Car prices are skyrocketing: Here's how to find a place to live where you won't need one, according to the founder of Best Places

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Key Points
  • The average price for a gallon of gas is currently $4.10, according to AAA, and the average price of a new car is up 12.5% since March 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • If you're looking to relocate and ditch the car, there are places in the U.S. where you won't necessarily need one.
  • Look into a new location's other forms of transit, and consider local weather.

These days, people have plenty of reasons to reconsider car ownership.

Some are financial, as the costs to buy and drive a car increase. As a result of reduced supply and the war in Ukraine, the national average price for a gallon of gas is currently $4.11, according to AAA, up from $2.87 a year ago. And because of supply shortages and high demand, the average price of a new car is up 12.5% since March 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while the average price of a used car is up 35%.

Worries about environmental impact could also come into play: The typical car emits about 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

If you're currently considering relocating and are hoping to get rid of your car in the process, there are cities and towns throughout the U.S. which make it easier to live without a vehicle.

"You want to live where it is denser," says Bert Sperling, founder of city ratings site Best Places, adding that there are various tools you can use to look up a city or town's walkability score, for example.

Here's what to consider when looking for places to live where you won't need a car.

'Look at the modes of commute'

The first thing Sperling recommends movers consider in a new location is to "look at the modes of commute," he says. "How are people getting to work?"

Cities such as New York, San Francisco, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Chicago have robust public transit systems, including both trains and buses. All four rank above a 9 out of 10 on transit data source AllTransit's performance ranking, which considers metrics including accessibility to jobs and the number of houses within half a mile of public transport.

Another thing to consider is bike lanes. "Green cities like Portland, Minneapolis, Boulder, Colorado — places like that are working to have more bike lanes," says Sperling. Cities including Austin, Texas, and Charlotte, North Carolina, also have bike share programs with different membership options.

Sperling recommends using resources like Best Places and Census Bureau data to see how the local population commutes. "That's a great way to go ahead and see what the infrastructure is and what the current locals are doing as far as getting around the city," he says.

'If it's a smaller place, you want clusters'

Not everyone is interested in moving to a big metro area or its suburbs. Living in smaller cities and towns can still be doable without a car if the design is right.

"If it's a smaller place, you want clusters," says Sperling. That is, if you're looking for a small town, you'll want one that still has centers close enough to where you live that'll offer the kind of amenities you're looking for, like a supermarket or pharmacy.

What it's like to commute to NYC on a jet ski

Video by Jason Armesto

College towns, specifically, are great "because students don't always have cars to drive around, and they're going to have these clusters of amenities," says Sperling.

Sites like Walk Score rank a town or city's walkability, transit, and sometimes their bike-ability, to give you a sense of how easily you'd be able to get around even without a car.

Gainesville, Florida, for example, home of the University of Florida, has a walk score of 37 and a bike score of 69, making it fairly car dependent. But Ithaca, N.Y., home to Cornell University and Ithaca College, has a walk score of 72, which Walk Score classifies as "very walkable," and a bike score of 58.

Look out for 'hot, humid' or freezing climates

Whether you go big city or small town, planning to rely on an alternate transport option means you'll want to have a pretty good sense of the weather.

"You're less likely to walk or bicycle or do anything without a car in hot, humid climates," says Sperling. Similarly, if it's freezing out, it's less pleasant to wait for the bus.

Use tools like your phone's weather app or to get a sense of local temperatures year-round.

Ultimately, Sperling's advice is to scope out the general location you're interested in, like the state or county, he says, "Then look within that area for places that are more vibrant."

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