The Guide to Car(e)free Living

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Carfree Chicago is a community-built resource that aims to take the guesswork out of carfree living while promoting responsible transportation choices. This section is a wiki-style guide to living carefree without a car. Please sign up or log in to make edits and additions to improve this resource.
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Benefits of Carfree Living

If you're wondering, "why go car-free," perhaps you should instead consider the question, "why drive?" There are many benefits to walking, biking and transit, just like there are benefits to driving. If your transportation choices have an impact on your health, your wallet and the environment, then be sure to be intentional in those decisions. Many people who go car-free arrived at the choice simply by re-examining habits they take for granted. If you're willing to challenge your assumptions about your travel habits, you may find that foregoing car ownership will actually improve your quality of life.

Financial

Health & Safety

Environment

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Chicago's Carfree Demography

According to the 2000 Census:

53% of work trips to downtown are on public transportation, according to the Chicago Loop Alliance.

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Amtrak

What Amtrak stops within easy reach of Chicago are in a walkable or bikable downtown? These stops provide easy trips to escape the city and enjoy small-town life for the day or weekend.

Holland, Mich.

New Buffalo, Mich.

St. Joseph, Mich. - from the station, you're less than 1/2 mile from a beautiful beach on Lake Michigan or a friendly, walkable downtown with hotels, restaurants and shopping. Buy your tickets in advance at Amtrak's website and your whole fare may be less than $20!
www.timeout.com/chicago/articles/travel/33231/not-your-average-joe

Racine, Wis.

Wisconsin Dells, Wis.

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This section is a wiki-style guide to living carefree without a car. Please sign up or log in to make edits and additions to improve this resource.
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Biking

Ride the City is an application that helps bicyclists find safer routes around cities.
http://www.ridethecity.com/chicago

Active Transportation Alliance - Chicagoland's voice for better biking, walking, and transit. A member-supported nonprofit transporation advocacy group, formerly the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation
http://www.activetrans.org/

Choosing Your Neighborhood

Being carfree is a lot easier if you choose to live in a walkable neighborhood with decent transit. Fortunately, Chicago is full of just such neighborhoods. Having a train stop, however, does not a walkable neighborhood make. You'll also want to consider how close the businesses you use regularly will be, will you be safe walking the streets, and does it feel welcoming or is it an asphalt landscape? Here are a few tools to help you find the neighborhoods that fits your needs:

CTA
http://www.yourcta.com
Transit maps can help guide your search.

Yelp.com
http://www.yelp.com
Provides a business directory with ratings by map. You can look up zip codes and neighborhoods and find out where the grocery stores, corner stores, butchers, dentists, cafes, etc. are.

ChicagoCrime.org
http://www.chicagocrime.org
Provides maps of crimes by zip code and address. If you're checking out an apartment, you can look up the address and see crime statistics within several blocks.

Live.com Maps
http://maps.live.com
Provides 3-D satellite views so you can check out what the streets look like. An abundance of surface parking lots is not a good sign.

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Grocery Shopping and Other Errands

With a few changes in your habits and the right equipment, it's easy to do your grocery shopping and other errands on foot, by bike, or using transit.

Bags and Carts

Good reusable grocery bags can certainly make grocery shopping easier. A backpack also makes it easier to carry heavier items and increases carrying capacity. You might also consider purchasing a Granny Cart (pictured below) if you don't want to have to carry your groceries or occasionally buy heavy things.

Don't Take Too Much

Only use a hand basket when grocery shopping -- that way you won't take more groceries than you can carry at once. It's no good to load up a rolling grocery cart and realize at the check-out that you won't be able to carry it all home.

Go Often

If you go to the grocery store more often, you'll have fewer groceries to carry each trip. If you're the type to load up a full cart every two weeks, then this may take some getting used to. Of course, if you live within a close walk to the grocery store, then going more often isn't a problem. And if you live in walkable neighborhood, then the walk can actually be enjoyable.

Know Your Navigation

Chicago has an efficient and easy-to-navigate street grid. This allows our buses to have very predictable routes -- you can hop on almost any bus in the city without being familiar with the route and still know where you're going. The grid's coordinate system also makes the city very easy to navigate on foot. The zero coordinate is at Madison and State in the Loop. Street numbers increase by 100 each block extending from that intersection, and each block is approximately 1/8 mile. For example, 800 N Halsted is one mile north of Madison. And Halsted is also at 800 W, so it's one mile west of State.

If you're familiar with the coordinate system, you can know where you are by looking at street numbers even if you're in an unfamiliar neighborhood where you don't know the street names. The street numbers will also tell you which direction you're walking. On the South Side, you're walking south if the numbers are getting higher. On the North Side, you're walking north if the number are getting higher. If you check the street numbers, you can prevent yourself from walking too far out of the way.

Most Walkable Metra Towns

The following suburban Metra stations are located in walkable areas, making these suburbs welcoming places to visit and live for people who prefer walking and transit over sitting in traffic. WalkScore (www.walkscore.com) is a measure of walkability based on density and diversity of retail and amenities. Visit the Train Stop Guide to explore more stations.

Arlington Heights
Metra Station WalkScore: 100

Elmhurst
Metra Station WalkScore: 100

Evanston
Metra Station WalkScore: 98

Glen Ellyn
Metra Station WalkScore: 98

Highland Park
Metra Station WalkScore: 98

LaGrange Road
Metra Station WalkScore: 98

Downers Grove Main Street
Metra Station WalkScore: 97

Oak Park
Metra Station WalkScore: 97

Wheaton
Metra Station Walkscore: 97

Elgin
Metra Station WalkScore: 94

McHenry
Metra Station WalkScore: 94

Park Ridge
Metra Station WalkScore: 94

Blue Island
Metra Station WalkScore: 92

Libertyville
Metra Station WalkScore: 91

Woodstock
Metra Station WalkScore: 89

Antioch
Metra Station WalkScore: 88

Wilmette
Metra Station WalkScore: 86

Kenosha, Wis.
Metra Station WalkScore: 83

Geneva
Metra Station WalkScore: 80

Naperville
Metra Station WalkScore: 78

Riverside
Metra Station WalkScore: 66

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The Carfree Family

"But I have kids," is a common response to the carfree lifestyle. Kids are certainly a challenge, but thousands of Chicago families live happy and healthy lives without a car.

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Using Transit

We’re very fortunate to have the nation’s second-largest public transit system here in Chicago. The system offers extensive coverage of the city and provides strong connections between the city and suburbs. Transit allows Chicagoans to get around without the hassles and costs of driving, and enable our dense, walkable neighborhoods. Getting around on transit can sometimes take a little patience, but it can often be quicker and easier than driving – and you don’t have to worry about parking!

Regional Transportation Authority (RTA)

Chicago Transit Authority (CTA)
The CTA operates over 152 bus lines and eight train lines serving 144 train stations. Use it to go anywhere in the city and some places in the suburbs.

Metra
Metra operates the rail portion of our region’s commuter system. It offers 11 commuter rail lines serving over 200 stations. Use it to move between the city and suburbs or to get to outlying nature preserve areas.

Pace
Pace operates 240 suburban bus routes, some of which also provide connections to the city. It also runs Chicago’s paratransit service.

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FAQ

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