Pedestiran-Friendly Towns in US
November 15, 2004 10:41 AM   Subscribe

Europe has plenty of great towns where you can walk everywhere you need to go, and where cars are pushed to the margins. Are there any towns like this in the United States? (Towns, not cities.)
posted by smackfu to Travel & Transportation (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I nominate my ex-town, Arlington, Mass. You'll find in general that older suburbs of big cities (built before the Eisenhower era) are skewed toward your criteria.
posted by PrinceValium at 10:52 AM on November 15, 2004

Where cars are pushed to the edges? Few and far between.

Where you can walk anywhere you need to go? Thousands. Pick just about any town founded before 1920 with fewer than 5000 people.

I haven't been there since the late 80s, but Sistersville, WV should do you, so long as the A&P is still open or has turned into a different grocery store. A small ex-oil-town on the banks of the Ohio.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:00 AM on November 15, 2004

Your best bet is a large town on the fringe of a large city, where population is clustered but not choking on itself.

The aforementioned towns of the inner ring around Boston tend to have all the major amenities as well as rapid, affordable mass transit into the center of the city, ensuring that you don't need a car to work and shop.

(Where I live doesn't fit your criteria because it's politcally organized as a city, but the neighboring designations are mostly towns.)
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:17 AM on November 15, 2004

Portland, OR seemed to have a really nice transit system. I've only been there occasionally, so don't quote me on it.

A hell of a lot nicer than Seattle's "system".
posted by xmutex at 11:21 AM on November 15, 2004

Based on my college experience, I'd bet that a lot of college towns fit the criteria, but only if they're relatively small, say under 50K people. Charlottesville, VA, where I went to school, would qualify if any food stores were in decent walking distance of a lot of residential areas. During my time there, I only needed a car to be able to shop for food.
posted by LionIndex at 11:28 AM on November 15, 2004

Portland is a relatively walking-friendly town, but I still think you need a bike or a bus to get around in most places. (Where I used to live I had to walk about forty blocks to get to a grocery store.) There are a lot of mixed-use developments springing up in the suburbs like Orenco though, and in the Pearl District you can get everything you could conceivably want within a twenty block radius. If you could afford it, that is.
posted by calistasm at 12:01 PM on November 15, 2004

A third for outside of Boston: Cambridge, Somerville, Arlington, Brighton/Allston and, to a somewhat lesser degree, Belmont, Watertown, Waltham. I've lived in all but one of them and never needed a car. I have a car now but only use it to go out of town or for big shopping trips, really. I've found the Davis square area of Somerville to be particularly great for pedestrians. Cars (almost) always stop to let me cross the street instead of the inverse. Makes for a very nice walk to the T in the morning/evening.
posted by soplerfo at 12:01 PM on November 15, 2004

A lot of small towns made their main streets into pedestrian malls in the 60s-70s, trying to counteract the effect of malls and commercial strips, but have switched back to a mix, unfortunately. We have beautiful towns everywhere with great main streets, but not pedestrian-only. I've never seen anything close to how it is in Europe, where most towns and cities have at least a few streets as pedestrian-only. The National Trust gives Main Street Awards, so i bet those places would be nice to visit, but again, they wouldn't be pedestrian-only.
posted by amberglow at 12:31 PM on November 15, 2004

Lawerence, KS is definitely walkable. In fact it's easier to walk then to drive. I believe it was designed with an organic, old world field in mind -- which makes it hella hard to drive at night in the rain, but summer time stumbling between bars is easy.
posted by geoff. at 12:36 PM on November 15, 2004

Bellingham, WA is one of the most walkable towns I'd ever lived in; no doubt due to the large influence that the liberal college populace and older artist/hippie generation wield over city council.
posted by blindcarboncopy at 12:39 PM on November 15, 2004

Portland, Oregon is liveable without a car in various downtown areas. Alberta, University and pretty much all of SW, NW 23rd, the Pearl, Sellwood, and Hawthorne are districts of the city that come to mind.

They're developing communities along those principles in this area right now. There's one under construction in Wilsonville, Oregon, and Orinoco Station is an established community built along those lines outside of Beaverton.

I really enjoy old east coast towns. Shepherdstown, WV comes to mind -- the whole town is walkable for the most part, which is good because it's a college town.. .
posted by SpecialK at 12:39 PM on November 15, 2004

It's been a long time since I was there, but I remember Burlington, VT as pedestrian-friendly. The downtown was a pedestrian mall as I recall. But I was just visiting, not living there, so maybe it's not so great for living. The old part of Quebec City in Canada felt pretty European to me too, but that could just be because everything was in French.
posted by stopgap at 12:54 PM on November 15, 2004

I nominate Princeton, New Jersey. The actual town (not the part on Route 1) is fairly walkable. It's dominated by the university, though, so if that's not your may not like it very much.
posted by oaf at 1:27 PM on November 15, 2004

I remember Burlington, VT as pedestrian-friendly

that's still pretty much right. There is a main shopping and culture area downdown that is about three closed off blocks E/W. The N/S streets are still open, so it has some cars, but not many. This area also has things like the library, a supermarket, banks and a park all within a block or two from the central hub. A big bus stop is right in the middle and you can walk a few blocks uphill to UVM or a few blocks downhill to Lake Champlain. You can take a bus to the airport, or to Montpelier.

It is, however, a city, though it only has 30,000 people, it may not fit your bill. Most towns out my way are very walkable because they're only two blocks long. The really nice ones don't have a major highway running through them where traffic has to all of the sudden go from 50 miles per hour to 30. This is also typical of the region where the only reason you have a town is because there's a road [or railroad stop, or river access] near there and if it's near there it more often than not runs straight through the middle of the town.

It's also nothing like Europe out here in that trains only go through town maybe once per day and are really expensive and hard to take where you want to go. I remember trains in Europe being a lot more ubiquitous.
posted by jessamyn at 1:31 PM on November 15, 2004

Towns with transit! I live in Cambridge, Mass., and do not have a car or a current driver's license. I have lived in Somerville, Mass., and adore Arlington, Watertown, and Belmont, Mass.; I also lived in Highland Park, New Jersey, for a few years, which was a very doable transit town.

If you really wanted a leafy suburban experience with walkable shopping and frequent transit to downtown, though, I would strongly recommend West Concord, Mass.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:53 PM on November 15, 2004

Word to the Boston outliers. Gawd, I miss that city. I could leave my apartment in Union Square, Somerville, and walk downtown without even realizing it. And especially if you have roommates, some of the more outlying areas around Boston aren't all that expensive to deal with, for being so close to such a great city.
posted by grrarrgh00 at 2:43 PM on November 15, 2004

I remember Boulder, CO as being better than most for this sort of thing, especially for a small city where it is on the map.
posted by chicobangs at 4:42 PM on November 15, 2004

Older whistle-stop suburbs are usually very walkable. Montclair, NJ is a personal favorite.
Walla Walla, WA is plenty walkable, though if you're shitfaced at 3AM and not 100% sure how you got to the party, one street looks pretty much the same as any other.
posted by willpie at 7:20 PM on November 15, 2004

Madison, WI
Of course most of the answers you're going to get are going to be skewed towards college towns.

But I did love Madison, I remember walking everywhere.
posted by patrickje at 8:24 AM on November 16, 2004

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