8 Tips for Car-Free Living in Princeton

After living car-free for a year in Princeton, I’m glad we chose to skip the morning traffic

J. Nathan Matias
6 min readSep 11, 2018


Is it possible to live car-free in Princeton?

Last year when the two of us moved to Princeton from Boston for my post-doc, I had already lived for eleven years without a car. In Cambridge UK, I could bicycle to work and walk across a cow pasture to the nearby shopping center. In Boston, the MBTA placed endless opportunities within a short ride.

Since Princeton is set among the farms and hills of Central New Jersey, it might seem essential to keep and maintain a car. But after living car-free for a year in Princeton, I’m glad we chose to skip the morning traffic.

As an all-year bicycle commuter, I use a bicycle trailer to get groceries

1. Getting Around

How do I get around? While Princeton is a very walkable town with several great bus routes (university, public), I am an all-year bicycle commuter.

For the widest range of riding options, I ride a cyclocross bicycle, which combines the advantages of a road-style frame with good brakes and knobby tires. Princeton itself has several new and used bicycle shops. My partner and I are the same height and share an entry level Jamis cross bike and a Raleigh touring bike .

If you do ride in the area, the Princeton Free Wheelers (on Facebook) have been a helpful source of advice. If you need to make repairs, the Princeton University Cyclab is open to community members and university students alike. The town also has two good bicycle shops. Bicycling and walking have an added advantage for Princeton University staff: the university offers a $400 annual subsidy for anyone who bikes or walks to work.

What’s the traffic like? Nassau Street / Route 27 tends to be busy, but beyond that, Princeton’s streets are mostly quiet. In a typical bicycle ride to the Princeton Shopping Center, I see more trees than cars.

Sometimes you do need a car, whether it’s to visit the big box stores, get to the train station on time, or see a medical specialist. Lyft operates in the Princeton area; you might want to schedule your ride since wait times can sometimes be 10–15 minutes. ZipCar also has a few cars in the area.

Princeton University students and staff can sign up for the Enterprise CarShare program and use an app to access one of a dozen vehicles. CarShare is especially efficient on long road trips. Since Enterprise pays for fuel, renting the car can sometimes cost close to the amount otherwise spent on gas.

Enterprise CarShare locations in Princeton, as of September 2018

2. Getting Supplies

Moving to Princeton from a small room in Boston, we were excited to have a substantial kitchen. To start cooking regularly, we needed a reliable source of groceries. While some of our neighbors use Freshdirect and Amazon Fresh, we prefer the variety and social experience of local shopping.

With a bicycle trailer, we can haul a week’s groceries for two people in one trip. We especially love our Burley Travoy, which doubles as a shopping cart– ensuring that we only buy as much as fits in the trailer. By adding the Burley hitch to both bicycles and getting the optional waterproof cover, we can share the work of shopping in any weather.

Shopping for groceries at McCaffrey’s

We tend to get groceries from four places: McCaffrey’s in the Princeton Shopping Center, the Whole Earth Center on Nassau Street, and the amazing shops Lupita Groceries and La Mexicana.

As a Guatemalan-American, I am basically living my best life with these these two latino grocery stores so close by, since they offer a great, affordable range of fresh vegetables, herbs, rice, baked goods, tinned staples (sauces, beans), and special treats like pan dulce, queso blanco, and my favorite — thick and moist Guatemalan tortillas.

The Princeton Farmer’s Market also provides fresh food from local farmers on a weekly basis.

Our other key sources of supplies are:

  • The Ace Hardware at the Princeton Shopping Center
  • CVS on Nassau Street
  • Office Supplies:
  • Hinkson’s Office Supplies
  • Princeton University Store
  • Amazon Prime
  • Maybe 3–4 times a year, we drive out to the big box stores at Canal Pointe for special deals or more unique items

3. Staying Healthy

While Princeton has general practitioners and dentists in town, you may need to drive to see specialists. On-demand car sharing systems have met our healthcare travel needs when combined with Teladoc for small things, but before you decide to go car-free, check the location of your preferred healthcare providers and assess the cost of regular visits.

before you decide to go car-free, check the location of your preferred healthcare providers and make a personal assessment of the cost of regular visits

4. Traveling Outside Princeton

When you need to travel beyond Princeton, the Princeton Branch (“Dinky”) can take you to Princeton Junction, where you can take the NJ Transit to Trenton, Philadelphia, Newark, and New York City. As an academic who travels frequently, I’ve gotten used to taking the train to Newark Airport for international and national flights.

5. Surviving the Elements

Because Princeton has every kind of weather, going car-free means being prepared to travel in rain, hail, and snow at all times of the year. While many bloggers have written in greater detail about all-weather bicycling, here are a few tips we’ve learned.

We’ve kept warm and dry with clothing that’s designed to be layered with other clothing. For example, the Patagonia Torrentshell jacket works well as a year-round waterproof outer layer if it’s paired with fleeces or sweaters underneath in the winter. The jacket rolls up into a corner of my backpack alongside my Showers Pass Transit waterproof trousers. I wear waterproof shoes year-round, which simplifies my footwear decisions.

If you’re not used to climates with cold, dark winters, I think you’ll enjoy Matt Stempeck’s New England Winter Survival Tips. Some of our favorite cozy spots during the winter include the Princeton Public Library and Halo Pub, which is open late and has WIFI.

6. Community Life and Entertainment

It takes time to build community; you’ll get there! For us, we’ve been finding local community in walking distance at Nassau Christian Center (see Churches in Princeton, New Jersey on Wikipedia). We’ve also enjoyed folk concerts at the Arts Council, readings at the Princeton Public Library, and a range of Princeton University arts events. The Princeton Family YMCA seems to have a good range of athletic and exercise opportunities.

7. Places to Read and Write

We do a lot of reading and writing year-round. With a bicycle, you have plenty of range to explore. In town, Princeton has many coffeeshops, including the cafe in the public library, Small World, and Rojo’s roastery. A hidden gem to consider is is the Princeton seminary library cafe–one of the least expensive places in Princeton to read, write, and enjoy a coffee.

Whatever your age, do visit the Princeton University Children’s library at least once. It’s magical!

8. Recreation

Princeton has many great public parks, including a water splash playground at the corner of Lytle St and John St. The fountain at the Woodrow Wilson School is also a popular place for kids to splash (more ideas at PrincetonKids). The Princeton Garden Theatre shows a mix of blockbusters, documentaries, and indie cinema. The Herrontown Woods and Institute Woods offer places to walk within bicycling distance. Terhune Orchards is a great farm store, winery, and gathering place where you can enjoy fresh food (pick it if you like!) and relax with live music events.

This summer, we’ve been bicycling out to Lake Carnegie to sail the Pearson Bonito we restored. So far, we’ve been able to pull the boat via bicycle trailer as needed. And if you don’t have a sailboat handy, you can always rent a kayak or walk along the trail that follows the lake’s southern bank.

I hope these tips help you settle in Princeton and enjoy the wide range of opportunities this beautiful town offers. And if you see us sailing, do wave hello!



J. Nathan Matias

Citizen social science to improve digital life & hold tech accountable. Assistant Prof, Cornell. citizensandtech.org Prev: Princeton, MIT. Guatemalan-American