In 2006, when Alan Durning and his family gave up their car for a year, the Ballard resident’s decision turned some heads.
“It was a national news story,” says Durning, whose family committed to a car-free experience after his 18-year-old son totaled the family Volvo. Durning, the executive director of Sightline Institute—a Seattle-based think tank focusing on sustainability issues—was interviewed at the time by CNN for a segment on living in America without a car. “Now, it’s not a story at all,” he says. That’s because more and more Seattleites are living without cars—almost 16 percent, according to U.S. Census Bureau numbers from 2015, nearly three times higher than the United States as whole.
Durning’s yearlong experiment turned into a permanent lifestyle change. Since he gave up his car, he’s has found that getting around Seattle has become easier. “It’s the combination of things that determines how easy it is to live [in a neighborhood] without a car,” says Durning.
“Transit is a key contributor, along with the quality of sidewalks, bike infrastructure, the concentration of Uber and Lyft drivers, and how many bus lines crisscross through. Density and the diversity of shops and facilities [are determining factors] more than anything else.”
Not all Seattle neighborhoods are created equal when it comes to going carless. So, we asked Durning and two other Seattleites who get around the city without their own four wheels to share their thoughts on the best neighborhoods for car-free living.
Lower Queen Anne
Owner, Guide and Coach, Arising Insights
When Johnson found herself carless after a collision in 2014, she considered the costs associated with owning a car (she paid $2,500 in insurance and repairs alone the previous year), factored in her location and decided to go car-free.
Three years later, Johnson still doesn’t own a car, and she never finds herself wishing she did. Living in a neighborhood that has transportation options and easy access to grocery stores and other services was a big factor in her decision.
Photograph by Laura Johnson
Lower Queen Anne is chock-full of shops and services. Just blocks away from Johnson’s apartment is a Safeway, Metropolitan Market, Bartell, CVS, a post office, a UPS Store, several restaurants and coffee shops—and the RapidRide D Line (which runs frequently between downtown and Crown Hill) running through it all.
Johnson often walks to Upper Queen Anne to work in a coffee shop and grab groceries at Trader Joe’s. She uses the “radar” feature on her car-sharing Car2go app to locate an available vehicle near Trader Joe’s and reserve it while she shops. Or if the timing is right, buses on several nearby routes will take her home.
Johnson has become so used to navigating without her own vehicle that she barely used a car she borrowed for a month last year while her friend was out of town. “That was a real eye-opening experience for me.”
Commute Trip Reduction Specialist for the City of Seattle’s Commute Seattle
Joseph Bellanca often calls himself an “urban hiker.” It’s an appropriate moniker for someone who has made walking—to work, to the grocery store, to visit friends—a big part of a car-free life. The Belltown resident, who works in downtown Seattle, grew up in Redmond, but went to college in Chicago, where his decision to live without his own vehicle was mainly a financial one. But when he moved back to Seattle almost four years ago, he embraced the lifestyle as a way to become more engaged in his community and his neighborhood.
Bellanca has lived in Green Lake’s Tangletown neighborhood as well as Columbia City, finding both areas friendly to walkers. (He made numerous treks on foot from Tangletown to the Marketime Foods grocery store in upper Fremont, often popping across the street to Paseo for a sandwich.) In Columbia City, Link light rail made it convenient to go downtown or to Capitol Hill for an evening out. But he’s found his current neighborhood, Belltown, the most convenient one to live in without a car. Work and shops that stock essentials are within walking distance, and surrounding neighborhoods are a short bus ride away. He often consults the app Citymapper (citymapper.com)—which details transportation options—to plan his longer trips.
Photograph by Heidi Speight
Joseph Bellanca, with Rachel the pig at the Pike Place Market, prepares to donate an Orca card. He relies mostly on public transportation, and his own two feet, to get around the city
"It’s been the most accessible neighborhood I’ve ever lived in,” says Bellanca. A 10-minute walk takes him to his office at Seventh Avenue and Olive Way, and Whole Foods in nearby South Lake Union is his go-to spot for lunch and groceries. In the summer months, he walks to Pike Place Market for fresh produce.
One of the biggest benefits of his car-free life? No visits to the gym required. “I’m getting my exercise.”
Sightline Institute Executive Director
Alan Durning has a hard time naming just one neighborhood—or even a few—as a car-free standout. Factors such as a dense concentration of shops and amenities, and a number of transportation options are important in considering places that are good options for living without a car.
Neighborhoods within a mile or two of the city’s central core are the best for car-free living because of the networks of transportation choices, such as bus lines, ride-share drivers at the ready and car-share vehicles parked within an easy walk, he says. “The farther you get from downtown, the harder it is to get around.”
Alan Durning uses a mix of transporation options to get around the city
But Ballard, the North Seattle neighborhood where he lives, is also one of the easiest in which to be car-free. “I can get almost anything without leaving Ballard,” he says. “Ballard is really well-connected.”
For groceries, Durning visits his local produce stand, Top Banana, once or twice a week, Ballard Market a couple of times a month, and Cash&Carry or Trader Joe’s every couple of months. He rides his bike on these food-gathering errands, pulling a bike trailer that he once used to cart his kids around when they were little. The bike trailer has also carted furniture, a pair of skis and even another bicycle he picked up from a repair shop. He also rides his bike to work most days.His mother lives on First Hill at Ninth and University, and he calls that neighborhood—quieter than downtown, but with a comparably dense population—one of the most walkable in the city.
Durning doesn’t miss his car, and embraces the immersive experience he gets when traversing the city at a slower pace. “The car is like a box you put yourself into to travel around,” Durning says. “It puts private space between you and the world, but it reduces the amount of adventure you have. [Without a car,] you see more sights, notice more things and interact with more people.”
The Car-Free Toolkit
What it does: A made-in-Seattle, location-based app with real-time information for bus, train and ferry routes for most local transit agencies
Download from: iTunes/Android
2. Metro Trip Planner
What it is: A website and app that helps you plan a trip in Seattle and King County by bus
Download from: iTunes/Android
3. Orca Card
What it is: A card you can preload with money (like a debit card), or purchase as a monthly or yearly pass
What it does: Allows you to travel on bus, light rail, train and ferry throughout the Puget Sound region without having to purchase a ticket or use cash; deducts fare each time you travel
Purchase from: orcacard.com or 888.988.6722 (TTY relay: 711)
Cost: Onetime $3–$5 for card plus whatever amount (or pass) you preload
What it does: An app for trip planning from A to B that includes all transportation options (i.e., bus, ferry, subway, rail, and bike sharing and car sharing) with real-time departure, transit maps, line status, real-time disruption alerts
Download from: iTunes/Android
5. Uber and Lyft
What they are: Taxi-like services using private cars
How they work: Download the app for each service to call for a car from your smartphone. You’ll get an estimate for a ride, and payment is rendered electronically. No tipping required, though you can add a tip on Lyft.
Download from: iTunes/Android
Cost: App is free; ride cost varies
What it is: Car sharing with electric Smart cars
What it does: Enables users to find, drive and park a car within the city limits and designated spots outside of Seattle
Download from: iTunes, Google Play, Window Phone Store, BlackBerry World
Cost: $5 membership fee plus 41 cents/minute driving time; app is free
What it is: Car sharing that you can book for periods of from one hour to seven days
What it does: Enables user to drive a Zipcar anywhere within the city limits and designated spots outside of Seattle; cars must be returned to designated Zipcar locations.
Download from: iTunes or Google Play (free)
C ost: $7.75/hour or $73/day; app is free
A Day in a Car-free Life
Getting around Seattle without owning a car isn’t difficult, especially with a few tools: apps such as OneBusAway and Citymapper, and a membership in a car-sharing service (or two). For Alan Durning, biking, walking, busing—and yes, even driving—are all part of a typical day.
December 7, 2016
7:10 a.m.: Durning books a Car2go vehicle on his phone from his Ballard home and picks it up two blocks away to go to a breakfast meeting on Capitol Hill.
8:40 a.m.: After the meeting, he consults OneBusAway, then hops on the No. 10 bus at 15th and Thomas and heads to his office at Third and Union.
12:15 p.m.: Durning meets his mom for Greek food at First and Pine.
1:15 p.m.: He walks to two meetings downtown, then walks back to his office.
7 p.m.: He walks from his office to an evening event at Sixth and Bell.
10:15 p.m.: He heads to Third and Bell to catch the RapidRide D Line home to Ballard. His bus isn’t due for 11 minutes, so he uses his phone to search for nearby ReachNow or Car2go vehicles. No luck.
10:20 p.m.: Impatient and cold, Durning sees the No. 5 bus to Phinney Ridge pull up—not a direct route home—and hops on. During the ride, he searches for a Car2go vehicle closer to home. Success!
10:35 p.m.: Durning gets off the bus at 65th and Phinney—about a mile from his Ballard home—and walks two blocks to the car he reserved.
10:40 p.m.: Durning parks the car by his home in Ballard.