According to the 2015 edition of AAA’s Your Driving Costs, the average annual cost to own and operate a vehicle in the U.S. is $8,698. This includes fuel, maintenance, tires, auto insurance, license and registration fees, taxes, depreciation and finance charges – but not the cost of vehicle storage or parking your car at a meter.
Even a small sedan like a Honda Civic or Ford Focus can set you back $7,606 annually, while a large vehicle like a Ford Explorer or a Jeep Grand Cherokee has a yearly expense of $11,931. The cost of owning and operating a single car can exceed the monthly food costs for a family of four, while operating two cars in a family can generate costs greater than the average mortgage payment in the United States.
Benefits of Car-Free Living
Aside from the considerable monetary savings of being automobile-free, there are many other advantages:
- Less Environmental Pollution. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, operating automobiles is the single greatest cause of air pollution. Pollution results from the combustion process and spills hydrocarbons, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, and carbon dioxide. According to the EPA, carbon dioxide is considered the primary greenhouse gas contributor to recent climate change. Automobiles are also major causes of of smog and acid rain.
- Increased Personal Safety. According to U.S. Census data, there are approximately 11 million automobile accidents each year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that this results in more than 30,000 deaths, 2.3 million injuries, and, according to a separate report by the NHTSA, an almost $1 trillion cost of productivity and loss of life. Living without a car dramatically reduces the likelihood of death or injury related to cars, as pedestrian deaths are far more unlikely than those of car drivers or passengers.
- Better Health. Without an automobile, people increase the time and distance they walk each day when commuting to and from work or when shopping. Health authorities from the American Heart Association to the Arthritis Foundation recommend daily walking as the key to long-term health. The benefits can include weight loss, longer life, better sleep, and reduced Alzheimer’s risk.
- Less Stress. MIT’s Sensible City Lab and automaker Audi did a study on driving and learned that stress levels for driving in city traffic and skydiving from an airplane for the first time were about the same. Karl Greco, one of the project leaders, claims, “Certain driving situations can be one of the most stressful activities in our lives.”
A 2014 article in TIME noted several studies about drivers who commute more than 10 miles each way to work and the deleterious effects upon their mental and physical health. John Casada, a psychiatrist who specializes in anger issues, says, “Sitting in traffic all boxed up in your car, running late and feeling powerless to improve your situation, is a perfect recipe for stress… As our society spends more time commuting amid more and more traffic, it’s no surprise that rates of aggressive driving and road rage are on the rise as well.”
Best U.S. Cities to Live Without a Car
If you live in one of the larger U.S. cities – say, any city with more than a million residents – you probably don’t need a car to go about your daily activities. Residents of New York City, Chicago, Boston, and San Francisco have superb public transit systems and are bike-friendly. There are museums, theaters, music venues, and other cultural programs within walking distance in addition to a plethora of restaurants and shops. Many larger cities have professional sports teams and facilities, and are home to some of the best medical facilities in America.
Unfortunately, many large cities have incredibly high living costs. According to MNS, an unfurnished one-bedroom apartment in the Tribeca area of Manhattan rents for more than $5,000 a month. The same apartment in the Charlestown area of Boston is $2,256, reports Boston.com. According to Chicago Business, a high-end apartment renter in downtown Chicago can expect to pay $2,740 each month, while the San Francisco Chronicle reports that the average rent for an apartment in San Francisco during the first quarter of 2015 was $3,458. By contrast, the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in one of the six cities recommended on this list is $1,496.
The following cities are located across the nation, offering a variety of climate and topographical conditions. They have been selected based upon their combination of walkability, bike-friendliness, and public transit capability – Walk Score, a private company based in Seattle, rates more than 3,000 cities across the U.S. in each category. Other factors included in the recommendation are population (fewer than one million residents), cost of living, and strength of the local economy.
Big cities – including some on this list – suffer from high crime rates in some neighborhoods. Before moving into any new location, make certain your surroundings are safe.
1. Minneapolis, Minnesota
Located in the northern Midwest, Minneapolis has a population of 420,000. Known for its many lakes (there are more than 12 within the city limits), the area is an economic hub with a variety of industries. Minneapolis is the headquarters of five Fortune 500 companies, along with a Federal Reserve Bank. The city and its twin, St. Paul, was ranked number 16 in the top “25 Best Cities for Jobs” by Glassdoor.
While the cost of living is 8% higher than the national average, a one-bedroom unfurnished apartment rents for $1,022. And, according to CBS Minnesota, US Internet has begun building a 10 Gbps fiber Internet service, claimed to be the fastest in the world.
The city is a cultural powerhouse with nationally acclaimed art museums including the Walker Art Center, one of the five largest modern art museums in the country. The Northeast Minneapolis Arts District was voted the Best Art District in the U.S. by USA Today. There are multiple theaters and performing arts companies, including the Guthrie Theater and the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts. Travel+Leisure ranks Minneapolis/St. Paul (home of music artist Prince) as the fifth best music scene in America. Minnesota was also ranked the most literate city in America in 2014 in a study by Central Connecticut State University.
Outdoor activities are popular in the city’s 6,744 acres of parks and more than 70 maintained trails. Outside voted the city third on its list of “The 16 Best Places to Live in the U.S.” in 2014. It has the highest ParkScore in the country and is considered the most bikeable city in the nation by Outside.
Heather Smith, a bicyclist blogger, writes, “Except for a few minutes at the beginning and end of every trip, there were no cars around me at all. I had been transported to a magical land of cyclists and pedestrians.” The combination of walkability, light rail systems, buses, bike lanes, and 170 bicycle stations encourage non-auto use, leading Travel+Leisure to rank the twin cities second in its “20 Greenest Cities in America.”
Metro Transit operates almost 900 buses over 132 routes with 900 wait shelters throughout the metro Twin cities area in addition to more than 10 rapid transit, high-frequency routes. The system also operates two light-rail systems and one commuter rail line. Several suburban areas and the University of Minnesota operate independent lines.
2. Arlington, Virginia
For those who prefer a cosmopolitan lifestyle, Arlington lies on the south bank of the Potomac River directly across from Washington, D.C. Once part of the Capitol, the land reverted to Virginia in 1846. It is the smallest county in the U.S. and consists of distinct neighborhoods referred to as “urban villages,” centered around transit stations.
The area is the home of Arlington National Cemetery, the nation’s second-largest military cemetery that is the burial place of presidents and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The Pentagon, home of the U.S. Department of Defense, is the world’s largest office building with more than 26,000 office residents.
The economy is bolstered by the large presence of the Federal Government, accounting for more than a quarter of those employed in the county. Other major employers include the consulting and accounting firms Deloitte and Accenture. Arlington has an unemployment rate of 3.4% – one-third lower than the national unemployment rate of 5.1% (as of September 2015 according to YCharts) – and is considered one of the best cities for riding out a recession, according to Bloomberg. Rent Jungle reports that the average one-bedroom apartment rents for $1,807 per month.
Fortunately, the Arlington median household income of $106,400 is more than double the U.S. median household income ($52,520 in 2013 according to the U.S. Census) since the cost of living in the area is 39% higher than average. As a bedroom community to Washington, D.C., Arlington is ranked 10th in Glassdoor’s “25 Best Cities for Jobs.”
According to a report by Urban Design+Research, Arlington is the most educated county in the nation. More than 70% of adults over the age of 25 have a bachelor’s degree, and more than a third have a graduate or professional degree.
Arlington’s public transit system is one of the best in the country and includes four lines of the Washington Metro, with 11 stations and average weekday boarding in excess of 60,000 riders. The Virginia Railway Express and five public systems, including Metroway (the first bus rapid transit system in the area), is readily accessible.
The city’s bicycle sharing system, Capital Bikeshare, has multiple rental locations throughout more than 100 miles of bike trails. The county actively promotes a “car-free diet” with free information, an identifying t-shirt, and assistance finding the best non-automotive solutions for the needs of residents. It also promotes a WalkArlington program with more than 8,000 walking routes. Arlington has a gold-level rating from the Walk Friendly Communities.
3. Miami, Florida
If you like the beach, nightlife, and an international flavor without the hassles of owning a car, you should think about Miami. The city is considered the gateway to South America – more than half of Miami’s residents were born in other countries, and a quarter of residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher, according to the U.S. Census.
While Miami’s nightlife is well publicized, the city is also home to one of the country’s best-known performing arts and entertainment facilities. There are numerous theaters including the Coconut Grove Playhouse and the Jackie Gleason Theater. The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts is the second-largest performing arts center in the United States.
There are six major art museums, and the city hosts the largest art exhibition in the world, Art Basel Miami. Miami is world-renowned for its eclectic music scene and the introduction of South American and Caribbean sounds and dances to America.
The economy is based on its access to global markets with Port Miami, the world’s busiest cruise port. There are seven Fortune 500 companies based in Miami, including World Fuel Service Corp. and Ryder Systems.
According to the Miami Herald, the unemployment rate in Miami and Dade County is 6.1%, which is slightly higher than the national average. According to Census figures, median household income in 2013 was $46,946, while the cost of living was 10% higher than the national average. Rent Jungle reports that the rental cost for an unfurnished one-bedroom apartment is $1,890. AT&T and Comcast announced the city’s first Gigabit services for Miami in 2015, and according to TechRepublic, some experts predict that Google Fiber will be available soon.
The city experienced economic difficulties in the early 2010s and in 2012 was named by Forbes as the “most miserable city in the United States” due to the housing crisis and loss of local construction jobs. Thankfully, since, the economy has continued to strengthen, according to Comerica Economic Insights.
Walk Score rates Miami fifth of 3,000 American cities for its walkability, and DecoBike runs its Citibike service and has more than 100 bike-sharing stations and 1,000 bikes. The public transit system includes the following:
- Commuter rail system
- Rapid transit system (Metrorail)
- Elevated people-moving system (Metromover) with a ridership of over 100,000 daily
- Free trolley system from downtown to the Everglades and Homestead Bayfront Park
For those rare times you might need a car, the city offers distinctive blue and white Smart cars through its Car2Go program.
4. Seattle, Washington
One of the oldest settlements in North America, Seattle is also one of the most beautiful cities in the world, according to the Huffington Post. Nestled between the Pacific Ocean and the Olympic Mountains, the city was a major lumbering port, the gateway to the Klondike gold rush, and home to Native Americans who have been in Puget Sound at least 10,000 years.
The city enjoys cool, wet winters and warm summers with more than 1,400 hours of sunshine between April and September, according to U.S. Climate Data. While Seattle is one of the rainiest cities in the country, precipitation is more likely a mist than thunderstorms – summer averages less than two inches of rain per month.
In 2015, the AARP rated Seattle one of the top three most livable places in America. Vocativ, an online technology news company targeting the young, rated the city fourth in its list of “Best U.S. Cities For People 35 and Under.” Seattle is also rated by NerdWallet as the most LGBT-friendly city in the U.S. Finally, the area is ethnically diverse, with one of the larger Asian populations in the U.S. (nearly 14%, according to Seattle.gov).
Real estate site PropertyShark rated Seattle the top city for culture in the U.S., ahead of New York City, Boston, and San Francisco. It boasts a plethora of free art galleries and museums, and acclaimed theaters and music halls compete with an active music scene. Seattle is also a popular venue for film production.
Active residents walk, cycle, hike, ski, kayak, and rock climb most of the year. The city came in at number 12 on Niche‘s rankings of “Best Metros for Outdoor Activities in America.” For those inclined to sports, Seattle is home to the NFL’s Seahawks and Major League Baseball’s Mariners. It also hosts male and female soccer teams – the Sounders and the Reign – and a women’s professional basketball team, Storm.
The metropolitan area claims Fortune 500 companies including Microsoft, Amazon.com, and Starbucks. The Port of Seattle is the gateway to Asia, and Boeing is one of the city’s largest employers. The Seattle Times reported that King County’s unemployment rate of 3.3% in May 2015 was below the national rate, and Seattle was the first city in the country to raise the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
The cost of living in Seattle is 24% higher than the national average, with households having a median income of $67,479. Rent Jungle reports that a one-bedroom unfurnished apartment rents for $1,615 per month on average. The area currently has one gigabit Internet service available.
Walk Score rates Seattle eighth in the country for walkability. In addition, residents have access to the following public transit options:
- Electric trolleybuses
- Three separate bus lines
- Two commuter rail lines
- A rapid transit line
- The largest network of ferries in the United States connecting to islands within Puget Sound and the Kitsap Peninsula
Bicyclists can ride more than 129 miles of bike lanes and 98 miles of signed routes with access to over 2,000 bike parking spaces. And, the Emerald City is implementing a bike-sharing program with more than 500 bicycles available in 50 stations for rent on a daily basis or longer.
5. Portland, Oregon
British publication Monocle claims that “Portland is America’s Only Livable City,” primarily due to its “vigorous lifestyles (one could theoretically ski and surf on the same day) and liberal outlooks.” Vocativ agrees, ranking the city number one on its list of the most livable cities in America. The City of Roses has an ideal climate – warm and sunny in the summers with winters of mild temperatures in the mid-50s to mid-60s – with a growing season of 240 days.
Located on the banks of the Willamette River 70 miles east of the Pacific Ocean, the largely flat city lies between the Oregon Coast Range of mountains on the west and the Cascade Range on the east. Mount St. Helens erupted in 1980, covering the city with volcanic ash. Portland was the major port in the Pacific Northwest for years, and the city’s Shanghai Tunnels remain a popular tourist attraction.
One of the nation’s largest freshwater ports, the city has lost a number of international shipping companies in recent years due to tensions between the port operator and labor unions. However, the economy remains robust with growing technology businesses. Known as the Silicon Forest, the city attracts entrepreneurs and startup companies with its livability. As Patrick Quinton, director of Portland’s Development Commission, asks, “Why not start a business where you want to live as opposed to Silicon Valley?”
Intel is the area’s largest employer with more than 15,000 employees. A number of major shoe manufacturers are located in Portland including Nike, the city’s only Fortune 500 company, as well as Adidas, Dr. Martens, and Hi-Tec Sports. According to The Oregonian, in 2014 Google Fiber signed a tentative franchise agreement with the city.
The city’s unemployment rate of 5.2% (as of July 2015, per The Oregonian) is slightly above the national average with an average household income of $59,168. Average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,323, well below its west coast neighbor Seattle, even though the cost of living is about the same (23% higher than the national average).
Portland was ranked in the top 30 Best Cities for New College Grads by Bloomberg Business. Kristin Kohashi, blogging on aftercollege.com, writes, “The public transportation system is amazing. The cost of living is good. There’s no sales tax. Even in the heart of downtown, it feels pretty safe, clean, and the people are nice. It’s a big city with a small-town community vibe.”
While Portland is a popular film location, the city’s cultural scene is nothing spectacular. There are several museums and art galleries including the Portland Art Museum, which is one of the country’s 25 largest museums. And, Kendall Planetarium is among the best in the U.S. As for music, there’s a symphony orchestra and ballet troupe, but the city’s best-known performing art is karaoke. Dan Kois, a writer for the The New York Times, crowned the city’s karaoke scene “a genuine artistic movement” and “one of the most exciting music scenes in America.”
The city’s social life can be found in its many breweries and independent microbreweries. Travel+Leisure named Portland the “Best City for Beer Lovers” in 2015, and the industry magazine DRAFT designated it simply as “Beertown.”
Portland is among the nation’s greenest cities, getting half its power from renewable sources, and has a top five ParkScore, according to the Trust for Public Lands. In 2012, Bicycling named Portland its Best Bike City. According to Portland’s Bureau of Transportation, more than 6% of commuters pedal their way to work over more than 320 miles of bikeways.
The city’s transit system (TriMet) operates more than 600 buses over 79 routes, including express and frequent service. The city has almost 60 miles of light rail service, a two-line street car system for downtown, a commuter rail system serving the suburbs, and an aerial tram connecting the Oregon Health and Science University with the waterfront district.
6. Denver, Colorado
The Mile High City is located at the eastern base of the Rocky Mountains with an average of 300 days of sunshine each year. Denver enjoys four distinct seasons with mild summers and winters, although temperatures can occasionally reach 100 degrees in the summer and below zero in the winters.
The city is the gateway to some of the best ski facilities in the country including Vail, Breckenridge, and Steamboat Springs. Denver residents are especially active outdoors, and the city ranks second in Niche’s Best Metros for Outdoor Activities in America. Denver has more than 200 parks within the city and offers easy access to more than 14,000 acres of mountain parks west of the city. ParkScore rates it 16th in the nation for its park system.
Denver’s economy is robust and diverse with an unemployment rate of 3.6% as of August 2015, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Newmont Mining Corporation, CH2M Hill Inc., and the Gates Corporation are headquartered in Denver, while Fortune 500 companies Level 3, Western Union, and Liberty Interactive are based in the city’s suburbs. One of its more famous corporate residents is the Molson Coors Brewing Company.
Average household income is $62,760, and the city’s cost of living is only 6% above the national average. The average rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $1,318 monthly. Denver is one of the best fiber-connected cities in the world with gigabit service from Comcast and CenturyLink.
Denver is home to museums and theaters, but is better known for its active nightlife. WalletHub rated Denver number three in its ranking of the Best Cities for Singles, and the Pew Research Center noted that the area has the second highest ratio of employed single young men to single young women in the nation. Vocativ ranks Denver number nine for livability, claiming it “is one of the country’s best locations to stay laundered, employed, and toasted.”
Denver residents can commute by bus or light rail, but many bicycle to work on streets with dedicated bike lanes. There are more than 850 miles of paved, off-road bike paths in the city making Denver number four in “Bike Friendly Cities,” according to Walk Score. BestColleges.com places Denver number nine in its ranking of “Best Cities for Students Without Cars.”
7. Madison, Wisconsin
The capital of Wisconsin and home of the University of Wisconsin, Madison is a beautiful city with five lakes within or abutting the city’s boundaries. Livability ranked Madison third in its 2016 “Top 100 Best Places to Live,” especially noting the city’s superb healthcare and educational systems. Madison is composed of more than 120 official neighborhood associations, each with its distinct lifestyles and activities. AARP ranked Madison number one in its list of medium-sized “Most Livable Cities” in 2015, and the Milken Institute claims that Madison is the best large metro area for aging.
The city enjoys four distinct seasons, with skiing, ice fishing, and skating in the winter and fishing, biking, and sailing in the summers. Travel+Leisure included Madison in its 2015 list of the “Best Cities on Earth for Biking,” while NerdWallet ranked Madison as the “Greenest City in America'” in 2014 based on the city’s air quality, its 12.7 parks per 10,000 residents, more than 15,000 acres of lakes, and 200 miles of biking and hiking trails. On summer weekends, it is home to the largest producers-only farmers market in the country, and on Wednesdays, the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra performs free concerts on the lawn of the Capitol.
Madison has five art museums and hosts the popular Art Fair on the Square, drawing fine arts enthusiasts from across the Midwest each year. The city also hosts music festivals featuring jazz, folk, rock, and traditional music. Brat Fest occurs each May, while the Wisconsin Book Festival in the fall draws more than 10,000 patrons who can meet authors and attend readings. According to Jason Brown, bassist for Unity the Band, “Madison is a progressive hub of the Midwest, melding the old country feel of rural Wisconsin with an ultra hipster savvy you might expect in a city like Amsterdam.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, as of August 2015, unemployment is a low 2.8%, almost half of the U.S. rate, and is the seventh-lowest in all U.S. metropolitan areas. Bloomberg Business considers Madison to be one of the “Best Cities for Riding Out a Recession.” The cost of living is 6% higher than the national average, while the average cost of an unfurnished one-bedroom apartment is $983.
Even though Madison has only one Fortune 500 company – American Family Insurance Group – its median household income was $49,546 in 2013. It is not surprising that Huffington Post included the city on its 2013 list of the “10 Most Relaxing Places to Retire in the U.S.” It also ranked second on a list of the NerdWallet “Top 20 Cities for Young Entrepreneurs.” In addition to walking and biking paths, Madison has a metro bus system with 228 buses that cover 75 routes each half-hour or hour, with more than 2,000 stops throughout the city and surrounding area.
8. Austin, Texas
Austin, the capital of Texas, is best known for its limestone hills, live oak trees, and the University of Texas Longhorns. It is considered to be the most politically liberal city in Texas, reflecting the local motto “Keep Austin Weird.” Money Crashers rated Austin number one in its list of the “10 Best U.S. Cities to Live In.”
The city is popular with all age groups:
- Vocativ ranks Austin number two in its list of “The 35 Best U.S. Cities for People 35 and Under.”
- The Milken Institute rated it among the top 10 “Best Cities for Successful Aging,” primarily for its strong economy, public transportation system, and low levels of mental stress.
- Bankrate rated Austin seventh in its ranking of America’s 10 best cities for retirement.
Austin has a diverse and growing economy with an unemployment rate only 60% (3.2%) of the national rate. Due to the number of high-tech, biotech, and pharmaceutical companies, the area is sometimes called Silicon Hills and is nationally recognized for its business environment:
- Bloomberg Business rated the city eighth in its list of “America’s 50 Best Cities.”
- NerdWallet ranks the city number seven in its list of the “Top 20 Cities for Young Entrepreneurs.”
- Glassdoor rates Austin fourth in its “25 Best Cities for Jobs.”
Austin is the home of one Fortune 500 company, Whole Foods Market. Dell Computers, previously on the list, is no longer a publicly traded company, but remains the city’s largest corporate employer. With a median income of $56,351, the cost of living in the city is 6% below the national average. According to Rent Jungle, the average cost of an unfurnished one-bedroom apartment is $1,245. Austin has one of the fastest Internet speeds in the country (ninth) according to PC Magazine.
The city, which is home to the LBJ Presidential Library, has a culture that’s largely centered around its music scene and film festivals. South by Southwest features music, film, and emerging technology, while Austin City Limits is the longest-running concert music program on television. The city is known as the home of Willie Nelson and outlaw country music. The music scene is centered around downtown’s Sixth Street, a collection of restaurants, bars, and music venues that attract residents and visitors alike.
While Austin is rated by USA Today as one of “America’s Most Literate Cities” (number 22), it is also ranked by Travel+Leisure as one of America’s top five cities in the nation for concerts, festivals, and its music scene (second) and the top spot for hip/cool people. The city was also rated in the top five for “geeky” and “quirky” people.
Outdoor activities are plentiful, with more than 50 public swimming pools and parks. Barton Springs Pool is the nation’s largest natural swimming pool in an urban area and is adjacent to 350-acre Zilker Park. Lady Bird Lake abuts Zilker Park and extends through the downtown business district. Lake Travis lies on the western edge of the city with more than 260 miles of shoreline.
The city’s transit system includes buses and light rail. Pedi-cabs serve downtown. There are approximately 80 miles of dedicated bike trails in addition to bike-vehicle share lanes. All buses and Metrorail trains have bike racks or hooks for easy transport with hundreds of bicycle racks throughout the main business district. Bicycling ranks the city 11th in its list of “Bicycling’s Top 50”
9. Baltimore, Maryland
Founded in 1729, Baltimore is the country’s second largest seaport in the mid-Atlantic. It is the city where Frances Scott Key wrote “The Star-Spangled Banner” during the War of 1812.
The relatively mild climate with four distinct seasons and lack of major elevation changes has attracted residents to the area since the Paleo-Indians 10,000 to 12,000 years ago. The city’s architecture includes structures built over the last 200 years and attracts building aficionados and students around the nation to its self-guided tours.
The city is divided into nine official neighborhoods, each with its own police force and ethnic composition, and there are 72 designated historic districts within the city’s boundaries. AARP rates Baltimore among its top 10 most livable large cities.
Baltimore is home to many museums and art galleries with diverse subjects, ranging from historic trolleys and electric street cars, to the home of Edgar Allan Poe. Its National Aquarium is considered to be one of the best in the U.S. The area may be best known for its food – blue crabs and Natty Boh beer – and its professional sports teams, baseball’s Baltimore Orioles and the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, that play at the famous Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium, respectively. Pimlico Race Track hosts the third leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown (the Preakness) the third Saturday of May each year.
Baltimore has 12 private and public colleges including Johns Hopkins, Loyola, and the University of Maryland, and the city was ranked as one of “America’s Most Literate Cities” (15th) in a survey by Central Connecticut State University. Forbes ranked the city number nine in its top 10 “Best Cities for New College Grads in 2015” while Glassdoor rates Baltimore 22nd in its “25 Best Cities for Jobs.” Baltimore is also considered by Bloomberg Business to be one of the “Best Cities for Riding Out a Recession.”
With growing industries in medicine, law, and health and its major employer Johns Hopkins University and Hospital, Baltimore’s unemployment rate is 5.5%, slightly above the national average. Median income in 2013 was $68,455 with a cost of living 9% higher than the national average. The average cost of an unfurnished one-bedroom apartment is $1,117 per month. Baltimore has the fourth fastest Internet speed in the country according to PC Magazine.
Baltimore’s public transit system includes local, express, and commuter buses, light rail, and a subway system. There are miles of dedicated bike lanes and shared roads, including downtown. As a consequence, NerdWallet ranked the city in its top 25 “Greenest Cities in America” with more than 40% of its population walking, biking, carpooling, or riding public transit to work. While Baltimore suffers from a reputation as a high-crime area, two-thirds of residents feel safe walking alone at night in the city or in their neighborhoods, according to Gallup.
10. St. Louis, Missouri
The city known as the “Gateway to the West” is one of the oldest in the Midwest, originally established in 1784 by French explorers. The famous Gateway Arch is one of the most recognizable monuments in the world.
Located on the banks of the Mississippi River, St. Louis is the country’s third busiest inland port, shipping more than 80 million tons of products on 2,500 barges each year. The city enjoys four distinct seasons, with fall being its most spectacular as oak, maple, and hickory trees change color. The city is a popular bird-watching site, as it sits along the migratory paths of many birds. Built largely on the bluffs rising above the river, the area is generally rolling hills and prairies.
There are more than 100 parks within the city limits. Forest Park, the largest, is twice the size of Central Park in New York City, with three museums including the Saint Louis Art Museum. The park includes an 11,000-seat outdoor musical amphitheater claimed to be the nation’s oldest.
The city hosted the 1904 World’s Fair and Olympics, purchasing a walk-through birdcage from the Smithsonian Institute after the Fair to begin a free zoo. The zoo, ranked number three in TripAdvisor‘s list of “Best Zoos,” is known for its use of natural zones for exhibits, replacing cages.
Church spires are common in the city’s landscape, with historic cathedrals built by waves of German, Irish, and Italian immigrants in the early 1900s. USA Today ranks St. Louis as one of “America’s Most Literate Cities.”
The award-winning Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra performs regularly in Grand Center. The city is also home of the National Blues Museum and the annual St. Louis Blues Week with blues being played seven nights a week in clubs around the metro area. According to Robert Santelli, director of the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles, St. Louis was a major blues community in the early 1900s, but has been overlooked due to its lack of a major record label. Other major festivals include the St. Louis Art Fair and Foulard Mardi Gras, an 11-day celebration.
The cost of living in St. Louis is 6% below the national average with housing more than 25% below. Glassdoor rates St. Louis 11th in its “25 Best Cities for Jobs” list. The average cost of an unfurnished one-bedroom apartment is $685. Median income according to the U.S. Census was $54,449 in 2013.
Bottom Line Personal includes St. Louis in its list of “10 Affordable US Cities Where Life Is Great Without a Car,” but notes that walkability depends on specific neighborhoods. The Metrobus system offers regular and express service throughout the community. MetroLink, the city’s light rail system, has 62 miles of track with 37 stations.
Bike commuting in St. Louis has soared in recent years according to the St. Louis Business Journal, though it still lags behind other big cities in total ridership. Bicycling magazine ranks the city 38th in its list of “Bicycling’s Top 50.” And, in March 2015, FOX2now.com reported that the city announced the addition of 40 new street bike lanes, bringing its total of bike-friendly city miles to 135.
St. Louis, like many big cities, has a significant crime rate per capita, ranking as the 14th most dangerous city in the U.S. according to Neighborhood Scout. Despite its rank, 74% of residents feel safe walking alone at night in the city or where they live, according to a 2013 Gallup poll. The same poll ranks St. Louis 14th safest in a list of 50 largest U.S. metropolitan areas.
To be sure, living without a car requires some adjustments. Travel may take longer depending upon your choice of alternate transportation and requires some planning beforehand. There are times when driving may be more convenient, or dictated by the weather.
On the other hand, avoiding the daily frustration of traffic can be life-changing. Collin Woodward, a columnist who writes for Autos CheatSheet, says, “You’re going to have an incredibly hard time convincing me to go back to sitting in traffic jams and wasting large chunks of my day on an unnecessary commute.”
According to Edmunds, the average monthly car payment for new and used cars was $483 in the second quarter of 2015, or about two-thirds of the total cost of car ownership. Investing that $483 in a Roth IRA would accumulate almost $307,000 over 30 years while leaving more than $240 each month for incidental car rental, commuter fees, and other transportation expenses. If you cannot go completely car-free, consider owning one car instead of two.
Are you living in a city that’s friendly to non-car owners?