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Guest Gnome Chomsky

best smaller cities to live without a car

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I live in Minnesota and with any luck will be moving to Minneapolis to attend the U of M next fall. Regardless of the outcome of my application, I am going to move to Minneapolis--or St. Paul (which together make up the Twin Cities). I'm moving there because I do not want to own a vehicle and the city has a fantastic mass transit system. As well, Minneapolis ranks as the most bike friendly city in the country, even surpassing Portland (although Portland is a great place to live too). The city boasts a vibrant arts and cultural heritage scene, and there are over 4,000 nonprofit organizations that operate in the area. The Twin Cities gets a bad rap because of the cold winters, but it's not as bad as it seems. There are skyways in the downtown area which connect the major buildings so you don't have to go outside. But then again there are things called hats and gloves, too! Overall, Minneapolis is conducive to my lifestyle, and I'm assuming if you are reading this post you have similar interests. I think there is a growing number of people who, like myself, despise the idea of living in suburbia and being dependent on the personal automobile.

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I think there is a growing number of people who, like myself, despise the idea of living in suburbia and being dependent on the personal automobile.

 

This.  Count me among that "growing number": I live in a rural/quasi-suburban area now, and I cannot wait to live someplace where I don't need my car.

 

I should probably contribute something to this thread, so I'll say that Pittsburgh supposedly has pretty poor public transit.  I've never lived there, but I have friends who have lived or currently live in the city who say that the bus system is less than adequate.

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My MSc was at a small town where we needed (and had) a car to get around. Now I'm in a big city with a great public transportation system and we didn't move our car. We get by without the car (groceries are only a 10 minute walk away) but we're really missing it now. But we're definitely NOT missing the insurance payments, frequent car repairs, gas, etc. Overall, I think the extra hassles is worth the savings in car costs, but we don't see ourselves continuing to live this way once we can afford to have a car again (our last city was way cheaper than our current home!!)

 

Having a car would also save money by allowing us to live further away from the city's core / school area, which usually means a large reduction in rent (or increase in quality for the same rent). It also gives us a lot more options for grocery shopping -- we're currently limited by whatever is available in the nearest store. A car also allows for buying in bulk to save money (and time). 

 

Don't get me wrong -- I'm enjoying this change of pace without a car and I really do like biking everywhere. I also feel healthier that I'm walking or biking a lot more and I feel good about not contributing to air pollution. However, not having a car usually really limits your options and even the best public transportation system means you're depending on bus/train schedules and traveling outside of your area might take hours. So, for us, while I'm glad that we don't "need" a car right now, I'll be happy to have one again in the future! It just gives you so much more freedom since I don't really know of many cities that were specifically designed for not needing a car.

Edited by TakeruK

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Use Google Maps Public Transit to get an idea for how long it would take to get from point A to point B with and without a car. For example, it takes me 45+ mins to get to campus by bus/walking, and it would take 10-15 min by car. I can get to some places ~2 miles from my apt faster by walking than taking the bus. That's what I call a bad public transportation system. But I've managed to make it work, at least for everyday purposes, not so much if I want to get out to neighboring cities. This will probably be true for most cities with a bus system.

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NAU in Flagstaff, AZ has a Linguistics grad program, great public transportation, is a bikeable/walkable city, and does stay relatively cool throughout the year--definitely at night. It does get warm in summer, 80s and 90s, but also 70s, but it's nothing like the heat in Phoenix.

 

Monterey, CA has is smaller and is bikeable, but idk about public transport or anything about the campus. They're big on languages though. On the coast, central California, 50s and 60s basically year round. Gorgeous country, although pretty touristy in summer.

Edited by sarabethke

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Well those are pretty much the two extremes for urban transportation! It also depends on what you count as in the city. Like I said, Portland's transit extends to the far edges of the counties that the city sits in--the transit authority is called Trimet for the three metropolitan counties. However, in other places the buses stop at the city limit and aren't a regional system. I would say that as long as you're not averse to buses (I know some people who refuse to take buses but are fine with subway) you'd be fine in Seattle. I've heard good things about Minneapolis and Madison as well, but I've never been so I couldn't speak to the public transit experience there.

 

And yeah.. the heat index today in DC is predicted to hit 105. Go West!

I agree with your comments about Seattle. I have a couple of friends who moved from Chicago to Seattle without a car, and they have no problem getting around. If you're concerned about transportation in the city and you prefer trains, just try to find a place near a train stop, and you'll be good to go for getting around most places.

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Urbana-Champaign has an awesome bus system, which is free for students.  All the buses have GPS so you can track them on your phone with an app.  

Edited by eggfish

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I've found Denver to be accommodating ( I live in an urban neighborhood Cap Hill). I bike, bus, and light rail everywhere. It sucks to not have a car to travel to the mountains, but many of my friends take me.  Parking downtown is hard and Denver is notorious for having the worst parking ticket frequency in the country... by outside of downtown there is street parking that isn't bad. 

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I live in Seattle, and don't currently own a car. I get around just fine on transit within Seattle, and to some locations in the surrounding suburbs.

But I also use two car-sharing services (Car2Go and Zipcar) for those occasions when I really do need a car, or when I don't feel like spending hours on transit. Those options tend to get overlooked in discussions of which cities are easy to go car-free in, and for me they've been real game-changers.

For a long time, I used transit most of the time (because traffic is hellish here), but kept my old car because I still needed it to get cats to the vet, haul large/heavy things home, etc. With car-sharing services, I don't need to maintain a car of my own anymore, and only pay when I need one--all the gas, insurance, and other costs are covered in each service's fees. 

So I advise looking into the availability of car-sharing services, as well as public transit. 

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Seattle is not a small city. Also, we've only got buses, unless you're in South Seattle. You could easily function without a car if you like to bike and want to take buses. But we don't have a real metro system (it's in the works still).

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Went to UC Davis for my undergrad (didn't read all the posts yet, so if someone answered, I'm sorry!) I actually didn't receive my driver's license til after graduation because the public transportation  + biking town made it so easy to not need to drive anywhere. Getting out of Davis becomes a bit more questionable, but even then, there's an Amtrak to San Francisco/San Jose/most of California, daily shuttles to Berkeley, bus lines to west of Davis and to Sacramento. I didn't leave the town that often, but I rarely had troubles doing so when I had to. Definitely a dream for those without cars or licenses, and I absolutely loved it! In fact, depending on where you live and want to go, having a car might become a pain in the ass.

 

I actually disagree with those above comments about the heat. I'm from Colorado, then moved to LA before going to Davis, and get terrible rashes in hot weather and from sweat. Yes, the weather in Davis gets hot in spring/summer (worst heat wave brought 101F +), but it was dry heat, and there are so many trees in Davis anyway and every building was so cold that when I worked in the summer I had to bring a sweater anyway. In fact, if you leave to get to school early enough (earlier than 9) and get home past 7, you'll probably want a light jacket since it gets cool in the nights. I think humid heat is worse, since it gets inside you and sticks to you and makes everything feel sticky. No offense to those who love it ;)

 

Edited by scientific
Talk about weather

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Davis is super easy to get around without a car, it's a very contained college town. You'll need a bike though. The only school I can think of that that might not be true is the med school, but then again since they moved it to Sacramento it might actually be easier without a car than before since the med center/hospitals are in Sac. I'd say San Francisco is probably easier to get around without a car too because parking and traffic are a nightmare (like NYC), but ask around if your school is anywhere else in the bay. I could see a Stanford student get around fairly easily without a car since Palo Alto's small, but not a San Jose State student.

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On 20.06.2012 at 0:54 AM, Guest Gnome Chomsky said:

I know major cities like NY, Chicago, DC, Philly, Boston are very easy to live without a car. But how about smaller cities like Minneapolis, Seattle, Madison WI, Davis CA, and other places?

It`s interesting to me how can it be easy to live without a car in such big cities like Chicago or NY? Can you explain me, please?:)

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8 hours ago, AlexaBarret said:

It`s interesting to me how can it be easy to live without a car in such big cities like Chicago or NY? Can you explain me, please?:)

In big cities *with good public transportation*, it can be easier to live without a car than if you lived in a suburb. Big cities generally have your necessities closer together and lots of buses/trains/etc to get you to where you are. In suburbs, public transit is harder to find and you might have to travel quite far to get to things. I lived in a suburb for my PhD and basically everything was a 25-40 minute car ride away, or over an hour on the bus (and most places don't even have good bus routes). 

Also, there is more incentive to avoid using a car in a big city where there might be a lot of traffic and/or very expensive parking so that walking or taking a train might be just as fast and much cheaper than driving!

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Interesting topic! I asked my classmates a similar question last week, they recommended the twin cities for decent public transit. It might also depend on your cost of living, SF has BART but is costly like NYC. Maybe Florida has some decent transit systems in the mid-small cities?

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On 1/30/2018 at 4:30 AM, AccessGranted said:

Interesting topic! I asked my classmates a similar question last week, they recommended the twin cities for decent public transit. It might also depend on your cost of living, SF has BART but is costly like NYC. Maybe Florida has some decent transit systems in the mid-small cities?

(Native) Floridian here! There is no public transportation here at all. We all Uber everywhere. Lol 

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