Quora: How hard is it to live without a car in the SF Bay Area?

Quora Question:

How hard is it to live without a car in the SF Bay Area?

For different areas – San Francisco, Silicon Valley, East Bay, North Bay…

My Answer:

I have lived in the Bay Area on and off for over 10 years without ever driving. I’m not really even an avid bicycler – yet. I’ll confess it’s getting more difficult to be a Non-Driver as i get older.

I’ve found a few things especially useful to have, know, or do:

Choose your neighborhood wisely.
Before you choose where you’re going to live, be sure to check the place out thoroughly from the perspective of a Non-Driver: Will you have roommates, first of all, to help you get around sometimes? Where are the nearest PubTrans stops? Is there a grocery store / drugstore / convenience store / cafe / coffee shop / whatever within walking distance? Biking distance? Are you OK with living on a hill? Is the area safe for people to walk around at night? Would you feel OK locking up your bike outside while shopping (etc) in the area? There are lots of important questions to ask yourself when choosing a new place, as a person who doesn’t drive.

It’s a lot easier if you live with roommates who drive.
This is true anywhere if you don’t drive – you can combine errands like grocery shopping with other people, eliminating awkward and frequent runs on PubTrans or a bike.

Get friendly with local maps – including specialized ones – like the useful Bike Maps that show the hills, and MUNI / ACTransit / BART route maps.
If you didn’t already know that certain sequences of streets in SF are named in mostly-alphabetical order (Anza, Balboa, Cabrillo…), this is just one of the many useful little things about the Bay that you can pick up from spending time with a local map. Also, you can probably never hope to understand the way roads converge and diverge in the East Bay without seeing it on a large scale.

Whether you are walking, biking, taking buses, or driving – you really should have at least one good map of the entire Bay Area. Try hanging one up in the bathroom where you can leisurely contemplate it – this worked wonders for one house i used to live in.

Own at least one bicycle, and know a place to get it serviced quickly near your home (or be able to DIY).
I’ve been using a basic adult tricycle i bought online to get around mostly-flat Oakland, and it’s been especially practical for leisurely cruises to the local farmer’s markets. If you live in the City, you’ll probably want something sleeker and with gears. Also, consider that you will probably want a bike option that can be carried on BART (Bikes on BART guide: http://www.bart.gov/guide/bikes/…).

Whatever you choose, you either need to know how to fix it yourself, or have a reliable local shop in mind for when the inevitable bash-up occurs. Don’t forget to wear a helmet and use a solid lock.

Go ahead – Take a taxi.
Sometimes it seems expensive to take a taxi home to the East Bay from SF after a long night, but consider the alternatives:

  1. Assuming you can drive and have a car – drive yourself, pay a bridge toll, pay for gas, stay sober, and find parking. Oh, and make sure not to leave any valuables anywhere in sight.
  2. BART-a-rella: Head home before the stroke of midnight! (http://www.bart.gov/guide/lateni…)
  3. Assuming you’re willing to spend whatever’s left of your night getting home, take the all-nighter 800 bus. (http://transit.511.org/accessibl…)

A taxi will cost in the range of $30-$50 (plus tip) from downtown, SOMA, or the Mission to most of Oakland and south Berkeley, in my experience. There are also new services coming out with apps for your phone that let you pay variable rates for a hired car pickup. (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/0…)

After talking to friends who own cars and deal with driving them (especially across the bridge for a night out), it seems that ownership carries more expense and responsibility than the occasional taxi ride, by far.

Plan efficiently – Do all your errands at once.
If you are used to having a car, you may be used to running to the store every time you need this or that for dinner or whatever, but when you don’t drive, you learn to think differently. Know what shops are in close proximity to eachother and to the PubTrans stops you prefer. Sometimes it’s easier for me to pick something up in SF than Oakland because a store is more accessible to a BART stop over there, or vice-versa.

Also, if you know you’re going to need a taxi (or a friend driver) to help carry all those bags, make a good list and hit all the stops while you’re out.

Online Shopping is your friend.
When you don’t drive, it can be really nice to have things shipped to your door, especially when you know exactly what you want. Think bulk groceries, toiletries you always use, cleaning supplies, pet food, etc.

In general, I believe it can be done! And happily.
I’ve been living without driving in the Bay Area, happily, on and off for over 10 years – with a little help from my friends and what i consider to be an above-average PubTrans system. Your mileage may vary…

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