Several factors make a city easy to live in without a car. The most important one is a widely available and efficient public transportation system. Another is having daily amenities, such as groceries, shopping, schools and entertainment, nearby and within easy reach on foot or by bicycling. The best cities have both features and 24/7 Wall St. has identified the 10 best ones to live in without a car.
10 Best Cities to Live in Without a Car
10 Best Cities to Live Car-Free
> Transit coverage: 69.4 percent (36th highest)
> Service frequency (minutes): 8.9 (16th lowest)
> Jobs reachable in 90 minutes: 30.2 percent (43rd highest)
> Walk score: 79.2 (third highest)
> Commuters who bike: 0.7 percent (21st highest)
The Boston-Cambridge-Quincy metropolitan area’s greatest strength for those without an automobile is the prevalence of dense, easily manageable communities. This makes it exceptionally easy for residents to reach amenities such as groceries, restaurants, shopping and schools. The metropolitan area’s primary city, Boston, has the third-highest walk score in the country. The area’s public transit also has a relatively high service frequency rate, making its use that much more convenient for the city’s residents.
> Transit coverage: 96 percent (second highest)
> Service frequency (minutes): 6.2 (second lowest)
> Jobs reachable in 90 minutes: 25.6 percent (69th highest)
> Walk score: 65.9 (14th highest)
> Commuters who bike: 0.87 percent (14th highest)
Los Angeles is the second largest city by population in the United States, and its metropolitan area is fairly spread out. Due to its extensive public transit system the area has avoided a complete automobile-based culture. The metro area’s 19 transit systems have more than 500 bus routes. As a result, 96 percent of neighborhoods are within 0.75 miles to a transit stop -- the second highest rate in the country. Better still, commuters can catch a form of public transportation from their nearest stop every 6.2 minutes.
> Transit coverage: 89 percent (eighth highest)
> Service frequency (minutes): 8.5 (11th lowest)
> Jobs reachable in 90 minutes: 58.9 percent (2nd highest)
> Walk score: 57.6 (29th highest)
> Commuters who bike: 0.78 percent (17th highest)
Utah’s population is expected to grow from 2010’s approximately 3 million to 4.4 million in 2030. Salt Lake County accounts for more than one-third of the state’s population. To accommodate this growth, the Utah Transit Authority has plans to add four more lines to its light rail system, TRAX, up from its current three lines. This investment is meant to improve transportation for the suburban and exurban population to the city. In the winter, the UTA runs ski transit lines in addition to its rail and bus services.
> Transit coverage: 83.7 percent (12th highest)
> Service frequency (minutes): 8.1 (10th lowest)
> Jobs reachable in 90 minutes: 47.5 percent (10th highest)
> Walk score: 60.4 (23rd highest)
> Commuters who bike: 0.79 percent (16th highest)
Denver has bus service, light rail lines and an airport shuttle service. The city is currently undergoing a multibillion dollar expansion of its transit system, called the FasTracks Expansion. This plan is meant to increase light rail, commuter rail and bus rapid-transit lines. The project, which is expected to be completed in 2019, currently faces a $2 billion shortfall.
> Transit coverage: 95.6 percent (third highest)
> Service frequency (minutes): 6.9 (fifth lowest)
> Jobs reachable in 90 minutes: 58.4 percent (third highest)
> Walk score: 54.5 (34th highest)
> Commuters who bike: 1.56 percent (seventh highest)
The San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara metropolitan area’s public transportation is overseen by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority. Like Los Angeles, the area relies heavily on buses, running about 100 routes. Public transit covers 95.6 percent of neighborhoods, the third greatest in the country. Public vehicles also run under seven minutes apart, the fifth smallest frequency. The metro area also has the seventh highest rate of commuters who travel to work by bicycle.
> Transit coverage: 85.3 percent (11th highest)
> Service frequency (minutes): 8.8 (15th lowest)
> Jobs reachable in 90 minutes: 33.4 percent (35th highest)
> Walk score: 73.6 (sixth highest)
> Commuters who bike: 1.07 percent (ninth highest)
Seattle’s public transportation system not only includes bus and rail transit, but a monorail in the city center, as well as ferries. The city also has the sixth highest walk score in the country, due to its high number of easily accessible amenities. According to Bicycling magazine, Seattle is one of the most bike-friendly cities in the country and “has a 10-year, $240-million bike master plan that seeks to triple the number of journeys made by bike and add 450 miles of bike paths.”
> Transit coverage: 97 percent (the highest)
> Service frequency (minutes): 9 (18th highest)
> Jobs reachable in 90 minutes: 59.8 percent (the highest)
> Walk score: 63 (19th highest)
> Commuters who bike: 0.95 percent (12th highest)
Honolulu currently does not have an urban rail system, but its bus system helps cover 97 percent of neighborhoods — the highest rate in the country. Additionally, almost 60 percent of jobs are accessible within 90 minutes to those who live in neighborhoods covered by transit. This is also the highest rate in the country. Nevertheless, the city is planning a $5.5 billion rail project called the Honolulu Rail Transit Project. This will include 20 miles of track, connecting East Kapolei with the Honolulu International Airport and downtown Honolulu and will end at Ala Moana Center.
> Transit coverage: 89.6 percent (seventh highest)
> Service frequency (minutes): 4.5 (the highest)
> Jobs reachable in 90 minutes: 36.6 percent (25th highest)
> Walk score: 85.3 (the highest)
> Commuters who bike: 0.52 percent (32nd highest)
New York City and its surroundings rank first in the nation for total number of passenger trips and government spending per capita on public transit, according to U.S. News. It also has the highest rate of service frequency. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s 2010 operating budget was $13.4 billion. The average weekday ridership for the city is estimated to be over 8.4 million trips. The city also has the highest walk score on this list, thanks to the ability of city dwellers to reach just about any amenity on foot.
> Transit coverage: 83.5 percent (13th highest)
> Service frequency (minutes): 7.4 (eighth lowest)
> Jobs reachable in 90 minutes: 39.9 percent (16th highest)
> Walk score: 66.3 (13th highest)
> Commuters who bike: 2.23 percent (second highest)
Portland is such a good place for people to live without a car due to both its public transit system and the ease of walking and biking around the city. The metropolitan area is served by TriMet, which in addition to other services offers a Free Rail Zone — a region that includes most of downtown Portland and where light rail and streetcar rides are always free. The city has a number of benefits for bike riders, including designated bike-only areas at traffic signals and free bike lights. It has the second highest rate of commuters who ride bikes to work in the country.
> Transit coverage: 91.7 percent (fifth highest)
> Service frequency (minutes): 8.5 (12th highest)
> Jobs reachable in 90 minutes: 34.8 (30th highest)
> Walk score: 84.9 (second highest)
> Commuters who bike: 1.65 percent (sixth highest)
San Francisco is held in high regard for its many successful transit systems, including the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority and the Bay Area Rapid Transit district. These systems cover nearly 92 percent of neighborhoods -- the fifth highest rate in the country. San Francisco also has the second highest walk score and is excellent for bicyclists. Commuter rails within the city allow bicyclists to mount with their bicycles, and there is a bike shuttle across the Bay Bridge to help cyclists during rush hour.
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For people without cars, large cities with dense populations can be easier to handle if they have exceptional levels of "walkability." New York City, for example, is great for a car-free lifestyle because the majority of daily conveniences are reachable on foot. In Boston, the situation is similar. Both cities also have highly efficient public rail systems. As a result, people can easily get to work even if the distance is too far to walk.
More sprawling metropolitan areas can also be easier to negotiate for those without cars as long as they have highly developed public transit systems. The Los Angeles metropolitan area runs more than 500 bus lines, covering 96 percent of neighborhoods. Similarly, San Jose covers nearly 96 percent by running about 100 bus lines. Although these cities do not have exceptional levels of rail service, residents can avoid owning automobiles by relying on city buses.
The majority of cities that are easy to maneuver on foot or by public access also have relatively large bicycling communities. For example, more people bike to work in a city like Portland, Ore., than in a city like San Antonio, Texas, which is not very pedestrian or bicyclist friendly. These cities tend to have an exceptional number of programs and bylaws for bicyclists. Seven of the cities on 24/7 Wall St.'s list are also featured on Bicycling magazine's list of the top 50 bike-friendly cities.
To compile this list of the best cities to live in without a car, 24/7 Wall St. examined the 100 largest metropolitan areas. In each city, we looked at the percentage of neighborhoods covered by public transit, the frequency of service for those neighborhoods and the share of jobs reachable within 90 minutes or less by public transit for people living in those neighborhoods, all provided by the Brookings Institution. We also looked at the "walk score" for the primary city of each metropolitan area, provided by research group Walk Score. This number represents how accessible-on-foot the amenities are for city residents. Finally, we considered the percentage of commuters who bike to work, using data from the Census Bureau.
Having cities that allow easy, car-free living has other benefits. Nick Spang of Walk Score told 24/7 Wall St. via email: "Walkable neighborhoods are one of the simplest and best solutions for the environment, our health and our economy."
Although San Jose has an exceptionally small education gap, it has an above-average unemployment rate. This is because the city’s manufacturing sector took a major hit during the recession. The city’s population is highly educated due in large part to the technology industry. Cisco Systems is headquartered in the city, which has been nicknamed the “Capital of Silicon Valley,” and other large tech companies, such as IBM, employ many people there.
> Unemployment rate: 7.5%
> Change in unemployment from pre-recession low: +3.7%
> Median household income: $65,101
Minneapolis’s education gap is kept small by the University of Minnesota, which is located in the metropolitan area, and by a number of successful local companies that continue to hire. Six different Fortune 500 corporations are headquartered in the city, including Target, U.S. Bancorp and Ameriprise Financial. Unemployment increased 3.7% since the pre-recession low — a small amount relative to most of the country’s metropolitan areas.
> Unemployment rate: 7.1%
> Change in unemployment from pre-recession low: +3%
> Median household income: $69,907
The Boston metropolitan area is home to some of the top schools in the world, including Harvard, Tufts and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. These schools support the area’s demand for a highly educated workforce. Boston has highly developed health care and education industries. Both fields have been among the most resilient during the recession, according to Brookings.
> Unemployment rate: 9.1%
> Change in unemployment from pre-recession low: +5%
> Median household income: $64,219
Seattle is considered one of the most literate cities in the U.S. There are nearly 20 colleges and universities within the city limits. It is also home to several large companies, including Starbucks, Amazon.com and Microsoft, which is the second-biggest employer in the city. Boeing relocated its corporate headquarters to Chicago some years ago, but still remains Seattle’s biggest employer, which is why the city is often called “Jet City.”
> Unemployment rate: 10.1%
> Change in unemployment from pre-recession low: +5.8%
> Median household income: $74,876
San Francisco is a major biotechnology and biomedical center. The city’s technology industry, which is closely tied to neighboring San Jose, has drawn thousands of highly educated, skilled workers to the area in recent years, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. Despite this, the metropolitan area has an above-average unemployment rate. This is primarily the result of “the difficulty of being in California during the recession,” says Brookings’s Jonathan Rothwell. The state was badly hurt by the collapse of the housing bubble.
> Unemployment rate: 8.4%
> Change in unemployment from pre-recession low: +4.8%
> Median household income: $60,110
Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Durham make up what is commonly referred to as the “research triangle” or, simply, “the triangle.” The region is home to three major universities: UNC Chapel Hill, North Carolina State University and Duke. Raleigh’s biggest employers are either institutes of education, hospitals, or biotech research centers.
> Unemployment rate: 8.5%
> Change in unemployment from pre-recession low: +4.5%
> Median household income: $81,114
The Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk metropolitan area is home to a number of large corporations, due in large part to the area’s proximity to Manhattan. The metropolitan area is known primarily as a financial hub. It is home to Bridgewater Associates, which is the world’s largest hedge fund, Aladdin Capital, and SAC Capital Advisors. Many of the area’s largest employers are also in the field of health care services.
> Unemployment rate: 8.0%
> Change in unemployment from pre-recession low: +5.5%
> Median household income: $56,510
The Provo-Orem Metropolitan Statistical Area is home to Brigham Young University. The 30,000-student institution serves as the intellectual engine for the region, and many of those students end up at the large software and tech companies in the area. Symantec (NASDAQ: SYMC), Corel and Novell are headquartered here, as are several biotech companies. In general, the region has a very diverse economy, with jobs available across most major industries.
> Unemployment rate: 6.0%
> Change in unemployment from pre-recession low: +3%
> Median household income: $56,519
Washington D.C. has both resilient industries and an extremely low education gap. The metropolitan area is helped immensely by being the country’s capital. As of 2008, about one-third of the jobs in Washington D.C. were with the federal government, according to the Department of Employment Services. The metro area is also home to many educational institutions, such as Georgetown University and George Washington University.
> Unemployment rate: 5.5%
> Change in unemployment from pre-recession low: +1.7%
> Median household income: $58,775
Madison’s unemployment rate of 5.5% is the 20th lowest across all U.S. metropolitan statistical areas. The city is the home of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, which is the one of the largest employers in the region, second only to the state government. The university’s hospital is one of the biggest training hospitals in the country, and there are several other major hospitals in the region. Madison is also home to a variety of other businesses, including several insurance firms and a group of biotech companies. Nearly half of the city’s population holds a bachelor’s degree.