Have questions?
Call us for a free consultation!
(415) 466-8717

San Francisco Named Best City in America for Living Without a Car


According to the real estate company Redfin, San Francisco is officially the most car-free-friendly city in America. San Francisco ranked based on a combination of factors: walkability, transit, and of course, friendliness to bicycles.

Being able to survive without a car is of increasing important to many Americans, especially those who live in big cities.

Many people who live in the city do so because of “livability” factors, like proximity to things like restaurants, museums, and offices; however, this proximity also means density, which is something that often works against people driving cars.

Redfin’s research shows that newly constructed residential buildings in cities are even reducing the amount of parking offered on the property.

With environmental impact concerns, growing commute times, and infrastructure issues, living the car-bound lifestyle in the city just isn’t that appealing to many. And San Francisco seems to understand that, with so much of the city’s (sometimes flawed, but evolving) infrastructure working to support a car-free lifestyle.

What makes San Francisco so great for the car-less?

Redfin scored a variety of American cities with populations over 300,000 on three scores: walk score, transit score, and bike score. San Francisco actually came in second place in each of these categories; however, those rankings combined to put them into first place.

Here is how all of the cities in this report ranked:

Redfin shared this quote from a real estate agent in San Francisco who wasn’t surprised that the city won the title:

“It’s true that most people in San Francisco don’t own cars. It’s said that if you want to own a home that has parking, plan on adding about $300,000 to the cost of your home,” said Redfin real estate agent Mia Simon.

“The good news is that nearly every neighborhood in San Francisco is walkable and the BART and MUNI can basically get you anywhere you need to go. It’s very common for prospective buyers to schedule a series of home tours and travel between tours on foot and via public transit to get a feel for what life would be like at their new home without a car.”

With many bike lanes — including specific bike routes through the city, like The Wiggle, as well as new kinds of bike lanes like the raised lanes on Market Street — going throughout the city, it’s clear that San Francisco takes cyclists into account when making infrastructure decisions. Plus, the entire bay area has highly active bicycling communities and coalitions that advocate for cyclists and cycling-friendly infrastructure and policy decisions.

In addition, most San Francisco neighborhoods have good access to public transportations like buses and rail lines, and are walkable to things like grocery stores, parks, and other daily conveniences.

To anyone who lives in San Francisco, it’s probably not surprising that the city would earn this distinction. Although it certainly isn’t perfect, San Francisco is one of the leaders in America today in modeling what a successful city should strive for in terms of reducing cars and improving systems for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users.

Why it benefits cities to be friendly to car-free people

Everyone knows that car travel is one of the biggest polluters of our environment today. More and more people are making an effort to reduce their car use, either by carpooling, using public transit more often, or even going car-free altogether, and they seek out cities that can support that lifestyle.

Not only that, but traffic has been on the rise in major cities, meaning that people living in the most desirable areas tend to have the least desirable commutes. Plus, a 2015 study found that it is six times more expensive to have a car than to ride a bike — and in fact, costs associated with cars are only expected to rise in coming years. And of course, getting regular exercise — as opposed to sitting in a car for hours a day — is another benefit that people are looking at more often today.

All of this means, again, that people are more likely to seek out a place to live that allows them to live at least somewhat car-free.

It is wise for cities all across America to look at ways that they can be more friendly to people living car-free. Not only will it help them to retain a happy population (in more ways than one, since we all know that exercise like walking and cycling also makes people feel happier day to day), but it will keep their neighborhoods vibrant and lively too.

On top of that, increased effort to support cyclists also supports local business. According to cycling website Icebike.org:

“After the completion of a protected bike lane on 9th Avenue in New York, local retailers experienced a 49 percent increase in sales compared to other streets in Manhattan that were averaging only 3 percent.”

Cities that take cyclists into account in their infrastructure will also see safer, faster commutes. According to Icebike.org:

  • In Chicago, when bike-specific traffic signals were installed, stoplight compliance rose from 31 percent to 81 percent.
  • [Austin, TX] city planners project that [creating a] network of protected bicycle lanes will increase the city’s traffic capacity by roughly 25,000 trips per day.

Being walkable and bikeable is in your city’s interest!

Not every city is like San Francisco or New York (this year’s number 2 city on Redfin’s list, but which ranks number 1 often!), but it doesn’t have to stay that way. If you want to live in a city that is more friendly to a car-free lifestyle, but you don’t want to move, then look to your community for ways you can help promote a less car-dependent infrastructure.

Look for local bicycle coalitions and get in touch with your city council to make your voice heard. The more cities realize how valuable it can be to improve car-free options for their residents, the more cities will follow this trend.

Do you live in a walkable, bikeable city? Do you agree that San Francisco is the most friendly city to people living with cars? Let us know what you think on our Facebook page!