Sunday, February 19, 2006

Traffic and suburbs

I got some questions from a reader and instead of hiding my reply in the comments section, I thought I'd post it here where it's easier to find.

I found your blog through a travel forum, I think or something. I'm also thinking of moving from Orange County to NC.
I've really enjoyed reading about your experiences. One reason I want to leave So Cal is the horrendous traffic. Do you find a lot of traffic to the bigger cities?
Also, if you have any info on housing prices in the suburbs, that would be great. I need to work in a larger city but I don't really want to live there. But I don't want to live out in the boonies either. Of course this is all relative coming from someone who drives to and works in Los Angeles!
Anyway, hope to hear from you. I'll keep reading and enjoy NC vicariously for now!
Hi Cheryl! Thanks for leaving a comment! Yes, So Cal traffic is really awful. Traffic here in the Triangle is definitely less severe, but it does exist. Capital Blvd. in northeast Raleigh is notoriously bad--it's a very busy street with signals at every block. And if you work in Research Triangle Park (RTP), getting in and out is pretty nightmarish. Of course, I'm not currently working, so I have not really experienced the daily grind of a rush hour.

But on the occasions when I've found myself trying to get somewhere around that time, I have noticed there IS quite a bit of traffic. For instance, I drove to Durham (big city) from my home in Apex (little suburb) for an interview. I left at 8:30 and arrived at 9:15, a 29-mile drive which according to Google should take 34 minutes. There were pockets of congestion but it wasn't that bad. Another day, I drove from Apex to Cary (also a suburb), a six-mile drive supposed to take nine minutes--it took about 25, when I left at 7:30 am. But I had to travel most of the time on a road with construction. There is a TON of construction going on all around right now--they're mostly trying to widen main arteries, which, until completion, makes those main arteries even more clogged. That's the price you pay for growth, though.

One notable difference out here is that the rush hour is very defined. I would say the morning traffic peaks around 7:30 - 8:30, and the evenings are worst from 5:30-6:30. Other than those times, the streets and freeways are light to average. And unlike Los Angeles, if you're driving around after 11 pm, you are likely to be alone (at least in the Cary/Apex area--I cannot speak for Raleigh and Durham proper). It is kind of eerie to see the freeway and streets completely empty and dark.

Speaking of which, darkness has been somewhat of an issue for me; streetlights are virtually nonexistent here. Cary does the best job of lighting their streets, but everywhere the freeways are pitch black. When there are lots of other cars, the combined brightness of headlights is enough. But when you're solo, it's hard to see. Another issue is a lack of street signs. Many are totally unlabeled, or labeled only with teeny tiny signs on one corner of a giant intersection. The first few weeks of trying to find your way around can be frustrating, but having a map handy helps. The best one I found was in a tourist booklet at my hotel. An online version of it is here. And if you have one of those fancy computerized navigation devices in your car, you're golden.

All of that said, not for one minute have I wished I could go back to So Cal traffic conditions.

As for housing prices in the suburbs, you might want to search current listings here. It's one of the better sites because it does not require registration and it lets you specify lots of parameters in addition to price and location, such as age, number of bedrooms, etc. (Note: Late spring into summer will offer a better selection; right now few people are on the move because they want to keep their kids in school.) If you're looking to live in a suburb and commute to the city, there are lots of options--Cary, Apex, Morrisville, Holly Springs, Fuquay-Varina, Garner, Wake Forest, Rolesville, and even Knightdale and Pittsboro. But it's hard to recommend any because it depends on which city you work in. The "Triangle" is really more like a blob, because of sprawl. For instance, Wake Forest is a lovely area, but if you work in Chapel Hill, your commute would be pretty icky (over 40 miles), and Pittsboro might be a better choice. It feels like "the boonies," but it's only about 30 minutes from Chapel Hill.

One thing you should keep in mind is that out here, city limits are pretty far-reaching. For example, there are houses with Raleigh addresses that feel more like the country. If you decide to explore the area further, get in touch with a real estate agent; they will be able to direct you to the neighborhoods that best match your needs. Or, do like I did. Rent an apartment and get a feel for the area yourself before deciding where to buy. You can check out to help pick a good complex.

I hope this helps! Please feel free to ask any more questions as they pop into your head.


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  2. I posted your blog address on citi-data for somebody who was looking for info on moving from California to NC. That may also explain your increase in traffic.

    Can you tell more about the culture in RTP? I've heard it attracts people from all over so it's quite diverse. I know I've heard about Californians relocating there and now New Yorkers who move to Florida but then realize it's not for them so they head half-way back to NC and are call halfbacks. I thought that was interesting. So is it southern, northern or a mix of everybody?


  3. Wow - this information has been SO helpful!! Thank you! I've written down all the burbs you suggested and will be looking into them in more detail. We've also thought about renting out there for a while to really get a feel of the area ... seems like a very reasonable idea. Thanks again!