Roads are the arteries of the nation, and the automobile has been the centerpiece of American culture for decades. Despite Americans’ love for their cars, however, the rush hours are no more pleasant, and not everyone wants or can afford a car. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 9.1% of American households did not own a car in 2013.
According to a review of carless households in American cities, residents in some urban areas are far less likely to own a vehicle. In New York City, 54.4% of households did not have a car, the highest percentage nationwide. Based on the percent of households who did not own a vehicle in 2013, these are the cities where no one wants to drive.
The concentration of businesses and people plays a major role in both traffic congestion and in many peoples’ decisions to own a car or not. Seven of the 10 cities with the highest proportion of carless households were home to more than 1,000 people per square mile, and all had above average population densities. The average population density across U.S. metro areas was 273.5 per square mile in 2010, by contrast. In an interview with 24/7 Wall St., Clifford Winston, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that above all, “density is an indication of accessibility.”
Residents of cities with high percentages of carless households were far more likely to use public transportation to commute than most Americans. In all of the 10 cities the percentage of working age residents commuting by public transportation was greater than the national rate of 5.2%. In five of the cities, more than one-quarter of residents used public transit to commute each day. And in New York City, nearly 57% of commuters did so, the highest rate nationwide.
> Pct. of households without a vehicle: 37.4%
> Pct. commuting to work via public transportation: 38.5% (4th highest)
> Metropolitan area: Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV
> Population: 646,449
Unlike a majority of cities where so many do not want to drive, Washington D.C. residents were relatively well-off financially. A typical household earned $67,572 in 2013, one of the higher incomes nationwide. The relatively high proportion of the area’s workforce employed in traditionally high-paying professional and scientific positions — 24% — may account in part for the high incomes. While residents could perhaps afford to own a vehicle, 37.4% chose not to in 2013, the third highest proportion nationwide. Also, D.C.’s public transportation system is clearly a viable option for commuters, as 38.5% of commuters used the Metro in 2013, the fourth highest such percentage nationwide.
According to Winston, while many people have access to a vehicle and are not forced to take public transit, “the transit system is sort of bailing them out.” That is, “the nature of where they live, their lifestyle, their job accessibility,” permit them to live without a car.
Living without a car in these areas makes sense, Winston continued, because “densely populated areas also have a lot of jobs around them.” Despite the advantages presented by mobility, the unemployment rate in eight of the 10 cities exceeded the national rate of 7.4% in 2013. And while public transportation drastically improves access, this does not mean the journey is fast, or pleasant. The average commute time to work in seven of the 10 cities with high percentages of carless households exceeded the national mean travel time of 25.8 minutes in 2013.
To determine the 10 cities where no one wants to drive, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed the 575 cities included in the 2013 one-year American Community Survey estimates. Two hundred sixteen of these cities serve as the principal city in their respective metro areas. Our list was based on the percentage of households without a vehicle in these principal cities. We also considered households with one or multiple vehicles. The percentages of individuals commuting to work by car, carpool, public transit, and by foot, were also from the Census. Median household income, poverty rates and population density data came from the Census as well. Population density data are by metropolitan statistical area from 2010. From the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we considered the 2013 unemployment rate for each city. Lastly, cost of living in 2012 in each city’s metro area was from the Bureau of Economic Analysis.