Yes, New York made the list, but many smaller cities along the coastline and near big universities have created impressive public transportation systems, according to data from a national survey.

Ditching your car and the daily idling in morning rush hour traffic that comes with it is easier said than done, especially for those living in sprawling metropolitan areas where public transport is unreliable. But living without a car is a reality for many city dwellers in our nation's most popular cities, including New York, where tourists and residents alike rely on its intricate network of subways, buses, and ferries to get around town. New York isn't the only city where life without a car is easy, however—and it may not even be the best place to do so, according to results in a new data-driven index published by CityLab

The CityLab Car-Free Index, which has been created using information drawn from the annual American Community Survey distributed by the United States Census Bureau, scored areas based on the amount of households living without access to a vehicle, how many residents take public transport to work, and the share of commuters who walk or bike every day to work or school. While New York scores high on three of these categories—more than 20 percent of households don't have access to any cars in the Big Apple—San Francisco earned top marks because New Yorkers don't walk or bike to work as much as those living in the Bay Area. Boston also outperformed New York on the rankings for this reason. 

Other places where residents thrive without automobiles are some of the largest cities in America, including Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Chicago, Pittsburgh, Seattle, Los Angeles, and Portland, Oregon. The index suggests that an increased cost of living in these highly populated cities are pushing residents to ditch cars altogether, which may save them upwards of $9,200 annually on things like gas, insurance, and car maintenance, per research from the American Automobile Association. But access to fast and reliable transport in these areas may also be a bigger factor here; most of the coastal cities in the top 10 are tucked into Amtrak's Acela and Northeast corridor, where people can quickly travel between cities and surrounding suburbs (the same is true for those living in the Pacific Northwest, where trains easily connect Seattle and Portland). 

Trolley in San Fransisco California
Credit: Daniel Viñé Garcia / Getty Images

The most surprising findings in CityLab's report, however, have to do with the midsize and smaller cities that are largely centered around major universities. Students' presence in these cities have created the need for reliable public transport and pedestrian-friendly infrastructure. Those living near the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, and the University of Florida in Gainesville, just to name a few, are reaping the rewards of scaled-down public transport.

Many may see owning a car as a luxury, but until other metropolitan areas—including Birmingham, Alabama and Dallas, Texas, two cities that rounded out the bottom of the Car-Free Index—make public transport and other services more available, owning a car may be a wasteful necessity. If you're dreaming of walking to work, using ride-share apps to hit the grocery store, or simply renting a bike to get around town, it seems that building a life near students or in our largest cities is your best bet.


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