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Published on 09/13/2000

Christopher John asks:
Yo, just moved to the Greater Boston area recently. Waltham. west of Watertown, west of Cambridge, inside I95. I have to decide in the next few hours whether to A. Sign a lease for an apartment that is fairly nice, but way too big. or B. Tell the guy no, get all my meager belongings and move into a friends house for a few weeks while the two of us look for an apartment closer to the T. The drawback being a commute back to Waltham everyday. And giving up a nice big apartment for an unknown, probably small, equally expensive site.

Ok, there are some thoughts and questions for you here. First, with some questions to think about as you read the rest of this. Do you want to live alone or with someone else? Do you mind a morning and evening commute that will probably suck? Do you have much of a social life? Do you want one? Do you have a car (I assume yes)? Do you want to use it a lot? Do you want to have to go into the city to "go out" or do you want to have to leave the city to go to work?

That's the lead-in. Now for my opinions. And keep in mind, I don't know you, your situation, or your lifestyle. Heck, I don't even know how old you are, but I can guess that you're in you're early 20s.

I currently live in Allston, which is about 20-30 minutes outside of downtown by T. It is definitely still part of the city, though a bit more residential and less densely populated that the city itself. There is not much to do around here other than go to bars, thogh there is a nice bookstore in Brookline, which is about a fifteen minute walk from me, due south. I live right across the street from the T, and right down the block from the bus. The bus if far less reliable than the T and runs less frequently, but if I want to get into Cambridge, it's often faster to take the bus as the T has a radial sort of setup that requires me to go all the way into Boston, just to head directly out again.

I live alone, and it's nice now that I'm working from home a lot, but it means that if I want to go out and meet people I have to motivate myself to do so, and I don't have anyone else around to talk to, hang out with, or just have the notion that there is more life in the apartment. This is a definite consideration.

I don't have a car, so I am reliant on public transportation. From where you are talking, it sounds like you are refering more to the commuter rail than the T (and I will use "T" to refer to the subway and trolley system). I know that my friend who lives out in Concord often drives to Alewife and then takes the Red line in to Harvard Square or all the way into Boston. I also know that a friend of mine who lives in Belmont, which is just west of Cambridge and which does not have T service, only bus service, drives more than he takes the bus when he wants to get into Boston or Cambridge.

A note: A quick look at the MBTA maps (mbta.com) shows that there is a bus that goes from Waltham into the city, as well as the commuter rail.

I consulted with Brian Fisk an expert in the field of Boston transportation, who noted that "the commute outbound on major highways is not actually a big problem in the morning. Route 128 can be, as can be going cross-city (i.e. Somerville to Waltham) but the highways are not often jammed in the off-peak direction." He also points out that "commuter rail is the opposite of bus service. Relatively speaking, it is very reliable and fairly pleasant to ride."

I am originally from New York and lived in the city before I moved up to Boston. I like cities and I like having people around. Allston is even a bit too quiet for me and I like being able to just hop on the T and be in Boston, to wander down the Charles River or to walk around the city. If I was not near public transportation I don't know that I would ever leave the apartment. I leave so seldom as it is.

Now, this isn't to say that there's nothing to do out in Waltham. In fact, I don't know Waltham at all. So, it is entirely possible that you could find everything you could ever want or need there and be happy. However, if you know that you will want to be going into Boston a lot, or if you want more of that city mindset, then I would seriously consider moving in closer and dealing with the commute. While Waltham is a city in its own right, it is a city in the suburbs of Boston. People live in (and immediately surrounding) cities for a reason. Those reasons do not include low rent, abundant parking, and backyards. Consider how you want to interact with your surroundings before choosing where to live.

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