging the road. I think you'll have that anywhere though. A lot of students in Boulder are out-of-state, and I would say that students pose the greatest risk to cyclists as they are much less aware about how to share the road. There are lots of resources about biking in Boulder if you search the web. Overall, it's worked great for me - I've only been hit by a car while biking once! :D

The bus system is great for the most part and a bus pass (usable throughout Boulder/Denver on any Boulder local or RTD route) is included in my student fees. If you're considering the Boulder/Denver area, check out RTD-denver.com for info on bus and lightrail routes. The buses are fairly reliable and can get you reasonably close to anything you might need. If you're living downtown, there's bound to be lots in walking distance, and it's a nice city, so there's ample motivation to walk.

I can't speak so much for Denver, but I do know the Denver bus system is extensive and they are putting in more lightrail to be completed soon. I've only used the lightrail system in Denver a few times, but I found it to be not bad if you don't use it at peak hours going through DU's campus. You can also take your bus on the lightrail.

There is also a great local (Boulder/Denver) carshare called Ego CarShare that has a one-time $25 application fee and then has 2 plans - a $10 a month with lower usage charges and a free monthly plan with charges that are $2/hr more. The mileage fees are reasonable seeing as it covers gas/insurance/maintenance. Best of all, they don't charge an hourly rate between 11pm and 6am.

The Boulder/Denver area prides itself on being eco-friendly, so there is lots of initiative to get people out of cars and onto bikes or public transport. Twice a year there is a free "Bike-to-Work Day" event that serves up tasty free breakfast to bicycle commuters at locations all over Boulder. Nothing makes the trip to work nicer than snagging a fresh bagel or some fruit and granola bars on the way! If anyone has specific questions about getting around Boulder or the surrounding area, feel free to shoot me a message!

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I'm an international student and I don't plan on buying a car. How are the following cities without a car:

* Bloomington, IN (one user already said that it's manageable - someone has another opinion?)

* Chapel Hill, NC

* Columbia, MO

Thank you so much!

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I live in Florida and it would be very difficult in Fl, Alabama, Georgia, Missississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, without a car. I also lived in Los Angeles for a while and it would be incredibly difficult to live there without a car.

I did my undergrad in Chicago w/o a car and LOVED it. UChicago and UIC both have train stops close to campus. NYC obviously has great transportation but cost of living probably cancels out that advantage. Portland Oregon has good public transit that goes straight to most of thier universities. I've also heard very good things about Boston, Washington DC, Philidelphia, and St. Louis.

As for the south, Charlotte NC and maybe Atlanta, GA are the only places I can think of that has reliable public transit but it is limited.

To respond for other places in the mid west....it depends on what you are looking for. There is something called mega bus where you can get from city to city cheaply. Say you went to UIllinois in Champange/Urbana which has transit on campus but not as much around town, you would be able to visit Chicago for cheap, so if you're able to live close to campus in Madison, or Milwalkee or Indianapolis etc, there are ways to get to more excitement easily.

The economy has also caused massive cuts across the country in transit. Buses and trains are more expensive, more crowded with less service.

As a Grad student, not having a car is probably going to limit you to schools that are in larger cities, however, most major universities in 'college towns' do have solid transportation on and immediately around campus, the problem really arises when you need to get away from campus, particularly away from the undergrad crowd.

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You can get around Auburn just fine without a car. If you live on campus you can walk everywhere except the grocery stores, but you can take a bus to one or close to one. If you live off campus, you can easily walk or bike to campus and you can walk to a grocery store in all likelihood.

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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.

I disagree with this; Santa Barbara is very doable without a car and is particularly bike-friendly. For one thing, there are prominent bike lanes on State/Hollister, the main thoroughfare through town, and bike lanes on pretty much all the streets. For another, drivers are used to bikes here and give them lots of space. True, grocery stores can be spread out of walking distance, but a bike with a basket plus a backpack should solve that problem if you are shopping for one or two people, once or twice a week. There is also a farmshare service which delivers local food to your door once a week, and I've found that easily provides all the fresh food needs for three people (http://plowtoporch.com/). The buses are frequent but often 5 or 10 minutes late as well. There are a few express buses which use the freeway and make it easy to get between downtown and the university.

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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.

I have to disagree with the 'easy to keep' part. I have lived with and without a car in Chicago and life is far simpler and cheaper without one. They don't call the ticketing vans the "Department of Revenue" for nothing! City stickers, different parking permits needed for each residential street parking zone, not to mention the parking meters were sold to a private company.

Biking is generally good here, but pales in comparison to Seattle.

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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.

As long as you have off-street parking, there's no problems with having a car. My life would be absolutely awful here if I didn't have a car.

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RE: Bloomington Indiana: It's a small town so it depends on what you're used to. I did not have a car there and I loved it. I lived in the Prospect Hill neighborhood, near west side, and I walked to work/classes everyday. You can walk anywhere downtown and on campus from these neighborhoods. If you need to live near the mall, east side, or the strip mall and movie theater area near Ivy Tech, you'll have to take the bus which is fine for my use, but if you're used to NYC-level transportation you will hate it. I'd suggest not living there so that you don't have that problem. But honestly, there is no reason to go to the east side or west side, unless you just HAVE to go to a White Castle or Fazoli's or Staples. It's just that kind of stuff. And the buses do go there. My advice is to live near west/near south/near east side and walk everywhere. I miss that life now that I live in a city where I have to constantly drive.

That city is Columbus, Ohio. Which I will tell you is the WORST city without a car. As is Indianapolis and Vienna, VA. Those are all cities where you sit in the car your whole life and everyone is enraged. It's a stressful life and I miss living in Bloomington where I actually loved winter, because walking in snow is fun, driving in snow is hell. BLOOMINGTON FOR LIFE

Edited by woolfie

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Boulder, CO is a great place to live without a car. The city has amazing bike trails and, as was mentioned earlier, a good public transportation system. Big cities like DC and NY have good transits as well. I've lived in both Knoxville, TN and Lexington, VA. I would strongly recommend a car for Knoxville, but you could get by without one in Lexington if you lived in town. Lexington is a really small town though, so if you plan on going to a bigger city, airport, or train station, you will have to find a ride or pay a taxi.

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You must have a car in Houston unless you live on campus. But getting around to places like the grocery store and restaurants would be difficult. With the weather, you'd want to have a car.

Bikers are not treated well there. There aren't even bike lanes and it's very unusual to see a bike on the road at all. I visited my family last fall and tried to bike about 2 miles to a smoothie place and about died from the drivers and the heat. Austin is home of Lance, so it's definitely a more bike friendly city.

I hope someone could comment further on Houston, as I'm seriously considering BCM (I'm still waiting on other schools, but the info would still be very helpful). So I've read that cars are a must, but what about the bus + bike combo? Are bikers treated well there, maybe as good as in Austin?

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I live in Florida and it would be very difficult in Fl, Alabama, Georgia, Missississippi, Louisiana, Tennessee, Arkansas, without a car. I also lived in Los Angeles for a while and it would be incredibly difficult to live there without a car.

I did my undergrad in Chicago w/o a car and LOVED it. UChicago and UIC both have train stops close to campus. NYC obviously has great transportation but cost of living probably cancels out that advantage. Portland Oregon has good public transit that goes straight to most of thier universities. I've also heard very good things about Boston, Washington DC, Philidelphia, and St. Louis.

Disagree on two points: The only southern city I lived in was New Orleans, and I found it very easy to have a car. It was small enough that I could bike most anywhere in a short amount of time, and since the weather rarely got too cold, it was also pleasant/enjoyable. While I'm sure this might not be true for all southern cities, I imagine many are small enough that's not too hard to pull off.

Secondly, NYC only has a high COL in Manhattan proper. Brooklyn and Queens can be just as cheap as anywhere else.

I grew up in Baltimore, which isn't the easiest for biking, but the areas around the two main academic institutions (JHU and MICA) have all a student needs within biking/walking distance. There are many cities that might require a car for the average resident, but around the campus are easy for walking/biking.

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Secondly, NYC only has a high COL in Manhattan proper. Brooklyn and Queens can be just as cheap as anywhere else.

I have to disagree. The COL in NYC - even in Bk and Queens - is still extremely high. A bedroom in a shared apartment is going to run you AT LEAST $600/mo. A 30-day MetroCard is $105. EVERYTHING is just a little more expensive in NYC than in most parts of the country. Go walk around a Target in Bk or Queens and compare prices - everything is a tiny bit more expensive. It all adds up.

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