Dear PoP – Living in Petworth without a car?

Photo by PoPville flickr user rjs1322

“Dear PoP,

I am a long-ish time Columbia Heights resident (5+ years), but am looking to upgrade from a condo to a rowhouse. I LOVE Columbia Heights, but over the past few weeks, have come to consider a property a bit south of Grant Circle, because, quite honestly, my money goes further in Petworth.

So my question to you — and all other Petworth dwellers — is this: can I live in Petworth without a car? Or without spending half my life waiting for a bus? Most importantly, how should I get groceries? (I find the Petworth Safeway a little to scary and the Yes! a little too limited in selection — and Zipcar is out because, again honestly, I’m a horrible driver) Secondly, what dry cleaner should I use? Finally, is a mile-plus walk to the S-series buses a sustainable commute?

Any tips/recommendations are greatly appreciated!”

I can answer this question pretty easily because I live just south of Grant Circle and I haven’t had a car in over a year. Yes, you can def. do it! For grocery shopping you can use Giant’s Peapod service or if you are slightly crazy like me you can use a granny cart (I occasionally shlep mine all the way to the Columbia Heights Giant). I don’t ride the bus too often but when I was regularly commuting I walked to metro in about 10 minutes. Anyone use the S-series buses?

Any other non car urban dwellers?

81 Comment

  • I’ve lived in Petworth about a year without a car with no trouble. For groceries I go with the pathetic Safeway for the basics (and the stories I can tell later!) and go to Yes! for beer, hummus, and other things you can’t find at Safeway. I also take the walk to the CHeights Giants on occasion for the deli.

    For dry cleaners, I use Kilroy’s on Upshur Street. For quick food when I don’t feel like cooking, Subway or Sala Thai.

  • Join us in Petworth Heights, the air is cleaner and the grass really is greener up the hill. The GA Ave Safeway is really not that scary. Everyone I’ve experienced there is actually quite nice, especially the produce lady. The 60, 62, 64 buses get you to green and red lines easily. The short walk from Grant Circle to Peeworth metro is a breeze. If we could just get a new uptown circulator bus to connect Grant Circle to Woodley, Cleveland Park, Adams Morgan and Mt P without having to change buses, then we’d be cooking with gas!

    • Yeah, the GA Ave. Safeway isn’t scary. It can at times be smelly and out of essential products, but not scary in my experience.

    • Safeway may not be scary, but I’m a little scared of the “Peeworth metro”! 🙂

    • I second that the GA Ave Safeway isn’t scary. Well-stocked, no. Catering to yuppie tastes – hell no. But in the past year I’ve twice seen the cashiers pull change from their own pockets so single mothers could buy all of their items when they were a wee bit short. Never saw that on Cap Hill.

  • This isn’t Manhattan or the Near north of Chicago. Get a cheap used car and driving lessons. harris Teeter in Adams Morgan much better than Giant, 100 times better than ghetto Safeway. Whole city, jobs, etc. in flux so it’s always good to have the car option.

    • +1 Every carless person I know in the DC area ends up taking a lot of cabs and/or begging rides from car owners all the time. If you give up the car you’d better be prepared to be a lot more dependent on other people.

      • That may be the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard since family time at Christmas. I only know one person in DC with a car and not one person begs him for rides. In fact, we all disparage him for driving EVERYWHERE instead of jumping on the Metro or walking five blocks to the grocery store.

        • Ever consider the fact that no one with a car wants anything to do with you and your judgemental friends (for obvious reasons)?

          • FTW.

            On a side note, by city standards, it’s very easy, convenient, and cheap to own and operate a car in DC – assuming you live somewhere like Petworth.

      • I don’t own a car. I have taken cabs 4 times in the past year (3 times for work, once home from a trip late at night…not a place I would’ve driven anyway).

        I don’t beg friends for rides (none of them have cars either) though I admit that having a gf and nearby parents with cars does make my life easier and I probably ride with each of them about once a month.

        I don’t live in petworth so can’t speak to that, but I can say I have never once in my years in DC wished I owned a car–like the OP, I dislike driving and am not good at it!

    • I think the best case scenario for most DC residents is to have half a car (i.e. share 1 car with a significant other), but that’s not a realistic option for everyone.

    • I know more people that don’t own cell phones than people that don’t own cars. That says something about the city. Sure, you can “get by” without a car, maybe even have a perfectly fine life if you’re willing to spend more on other things and are strategic about where you live and work… but clearly, for many DC residents the costs of having a car far outweigh the benefits. For me, not having to spend three hours on various forms of public transit just to get to and from work every day is worth having a car for.

  • Have you considered getting a bike? I can pack alot of groceries into a backpack.

    I’m close to a bus line but will ride my bike to the metro which makes the commute much quicker.

    • Prince Of Petworth

      Good point. I now use the capital bike share option as well. It is truly a great option!

      • My wife and I used Capital Bikeshare today for the first time to commute to work from Petworth to 13th and NY. It is awesome!! The bikes are great and it is super convenient. The annual membership is $75, but if you buy a gift membership for someone it is only $60 for the year. Buy yourself a gift!!

  • As a regular user of the roads (scooter, car, bike and ped). I appreciate that you choose to refrain from driving.

    I see plenty of terrible drivers out there, it is refreshing to see that one chooses not to drive.

    • (forgot to mention) We lived in Columbia Heights in a condo, and moved to 16th Street Heights to a rowhouse. We find a car necessary for several reasons that would apply to you:

      1. We much prefer the Harris Teeter for groceries.
      2. We are furnishing and settling into a house, and it would be challenging to make all the Home Depot/Lowe’s/furniture runs without a car.
      3. Trips to Costco in VA are near impossible without a car.

      We have other needs for a car, but they may not apply to you.

  • Living in Petworth without a car is managable, especially if you live close to the Yes/Safeway. I use Kilroy’s cleaners and they’re really great. There are now several restaurants that deliver to southern Petworth as well – Sala Thai, Moroni Brothers, Fusion, Pete’s Apizza, etc. (when I first moved here there was only Domino’s). But if you don’t have a car, you’ll miss out on one of the best perks, easy parking! A car can always come later. You could always join ZipCar – there are cars on Upshur St and probably a few other locations (that’s the one I’ve seen).

  • i have to admit i’ve complained about the petworth safeway in the past, but it is NOT ‘scary’. it has the basics, the cashiers are sufficiently nice, and they do have fine produce on a regular basis. once i accepted that no one really needs 500 choices of fancy cheese, the safeway meets most of my grocery needs.

  • You don’t need to own a car. You will, however, probably need access to a car at times (emergency dictates that you need to purchase a wet/dry vac NOW, for instance).

    Maybe check to see how close the nearest zipcars are?

  • I’m a big, big fan of Peapod as far as your grocery needs go 🙂

    • Maybe I’m a control freak, but I can’t imagine letting someone else pick out my grocercies for me (since it’s like 90% fresh produce).

      • I felt the same way at first, but it’s not as bad as you think. Occasionally, the apples will be smaller than I would like but more often than not, we get a greater quantity and better quality than what’s found at the Giant store. And if anything is truly bad they’ll immediately credit the cost back to you, no questions asked.

        • See, I prefer the small apples, but how would the Peapod shopper know that? Everyone has different preferences/needs, and there can be quite a bit of variance in produce.

          • Maybe you weigh the convenience of having your groceries delivered against the inconvenience of getting apples slightly larger or smaller than you would have preferred.

    • I use Peapod for all my non-produce needs and Washington’s Green Grocers for all my produce. This way, I rarely need to go to the actual store. And, I always get great produce from WGG. (I don’t work for them, I swear- just have had great experiences and think they could meet others’ needs, as well.), if anyone’s interested.

  • You can live anywhere in D.C. without a car. Buses are public transit too and the last time I checked their coverage in the DC region is great, let alone Petworth.
    I don’t see how the safeway on Georgia ave is scary though. If you think thats “scary or ghetto” then I suggest you go to the one on Minnesota ave NE and get back at me.

    You can always hop on the 70 bus and go to the safeway on Piney Branch rd or walk to the Giant in CH………

    • I go to the Minnesota Ave Safeway often and have never had an issue with it being “scary or ghetto”. I’ve never been to the one on Georgia Ave, though.

  • I live in DC without owning a car, zip car and U Haul are my “car”.

    With a bicycle I can get anywhere and with panniers I can do groceries no problem.

    Alternately you can walk / bus to a supermarket and then taxi back.

  • Are you buying a condo in a subdivided rowhouse? I don’t understand why single person with financial limitations would buy a full rowhouse and pay so much to furnish and provide utilities for such a large space.

    • I know plenty of people that have to cut a lot of corners in order to own a house. I guess the idea is that the house in an appreciating asset, while the car and other possessions are not.

      • A condo in a great amenity rich D.C. neighborhood is an appreciating asset as well. If you’re going to be single and carless I’d pick location over extra bedrooms/space you don’t really need.

        Granted I wouldn’t recommend a condo over a townhouse or single family home in the suburbs or a fringy DC neighborhood but the equation is different in a vibrant D.C. neighborhood.

        • Condos have a lot of issues that some people would rather not deal with. Many would rather mow their own grass and fix their own roof than pay condo fees every month, especially since those fees can increase without warning or explaination. And you hear so many horror stories these days about buildings with multiple vacancies going to shit because there aren’t enough people paying to keep it maintained. Or the residents were stuck paying thousands in legal fees because the condo management decided not to pay their landscapers. Also, streets of rowhouses usually have more of a community feel, whereas condo neighbors barely even see each other.

          • I don’t find the rare doomsday condo fee special assessment scenarios you’ve listed any more compelling than the rare doomsday home ownership catastrophies anyone else could come up with.

      • Count me as one person who sacraficed the car for the condo. I’ve been car-free for 4 years in CH, and have never regretted it. You can get just about anything delivered/picked up from your home, and the cost of that doesn’t even touch what it would cost for you to own a car. Taxies included (for extra cold days/extra hot days/hung over days 🙂 ).

        • How much do you spend on deliveries, cabs, etc per month? It seems like it would add up to be more than total car expenses.

          • My boyfriend’s car costs him about $400/month to park, insure, maintenance, and pay down. Two peapod deliveries/month is less than $20.00. Dry cleaning delivery a few extra bucks. Taxies, probably $40/month. It’s really not that expensive.

          • Obviously, indulging in deliveries and taxi service could get expensive. People without a car have to commit to walking and taking public transportation. But there are a few areas in my life that it just makes sense to pay for the delivery. I’ve found that I come out ahead.

          • Yikes, $400/month? Poor guy!

        • Getting deliveries to a condo building is alot easier than to a rowhouse. Your packages can be signed for by the front desk and put in a secure room. DC is alot safer than it used to be but I’m not comfortable with my packages being left on my front stoop in a low income neighborhood. Nor do I want to deal with going to Landover to pickup the package because the delivery service couldn’t leave it without a signature.

          • For the past two years I’ve just had things delivered to my house. I’ve had stuff left on my porch in Columbia Heights for more than 24 hours and it’s never disappeared. Granted, I wouldn’t have a laptop delivered to my porch, but for most smaller things, it’s no big deal (at least in my experience).

  • Count me among the Petworthians who are without a car. I’m fortunate enough to live a block from the Metro and the Safeway so my transportation needs are easily sufficed. Zipcar is also a great thing to have for the random times that you actually might need an automobile.

  • Petworth south of Grant Circle is TOTALLY doable without a car, and probably even moreso in the next 2-5 years. If you’re really that askeerd of driving, get a bike or join Capitol Bikeshare. Every amenity you need is minutes away.

    I agree that home ownership will necessitate a car at certain points, but rent or do Zipcar until and unless you have to drive somewhere daily (e.g. for commuting to a job in the ‘burbs). As soon as you get one you’ll start believing you really do HAVE TO drive three blocks to Yes! Market.

    Not that I know anything about that.

  • jack5

    Great! Another pedestrian to avoid! LOL.

    • I was a pedestrian for about 15 years in DC but then I got a job in Rockville and a baby–two things that put a crimp on my time and energy.

      So yeah, I drive short distances but it’s not necessary for a healthy singleton sans kids. And for a new homeowner in a one-salary household the gas, maintenance and insurance can really be a burden.

  • One other thing to note about zipcar is you can buy down the accident premium. See below from the Zipcar website:

    “For both third party and Zipcar vehicle damage claims, the member may responsible for a damage fee of up to $500 if they’re involved in an incident during their reservation. Members age 21+, who have had no accidents in the last 12 months, have the option to purchase a damage fee waiver to reduce that amount or eliminate it altogether.”

  • I think you can get by without a car (especially if you have a bike). If you’re only infrequently going to need a car, I’d definitely go without and get cabs (or ZipCar) when you do a massive grocery shop, go to Costco, etc.

    A car is convenient if you plan on coming and going at non-conventional hours. I live in Petworth and commute by car because I often work late and on weekends, and I don’t want to be wandering around by myself getting to/from the metro late at night encumbered by a ton of books/papers and my computer or waiting for a bus and it was getting to be an expensive pain paying for cabs home virtually every night.

    Before I had the car, I’d hoof it to Safeway or take a ZipCar and head to the Giant in VanNess. I’ve done it also by picking up a cab in VanNess who would bring me and my groceries home. Have used Peapod, but I find you sometimes can’t order exactly what you want online. That said, I now do 90% of my shopping at Yes! and it’s pretty good for veg and grains. I think they’ve slightly altered their selection in the past few months. Red meat still requires a trip to Safeway (or Target, which actually has some pretty awesome deals).

    I offer a hearty endorsement of Kilroys on Upshur for your dry cleaner. They haven’t done me wrong yet (and they have a discount card, but you need to ask for it).

  • I’d also vote for a good bike and a bikeshare membership (good bike for commuting or other regular riding and a bikeshare membership for those times you stop off at the CH giant and buy way too much to want to walk home. As for a walk to the S buses, it might be possible to take the Petworth metro (or GA ave buses) downtown and then grab a bikeshare bike to cut across to the 16th st. corridor – that’s usually what I do whenever I need to get somewhere that west of the 7th st. corridor, since I’m too lazy to wait for a blue/orange transfer at L’Enfant Plaza.

    Also, as a car owner with 3 non-driving housemates, I have been asked exactly once in 3 years to provide my car/driving skills for them (to transport a keg). The rest of the time, they walk, ride a bike, or take public transit – carless people do not necessarily spend their time bumming rides from friends and neighbors.

    • Well, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve done some activity like a class that was not in the most metro-accessible location, and inevitably someone was imploring people for rides because the buses aren’t reliable enough, and their roommate is tired of driving them there, blah blah blah. There are a lot of carless people who get quite agressive and emotional when they discover no one is willing to drive them around, but they can’t just skip the cost and responsibility of car ownership and expect to still do all the things they want to do.

      • That’s only making me think of the number of times I’ve decided not to go somewhere–or worse, arrived and decided to turn around and go home–because I couldn’t find parking.

        Grass is always greener…

        • Yeah, but if you have a car and are going someplace where it’s hard to find parking you can take public transit. But if you don’t have a car and you’re going someplace with poor public transit you don’t have the option of driving. Just becaue I have a car doesn’t mean I’m going to use it in every scenario regardless of whether it makes sense or not.

        • I can’t beleive you have arrived someplace and actually turned around and gone home because you couldn’t find parking. I find this hilarious (and unbelievable).

          • Then you must not have lived in Adams Morgan. I had friends “give up” on parking all the time. Usually because they just were too cheap to pay for parking, but still…After a while you travel strategically, taking the bus or cab when you don’t want to hassle with parking or driving drunk.

  • I forgot to mention that you can pick up the H8 or H9 bus along Rock Creek Church Rd or GA Ave Metro Station and take it over to 16th Street for the S buses.

  • I live it Petworth with no car, and it is no problem. I recommend getting a smartphone so you can use the NextBus app. The only drawback is that GPS has been bad on the bus system lately, and a lot of the buses aren’t displaying.

    The reality is that living in DC with a car can be just as much trouble as having one, if not more, especially with all of the road construction (Georgia Ave. was closed off north of the Metro this morning, for reasons I still can’t fathom).

    Having the Yes! Organic makes up for the lack of supplies at Safeway, but the Petworth Safeway does have some good low-price deals. Also, you would be one Metro stop from the Columbia Heights Target, and I do a lot of my shopping there, since they also have decent prices. There’s also the CH Giant, if you can deal with the mob scene and lines down the aisle.

    Other posters have pointed out some of the neighborhood features, but I didn’t see any reference to Qualia Coffee or Domku, both of which are great finds.

    • Agree with the Qualia recommendation, disagree with the Domku. I’ve always found Domku to be over-priced, especially considering that it often takes a literal hour to receive your meal. Oh, and don’t get me started on the owner.

      Rant over.

  • I live and Petworth (with a car) but because I don’t love to drive I choose to use a combo of Peapod and Yes! for 99% of my household/grocery needs. Works Great!

  • I’ve lived in petworth for a few months now, right by the metro and i have a bike. I love it! I still need to get a bike basket, but i always just go to the giant in columbia heights for groceries. Its a five minute bike ride and worth it instead of going to the icky safeway.

  • It’s nice to hear Petworth is doable without a car. I don’t live there, but live in a rowhouse about ten minutes from Columbia Heights metro and have been fine not having a car. It is more annoying waiting for a bus in cold weather when it’s dark out, but it’s nice being able to use the money I save on home improvements and it is getting easier and easier to bike places. I haven’t felt homeownership has significantly increased my need for a car. You can always taxi things back from Home Depot (they deliver and install things like washers/dryers).

  • Sometimes that’s just the way it works out. I was looking for a small rowhouse, didn’t find one in my price range, and ended up with a single-family home. I’m not “paying so much” to furnish it because I keep some rooms empty or lightly furnished to house the occasional intern or DC transient. For me, it’s worth it to be out of my old condo, but ymmv.

  • I’ve been living in Pee-worth for 8 months now and never thought of using Peepod or Kilroy’s… Good recommendations that I will try in the New Year.

  • I sometimes walk from 9th over to 16th to catch the S bus, but I’m not a fan of doing it at night. I find the 79 to be much faster and more reliable (which isn’t saying much), and then if you’re going downtown you can hop on the circulator over to 16th Street.

  • I had no car for the first two years I lived in Peeworth, but got a truck when I bought a house and started renovations myself. I have to say that I do not miss the hour-fifteen minute bus ride to get to Watergate. I absolutely freaking love the extra sleep, fifteen minute drive and the ability travel with things larger than a shoe box. No one tries to rip off my iPhone either. . .

  • binpetworth

    I’m 30something, live in Petworth, and have never had a driver’s license in my life. Cabs? Hahaha! Here’s a simple solution: WALK. I walk everywhere – whether it’s around the block to Yes/Safeway or the 1 mile to the CH Giant. I walk 3 miles to work & back everyday and it only takes me 15 minutes longer than it does to do the green/red line connection on Metro. When I do want to get somewhere relatively fast, the buses seem to do the trick.

  • I lived in Petworth for 4 years with no car,then farther north, and now live in NE. When we bought our house here we also bought an early 90s Civic for next to nothing, and our insurance is less than 400 a year, we get north of 35 miles per gallon, and I spend $5.50 a day parking at my suburban job, rather than ~$7.00 on metro round trip. My commuting time has also been cut by more than 50% by not having to circle the city to get to work.

    I’m probably spoiled and softer now that we have the immediate option of driving, but I couldn’t be happier. We still walk and bike when it works, but going to Home Depot is a 20 minute trip instead of an hour and a half, and I can leave and go camping in Front Royal on a whim on a Friday afternoon with friends. I’ll never not have a car here again, but I’ll also probably never buy a new car either.

  • I moved to a rowhouse just north of Grant Circle just a couple of years ago and I love it. The only reason I have a car is because I frequently travel to VA for work. My weekends and days off are car free. There are frequent and plentiful bus stops on Upshur, New Hamp., and Grant Circle. 15 minute walk to the metro. There are some bargain homes in the neighborhood.

    Groceries are the big problem. Sorry, the Safeway isn’t worth it. I’ll starve before I go in that Safeway again. Horrible. But, you can go to the Yes! on Taylor & Georgia. You pay more, but it’s good stuff. Plus, we have the farmer’s market on Fridays from Spring through Fall. That’s your best bet for groceries. Petworth is for optimists. I expect that the Safeway will be replaced by something acceptable in the next few years, that there will be a fitness center with a pool, that crime will fall, and that the schools will improve. Slowly, this will come to pass.

  • The Safeway is scheduled to be replaced – someday. They’ve drawn up plans for it. But in the meantime it is tolerable. The Yes! rocks. Also, don’t forget the Petworth Farmer’s Market spring – fall. Although the market is on Friday evenings, if I was able to catch it before it closed, I got great produce.

    I love living in Petworth (South of Grant circle), and though I have a car to commute to work out in VA – and for Home Depot or Community Forklift – for almost everything else I walk or metro. Soon bike. I use a little cart to go get my groceries, and even to get small goods from Target in CH – its not that far of a walk. In nice weather I’ll also walk to U street. You can also walk up to Fusion and Moroni brothers on Georgia Avenue easily.

    Definitely doable – and enjoyable.

  • You’ll be fine. Definitely echoing the recommendations to get a bike.

    But really, I think you should just suck it up and shop at the businesses in the neighborhood… they’re fine, and convenience will eventually win out. What’s the point of living in Petworth if you’re just going to schlep over to other neighborhoods for your basic needs?

    Oh, and brush up on your driving skills – it’s well worth being able to drive in the city when you really need to. A Zipcar membership really is worth having for big trips to Home Depot and the grocery store and such, even if you only go a couple of times a year.

  • You can DEFINITELY live in Petworth without a car. We’ve been living here for 15 months and love it. We live about a mile north of the Petworth metro. You have the 60 series or 70 series of buses (also the 79 is an express bus) that can take you to various metros. The Georgia Ave Safeway is limited in its selection, but they’re supposed to be re-doing it. We use Peapod and Safeway’s delivery services; as well, we’ll get a Zipcar for Giant runs when necessary. Also, we use our scooters which are so much fun to get around on (and cheaper to purchase/maintain/insure than cars).

  • I’d just like to add my voice the chorus of car-less Petworth residents. I actually moved here with a car but after a year I ditched it. I did the math on what gas +insurance was costing me and realized there was no way it was worth it. None of my friends have cars and I only take cabs to the airport and when I’m drunk (i.e. times when I wouldn’t drive anyway). I do occasionally use Zipcar to go to Baltimore.

  • one of the best life decisions i have made has been to live car-free. biking, public transport, perhaps an occasional taxi or even zip car are all you need to get around the city. and for weekends away, car rentals are really not that expensive. cars are a money pit – insurance, upkeep, gas, parking costs, tickets, you’ll have so much more free time and money without one!

    • free time?
      how does not owning a car free your time?
      i agree with everything else you said, but i find it takes me a really long time to get places in dc if i have to transfer. even with bus aps on my phone, theres a shit ton of waiting around.

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