Boston.com readers have spoken, and they say that managing Boston without a car is … possible.
But is the city really a haven for the car-less? It was proclaimed the second best U.S. city to live without a car, behind only San Francisco, in a recent ranking by LawnStarter, but our readers weren’t so sure. Especially those who like to go beyond city limits now and again.
“Sure, in Boston you might (flaming T willing) be able to get around without a car,” said Josh from Nashua, N.H., who presumably fled there from Boston. “But if you ever want to leave Boston, even to visit family in, say, New Hampshire, Connecticut or upstate NY — you need a car. Until public transportation is available and reliable everywhere, cars will be a necessity.”
In total, 46% of the more than 250 readers who responded to our survey said that you either definitely need a car to avoid going crazy in Boston, or that you’re at least at a big disadvantage if you don’t. A total of 31% described car-less living in the Hub as manageable but annoying, and only 18% were willing to declare Boston a relative paradise for those on foot.
Those advocating for the no-car option did feel strongly, though, emphatically plugging Boston’s walkability and the benefits of biking. “Everything you need is within walking distance or a short ride on the T,” said Joseph Z. of Boston. “Trains, airplanes, and boats can take you away from the city. Parking is a major hassle and insurance rates are high. So why bother? Enjoy urban living.”
But more seemed to be of the opinion that a faulty MBTA, rideshare costs, and weather and safety obstacles inherent to biking made the idea of going completely car-less far from ideal. Especially for those not lucky enough to be young and spry. “I don’t see many 85-year-olds riding bikes to the doctors in February,” noted Patricia from Saugus.
But perhaps Bill from Brighton summed it up best: “The MBTA is unreliable and does not operate after about 10:30. Rideshare app fares are through the roof. There aren’t any cabs anymore, except outside of South Station, ironically blocking traffic. Riding a bike is too dangerous even with the bike lanes, and our inclement weather makes riding a bike inconvenient for about eight months out of the year. You need a car, I’m sorry.”
See below for arguments for and against going without a car in Boston. And for crying out loud, no matter what you do, watch where you’re going.
Responses may have been edited for length or clarity.
It’s doable, if sometimes annoying:
“The Zipcars are expensive if you take it out for more than one day, and there are no good train options to go the lakes region in New Hampshire, only a very long bus ride.” — Steve, Beacon Hill
“Bicycle infrastructure needs improvement. MBTA needs a Marshall Plan, but has good bones. Driving sucks. Drivers also reduce quality of life — park and ride, people!” — Ben, West End
“Have lived carless since 2015 in the West End near North Station. Husband and I can both walk to work, and we can walk our daughter to school. And it’s also an easy walk to the grocery store, doctor’s office, etc. If you live in a true downtown part of Boston like this, with easy access to everything on foot, it’s doable. But when I lived out in Brighton it would have been a nightmare — taking the above-ground part of the B-line everywhere? No thank you.” — Lavinia, West End
“People love to complain about all aspects of the MBTA here. Is it perfect? No way, a lot needs to be fixed, but at least we have three different major ways to get into and/or around the city. You can take an Uber or taxi wherever you want, and we are so lucky to have two major sports arenas easily accessible by train/subway. As a Southie resident, parking is an actual nightmare, and so is street cleaning.” — James, Southie
“I went almost a decade without a car in the city until we got a dog and then needed one for transporting him in case of emergency vet visits, or to get out and go for road trips.” — Cambridge
“The subway and bus system connects everything within walking distance. If you’re lazy and don’t want to walk more than .2 miles then that’s your own problem. Obviously, if you have a disability that prevents you from walking, that’s another story. Biking is really only feasible 3/4 of the year, depending on rain and snow. Many people won’t bike because of the crazy drivers that run over and kill cyclists, so you can’t blame anyone for not wanting to brave that either — despite all of the new bike lanes, every intersection is a danger.” — Somerville
“Boston is predominantly flat. Yes we have winters, but that’s what jackets and hats are for. It’s a tougher task to bike commute in the heat of July and August. If more people biked than drove in Boston, overall quality of life would be exceptionally high” — Nick, Dorchester
“It’s like having a friend with a pickup truck when you’re moving. You don’t need to own a car, but it helps to know someone who does.” — C., Roslindale
You’re at a big disadvantage if you don’t:
“MBTA gets you where you need to go, but Red/Orange line trains tend to always be late and mess up your schedule.” — David H. , Mattapan
“We don’t own a car but we’re in trouble when it comes to buying groceries or other large/heavy items, or needing a ride home from a medical appointment (no, they won’t let you go home in an Uber), or if you have a friend or elderly relative come in from out of state and you need to pick them up at airport or chauffeur them around because they have mobility issues, or just want to go to the Cape or go out of state for a quick trip somewhere in New England.” — Brian, Cambridge
“Getting to the grocery store or golf course or going to the Cape requires a CAR.” — Matt, Hilo, HI
“Boston is a bigger place than people realize. Good luck getting from say Charlestown to Readville in a timely manner. Or for that matter Roxbury to West Roxbury … Should there be fewer cars, sure, more car-free streets, sure, better roads that accommodate options, a 24/7 MBTA (without this, we can’t ditch cars).” — In Midtown (where Southie, Roxbury & Dorchester meet)
“The T is a miserable mess. Getting to Gloucester takes me FOUR HOURS now. Busing to Broadway, shuttle to JFK, back on the train to North Station. Train to Beverly. Bus to Gloucester. It’s all busing all the time.” — Ruth L., Quincy
“The T has too many stops so it takes forever to go from one end of the city to the other. For example, Allston to Southie takes 53 minutes one-way but is only ~6.5 miles away. I can run that distance in the same amount of time or bike it in less time. Even better, it can take anywhere from 31 minutes to 45 minutes to get to Logan from Southie by the T and it’s only 3-4 miles away by car! The T can do better. We have some of the smartest people in this city and state. There has to be a way to get to your destination faster by the T.” — Bryan, Southie
You definitely need one, for your own sanity:
“Try getting from The Charlestown to Fenway Park. It involves a mile walk to North Station, or waiting for the 93 bus which runs only about every hour. To get to a Sox game by 6:30, you will need to leave your condo at 3:45. To get there from Cambridgeport, by T, start with a bus that is only 1/2 block away from your house, and it will take you 2 hours and 50 minutes!” — Charlie, “Stuck on the Green Line”
“Without a car you are trapped in the city and public transport locations. When using public transportation, your likelihood of catching a cold or being assaulted is substantially greater, especially if you have to work late at night or take evening classes.” — Anonymous
“I really think it’s a stupid question filled with privilege. Although there are plenty of transport options that don’t include a car, what if you are a parent shuffling around multiple kids or elderly parents to school and appointments? What if you work multiple jobs and can’t truly rely on the T or bikes? What if you want to go to dinner as a big family at night in the middle of winter? We need to stop asking these dumb questions and allow people to choose the best transport options for them and their families. Cars aren’t going anywhere. Period. We need to provide quality options and stop pitting cars against bikes and vice versa and come up with realistic solutions for the traffic and parking woes.” — Val, Roxbury
“If you’re young, single, and live in a rental close to a train … sure, you could manage it. But a family? No way. Carting kids around via bus and T would be hell. Bringing home a week’s worth of groceries for a family … impossible. Need to get to Home Depot for the third time this week to fix the thing that you’re trying to figure out on your own because a professional would charge a fortune for it? Not happening without a car. Basically, the car-free lifestyle works for the small (but highly influential) yuppie demographic. Or rich urban retirees. The rest of us really need cars.” — Brian, Roslindale
“Elderly, infirm like to leave their houses too! Shopping, doctors appointments, visits with family and friends. I don’t see many 85-year-olds riding bikes to the doctors in February. Don’t be silly.” — Patricia, Saugus
No car needed:
“Haters are going to hate, but biking is the fastest and easiest way to get around the city. And before you disagree, answer one question: Have you tried biking in Boston? If not, then (respectfully) shut the heck up. :-)” — Mike, South End
“My husband and I didn’t have a car for five years. We are also not bikers! We got around the entire city and worked in Cambridge by walking or taking the T. We would rent cars on weekends or take Amtrak to get out of the city. We now have a car due to life changes and it’s a pain to have! Street parking is terrible.” — Beacon Hill / South End
“I live in Cambridge and work in the Longwood Medical Area. Driving or busing to work would take me up to 40 minutes. During one snow storm, it took me three hours … I bike through snow, rain, and sleet. And, even on the worst day, it’s still a whole lot more enjoyable than driving. We went from a three-car family to a zero-car one. On those rare occasions, we can always use Zipcars or rideshare. It has saved us a ton of money and made me look and enjoy this gorgeous city at a better pace.” — Dien, Cambridge
“I sold my car when I moved to Boston (from Worcester), and the ability to do that was a major factor in deciding to make the move at all. I think longtime Bostonians miss that this is all relative. Even on the T’s worst day, when multiple lines are closed or disrupted (or on fire), we still have a more robust and convenient public transit system than anywhere else I’ve lived.” — Tom Q., Allston
“I live in the North End — wouldn’t consider having a car. Easy to walk anywhere or take the T or commuter rail in addition to ride share options. Saving thousands of dollars on insurance, excise taxes, gas, maintenance, and parking fees/tickets. No thanks.” — Gary, North End
“Yeah, just use a bike and stop complaining. You will be healthier and save a ton of money … it really is only unrideable about 10 or 15 days a year, because of either heavy rain or snow. I have been biking everywhere for the past 20 years, and it is mostly faster and far easier to find a place to ‘park,’ and I’m not killing the earth every time I need to buy something that is less than 5 miles away. And the chances of getting a parking ticket, or any other ticket for operating a vehicle, are nearly zero … and I won’t be running over a pedestrian anytime soon, or be involved in a fender bender. And it works 24 hours a day, doesn’t need electricity or an open gas station, or me waiting for a late bus or train.” — Mark, Arlington , Somerville, Medford, Watertown and South Boston
The end is nigh:
“Boston is going underwater due to unstoppable sea level rise. By the year 2050 there will probably be a rise of 3 feet which means Boston will be unable to function. The infrastructure below ground is already compromised and should not be rescued other than minor patch jobs. Using cars, building more housing and offices, promoting Boston as having any future at all is absurd. Boston must be subjected to a managed retreat ASAP.” — “Drowning in Boston,” Boston
Boston.com occasionally interacts with readers by conducting informal polls and surveys. These results should be read as an unscientific gauge of readers’ opinion.