Best Seattle Neighborhoods Without a Car

In some Seattle neighborhoods, it’s easier than in others to live without owning a car

By Sheila Cain


April 1, 2017

This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue of Seattle Magazine.

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

Laura Johnson
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.”

Joseph Bellanca
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 (—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

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