Key Takeaways:

  • Boston, MA & Newark, NJ, are the best places to live without a car due to their excellent public transportation infrastructure and high number of stations.
  • Almost half of the population in New York City commutes by public transit, thanks to the 16,000+ stops across the city.
  • Eugene, OR, & San Francisco, CA, stood out for their highest bike lane density, with four miles of bike lanes per square mile.
  • Access to a coworking space is easiest in Washington, D.C., as the city claimed a high density of such flex workspaces.

Tedious commutes, high fuel prices, traffic jams and increased air pollution are just some of the reasons why public transportation — along with walking and/or biking — can be favorable alternatives to driving one’s own car. Although traffic congestion is still lower than pre-pandemic levels, the typical U.S. driver still lost more than 50 hours to congestion in 2022. And, while relying on a car is a must in some more sprawling areas, many cities across the U.S. typically boast great infrastructure that supports public transportation and hassle-free commutes.

But, where in the U.S. is it easiest to move around even without a personal car? We found the answer to this question by analyzing 331 U.S. cities across multiple relevant metrics, such as the percentage of the population that uses public transportation methods and those who commute by walking, biking, or by cabs / motorcycles / other similar vehicles. We also analyzed the stations’ and bike lanes’ densities, as well as the average price of the adult fare, among other metrics.

Boston Wins the Car-Less Race Due to Consistently High Rankings, Closely Followed by Newark & NYC

Now, you might be thinking, "57 points out of 100 doesn't sound like much," and normally, you would be right. But no one is great at everything, and it's no different for cities. They might not be best in each category, but they rank toward the top for most, if not all, categories collectively. Of all 331 cities, across all nine categories, these are the top cities to live in without a car.

1. Boston, MA – Total Points: 57.2

As the absolute best place in the nation to live without a car, Boston ranked consistently high across several metrics, thereby making it easy for residents to move around via public transportation, as well as by foot. Specifically, 28% of Boston’s population uses public transit, which is the third-largest share among the 331 cities we analyzed. This is supported by the city’s high density of stations, which means that most residents live near a bus, metro or train stop. At the same time, the low number of breakdowns and mechanical failures among public transit vehicles makes the system here a highly reliable one.

2. Newark, NJ – Total Points: 55.3

Given its status as a major transportation center with one of the busiest airports in the nation, as well as a transit system that plugs seamlessly into the greater New York City area, it’s no wonder that Newark’s public transportation is a great alternative to commuting by car. Plus, residents can easily access different means of public transit as the city boasts the highest station density among all of the locations in our study with almost 10 per square mile. Even so, it might come as a surprise that, while metros, buses and trains are being used by one-fifth of the population, a large share (almost 8%) also chooses to move around via taxi, motorcycle or other similar vehicles. In fact, Newark came in third in this category, outdone only by another New Jersey representative — Elizabeth — as well as California’s Salinas.

3. New York City, NY – Total Points: 54.6

Widely known for its rapid transit system and intricate subway lines, New York City ranked third on our list of the best places to live without a car. More precisely, almost half of New Yorkers use some sort of means of public transportation to commute within and around the city — the highest share among 331 U.S. cities. Of course, accessibility plays a large role here, as New York City ranked third in terms of station density with more than two of them available per square mile and a whopping 16,000 total number of stops. However, one setback that residents face is the relatively high price of public transportation (an average adult fare of $4.36, which is the fourth highest one among all the cities analyzed).

4. Washington, D.C. – Total Points: 51

Although the nation’s capital claimed the fifth-highest share of residents who use public transportation at 27%, Washington, D.C. also ranked among the top 10 cities where a large share of the population chooses to walk or bike around the city. Yet another plus for the working population is the high density of coworking spaces, with more than 12 such spaces per 100,000 residents. Notably, Washington, D.C., in general — and its government institutions, in particular — are known for their widely adopted remote work policies. As such, the high number and even distribution of coworking spaces come in handy for many workers who need a flexible workspace near their home, therefore shortening their commute — whether that is usually achieved by car or other means of transportation.

5. San Francisco, CA – Total Points: 48.7

Whether by bus, train, bike or foot, commuting in San Francisco is usually a breeze. In fact, the city was fourth in the country when it came to the use of public transportation methods with almost 28% of the population leveraging its complex infrastructure. At the same time, San Francisco also came in fifth in terms of taxi or motorcycle usage: almost 4% of its population relies on these means of transportation. Alternatively, residents in San Francisco can always choose to bike around their areas of choice as the city had the highest bike lane density in the nation (on par in this category with Eugene, OR). This means that most residents have quick access to a solid cycling infrastructure that connects them to various areas of the city.

6. Philadelphia, PA – Total Points: 42

Coming in sixth in the top best places to live without a personal car, Philadelphia also has a reliable infrastructure for public transportation, which was similarly reflected by the high share of residents who chose it for their daily commute (more than 24% of the total population). While the city ranked high in multiple relevant metrics, it was the density of bus, metro and train stations that placed it so high on our list. More precisely, Philadelphia earned the nation’s fourth spot in this category with more than two stations per square mile, making it easy for its residents to use any means of public transportation, regardless of their location in the city.

7. Seattle, WA – Total Points: 41.3

Public transportation is a solid alternative in Seattle, given that the city has a high density of stations (almost two per square mile), which helps residents save time on their commute and reach different areas as quickly as possible. At the same time, many residents in Seattle prefer to walk for their commute as a large share of the population chooses to take a stroll and enjoy the fresh air, rather than opting for a car. This might also have to do with Seattle’s large number of parks and high accessibility to them, which was one of the key metrics that pushed the city to the very top of a recent ranking regarding the best U.S. cities for pets and their owners.

8. Oakland, CA – Total Points: 39.5

Also scoring high in the station-density metric, Oakland is one of California’s best places to live and commute in without a car. Known for its excellent public transportation system, Oakland connects the Bay Area to other key areas in and around the city through a great infrastructure of buses and subways. Here, the Mass Transit Oakland makes it easy for residents to move around due to it being a hub for the Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART). As such, a trip from Oakland to downtown San Francisco, for instance, takes only 11 minutes. Yet another plus here is that Oakland also had a low number of breakdowns and mechanical failures within its public transit system, thereby avoiding delays and traffic congestion.

9. Madison, WI – Total Points: 38.2

Despite its harsher winter days, Madison residents appear to enjoy their commute by foot as the city is among the top 20 in the nation with the highest number of people who walk (8.9% of the total population), as opposed to using other means of transportation. At the same time, Madison ranked high in terms of bike usage. In this case, it was supported by the city’s bike lane density, which was one of the highest among the 331 cities in our ranking. Conversely, compared to all of the other cities in the top 10, Madison had a lower share of residents who chose public transportation methods. This could be attributed to its relatively low station density of less than one per square mile, as well as its more rural reach.

10. Pittsburgh, PA – Total Points: 37.8

Rounding out the top 10 best places for residents without a car, Pittsburgh is yet another Pennsylvania city where workers have plenty of options to choose from for their commutes. In particular, residents here appear to prefer walking as the city ranked high in this category. And, for workers who need a flexible workspace close to their homes, Pittsburgh also ranked high in terms of coworking space density with almost nine available per 100,000 residents. However, unlike Philadelphia, Pittsburgh registered a lower number of people who opted for public transportation with 15% of the total population. The same applied to the use of cabs or motorcycles (1.5%).

The remaining U.S. cities that made the top 20 best cities to live in without a car were: Portland, OR; Chicago, IL; Minneapolis, MN; Alexandria, VA; Salt Lake City, UT; Arlington, VA; Ann Arbor, MI; Eugene, OR; Buffalo, NY, and St. Louis, MO.

New Yorkers Are Top Commuters by Public Transportation, but Walking is Preferred in Cambridge & Bike-Friendly Commuting in Boulder

While the leading cities in this ranking were determined by an aggregated score defined by nine separate categories, certain cities stood out for their particular best performing metric. Here are the cities that outperformed 99 others in specific categories:

Best Performing Cities Across Individual Categories
Best Performing Cities Across Individual Categories

Let's Hear from an Expert

Amanda Irini Blomberg Stathopoulos, Associate Professor at McCormick School of Engineering of Northwestern University, was part of a team of researchers who conducted a 2022 survey on teleworkers’ experiences, adoption evolution and activity patterns through the pandemic. The survey revealed that "individuals who telework tend to participate in out-of-home non-work activities closer to their home location, as compared to people who work in their offices. The inclination to travel in closer proximity to their homes, and at less busy times of day, could have beneficial impacts on transportation demand for workers who continue to telework."

This is one of the reasons why cities with a complex and reliable public transport infrastructure can benefit both remote workers and ones who need to commute to their place of employment.

Finally, while traffic congestion — and, implicitly, air pollution levels — certainly took a plunge during the pandemic years, they still pose a real problem in many American cities and especially in their bustling urban cores. Thus, by providing a reliable infrastructure for public transportation, as well as cycling and walking routes, cities can ensure that traffic levels remain under control and they enable shorter and more eco-friendly commutes, as seen, for instance, in the Buffalo, NY metro area.


For our scoring method, we assigned an appropriate metric to quantify key metrics analyzed and weighted them to reflect their significance in determining the best cities where it’s easiest to live without a car:

  1. The share of the adult population that uses public transportation – 20% of the total index – Source: Census 2021
  2. The share of the adult population that prefers to walk around the city – 10% of the total index – Source: Census 2021
  3. The share of the adult population that uses bikes to move around the city – 10% of the total index – Source: Census 2021
  4. The share of the adult population that commutes by taxis, motorcycles or other types of similar vehicles – 10% of the total index – Source: Census 2021
  5. The stations density per square mile – 15% of the total index – Source: APTA
  6. The percentage of breakdowns and mechanical failures (indirectly proportional) – 15% of the total index – Source: APTA
  7. The average price of adult base fares (indirectly proportional) – 10% of the total index – Source: APTA
  8. The coworking spaces density per 100,000 residents – 5% of the total index – Source: CoworkingCafe
  9. The bike lanes density – 5% of the total index – Source: BikeLeague

Additional notes:

  • To compile this study, we analyzed and ranked 331 U.S. cities, each with a population of over 100,000.
  • Data points were analyzed comparatively, with the extreme values within the data pool determining the highest and lowest possible scores for each metric.

Fair Use & Redistribution

We encourage and freely grant you permission to reuse, host or repost the images in this article. When doing so, we only ask that you kindly attribute the authors by linking to or this page so that your readers can learn more about this project, the research behind it and its methodology.


Laura Pop-Badiu is a Senior Creative Writer at CoworkingCafe and CoworkingMag, with a degree in Journalism and a background in both hospitality and real estate. Laura is a certified bookworm with a genuine passion for the written word and a keen interest in the coworking sector. Her work has been featured in major publications like Forbes, NBC News, The Business Journals, Chicago Tribune, MSN and Yahoo! Finance, among others.

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