Where to Live, and How to Get to Work From There

Friday, April 7, 2006

Arlington (Ballston-Rosslyn corridor): The neighborhoods along Arlington's Orange Line corridor seem to give the best of both worlds, whether you own a car or not. Between the region's two largest employment centers (downtown Washington and Tysons Corner), the corridor is bookended by the Rosslyn and Ballston stations and includes Clarendon. The Orange Line may be convenient to downtown Washington, but getting to offices in Maryland can mean a Metrorail commute of more than an hour via a transfer to the Red Line. And while a reverse highway commute to the Virginia suburbs outside the Beltway may sound ideal, outbound traffic on Interstate 66 and the Dulles Toll Road in the morning can be worse than you might think. And Metrobus's Route 38B serves the entire Orange Line corridor in Arlington, with direct service to Georgetown and K Street in the District.

Bethesda-Grosvenor-Rockville: The neighborhoods in the Red Line corridor between the Bethesda and Rockville stations offer many housing options. A commute via public transportation to downtown Washington is 35 minutes to an hour, or much worse with significant Red Line delays. Transferring to the Blue and Orange lines to Capitol Hill or Arlington can mean commutes of more than an hour. But if you live in this area of Montgomery County and decide to drive to an office in Virginia, be prepared for regularly congested traffic on the Capital Beltway.

Capitol Hill: The neighborhood is loved for its quieter atmosphere that's relatively convenient to downtown Washington. More amenities -- and sometimes cheaper rent -- are coming to the Hill, and its main street, Barracks Row, is an increasingly popular destination. Street parking is somewhat easier than in more popular urban neighborhoods. The Orange and Blue lines offer a 10- to 20-minute commute to downtown Washington, but only from the Southeast quadrant. Those in the Northeast quadrant of the Hill have no Metrorail lines in the neighborhood, but Union Station, on the Red Line, is within a 20-minute walk of most areas. Metrobus's D6 crosstown route runs into the heart of downtown Washington from the Hill. Drivers heading to Virginia might encounter a clogged reverse commute. Traffic on Interstate 395 and the 14th Street Bridge, especially in the afternoon heading into the District, can be particularly maddening. Commutes to Montgomery County can be frustratingly long, but driving to Prince George's County can be relatively calm.

College Park-Hyattsville: The area along the Green Line to the north and east of the District might offer some surprises: cheaper rent and, sometimes, better access to the District. While these inner suburbs are accessible on the Green Line, not having a car may be a burden since development is less concentrated. Driving to Silver Spring is generally a breeze, but any trip on the Beltway to Rockville or Northern Virginia could be highlighted by bumper-to-bumper traffic. But for commuters bound for downtown Washington, the Green Line trip is generally easy, less crowded and quick -- in some cases, about 30 minutes.

Columbia Heights-U Street-Shaw-Mount Pleasant: The neighborhoods off the Green Line in the District are some of the most sought-after in the city. Commutes to downtown Washington can be some of the most ideal in terms of length (10-25 minutes), and these neighborhoods are also walkable (within 30 minutes) to most of downtown Washington. While the Green Line can offer quick service to Gallery Place and L'Enfant Plaza, offices in the Golden Triangle or McPherson Square are sometimes better accessed via Metrobus, although mainline bus routes here can be crowded. Parking can be tough in these neighborhoods, and while driving to Virginia can be rough during rush hour, heading north to Silver Spring is an easier proposition.

Glover Park: Often overshadowed by Georgetown to its south, the Whole Foods and quiet streets with attractive rowhouses and garden apartments (with somewhat cheaper rent) make Glover Park increasingly popular. If you're a driver, narrow, congested streets can make street parking nerve-racking, but commutes to Bethesda and Arlington are fairly easy. Driving to Tysons Corner and beyond might seem easy on a map, but the reversible one-way flow on Canal Road and backups crossing the Potomac can be frustrating. But if you're depending on public transportation, get ready to make Metrobus your best friend. The Route D1 runs into the heart of downtown Washington, but only during rush hour. The Route D2 bus runs to Dupont Circle. The Route 30/32/34/35/36 buses connect to Friendship Heights and downtown Washington but are notoriously crowded, slow and off-schedule. Expect at least 30 minutes.

Shirlington-Fairlington-Columbia Pike: If you have a car, between Alexandria and Arlington can be a good place to live. Not only can you drive into downtown Washington somewhat easily via I-395 and the 14th Street Bridge, Metrobus tailored to commuters is usually nearby. Many Metrobus routes feed into the Pentagon Transit Center and the Pentagon Metrorail station. Getting to Maryland is generally tough. Driving to Tysons Corner and beyond can present chokepoints at Baileys Crossroads and Seven Corners, but driving to Arlington's Orange Line corridor should take only about 15 to 20 minutes.

Silver Spring: Cheaper rent and new shopping and entertainment make Silver Spring an attractive residential area, especially if you work there too. With numerous bus lines feeding into its Red Line station, commutes to downtown Washington can be 25 to 40 minutes. Add 30 minutes or more if you have to connect to another train to Virginia. While bus lines to connect the Silver Spring Transit Center to Bethesda, driving can be fairly simple, as long as you stay off the Capital Beltway. That makes getting to Virginia generally tough, unless you don't mind bumper-to-bumper traffic or have mastered the back roads through Rock Creek Park and Upper Northwest Washington.

-- Michael Grass Local Editor, Express

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