In the comments of this Kuff post, Robert Nagle actually beats me to the punch in answering the central question. Yes, you can live quite comfortably in Houston without a car. As long as you base where you live as a function of that and are comfortable with all the other accoutrements of your daily routine being dictated by a mostly generous METRO bus schedule.
As suggested by Robert, I choose to live in an area where there are four different routes that intersect my neighborhood. Rush hour options for getting to work downtown have never been an issue for me. I generally have had the luxury of picking the one route that is a) closest to the start of the route to ensure good seating; and b) among the faster options for getting downtown. Since I’ve been stationed elsewhere for the recent political unpleasantness known as Election 2012, I’m limited to one and a half routes, with the “half” being the 402 Bellaire Quickline that drops off at Campaign HQ, but not at home. It’s a half option for me if I choose to stop for breakfast in the AM or make a grocery run in the PM. I just basically transfer from another bus to the 402 in the morning or hop on the 402 to the store and take another bus from there to home (or just walk from the store).
Caveats are everywhere with this, of course. I basically walk half a mile to and from the bus stop. Right about this time of year, that’s more than a little discomforting. And there are rain days that either make the situation modestly discomforting, brutal beyond despair, or worth calling in to inform the boss that my street is flooded. My local retail options are a mile away and I’m about as likely to walk that as I am to take another bus for it. Dining options are either a fairly expensive Pappa’s BBQ within way-too-easy walking distance or cheaper fare in extended walking distance. Weekend runs to church have been either very or fairly bus-friendly regardless of which church I’ve attended in recent years. And making a big monthly run at the grocery store often has me breaking down to pay a few bucks in cab fare for some lucky cabby camped out in the Fiesta parking lot.
Both Greg and Robert are completely car-free, so their concerns are broader than mine. Personally, if I were planning to ditch my autos, I’d look for someplace either in Midtown or the Museum District/Third Ward area, both of which contain plenty of housing options and other amenities near the Main Street line. Tiffany and I have actually talked about doing something like that after the kids are grown and gone. I hope there will be more such options by then, but there are some good ones now.
There’s one more factor to consider that can increase one’s range of options and that’s a bicycle, with which you can live farther away from your transit stop. The number of people biking to the bus stop has been steadily increasing; I know I’ve been regularly seeing bikes on the buses’ racks lately. I talked about biking as part of a transit commute in my initial post, that starting in 2014 I could ride from the Quitman station on the North Line to my office if I could get there easily enough after dropping off the kids at school. If I can ride my bike there after parking my car near school, it would be a snap. Unfortunately, the guidelines for bringing a bike on a Metro train make that completely impractical now. Given how crowded the trains are (*) during rush hour, the only way this is going to change is if Metro starts running more trains during the busy times. I have no idea what if any plans Metro may have about this, so let me address these words to anyone with Metro now reading this: Please make it a goal to allow bikes on trains during all hours. I’d really appreciate it, and I promise I’d take advantage of it. Thanks.
(*) Yes, I said “crowded”. Frankly, I’ve never been on an empty train, but during peak hours it’s not just standing room only, it’s packed cheek to jowl. I feel like the people who denigrate and dismiss rail in Houston must never actually use the service, because I don’t know how you can see it as anything other than useful and heavily used if you had ever ridden on it. Par for the course with some of these guys, I guess.