Commuting between NYC and New Haven: where to live and what to expect
December 12, 2011 9:53 AM   Subscribe

There's a possibility that my partner and I might be looking at working in NYC (partner) and New Haven, CT (me). Where can we live that's convenient to the Metro North train line, gives us roughly even commute times, and might also be a halfway decent place for two early-thirty-somethings to live?

It's not a done deal, but there's a chance that I might end up working in New Haven, CT. My partner has a job in Manhattan. (We're currently living in Philadelphia and NYC, respectively.) I have a car, but wouldn't mind selling it--or just using it for short trips to a nearby train station--so I'm interested in hearing about places in CT that would allow us both to commute (probably on Metro North, not the prohibitively-expensive Amtrak).

As far as what we'd need housing-wise: a cat-friendly apartment that's either a spacious one-bedroom or a decent two-bedroom. Good food options would be nice, as would bookstores and movie theaters, but we could also get our culture in NYC or NH if we had to.

So, do you have experience with this? Where do you live and do you like it there? What's your commute time and is it emotionally/mentally/time-management-ally reasonable for you? Would Stamford offer something like this, or should we look elsewhere?
posted by 2or3things to Travel & Transportation (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I know people who have done this commute from South Norwalk (one partner driving into New Haven.) Definitely do-able, but still a pretty long commute for both.
posted by caoimhe at 9:57 AM on December 12, 2011

Do you have a particular budget in mind? A lot of the towns along the Metro-North line are quite expensive (Westport, Darien, Greenwich, etc) so it's good to have a sense of what your budget is.

I do know of people who reverse-commute out to Stamford from NYC, so that's definitely doable. There are a lot of trains that run express between Stamford and NYC; between Stamford and New Haven, if you are taking the train, it will probably make more local stops.
posted by andrewesque at 10:04 AM on December 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

Stamford or Greenwich are your best bets, in that they are approximately equidistant in train times (1 hr to NYC and New Haven) and run often without needing to transfer. With a long commute, I think you want to minimize even easy transfers -- you want to get a seat and then sit there working or sleeping or watching media for a nice, uninterrupted stretch. Most of the other towns in the area would necessitate a transfer for one of you. (Eg the NYC bound person transfers if you live in South Norwalk; the New Haven person transfers if you live in Port Chester.) The other city that meets this no-transfer criteria is Bridgeport, but it's not equidistant (NYC person travels 1.5 hours; New Haven travels .5 hours). Bridgeport is a little rough, though.

Question is, what's your rent budget and can it get you a place near the train station in Stamford or Greenwich? Or can you both ride-share in one car to the station? Both towns have many many restaurants, movie theaters, etc.
posted by xo at 10:30 AM on December 12, 2011

Stamford would offer what you want but is expensive. Have you considered about Port Chester? Some neighborhoods are better than others so look around. Plenty of nice restaurants.
posted by mlis at 10:31 AM on December 12, 2011

either a spacious one-bedroom or a decent two-bedroom. Good food options would be nice, as would bookstores and movie theaters

Stamford is probably the best for these criteria of anywhere along that route. Milford maybe too, but that would be giving the NY person a horribly long commute. (To me, anyway; a lot of people do it and I guess they don't mind too much.) SoNo (or other parts of Norwalk) would also give the NY person a longer commute than the NH person, as would Bridgeport or Fairfield.

I go back to Stamford because it's a city, and seems (to me, and I admittedly have a bias against pretty much all of Ffld County as far as living there goes, and I have long experience in this) the least likely by far to be horrible. There's some diversity, and things to do, and it feels more city-like than any of your other options. Norwalk, for example, is technically a city but will feel oppressively small-town-ish right quick if you're used to NYC and Philadelphia. All the other towns with MetroNorth stops, unless I'm blanking on something obvious, will not have a great selection of apartments (as opposed to houses.) (I'm not even considering Greenwich b/c you used the phrase "prohibitively expensive", and I don't think you're allowed to say that in Greenwich;-)
posted by DestinationUnknown at 10:33 AM on December 12, 2011

PS... also you'll need to factor in how the New Haven person gets to work from the train station. And you may need a car for errands/groceries on weekends.
posted by xo at 10:36 AM on December 12, 2011

Does it have to be equidistant? I mean, if one person has a shorter commute, they could be the one that has dinner ready and does the chores, etc. Do you and your partner both not mind lengthy commutes? Might be easier to live closer to one job. One partner might have the ability to get more work done on the train than the other one does.

Just things to think about. I know a lot of couples who have tried to balance this stuff.
posted by clone boulevard at 11:01 AM on December 12, 2011

One thing you should definitely factor into your budget here is parking at the train station. it can be extremely expensive, not to mention almost impossible to procure. when i lived in stamford there was a multi-year waiting list to get into the public parking garage.

Negative Nancy data point on Stamford:
I also did the Stamford to NYC commute on Metro North. I am definitely a commuting wimp, and the 1.5hrs door-to-door commute time was terrible for me. I also found that I was so sick of the train by friday, that usually not even the most interesting event could lure me into NYC. this is one of the reasons why we moved into the city after less than a year in Stamford.

"Good food" is relative in stamford -- when i lived there (2007-2008), i wasn't very impressed. we found a pretty good Mediterranean place and a good pizza place, but that was about it.

And you'll definitely need to keep your car here -- on the whole, while there is a a small dense-ish downtown, the entire city is not very walkable. We lived a little less than mile from the downtown, and we never once walked there. it's just not a place that invites strolling.

feel free to memail me if you have any other stamford related questions. i disliked it, but i know people who live there happily!
posted by nanhey at 11:11 AM on December 12, 2011

One thing you should definitely factor into your budget here is parking at the train station. it can be extremely expensive, not to mention almost impossible to procure.

This is a really good point, and applies everywhere AFAIK.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 11:20 AM on December 12, 2011

I live in Westport, and like it fine, but I don't believe there are many apartments, or that the few that exist would be very close to the train stations. Westport (and Norwalk) do both have bus systems that include train stations. I think Norwalk's covers more of its area.

A word about Norwalk: There are two train stations. The one with more frequent trains is called 'South Norwalk.' (I'm not really sure what xo means about minimizing transfers; I never transferred when I lived closest to South Norwalk, or when I used the East Norwalk station. Most trains through even the less-trafficked stations, like East Norwalk or my current station, called Green Farms, don't require transfer to or from New York.)

Norwalk itself has legs that go all the way to the floor. The northern parts aren't very close to any train station, although the buses get you around that in many areas of town. I was able to do this. The southern part of it is called South Norwalk, and it's definitely underpriveleged. The South Norwalk train station is kind of on the border between South Norwalk and the more cosmopolitan small downtown section of Norwalk, called SoNo. There are a lot of highly regarded restaurants in SoNo, and a fair number of upscale apartments. (Norwalk itself is much better than a wealthier town like Westport for apartments, especially with all the condos owners have to rent out because they can't sell.) There's the river, and an aquarium, and a movie theater. (Don't remember a bookstore.) You could walk to the train station.

If you drive to the South Norwalk train station, you and your car both will be safe. Buses stop at the train station and then continue on their route through South Norwalk. They stop again not too far from the train station, over in SoNo; you can take a short, safe walk there (past the police station) and catch the bus there, if you end up living further away from the station.

So you can live in Norwalk and catch the train at South Norwalk and be in no real jeopardy at all. Just wanted to make sure you knew there were two "South Norwalks" -- southern Norwalk South Norwalk, and the train station (and a third if you count SoNo) -- and that only one of them would be good to avoid.

South Norwalk trains to Grand Central can take between 54 and 75 minutes; mine runs express from South Norwalk (and gets in to GCT around 8:30), but others make more stops through Greenwich. Looks like the commute to New Haven is about 50 minutes at rush hour.

It took me very little time to adjust to the hour commute to New York. A book if people aren't yakking on their cell phones, an iPod or tablet if they are ... if you don't think about what you would be doing with the two extra hours, the commute doesn't bug you at all.

People are mentioning parking. I think parking is $6 or $7 a day in Norwalk now. Annual permits are available, and much more affordable -- should be some number of hundreds of dollars, but less than a thousand. But there's be a waiting list; it's probably a good year after applying that you'd get yours. The bus is $1.25 each way.

Glad to answer any questions via memail.
posted by troywestfield at 11:27 AM on December 12, 2011

Response by poster: To answer the questions that have come up:

1. No, we don't need to have perfectly equidistant commutes, but it would be nice to strike a balance. (I'm the one who basically has a zero-minute commute at the moment, but I would also feel pretty guilty making my partner spend three hours on the train everyday.)

2. Given what we're paying in rent on our current (separate) apartments, but factoring in both of us commuting, I'd say that the upper end of our budget would be about $2000. (This is just a guess, but it might help future answerers.)

Thanks for all the answers so far! This will be very helpful to us as we're discussing and weighing our options.
posted by 2or3things at 11:46 AM on December 12, 2011

Small point: there is now a free shuttle bus (bright green) from the NHCT train station to the Green. It is a truly remarkable thing.

If you're looking at a New Haven job that is not in the immediate downtown/Yale area, though, things get very hairy very fast. The buses do run, but not as well as they do in NYC or even Boston. Just for example, Stamford ---> New Haven ---> downtown job might be quite sustainable, even for years, but this plus a non-downtown job is something that all but the most hardcore person would quickly come to hate.

I say this as a non-Northerner, so Bostonians will laugh, but the precipitation and sidewalk ice situation in NHCT is much closer to Boston-like than New York-like. In all seriousness, there is some invisible climate line that is crossed.

So just give some thought to the exact geographic location of the New Haven job before going further into this. I think it can work, though. Good luck!
posted by skbw at 3:09 PM on December 12, 2011

It's covered above, but as someone who lived in central CT for years and traveled into the city - the train part of the trip is probably the least part of the equation. People in NYC used to always say 'well you can just take the train right?' Yes, if I got up an extra hour early, and drove to the station, and paid to park (after actually finding a space, praying that cruising the lot doesn't make you miss your train, or getting there crazy early to get a space)... Not saying it can't be done, and tons of people do it, but there are lots of logistics involved.
posted by pupdog at 3:32 PM on December 12, 2011

What if you both share a place in or near New York, and you also rent a small, inexpensive place (either a studio or a room in a larger apartment) in New Haven to sleep in a few nights each week? The commute would be long, but you could choose to do it only two or three times a week.

Otherwise, Norwalk or Stamford would probably be your best option.
posted by bassjump at 4:41 PM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Just noticed your thread here, don't know if you've made any decisions: We lived for 8 years in the northern Stamford area, right off of Hope Street. The Metro North "New Canaan Express" train runs parallel to Hope Street up through Stamford. We lived a few blocks away from the Springdale train station, where the apartments were reasonably priced, and (at least while we lived there) new ones kept being built. Check on Bouton Street east, where there are at least 4 different condo/apartment developments. The Springdale neighborhood is quaint, with its own little movie theater, restaurant district, shopping plazas, grocery stores, and whatnot.
posted by thanotopsis at 9:51 AM on April 29, 2012

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