Austin’s best neighborhoods for car-free living, ranked

Posted by Grossman & Jones Group on Tuesday, November 17th, 2020 at 10:54am.

Austin is known for a lot of things, but its walkability isn’t one of them—in fact, it’s a middling 33rd most walkable in the country, by at least one metric, which gives it a walk score of 40 out of 100. It does a little worse on its transit score (34) and much better on being bicycle-friendly (54).

Obviously, though, some neighborhoods are more pedestrian- and bike-friendly than others. With restaurants, shops, housing, and museums clustered together, often on the same block, Downtown Austin is great for walkers. The winding, often sidewalk-free streets of Northwest Hills? Not so much.

To get a sense of which neighborhoods in Austin offer the best car-free experience, we rounded up the ones with the highest ratings on Walk Score, a site that evaluates neighborhoods based on the accessibility of neighborhood amenities to those sans automobiles. The site also scores how easy it is to bike in the neighborhood—the scores that have gone up most in the past few years—and how accessible it is to public transit as well.

Let’s take a look at the top finishers.

1. Downtown (Walk Score: 90, Transit Score: 68, Bike Score: 89)

Not surprisingly, Downtown is the highest-rated neighborhood on this list, with very few daily errands requiring the use of a car—especially if one lives in one of the condominiums or apartments in the neighborhood or in nearby Clarksville or East Austin. Helping improve the experience is the fact that Downtown is also fairly transit-accessible, with multiple bus stops and a MetroRail stop at the Convention Center. There’s also a bike share program and improved, protected bike lanes on some streets.

2. West University (Walk Score: 87, Transit Score: 63, Bike Score: 94)

Walk Score’s definition of West University is more liberal than ours and includes what we would call UT’s West Campus, North University, and a bit of the campus itself. Still, the score is right on, with ample sidewalks, dense housing, and mixed commerce, especially in West Campus and on main thoroughfare Guadalupe Street, ruling the day. We don’t know if Walk Score includes them in its data, but there are also a number of places of worship in many varieties in the area.

3. The University of Texas—Austin (Walk Score: 86, Transit Score: 72, Bike Score: 91)

Should the Forty Acres (it’s a lot bigger now) be considered a neighborhood, since only students can live on campus? Since it’s adjacent to Downtown and so embedded in the city (no ivory towers to speak of), we’ll go with it—especially since campus and its surrounding areas are great for pedestrians and bicyclists, have plenty of bus service— including student shuttle buses—and car-free areas.

4. North University (Walk Score: 85, Transit Score: 63, Bike Score: 91)

Again (see above), Walk Score has a liberal definition of North University, which it has spreading northward through Central Austin and Heritage neighborhoods up to West 39th Street. Still, it’s undeniably an area filled with student renters and has a number of shuttle and regular bus routes, as well as plenty of dining and shopping options. We’d quibble with the idea that it has particularly great bike lanes in many parts, and sidewalks are nonexistent in much of the area.

5. Central East Austin (Walk Score: 81, Transit Score: 54, Bike Score: 84)

Finally, we move away from the UT campus—though not far, and Central East houses its share of students from UT, as well as nearby Huston-Tillotson University. One could argue that the neighborhood has always been walkable, with restaurants, stores, and clubs within easy distance of housing, because for many decades it was a largely African-American neighborhood, created by segregation, but that by necessity evolved quickly into a vibrant, self-providing community. Its current, sort of carry-over walkability—along with some of the highest rents in the city—comes with more than a dollop of gentrification, but it is still abundant with sidewalks, mixed-use buildings on main thoroughfares, and bike-share stations and decent lanes, mixed in with historic sites, schools, the George Washington Carver Museum and public library, and other places that tie together past and present.

6. Old West Austin (Walk Score: 81, Transit Score: 49, Bike Score: 84)

Old West Austin is just west of downtown and includes the historic Clarksville neighborhood, right near the cluster that is Sixth and Lamar. Its hills run right along North Lamar Boulevard, which as tons of great dining and shopping, not to mention the Whole Foods mothership. West Lynn, which runs through part of it, is also home to shopping, dining, and other fun stuff—including the historic Nau’s Drugstore. Walk Score calls it “biker’s paradise.”

7. Holly (Walk Score: 79, Transit Score: 47, Bike Score: 92)

Swinging back east, we find another “biker’s paradise”: A leafy, older neighborhood very close to downtown. Traditionally a Latinx area (another product of segregation), it has become more varied and more gentrified, but maintains a lot of small-scale points of interest, including restaurants, historic spaces, shopping, schools, and services.

8. East César Chavez (Walk Score: 79, Transit Score: 49, Bike Score: 92)

Another Eastside neighborhood, East Cesar Chavez is adjacent to both downtown and Holly. It has a number of the same characteristics as the latter, distinguished by busier thoroughfares and slightly more active nightlife.

9. The Triangle (Walk Score: 78, Transit Score: 56, Bike Score: 87)

It’s not too surprising that a planned, mixed-use development (which Walk Score calls “Triangle State Austin,” presumably for its proximity to the state hospital and other state offices) landed in the top 10. But the props are deserved, as the project made good use of the odd piece of land with a major grocery store, housing, restaurants, shopping, services, and public transit all within its boundaries.

10. Bouldin Creek (Walk Score: 78, Transit Score: 54, Bike Score: 78)

Pulling up 10th is the only South Austin neighborhood on the list—the hard-won and -defended Bouldin Creek neighborhood, which is just south of the river near Auditorium shores and Zilker Park, and therefore subject to the traffic and other hassles that come with mainstays of the Austin tourism industry, including but not limited to the Austin City Limits festival, SXSW, and whatever’s happening at the Long Center that week (though proximity also makes it easy for neighborhood residents to enjoy those things). Its car-free friendliness might by a byproduct of the lack of parking, but we’ll take it.

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