Atlanta reverse commuting to Lawrenceville, GA
January 26, 2011 6:04 PM   Subscribe

Atlanta Commuting Filter: I'm considering reverse commuting from inside the perimeter to Lawrenceville (GA). We are city people and most of what I've read suggests reverse commuting is very possible to Lawrenceville. Is this a good idea, or am I setting myself up for a life of misery? What neighborhoods should we be looking at? Is life in Gwinnett County actually more awesome than I think?

We are most interested in living in a very walkable neighborhood, houses more than apartments, with lots of stores and restaurants, ideally with access to MARTA for getting to culture, arts, museums, universities, etc. The salary I'm being offered would definitely allow us to live comfortably in the city (but not in a super fancy area). We would plan to rent for the first year at least, with the hope of buying once we figured out exactly what and where we wanted.

From initial exploration and some experience with the city, I am thinking Midtown meets our criteria, and is easily accessible to I-85, which would take me to 316 to Lawrenceville rather quickly and with nothing like the traffic going the other way (Right?). Where else should we look? Poncey Highlands (but how easy would it be to get to 85)? Decatur is awesome and maybe the traffic wouldn't be that bad on 29 to Lawrenceville?

And I am totally open to people saying "Forget reverse commuting, living in Lawrenceville is great!" Right now I just need advice from people with more knowledge than me or random googling.
posted by hydropsyche to Travel & Transportation around Atlanta, GA (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Living in Lawrenceville is not, IMHO, great, especially if you are the kind of person who seriously wants to live in-town. L'ville is THE BURBS. It is way the Burbs.

You said Decatur, and basically, what you've described about where you want to live sounds like Decatur. Midtown is walkable but West Midtown is separated from Midtown proper (There is really no good way to describe this) and while you can walk to stuff in Midtown it's not nearly as walkable as Decatur.

I would not reverse commute, personally, along 85. A friend of mine had a similar commute (Midtown to Norcross) and it was, according to her, murder and misery. It would help to know WHERE in Lawrenceville you are talking about, because there are large areas of unincorporated area in Gwinnett that are part of Lawrenceville.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:13 PM on January 26, 2011

Within Lawrenceville-proper, near the intersection of 316 and Collins Hill Rd (near the intersection with Hwy 20/Buford Dr). For obvious reasons, I'd rather not say my potential employer's name, but you get the idea.
posted by hydropsyche at 6:18 PM on January 26, 2011

I live inside the perimeter -- currently don't have a reverse commute, but had one for a few years. I can't speak to Lawrenceville specifically, but I see three generic issues to be aware of. First, getting back into the city on your p.m. commute home. Lots of people will be headed in the same direction to get to I-285, then once you are inside 285, you are OK again. Second, don't underestimate the surface traffic caused by everyone else living in along the Midtown/Poncey-Highlands/Decatur corridor. I drive through that area between job and home and my 7 mile commute typically takes about 30 minutes door-to-door. Third, if you opt for Midtown or Poncey-Highlands, where you would take I-85 down to 10th, North Avenue, or Freedom Parkway, you should be prepared for slow traffic again. The connector -- where I-75, I-85, and I-20 connect -- is frequently stop-and-go and there is always a wreck or two to spice things up.

I think a reverse commute is reasonable, but would suggest "trying it out" if there is any way you can do that before committing to a one year lease. A traffic engineering friend told me once that because Atlanta was historically a railroad city, roads tended to follow the train tracks, so instead of having a nice, reasonable grid of streets, our streets resemble a starburst, with everything radiating out. From a commute perspective, it means that people living one mile a part going to the same place can have pretty different commuting experiences. If you'd like some specific commentary on in-town neighborhoods or questions on likely commuting routes, shoot me a me-mail and I would be happy to get into more specifics. Welcome to Atlanta!
posted by kovacs at 6:37 PM on January 26, 2011

You may want to consider the Brookhaven / Ashford Park area, too. It has many of the amenities you mention: MARTA access, universities (Emory is close by plus Oglethorpe and a Georgia State satellite campus), houses more than apartments and some good restaurants along Dresden Drive.

Brookhaven is north of the 75/85 connector on I-85 so you could avoid the gridlock associated with Midtown (75/85) or Decatur (285N to 85N going to L'ville).

Another option would be Athens, GA. It meets all of your criteria for being walkable, a great university and music scene, plus a lot of independent shops and restaurants. It's on 316 and you would have a longer commute than Atlanta, but it would likely be light on the traffic heading into Lawrenceville.
posted by Andy's Gross Wart at 6:52 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

From a quality of life standpoint, Decatur is going to be WAY better than Lawrenceville. I'd live there if I ever moved back because it's walkable with lots of restaurants, bars and entertainment.

How much of a commute would be a deal-breaker for you? I think your worst case scenario (barring a really bad accident) is a 45 minute commute and it could well be less. I agree with kovacs that you should go visit and test the commute out. Timing is everything because leaving your house 15 minutes earlier or later can easily add 30+ minutes to your travel time. My daily 17 mile commute (Decatur to Norcross) on I-285 could take me 20 minutes or 1-1/2 hours depending on the time of day and how many accidents there were.

Finally, one route to consider (if you choose Decatur) is taking Lawrenceville Hwy to outside the perimeter (285) before you get on 85. Maybe someone else can weigh in on this since I don't have personal experience with this route. I say it mainly because avoiding Spaghetti Junction (85 & 285) at rush hour was always good advice when I lived there.
posted by victoriab at 7:13 PM on January 26, 2011

Here's a map I generated for you using, a tool you may be familiar with already. Click here to see it: On this map the green area (which extends East as far as Winder and North as far as Gainesville), represents all areas within "37 minutes" of the intersection of 316 and Collins Hill. It's a very generous 37 minutes though, and would wager that a real commute time would likely be 2-3x that on the edges of that area. The multicolored area is the "Walk Score" overlay. The closer to Green the multicolored area is, the more walking friendly it supposedly is. The overlapping area might be places to look. I'd be inclined to ignore the 400 corridor section of this map and focus more on the Decatur, Druid Hills, East Lake, and Kirkwood areas.

I live near Zoo Atlanta and commute to Buckhead everyday (near Phipps) and would say that kovacs' warnings about the PM commute back to town, especially WRT the connector, are spot on. My commute regularly takes 90+ minutes on Friday afternoons if I do not leave the office before 5pm. I actually turned down a job offer in Lawrenceville (even closer to Atlanta than the area you mentioned) because of the commute.

I also think Midieval Maven is on point as well. Don't believe the water towers, Gwinnett is not "Great." The thought of a midtown to norcross commute makes me hurt inside in ways that not even WABE could soothe.

If you don't have the chance to actually try it out as kovacs suggested, try logging onto around quittin' time and see what you're up against over a period of a few days. Double any delays they report.

Finally, I just want to say, it IS worth it to live in town. Absolutely. Especially if you are new to town. Look for a train station on the east line, find a place within a half mile of it. Meet your neighbors and try not to think about driving home.
posted by goHermGO at 7:16 PM on January 26, 2011

It's been about two years since I left ATL, and things may have changed in that time, but here's my take.  I've lived all around the city - never south of I20 - and I reverse-commuted for a while from Decatur to Duluth.  It's doable, but any time you're on 285 will be bad a time.  That being said, I loved my years in Candler Park/Lake Claire.  It's a great walking neighborhood, close to MARTA, shopping or dining in Decatur, and not too far from the connector.  All said, I would not recommend *living* in Decatur.  I can't explain it, but there's just something about that place...  It gave me the creeps.  The Poncey-Highlands area is OK, but maybe a little over-rated.  East Atlanta was where all the action was moving when I was there...  Good luck!
posted by serf4luv at 7:30 PM on January 26, 2011

Andy's Gross Wart makes a good point. Brookhaven is nice and has good interstate access as well as a MARTA train station. The commute will not be great but I think it is very, very worth it to live in town. Podcasts, audio books, and Sirius XM can be your commuting pals. No offense to my friends and family in Gwinnett, but it is VERY suburban in feel and I could not live there again.
posted by pointystick at 7:30 PM on January 26, 2011

I used to reverse commute (midtown to Norcross). It was about 22 minutes each way. Then I decided it would be better to move closer to work, and although the mileage is much shorter, I spend 40 minutes or so each way because of the surface street traffic.

I was also much happier living intown than I am OTP. In addition to general suburban boredom and isolation, Gwinnett County is not doing well: property values are falling faster here, crime is up, and one business after another is closing down. I don't think things are quite as bad intown, though neighborhoods vary both inside and outside the perimeter.

If you can work different hours than strictly 9-5, you might have even more success with your commute.
posted by faustessa at 7:53 PM on January 26, 2011

goHermGO - the water towers have been taken down. Gwinnett admits that they're not great.
posted by faustessa at 7:55 PM on January 26, 2011 [3 favorites]

Pretty much agreed with all of the above. Another advantage to Brookhaven and environs is that you could avoid Spaghetti Junction by sneaking up New Peachtree to Pleasantdale and getting on the expressway there. A friend from Columbus disparagingly called it "The Atlanta Game", but it pays to know your backways.

In my opinion they should have changed it to "Gwinnett is Great Full" 15 years ago.
posted by ob1quixote at 8:23 PM on January 26, 2011

One thing to be careful about with Midtown locations is how you get to I-85. It may seem close and fine, but then you find that during morning rush hour Oh My God everyone in the neighborhood is trying to get to the same damn onramp as me ... There a big difference between living on West Peachtree and living on Monroe.

I don't see it above ... you should definitely take a long look at 30307: Inman Park, Candler Park and Lake Claire (and a little bit of Druid Hills, but that's way pricey). Fantastic MARTA access. I used to reverse commute to Duluth and it's just fine -- you zip out Ponce and Scott Blvd to I-285 to I-85; I-285 is crappy but that only lasts a few minutes. The whole thing was a reliable 35 minutes from eastern 30307 to southern Duluth.

We have lived here in 30307 for 14 years and love it. In fact, we're back on the market for a new house and looking only in this same area. Alas, the inventory is limited.

If 30307 is too pricey, look at the parallel neighborhoods just south of the tracks -- Edgewood, Kirkwood and Oakhurst.

On preview: awesome, serf4luv also endorsed 30307.

Regarding East Atlanta, watch out. It was indeed totally cool and trendy 4 years ago, but then the housing collapse happened and it has been somewhat overrun by crime. That was the situation about a year ago, and maybe it's better now but tread carefully there. And anyway, it's got poor MARTA access and terrible routing to I-85 -- you double your penalty time on I-285.
posted by intermod at 8:58 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, Midtown is a geographic label that covers some of what you want and a lot of not-quite. Were I in your shoes, I'd focus on Brookhaven and Decatur (and then choose Decatur because, jeez, I am there at least three times a week to eat anyway).

Also, if you have kids, please be aware that Atlanta Public Schools are now on accreditation probation.
posted by catlet at 10:35 PM on January 26, 2011

The into and out-of decatur rush-hour commute can be absolutely brutal if traffic conditions are not perfect. Examples of "not perfect" include, but are not limited to: any sort of moisture reaching the ground from the clouds and two drivers have attempting to occupy the same physical space at the same time anywhere in the northwest quadrant of Atlanta.

Minor hyperbole, but 45 minutes as a worst-case is seriously underestimating the situation from Decatur to OTP. Hell, even in ideal conditions Google puts the drive at just under 40 minutes (and that's a pretty reasonable average-case estimate).

I wouldn't be at all surprised if your door-to-door time was more than an hour on a frequent and regular basis from Decatur to Lawrenceville.
posted by toomuchpete at 11:28 PM on January 26, 2011

Another option would be Athens, GA. It meets all of your criteria for being walkable, a great university and music scene, plus a lot of independent shops and restaurants. It's on 316 and you would have a longer commute than Atlanta, but it would likely be light on the traffic heading into Lawrenceville.

I would give this serious thought - Athens is really quite nice, and Atlanta is still pretty easily accessible on the weekends if you want to go to the High, Emory campus, theater, etc.

When I lived there I had a friend who did the reverse commute from Lawrenceville to Athens (he hated Lawrenceville, btw, truly just a boring suburb). Generally it took him slightly under an hour each way, and the traffic never gets too bad.
posted by dd42 at 11:33 PM on January 26, 2011

I can't thank y'all enough for all the great answers so far. I was pretty terrified that this was not at all workable, but there are so many good possibilities here and stories from people who've done it.

We actually lived in Athens 2001-2004 and liked it a lot. I had not seriously considered moving back, but it is something to think about. At the time, I was doing research in Atlanta and spent a lot of time in Medlock Park, so I know the 30307 a little and think it's very nice.

I'm going to let this percolate some more in my brain, and I'd love to hear more ideas and experiences.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:31 AM on January 27, 2011

RE: East Atlanta above - whether or not it's overrun with crime is pretty relative to where you are living. Like Kirkwood, it's a little street-by-street, neighborhood-by-'hood, so if you have good neighbors and people are paying attention (sort of neighborhood watch kind of mentality) you are pretty much okay. In general though, you know, don't put your gigantic flat-screen TV in view of the front windows, curtains are a good first defense against getting robbed, etc.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:05 AM on January 27, 2011

I used to reverse commute from Druid Hills to Norcross (shorter than what you are considering) and the thing that helped me the most was that I was pretty much a straight shot on 85. Decatur is a cool place but it is expensive, and the traffic in/out can get nuts pretty easily in my experience.

Depending on where things are, you may actually have a better commute experience skipping 285 altogether and taking one of the roads that goes straight down from L'Ville to the Eastern suburbs. My husband used to have to go from Norcross to a post-work meeting in Conyers fairly regularly and he preferred to use Covington Highway. Like people have said, though, in ATL the commute changes a lot on relatively small shifts- a few miles one way or ther other or 15 minutes difference in time of departure can seriously affect your drive by 30 minutes to an hour.

Walkability is not really one of Atlanta's strengths, as a whole, and unfortunately most walkable places are also on the pricey side in my experience. But I'm sure there are pockets here and there.

I would say that taking a short lease and trying it out is a great idea if it's workable for you.

(Also, I don't think Gwinnett is as bad as all that. But then, I am old enough that the coolness of living in the city is pretty much outweighed by the convenience of being able to afford my property taxes and not having to pay for parking everywhere. I'm not so much a city person as a city-adjacent person.)
posted by oblique red at 3:24 PM on January 27, 2011

Just wanted to pipe back in to say that we found a place in Decatur (on the eastern side close to Avondale Estates but still in the walkable to everything area) and will be moving at the end of May. We checked out Kirkwood, Edgewood, Oakhurst, and Candler Park, but ended up liking this house the best. Thanks to all of you for your advice--it was so helpful as we figured out where to look.

Hope to see some of you at a meetup soon!
posted by hydropsyche at 5:46 PM on April 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

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