Market Analysis

Where to Live Car-Free in America That is not in a Big City

The problem

Homeyap has discussed the trend that will explode post-pandemic (the urban exodus), but at the same time there are other consumer patterns that have emerged in recent years. One living preference is the increased desire to shorten or eliminate commutes and to reduce reliance and use of automobiles. Until Covid-19, the main way that people were seeking to deal with their new thoughts on commuting and cars was to move to a city. The attractiveness now, however, of living in an urban area with thousands or millions of other people packed together has most likely lost its appeal for millions of Americans. The confluence of the recent car-free trend and Covid-19 will most likely lead to some type of compromise for some people. So, the question is where can one live car-free or relatively car-free in America?

There are some very large reasons why so many people are interested in changing to a lifestyle less reliant on the automobile. The AAA says that the combination of rising finances costs, higher car prices, and depreciation rates, have made owning a car more expensive than ever.1 In some cities the amount of time spent in traffic borders on insanity. According to a Texas A&M Transportation Institute Urban Mobility Report, Los Angelos commuters spend an average of 119 hours, almost 5 24-hour days a year, stuck in gridlock. The average U.S. urban commuter spends an extra 54 hours a year in traffic. The report says that traffic costs commuters $1019 per year on average. More than 1 in 5 workers that quite do so because of their commute.2

Trend changes

In recent years, the solution to those not wanting to own a car was either move to the city or use Uber or Lyft or a combination of both. Recently, the idea has also been floated of other types of car-sharing arrangements that may involve autonomous cars. “Even if you use a car every day to get to work, it’s still cheaper to use a shared ride service, because you can choose the level of luxury you want. You can share the ride with somebody else,” recently said Kevin O’Leary (Softkey & Sharktank). The pandemic probably set that solution back decades or might have eliminated it altogether.3 In addition, there have been studies that showed that Uber and Lyft actually increased traffic in some cities.4

Living Car-Free

Work by CityLab used data from American Community Survey to develop the “Metro Car-Free Index”, which tries to measure the easiest place to live car-free in America. While developing the index, CityLab found there were many factors that determined the possibility of living car-free. Among those factors was the availability of mass transportation. A good mass transit system makes living car-free easier. Car-free living also exists along socio-economic lines. “car-free areas are largely centered around college campuses, including Madison, Wis. (University of Wisconsin); New Haven, Conn. (Yale University); Durham–Chapel Hill, N.C. (Duke University and the University of North Carolina); Ann Arbor, Mich. (University of Michigan); and Gainesville, Fla. (University of Florida).”5 In some cities parking limitations and cost can also make it almost impossible for many people to afford a car.

The map below is from CityLab’s work and development of the Metro Car-Free Index. (Higher numbers mean it is easier to live without a car).

The possible solution and homebuyer target cities

It is still hard or almost impossible to be car-free without a city. One solution is a compromise between large City with all the dangers of infection and costs of commuting and a rural area with fewer work opportunities and very little mass transit. That compromise could be small or mid-size urban areas. The tables below show some smaller metro areas that ranked high on the Metro-Car Free Index. These may become hotspots for homebuyers they try to thread the needle between work, safety, cost, and easier living situations.







Jeffrey Sloane

Jeff Sloane is a former Wall Street trader who now provides institutional research for banks and hedge funds. His most recent projects are focused heavily on emerging technologies in the real estate market.

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