Raleigh/Durham/Chapel hill opinions.
November 14, 2005 10:36 AM   Subscribe

What do you think of Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill?

I have a programming job interview in Raliegh and would like to know what the Mefiers say about the area. I used to live in Greensboro, and went to college in Asheville, but spent very little time in the Triangle.

I am married, 32, with 2 kids. What's it like culturally? Crime-wise? Schools?

I'd also like the ability to commute by bicycle. What is the transit system like?

posted by toastchee to Society & Culture (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Bike commuting depends on the part of the Triangle you live in. Chapel Hill has decent bike paths and bike lanes, but I don't know as much about Raleigh. Most of the towns have information about their greenways on the web, though some of it is kind of dated. Googling Raleigh greenways should help you.

I think most TTA buses, which connect the cities in the Triangle with each other and RTP, have space for bikes as well. I've ridden TTA buses a few times and found them seldom full. Taking the bus from Chapel Hill to Raleigh takes at least twice as long as driving, although there are new express buses that shorten the time. There's talk of regional rail but it keeps getting pushed back. The archives of the Independent, the area alt-weekly, should tell you more about transit and other aspects of living in the area.
posted by komilnefopa at 10:49 AM on November 14, 2005

Raleigh: Terrible transit system and no respect for cyclists, unless (possibly) if you live close to downtown. Culturally, very suburban and bland unless you live close to downtown (which, even then, is not too interesting). Low-ish crime, decent schools but they're suffering from overcrowding. Get your kids in a magnet school if you can.

Chapel Hill: Free buses, which are decent (most of them run every half hour to every hour on weekdays, every hour and a half on weekends). Very much a college town. Good schools--high property taxes. The housing's quite expensive, but I much prefer it to Raleigh.

I haven't lived in Durham; it has a higher crime rate than Raleigh and some very sketchy areas, but also a more interesting downtown than Raleigh has.
posted by Jeanne at 10:51 AM on November 14, 2005

Public transit there sucks, you'll have to drive, and every moment in a car in the triangle sucks. Build a transporter. Where do you live now?

I used to live in Greensboro too.
posted by corpse at 10:53 AM on November 14, 2005

I can really only speak to living in Raleigh, though I’ve visited Durham and Chapel Hill/Carrboro. Didn’t like Durham at all. Seemed dirty and run down. I liked Chapel Hill and especially like Carrboro. Both are pretty small (though Chapel Hill is spread out, the best parts of it are closer to UNC) though there seems to be lot to recommend it. Good music scene (Cat’s Cradle alone is pretty special), good restaurants (Mama Dips!), decent coffee shops (Caribou, Skylight Exchange). Pretty much a nice little college town.

Raleigh was nice, though it was large and expansive. It seems like a difficult commute if you live anywhere outside the beltline (or outside of downtown, period). I lived just off Hillsboro St. (behind that very unsanitary looking IHOP) and found it relatively easy to get around without a car. I never took the bus, but it looks like pretty much every other PT system in NC. Spotty at best.

Culturally it's pretty varied with a fairly nice selection of restaurants, parks, lakes and museums as well as a couple of nice bars and coffee shops. Cup a Joe on H-boro St. being one of the best IMO. The movie theaters were kind of dated, though there’s a good one near 5-points (NW Glenwood Ave.) that played a lot of independent films. There are also a couple of nice used bookstores in the NC State area as well.

Not sure about the crime. I imagine if you live in the suburbs there would be relatively little crime. Living close to downtown, we had a problem with cops/SWAT/Drug Enforcement constantly being called to some of the rental units down the road from us. We frequently called the cops on the ‘Farmhouse’ Frat that happened to be next door to us.

Ultimately, however, I felt Raleigh was too spread out and did not offer the 'big-city' appeal that, to me, makes city-living worthwhile. But, it does have quite a bit to offer and I know many that really like living there.

I’m 30, married without kids, work in the Greensboro area and live in Thomasville.
posted by lyam at 11:04 AM on November 14, 2005

Clarification on the bus issue.
I live in Durham and work in Raleigh and take the bus to work most days of the week. All TTA buses (the buses that go between the cities) have a 2 bike rack and there is usually a biker on at least one of the legs of my route a couple of days a week. I know other people complain about the TTA but I've never had a single problem with it. Rush hour service is dependable. The midday and the evening buses do on occasion run early/late. It helps that I live and work on a TTA line. My commute takes 15 mins longer by bus in the morning and 20-30 mins longer in the afternoon.
posted by smash at 11:28 AM on November 14, 2005

I left in 2000. Never had kids, but people said decent to good things about the schools in Durham and Chapel Hill, and in northern Chatham County.

Cultural: Do you mean museums and stuff? There's plenty in each town around the universities, and fancy-schmancy music in any of them.

If you really want to bike to work, you'll be living in Raleigh. Which works against the strength of the Triangle -- there's lots of different places to live, each with strongly differing flavors. There's decent urban living in Durham (like around Club and northgate). If you want small-town life, you can move to Pittsboro proper or Mebane. If you want liberal people and good schools, you can move to Chapel Hill / Carrboro (and pay for it). If you want a little spread, you can go to the area between Pittsboro and Chapel Hill, or between Pittsboro and Raleigh. The point being that if you limit yourself to places in biking distance of work, you're really really limiting yourself. I suspect you might find it better to just live somewhere with good biking and drive to work.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:30 AM on November 14, 2005

I went to high school in Chapel Hill, lived in Carrboro, went to college in Raleigh, and now live in Durham. I know the least about Raleigh. I'm 26, married, no kids.

Raleigh - there are a lot of houses and a lot of shopping centers. I won't say downtown Raleigh is totally boring, but for as many people as there are in Wake County, more should be going on there. In general, my experience with Raleigh is that it has a TON more traffic than any other area of the Triangle. The rush hour traffic coming from people living east of RTP is just nightmarish. I avoid it at all costs.

Durham - There are no good roads to travel north and south within Durham, so Durham really consists of three sections: north, downtown, and south. North Durham is what gives Durham its bad reputation. The population is poorer and there tends to be higher-than-average crime there.

Downtown Durham just started to revitalize itself by converting tobacco warehouses into stores and lofts. I expect it to be nice in a few years.

South Durham is where I live and it is pretty convenient to RTP, mainly because you're not in the hellacious Raleigh traffic. A bad day for Durham-bound traffic is a good day for Raleigh-bound traffic. As with any metro area, there is crime. But I don't think it deviates far from what you would find in Raleigh. Raleigh has plenty of bad parts, too.

As for riding your bike, the newer roads in Durham have bike lanes. Sidewalks are hit-and-miss on the older ones. I can't comment on Raleigh. In RTP, I haven't seen many bike lanes, but there usually are sidewalks.

Chapel Hill - A few years back, Chapel Hill was really just a college town. More people have moved there, so the real estate prices are significantly higher because people like the Chapel Hill city school system. Bottom line: If you're working in Raleigh, there's no good reason to live in Chapel Hill.

You have other options to work in Raleigh. There is a lot of new development in North and Northeast Raleigh because I-540 extends all the way around to Capital Blvd now. Most of this seems to be textbook urban sprawl.

Cary - The other option is Cary. People have pretty extreme views about Cary, but I'll try to be somewhat balanced. Cary is for people who want big houses on small lots in pretty little developments with good schools and no major highways in town. If you are a SUV-driving soccer mom who thinks Home Owner Associations are wonderful, just move to Cary and thank me later. If thoughts of HOAs and a utopian lifestyle scare you, then stay the hell away.

The schools can differ quite a bit within a school district, and I haven't kept up with the details. House prices will usually follow individual school rankings, not school districts. Generally, Wake County and Chapel Hill have the best schools in the Area, with south Durham being not so bad.

On preview, I agree with ROU_Xenophobe's suggestion. Biking in Raleigh is going to be difficult. Everyone drives in Raleigh, so you will be fighting a lot of cars. If your business is inside the beltline (Triangle speak for inside I-440), then houses will be very expensive close to your work. There is at least one TTA route that travels through south Durham and would travel against the heavy rush traffic that could probably drop you in Raleigh.

One last comment, if you are into road bicycling, then many serious bikers (I easily see 50 not even looking for them) go out to the country roads NW of Chapel Hill. Think about saving the biking for the weekend...
posted by Sasquatch at 11:49 AM on November 14, 2005

Personally, we left Carrboro just about 2 years ago. Both my wife and I would go back in a hearbeat given the opportunity.

I like both Durham and Raleigh, but for the perks, I'll take Chapel Hill/Carrboro. Especially with kids...the schools systems are consistently among the best in the _country_. Chapel Hill is very expensive, but you can find good deals in the outlying areas if you look, especially on the strip between Chapel Hill and Durham, and the area past Carrboro towards Hillsborough.

The biking and culture in Carrboro is lively and fun. Make sure you visit on a Sunday and go to the Carr Mill Mall and Elmos for brunch. That will tell you all you need to know about the area.
posted by griffey at 11:51 AM on November 14, 2005

I visit Raleigh occasionally for work reasons. The triangle itself seems totally boring. It's a bunch of office parks where every building looks exactly the same. I would go with Chapel Hill, especially if you have kids. Wouldn't you rather have him/her grow up in a college town with some life in it?

From what I saw... forget biking and get a car.
posted by xammerboy at 12:02 PM on November 14, 2005

Here's a good thread on Durham

Having lived in dense cities with great public transportation (London, Boston) and decent public transportation (Pittsburgh) I got to say, it's the single feature of the area I find most lacking. Nothing is really pedestrian friendly, 'cept for the downtown areas, which are pretty isolated. So we spend a lot of time driving between our favorite parts. That said, I can bike to my job. But if I changed, it's unlikely I could. And we're getting light rail eventually.

Culturally, and in nearly every other aspect, I think this is a great place, and I don't want to live anywhere else. This place has tons to offer, particularly with food and music. The beach isn't too far away. Housing is affordable compared to other interesting areas, and job ops are extensive. You know the climate, and there's so many great places to visit nearby. Durham has great city parks. I think its a good place to raise a family.
posted by bendybendy at 1:17 PM on November 14, 2005

I'm with smash; the "suckiness" of the Raleigh transit system is overstated. It's far from perfect, and much less than you'd see in a larger city, but buses have bike racks in front, and once you know the schedule, it's fairly easy to get around Raleigh by bus.

Biking in Raleigh is going to be difficult.

I bike every day to work in Raleigh; it's not "difficult." But there are only a few bike paths on major streets. *shrug* You get used to it. The city is actively working to increase greenways with bike paths, though, and there is a monthly Critical Mass group. I live downtown and work near NC State, both of which are inside the beltline, which helps. There are also plenty of small family homes still available in relatively cheap neighborhoods near downtown. Rest assured you won't find that in Chapel Hill, although as someone mentioned above, most (all?) CH buses are free.

I also know folks who bike to work in RTP from Raleigh. In short, don't believe overly simplistic slams at transit issues here.
posted by mediareport at 2:06 PM on November 14, 2005

I lived in Chapel Hill for 2 years, and quite frankly, it rocks. There is an excelent school system, a great music scene, and a myriad of cultural events b/c of the university. Carrboro in particular is very affordable. I don't know if living in Chapel Hill is an option for you, but I miss it very much.
posted by matkline at 7:00 PM on November 14, 2005

I went to grad school in Durham, many of my classmates were about your age with young children, and they really loved it. Apparently the school system is very good, and Durham/Chapel Hill/Carrboro are all beautiful and fun and surprisingly cultural. I don't know about public transportation, I drove everywhere, but I can tell you that traffic is not an issue. At all. The worst traffic on I-40 is like the best traffic ever on any highway in the northeast. You have no idea.
posted by echo0720 at 12:06 PM on November 15, 2005

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