Can I live without a car in Houston? Relocating from Boston
January 2, 2019 8:51 AM   Subscribe

My partner has received a very good job offer in Houston, and we are considering relocating. We currently live in the Boston area and live, work, and shop within a 3-mile radius of our apartment. We walk, bike, and take public transit everywhere we go. This is all very easy to do in Boston. Is it at all possible to live a similar existence in Houston?

My partner and I both are originally from California (living mostly in the Bay Area) and moved to Cambridge five years ago. We are in our late 20s/early 30s, no kids.

We enjoy living in dense urban areas such as Boston or San Francisco. We typically bike, take public transit, or walk everywhere, and I personally have a big fear of driving (although I do have a driver’s license and accept I will have to get over this in order to live in Houston). We are both pretty active, so driving everywhere on a daily basis would be a big lifestyle change. I understand driving is pretty much required in Houston, but getting around without always hopping into a car is important to me and not something I want to give up entirely. For example I'd like to buy groceries, go to a yoga class, visit a museum, or watch a show without necessarily driving there.

I’ve read a lot about the city a visited a few years ago for work, so I feel like I have a good sense of what Houston has to offer (arts, food, diversity, sprawl, humidity, etc.). I know that the Inner Loop is where we want to be, and that we really should get at least one car (which we plan to do). However I know they have revamped their public transportation system in the last few years and am wondering if that has made a noticeable difference. Also, how bike and pedestrian friendly is Houston?

Based on what we know, we’ve narrowed our housing search to Montrose and the surrounding neighborhoods. It seems like this would be our best bet for our preferred lifestyle. But how realistic or feasible is it to continue “city living” in a sprawling (and hot) city like Houston? I will likely work remote for the first few months but will then need to find a job locally. Ideally I would like to be able to take transit or even bike to work, but like I said I’m not sure that is a realistic goal.

Again, I know I will have to drive in Houston -- I just want to have the option not to. Appreciate any feedback!
posted by knoodle to Travel & Transportation around Houston, TX (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I cycled to work in Houston for two years. The roads are full of potholes and I got knocked off my bike twice by people who didn't stop. The cycle lane network is mostly a two foot wide zone at the edge of a busy road marked off by a white line.
Walking will get you stopped by the police outside commercial areas.
That's without mentioning the climate.
I did those things because I was broke. I would not choose to do them otherwise.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 9:04 AM on January 2, 2019 [6 favorites]

I live in Montrose. For a variety of reasons, living here without a car is really not viable.


Houston is INSANELY hot in the summer. If you ever want to get somewhere more than 100 yards from your home and not be soaking wet with sweat, you'll need to ride in a car of some kind. the easiest approach is to own one.

Other Logistics

The other problem here is that Houston isn't really set up for the level of pedestrian-friendliness you're used to in places like Boston.

But how MUCH driving?

If you live in close, as I do and as you're planning to, being a "low driving" person or couple is VERY viable. I work at home, and my wife takes the bus into downtown for her office job. The bus stop is 7 blocks away. As a result, we have only one car, and we put maybe 6-7,000 miles a year on it. (A good chunk of those miles, too, are driving out to rural starts for group cycling events; if you want hills, you have to go 45-60 miles out, on account of coastal plain.)

In Montrose, too, it's certainly viable much of the year to do some grocery shopping by bike (from my house, there are 4 supermarkets in what I'd think of as easy cycling distance), and to visit bars and restaurants that way, and to hit a variety of yoga studios that way, etc. (Once it gets hotter, though, the list of destinations gets smaller -- like, yesterday it was 60, so Erin and I could've easily ridden bikes to a fancy restaurant, but in July we'd be too sweaty.)


Houston also has a large and growing multi-use trail network; thanks to this, and to accommodating employers, there are more folks doing bike commutes some or all of the time now than ever before. Many offices maintain locked bike rooms and have shower facilities; there are also a couple of affordable gyms downtown that have locker rooms you could use to clean up.

A couple from our cycling group actually picked a house BECAUSE of its proximity to the trail network; it's not really close to anything else, so the upshot was they got a perfect house for THEM for less than you'd think. He does a lot of travel for work, but she (until she got pregnant) was commuting by bike 3-5 days a week, and it's 15 miles one way for her -- nearly 100% on the trail network.


Yeah, you can definitely do SOME of your running around by bike or by foot if you live in the right area, and it sounds like you're looking in the right place. (The Heights is also a good choice.)

Feel free to memail me if you want to bounce anything else off me. I'm happy for this to become more of a dialog than is kosher in AskMe, and I'd be happy to buy you a beer or coffee once you guys become our neighbors.
posted by uberchet at 9:07 AM on January 2, 2019 [10 favorites]

(ThatWhichFalls provides a dystopian counterpoint that I gently suggest is out of date, and likely informed by location.)
posted by uberchet at 9:08 AM on January 2, 2019

It is informed by location, yes. Locations perhaps more typical of Houston as a whole than Montrose?
posted by thatwhichfalls at 9:15 AM on January 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

Not Houston but in similar car-centric cities: you can find the neigbhorhood to be car-light, but you'll find many work colleagues and friends which will require a car ride to visit.
posted by sandmanwv at 9:18 AM on January 2, 2019

Given that OP is explicitly asking ABOUT Montrose, though...
posted by uberchet at 9:28 AM on January 2, 2019

This is a minor suggestion- I haven’t lived in Houston since the 1980s but my onetime residence there gives me, I believe, the right to intrude here.

Since a couple respondents have mentioned the importance of arriving places unsoaked in sweat, I want to point out that many ebike owners have adopted the electrical assist in order to address just this issue. An ebike wouldn’t stop you from sweating in summertime but could do a decent job when the weather’s in the 70s-80s, and there’s a LOT of that in Houston. There are cargo ebikes designed specially for trips to the grocery store.

A friend works at U of H and owns a small electric scooter he uses to get around campus. He tells me it turns a 15 minute sweaty walk into a 7 minute dry one.
posted by carterk at 9:48 AM on January 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

Due to the climate, terrible road quality, and lack of decent bike lanes, I think it would be absolute torture to try to do errands without driving in the Montrose area. It’s certainly possible to walk when the weather is decent, though. If I had to get by with no car of my own there I would rely on Lyft/Uber for running errands, and do all my recreational biking on the protected trails like inside Memorial Park and other greenways.
posted by oxisos at 10:30 AM on January 2, 2019

I was going to ask if Bird or a similar scooter renting companies exist yet in Houston...but given the road quality mentions I’m not sure if they would be much better than bikes. Lyft/Uber is perhaps an option if you can afford it.
posted by Young Kullervo at 11:10 AM on January 2, 2019

I think it would be absolute torture to try to do errands without driving in the Montrose area.
It's not, really.

The last several years have been amazing in terms of bike infrastructure and bike culture in Houston, at least in the interior. There's a well-received and well-used bike share program now, too.

We ARE short of truly protected bike lanes, but you can offset that with route planning for the most part, especially if your goal is supplement driving and not entirely replace it.

Out-of-towners are kinda dumping on our roads here as thought it's Mad Max, but that's just really not the case. I mean, I typically ride -- for recreation and occasional errands -- on the order of 80 to 100 miles a week on the roads here, and I do it on a go-fast racing style bicycle, and it's fine.

On a more relaxed commuter, with wider tires and lower pressure, it'd be positively cushy.
posted by uberchet at 11:10 AM on January 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've been walking in the Houston area for over three decades without ever once having been stopped by police, so that part at least should not be a worry. It's really a highly unrealistic worry. I like to go to different neighborhoods with my partner and walk for exercise, so I've done a lot of walking here.

In Montrose and other close-in areas the biking is a lot better if you plot out routes on the smaller roads and tend to avoid the larger roads. Since the roads are all mostly a grid this is not difficult. I never can understand why so many bikers seem to prefer the busy unsafe main roads when there's nearly always a less-used parallel street a block away. Okay, you may add a few hundred feet to your route to detour around the more dangerous streets, but the trade-off is so worthwhile.

A great advantage of biking around here is that there are no hills, and there's never a problem with the accumulations of snow and ice on shoulders, bike lanes, and sidewalks that make biking and walking such a pain up north. How can people talk so much about how dreadful the climate is in Houston for biking when they compare it to Boston? Okay, it's hot, but it's so much easier than getting around in a frozen winter. When the wind blows here you don't experience intense pain in your hands, for example. Worst case in the worst season here is that you need to wash off and change your clothes when you get to work, which can often be managed. Sometimes it's important to have a change of clothes when you're going to work, in case of heavy rain.

Relying on public transit means you need to check out the Metro bus routes before you rent or buy a house and before you take a job. Some people do it. A coworker of mine in the Med Center took the bus every day from the Heights area to avoid parking hassles and liked it fine. You'll have to rule out jobs that are not on transit lines.

Driving a little, on the surface roads with low speed limits, is a lot easier than not driving at all, and vastly less alarming than driving on the freeway. It's nothing like my personal experiences of driving in Boston or DC. There are many trips that are faster and easier if you are willing to drive one or two miles on some rather low-stress streets. You do not need to get on the freeways if you don't want to, as long as you're not heading out to the suburbs. Personally, I hate driving on freeways, and most everything I do is within three miles of home. You just need to study your maps and get to know the roads.
posted by chromium at 11:18 AM on January 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

Getting into a car that's been sitting in the sun in Houston is no fun either, so as long as you are ok with There Being Sweat In Your Future during the hot season (June through September), the weather is pretty good the rest of the year for biking. Rains a wee bit.
posted by BeeDo at 1:03 PM on January 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Not Houston-specific, but: try WalkScore for finding areas to live that have reasonable walk/bike/transit distances to your workplace, grocery stores, etc. You can plug in multiple addresses to cover more than one possible commute or other trip.
posted by asperity at 3:19 PM on January 2, 2019

At a state govt level, you will generally find TX hostile to what MA is working towards. This includes an anti-transit and anti-bike mindset, relative to Boston area. You will also find that rats and roaches and mosquitos are a year-round problem in Houston. Your residential neighborhood in Houston will likely include churches and strip clubs and pawn shops and payday loan places in addition to restaurants and art galleries. All these exist on the same block in Houston.

If I lived in Boston area and liked my situation, I would be very hesitant to move to Houston, at any price. I don’t know how old you are but the 20 year outlooks for Houston and Boston are very different, in terms of climate change.
posted by SaltySalticid at 4:16 PM on January 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Houston is not among the top 50 most bikeable cities in the country.
posted by rhiannonstone at 6:38 PM on January 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your replies! After much discussion we have decided to make the move this summer. Sounds like bike commuting is feasible in certain circumstances and with good route planning, but we will definitely be getting a car as well. Honestly biking in Boston's frozen tundra sounds easier to me than biking in a sauna, but I'm sure we will adapt sooner or later. I'll also consider an e-bike once we've moved and have a better sense of our daily needs. Thanks again!
posted by knoodle at 9:31 AM on January 7, 2019 [2 favorites]

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