woman riding bike in city smiling.

Top 10 cities where you can live without a car and help save the Earth

There are many ways to begin living differently. Donating your car to Habitat for Humanity could be a good place to start.

A car donation could mean saving money on insurance and getting an extra tax deduction, but one of the most gratifying benefits of donating a car could come from the lifestyle transformations that might happen. Driving less may create a closer bond with your local community as you explore areas on foot, plus the proceeds of that donation help build a new home for a family in that same community. Another positive byproduct of car donations is improved air quality from pulling pollution-causing cars off the road, which elevates the impact to a global scale.

Although not the sole culprit for toxic air, driving has been the source of a couple of key elements leading to smog, or ground-level ozone. In 2017, highway vehicles accounted for 31.4% of all the carbon monoxide and 34.3% of all nitrogen oxides pumped into the air in the United States. Nitrogen oxides react with sunlight and volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, in the atmosphere to create smoggy environments that lead to asthma and other respiratory diseases. Many cities are increasingly feeling the effect of air pollution. For example, in 2018, Los Angeles, a city notorious for its heavy traffic jams, had a long bout with smog for 87 days straight, coinciding with a heat wave and blanketing the city in polluted, harsh air to breathe.

Decades earlier in 1998, Moshe Safdie, author of The City after the Automobile: An Architect’s Vision, imagined a post-automobile urban environment. Other urban planners have followed his lead, but despite individual and collective activities confronting environmental concerns, our air quality continues to show signs of degradation. As more people move into cities and traffic thickens, massive amounts of emissions are released into the air daily, contributing to unhealthy conditions.

While air pollution comes from a variety of sources that may not be easy to control, citizens and cities are making intentional changes to help air quality by developing lifestyles less dependent on driving. As more people are choosing to commute to work, run errands or explore the city through mass transit, biking and walking, city leaders are taking notice and reformatting urban landscapes to be more environmentally conscious. The federal government has even provided funding opportunities for more than a decade to encourage safe biking and walking paths as part of integrated transportation plans.

According to a 2017 list from Walk Score, a company that has developed a ranking system for grading walkability, biking and transit in urban areas, the below cities average high across all measures and are conducive to car-free lifestyles. Research from 2019 sheds light on just how these cities are already on the path to reducing emissions and may be ideal places to part ways with a car lifestyle.

10. Miami

  • Walk: When looking at the city’s data breakdown, Miami shines as a walking city. People enjoy strolling through neighborhoods like DowntownLittle Havana and Wynwood-Edgewater, where art walks are part of this area’s charm.
  • Bike: For bikers in the city, the options are somewhat limited. Rickenbacker Causeway and The Venetian Causeway might be a good place to hit the road.
  • Transit: Miami’s network of Metrorail, Metromover, Metrobuses and trollies connect neighborhoods and take people to popular destinations like the Arts & Entertainment District.
  • Other: Despite a brief pause in operations, popular dockless electric scooters are now available along with sharable bikes.

9. Seattle

  • Walk: Another great city to walk in, Seattle offers numerous unique neighborhoods to explore by foot. The best places for walking are DowntownPioneer Square and First Hill, an area close to all the action with its own business section of dining, shopping and entertainment.
  • Bike: Biking is convenient for most trips. The city is interwoven with a system of protected bike lanes, multi-use trails and neighborhood paths. Biking is encouraged by the city which provides tools to aid in safer riding throughout the city.
  • Transit: Seattle has many transportation options. The newest system by Sound Transit, Link light rail, takes just 38 minutes from the SeaTac International Airport to downtown Seattle. If traveling a longer distance, the Sounder train also extends out to Tacoma to the south and Bellingham to the north. The ferry transports folks to and from nearby Bainbridge Island and Bremerton. Once in town, buses or streetcars allow visitors to get around easily.
  • Other: Dockless electric bikes have been embraced by the city however electric scooter are not available.

8. Minneapolis

  • Walk: This city boasts having the largest skyway system in the world, stretching 8 miles with climate-controlled walks that are much appreciated in the winter months. Minneapolis’ most walkable neighborhoods are Lyn LakeUptown and Lowry Hill East, known for its beautiful well preserved historic homes.
  • Bike: Minneapolis’ highest marks are in the biking arena. It ranks No. 1 in the U.S. for bikeability, which may be due to the large support from Move Minneapolis, a program dedicated to encouraging broader transportation options and promoting faster, easier, cleaner and affordable commuting. This nonprofit working in conjunction with the city offers beginner biking education as well as resources like bike lockers and repair stations around town.
  • Transit: Metro Transit provides transit services including bus, light rail and commuter rail services.
  • Other: Dockless electric bikes and scooters have been piloted in this area, however availability is suspended during the winter months.

7. Philadelphia

  • Walk: Philadelphia is very walkable, ranking 7th as the best place to walk in the U.S. “Philly’s” most walkable neighborhoods are Center City WestAvenue of the Arts South and Rittenhouse Square, an area distinguished by its brownstones and majestic rowhomes.
  • Bike: The city has some infrastructure for biking and promotes cycling around town. It provides bike path resources encouraging more of this activity.
  • Transit: With a good transit network, Philadelphians and visitors can access the seasonal Philly Phlash to get to local attractions as well as Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s vast public transportation network, known as SEPTA.  
  • Other: Dockless electric scooters and bikes are currently not legal in Pennsylvania but this could change soon allowing this travel option in Philadelphia.

6. Jersey City

  • Walk: Jersey City ranks No. 2 overall for walkability in the U.S. The most walkable Jersey City neighborhoods are Historic DowntownJournal Square and McGinley Square. Many walking paths are near the Hudson River with scenic views of New York City and Ellis Island.
  • Bike: Biking is not as easy here but there is some infrastructure. The Hudson River Waterfront Walkway offers the most flexibility for both walkers and bikers to take in the outdoors while leading explorers into bustling neighborhoods.
  • Transit: Your transit choices are broad in Jersey City. Catch a PATH subway line with connections between Manhattan and neighboring New Jersey urban communities or take it out to the suburbs. Choose to ride the Hudson Bergen Light Rail or the NJ Transit Buses. Book a ride on the NY Waterway Ferry with routes to New York City and other popular destinations nearby.
  • Other: Sharable bikes are available however dockless electric scooters are not.

5. Washington, D.C.

  • Walk: Washington is rich in walkable neighborhoods and nationally recognized attractions. Its most walkable neighborhoods are Dupont CircleU-Street and Downtown-Penn Quarter-Chinatown, a vibrant and entertaining area for walking both day and night.
  • Bike: The city’s landscape, parks and abundant bike paths make this a good place to ride. 
  • Transit: Washington, D.C.’s Metro service, WMATA, offers both rail and bus options and stretches out to suburbs allowing people to work in the city.
  • Other: Sharable dockless electric scooters and bikes are available.

4. Chicago

  • Walk: Chicago has exceptional walkability, mostly used during the summer months due to the long cold winters. Explore Millennium Park, shop along Magnificent Mile or wander about the Navy Pier. Its most walkable neighborhoods are Near North SideWest Loop and East Ukrainian Village.
  • Bike: Experience lakefront, cityscape and lush green summer views as you ride through bike-friendly Chicago.
  • Transit: Connected by great city transportation, nondrivers can get around by Chicago Transit Authority bus, train or water taxi.
  • Other: Sharable docked bikes are available while dockless electric scooters and bikes are not yet in place.

3. Boston

  • Walk: Boston is known as “The Walking City” so it is no wonder it ranks No. 4 in overall walkability in the U.S. City walking is supported by advocates that audit paths and share useful resources for pedestrians. Boston’s most walkable neighborhoods are Chinatown - Leather DistrictNorth End and Bay Village.
  • Bike: Boston is somewhat bikeable with a few solid trails and paths that are just right for rolling through the city. 
  • Transit: Boston has excellent public transportation, easy to navigate. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority operates the system, but locals call it the ”T”. It includes subway, bus, trolley car and boat service around the Greater Boston area and beyond.
  • Other: Shareable bikes, docked and dockless, are available while electric scooters are not.

2. San Francisco

  • Walk: San Francisco is the third most walkable city in the U.S. Its most walkable neighborhoods are ChinatownDowntown-Union Square and Lower Nob Hill.
  • Bike: San Francisco is very bikeable. The city is supportive of the bike culture and offers many safe paths for riders.
  • Transit: Get around the city on the fuel-efficient Muni buses, light rail Metro trains, a historic street car or cable car. For farther bay area commutes, catch the Bay Area Rapid Transit, known as BART.  
  • Other: Dockless electric scooters and bikes are available.

1. New York

  • Walk: New York is the most walkable city in the U.S. The city thrives on pedestrians moving about the city for work or play. New York’s most walkable neighborhoods are Little ItalyNoHo and NoLita.
  • Bike: New York has more than 1,200 miles of bike lanes and routes to choose from, however this is not the city’s strength as it does rank No. 9 for bikeability in the U.S.
  • Transit: With a complex transportation system, New Yorkers can get around by bus or subway within the city and out to surrounding areas. Operated by the Metropolitan Transit Authority, the MTA network has the country’s largest bus fleet and extensive subway and commuter rail cars to keep up with its growing population.
  • Other: Dockless electric scooters and bikes are not available however sharable docked bikes are available.

Become a car-free person

If you live in one of these cities, you may have the upper hand on jump-starting a new eco-friendly lifestyle sans auto, but don’t be discouraged if you live elsewhere. Start by taking your bike to work a few days a week to test things out. Walk to get groceries at local stores more often. Encourage your friends to head out to events on the bus or commuter train. Wherever you live, advocate with your community leaders to improve commuter options of all kinds. It only takes a few small changes to get the wheels turning toward a minimal driving lifestyle.

When you are ready to let go of your vehicle, reach out to Cars for Homes, Habitat for Humanity’s vehicle donation program. Your donation will directly benefit your local Habitat and will help build safe, affordable housing in your area. For end-of-life cars, the steel parts continue to be valuable for the environment through recycling, reducing the release of VOCs from new steel production. To find out more about our program or to start a donation, visit our page or give us a call at 1-877-277-4344. Reduce driving, reduce emissions and live with intention. Let’s do this!

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