Getting Around DC with Kids without a Car


I haven’t owned a car since the Clinton presidency, so it was a very long time ago. Since being car-less, I’ve become adept at using public transit and curating my life in a way that works without a car. My husband was the one who brought his car into the marriage, but I do not consider it mine, as it is a manual stick shift.  Stick-shifts and I aren’t friends. Most of my week does not involve a car. When we do need to go somewhere, I’ve taken our son, on public transit. It is possible to parent car-free, it just takes planning with a good app and choices.

Living Car-Less

Living without a car takes forethought. This is not something to decide to do when living in an area with a poor walk score. When I first moved to the DC area, I looked for places to live that were in walking distance from the metro. I found an apartment close to a grocery store and other places I needed to get to on foot or by public transit. Thankfully, I was also working at a place that was near a subway station. When I wanted to go to grad school, I moved closer to the school and managed to get a student job, in my field, not too far from the university. When I bought our home (I bought when I was single), I picked a place along several bus lines, in walking distance to a metro stop, with other basic amenities and plenty of potentials.

Besides choosing where to live and work without a car, there’s also acceptance of some “missing out”. This is less of an issue for me now that there are Uber and Lyft and short term car rental options, but when I discovered a place wasn’t accessible by transit, I simply put that place out of my mind unless someone was offering a ride back and forth. This is the downside of not having a car. Thankfully, I had friends and family in the area who were happy to drive me to more far-flung locations in the metro area. If I really wanted to travel somewhere where or I’d be staying past the time when the trains closed, I rented something like Zipcar. Even after marrying my personal chauffeur, we still use my car-less method of getting around when driving and parking (especially parking!) would be more of a hassle. 

Now throw a kid into the mix

I have yet to try Uber car-seat. But getting around with Junior hasn’t been too much of a struggle.

It helps to live in a walkable neighborhood with plenty of child-related amenities and a couple of metro train stations. We discovered a growing number of daycares in walking distance of our home. The one Junior attends has been there as long as I can remember. I don’t know if the number of moms or nannies I see walking children has exploded in the neighborhood, or I’m just now noticing because I’m now a mom. The library and the parks have become more child-friendly over the years. In the evening, it is not uncommon to see parents sitting on a neighborhood restaurant’s outdoor patio with a stroller and/or with their child in a highchair. Our pediatrician is about a mile from our house, and neighborhood parents suggested a dentist’s office that is in walking distance of our daycare. We are fortunate that there is plenty for us as parents and our son near or right in our neighborhood. For everything else, there’s the Metro.

When he gets older there are things in walking distance for slightly more independent kids. There are several highly sought after charter schools within a 1 mile radius and his in-boundary school is adequate. There are three playgrounds with big-kid equipment and a pool also within a 1/2 mile radius.

Traveling with Baby via Metro

I try to avoid getting on the crowded rush-hour subway train with Junior but sometimes it is just unavoidable. There are a few things to know when traveling with children in the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) system:

  • Up to 2 children under 5 years old ride free per fee-paying adult.
  • Avoid going down or up the escalators with a stroller, it’s dangerous. Use the elevator. Check the elevator status of your departure and arrival station.
  • If the elevator is out of service, carry your infant in your arms, fold the stroller, and take the escalator.
  • When riding the bus, strollers need to be folded and kept out of the way.

Confession time, we haven’t lead a completely car-less lifestyle. As I mentioned, my husband has a car. We’ve used it for some doctor’s appointments, trips to his church, and trips to my church when it’s raining. I would prefer Junior to stay out of a motor vehicle as much as possible for safety reasons and because he can get car-sick. Right now, we’re trying to get him to walk more and trips to neighborhood amenities provide opportunities to practice walking.

We chose to live in the city, near Downtown, which isn’t particularly car-friendly. We don’t have a private parking space, so there are plenty of times when owning a car is a complete hassle and worry. Living in the city with a small child is possible, but challenging. When the car is unavailable (in the shop or hubby traveling), life goes on. Junior and I get to daycare or the doctor or we go on a trip to the Zoo with no problems, because I know how to make these things possible. It just takes a little planning and forethought and living in an area that makes it possible.