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Seattle’s best neighborhoods for living car-free

The best neighborhoods for walking, biking, and taking public transit

A bus with a bike mounted on the front. Shutterstock

Seattle prides itself in being a pretty green city, but depending on where you live, navigating it car-free can prove pretty difficult sometimes. The good and bad news: It’s easier in some neighborhoods than others. Let’s take a closer look.

While it’s hard to know exactly how walkable and transit-friendly a city is without living in it, Walk Score attempts to data-fy car-free livability. It calculates not just the walkability, but bikeability and transit-friendliness of cities. Overall, Seattle rates a 73 in walkability—that means it’s “very walkable,” or that “most errands can be accomplished on foot.”

We didn’t do quite as well in bikeability and transit-friendliness, we still ranked not-impossible, with 63 and 57, respectively. That’s “bikeable” and “good transit,” so we’re in decent shape, but still pretty far behind, say, San Francisco.

How does that stack up by neighborhood? Here are Seattle’s best and worst neighborhoods for walking, riding public transit, and biking. Walk Score is a big factor here, but each neighborhood has its own set of advantages, setbacks, and quirks.

Seattle’s most walkable neighborhoods are clustered around downtown

Seattle’s highest Walk Score goes to the easiest commuting neighborhood, downtown, with a whopping 99. Pioneer Square comes up next with 98. But there’s a big issue with both these neighborhoods: They aren’t as great everyday at providing amenities for people who spend time here after close-of-business. Grocery store options, for example, are limited (while it seems romantic to do all your grocery shopping at Pike Place Market, in practice it’s not especially sustainable), although the addition of the downtown Target helps a little and the IGA on Third isn’t nothing. Many of the parks are going to be more large patios.

Two other neighborhoods in Walk Score’s top five—First Hill and the International District, both with 97—strike more of a balance, with plenty of green public space and large grocery stores in the area, plus easy walkability to downtown employment and other errand-running. While South Lake Union also has more greenery and after-hours fun, note that its major, big grocery store is a Whole Foods, so it might be harder to stretch a budget.

Seattle’s least-walkable neighborhoods are on the outskirts

Rainier View, tucked just below Rainier Beach, is the most car-dependent neighborhood in Seattle by a landslide, with a Walkscore of just 23, a ranking that indicates that “almost all errands require a car.”

But other neighborhoods on different outskirts aren’t doing so hot, either: Matthews Beach, east of Lake City and north of Wedgwood, still requires a car for most errands, with a Walk Score of 38. Arbor Heights, deep in West Seattle, is right behind at 39.

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Seattle’s most transit-friendly neighborhoods are Downtown, the ID, and Pioneer Square

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With all three of these neighborhoods serving as major transit hubs—including light rail—it’s no surprise that Downtown, the International District, and Pioneer Square all have perfect transit scores of 100, according to Walk Score. This is true in practice, too.

Downtown is Seattle transit’s most common transfer point, and is home to multiple bus stations and bus stops on almost every block, plus a couple light rail stops, although the difference between a bus on Fourth and a bus on Sixth can be deceptively big since it’s on a steep hillside. The International District is a major transit hub, with a bus station, light rail, the First Hill Streetcar, and multiple high-traffic surface bus stops. Pioneer Square is much of the same: light rail, streetcar (two lines soon), and multiple buses above and below the surface. King Street Station, where commuter rail to the ‘burbs and Amtrak to everywhere depart, is right between Pioneer Square and the ID.

Honorable mention here go to Capitol Hill and the University District. While some parts of the Hill are more transit-friendly than others—you’re going to have fewer options on the north end of it, for example—in its more central parts, you have a light rail and multiple bus lines. The University District is planned around trucking students in from all over, and the streets bounding campus are basically all little transit stations (and while the light rail station isn’t really in a residential area yet, it’s nearby).

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Seattle’s least transit-friendly neighborhoods are Magnolia, Alki, and Madison Park

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Briarcliff, a small neighborhood on the west side the already transit-remote Magnolia, is the least transit-friendly neighborhood in the city, according to Walkscore—they give it a 34, or “some transit.” It is served by the 24, but it stops running all the way west around 9 p.m.

Madison Park is primarily served by just the 11—which runs frequently, but is just one route that can get held up really easily. Eventually, they’ll get a bus rapid transit line up Madison Street, but for now, they’ve been given a Transit Score of 35.

Alki is also toward the bottom. Although it’s a popular neighborhood, it’s primarily served by one bus route that runs along the coastline, the 37. The 50 also serves the neighborhood, but doesn’t head downtown, although it does connect to the Othello light rail station. The 56 ends its run at the center of the neighborhood, but only runs on weekdays. It has a transit score of 35, but to push back a little bit on this: If you’re toward the northern edge of the neighborhood, it’s not too far from the Water Taxi to downtown.

South Park, Seward Park, and Rainier View are also generally underserved, although the latter two recently got a responsive shuttle for light-rail connections.

Seattle’s most-bikeable neighborhood is the University District

The University District is loaded with bike lanes—including parts of the Burke-Gilman trail and a few protected bike lanes—and relatively flat by Seattle standards. That adds up to a Bike Score of 85, or very bikeable: “Biking is convenient for most trips.”

These same traits (aside from the Burke-Gilman) give Green Lake a score of 87.

Bear in mind here, though, that even though a neighborhood might have protected bike lanes, it doesn’t mean good connections to downtown. The University District has a little advantage here, since the Burke-Gilman makes an easy connection to the Westlake Cycle Track, although that’s a little difficult to navigate once you hit South Lake Union.

Fremont (bike score: 80) and an adjacent slice of north Queen Anne get honorable mentions here, too, for a similar reason: the Burke-Gilman and the Westlake Cycle Track. Plus, Fremont has plenty of bike shops, too.

Seattle’s least-bikeable neighborhoods look a lot like the least-walkable

Rainier View, once again, brings up the rear in bikeability, with a score of 20: “minimal bike infrastructure.” It’s beyond even the options South Seattle does have, like the Chief Sealth Trail, and is too far east for any meaningful proximity to the Green River Trail.

Arbor Heights is the next-least-bikeable according to Walkscore, with 28. This is also a pretty accurate assessment: In an already-hilly area, it’s especially hilly (see: heights), without any mitigating factors like bike lanes that could make cycling easier.