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best US cities without a car

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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.

St. Louis: Transportation has improved greatly in recent years. If you live near WashU, SLU or in downtown, you’ll be able to walk to just about everywhere you need. The train will be able to get you to the airport and most universities provide a transportation pass for free or at a heavy discount. Buses and train run from 6AM to about 2 AM. Trains run every 5-10 minutes. A lot of students walk and bike. A car makes everything 10-15 minutes away.

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 30 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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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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Houston and San Antonio, TX

Don't even apply to schools in these areas if you don't have a car or won't be able to purchase one.

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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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