According to a study conducted by INRIX, Boston is the 14th most congested city in the world, ahead of Istanbul and just behind D.C. Those driving into Boston spend around 60 hours stuck in traffic yearly, with I-93 southbound from Albany Street to Furnace Brook Parkway being the most congested stretch of road. Furthermore, the mounting pressure on an aging mass transit infrastructure means that commuters by train or bus have also seen their travel times increase.
Finding that sweet spot between housing affordability and a reasonable commute time can be complicated, so we set out to compile a list of the 10 most attractive cities for those working in Boston. We’ve compared commuting times, housing costs, schooling and crime rates for several locations in the Greater Boston area. In our methodology, we emphasized the importance of shorter travelling times (40% of the total score) and home affordability (30% of the total).
Under 30-Minute Commutes into Boston From These 10 Towns
For the cities that made our list, commuting times were anywhere between 14 to 39 minutes, with an average of 27 minutes.
Driverless cars and new business models, like ride-sharing are set to add new transit options for commuters. The Boston City Council has recently passed an ordinance regulating dockless electric scooter and other micro-mobility vehicles as a way to ease congestion and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Whatever the impact of these newcomers, growing urban centers still rely on a branching, reliable public transportation infrastructure to offer increased mobility to the region’s labor force. The following map details MBTA Commuter Rail and Rapid Transit line coverage in the top 10 commuter towns in our ranking.
Melrose: A Well-Balanced Mix
Located in Middlesex County, roughly seven miles north of Boston, Melrose achieved the highest score in our ranking, garnering 79 points. With an average 23-minute ride into Boston, the town has the fourth best commute, just behind Belmont’s 20-minute travel time.
Melrose received 12.4 points for its lower than average crime rate among the top 10 cities that made the list. According to a recent study, Melrose is the 20th safest in Massachusetts and the fifth safest in our ranking. The Bay State is in turn among the safest places in the U.S., with violent crime rates 20 points below the national average. Property crime is also 46% lower here than anywhere else in the country, at 13.98 per 1,000 people versus the national average of 27.11.
The town provides not only safety and manageable commute times, but also good schools. Melrose gets 10.4 points for its average 6.7 Greatschools.com rating. Those looking to move to the area will be happy to learn about the educational opportunities open to their children, since a quarter of buyers say this is one of the most important criteria when choosing a new place to live.
The home prices averaged $463,300 between 2013-2017 in Melrose, roughly 39% more affordable than in Belmont, the second highest ranking town in our list. Melrose is part of a group of 15 Boston-area communities committed to building 185,000 new affordable units by 2030 that will meet the growing demand for housing for low and middle-income families.
Medford: Shortest Commute Time
Home to Tufts University, Medford is northwest of Boston and has the shortest commute times in our top 10 towns. Workers can expect an average 14-minute ride into the city, with plenty of options for getting around, from the commuter rail at West Medford, to the Orange Line and the 94, 326 Express and the 95 bus line. The city garnered 73.5 points overall, rendering it the fourth best location for those travelling to Boston for work.
Medford’s housing value for owner-occupied units was $443,100. The upcoming Green Line extension is likely to bolster the city’s attractiveness for commuters and increase demand for housing. Recently, the Medford City Council passed a zoning amendment requiring future residential projects to include a minimum number of affordable units.
Boasting celebrities like former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg and aviation pioneer Amelia Earhart among its former residents, the city’s attractions include twelve parks, two beaches, several horse stables, tennis courts, and an ice-skating rink.
Malden: Lowest Housing Cost
Known as the home of the Converse brand, Malden closes our top 10 with a total score of 68 points. Despite performing more modestly in terms of education and safety, the town has the second-best commute time in our list, with residents taking 19 minutes on average to get to Boston. That’s only five more minutes on top of what those living in Medford spend commuting to work. Approximately 32% of people in Malden use public transportation for their commute, while 52% still rely on their car to get to work.
Although the town is number one in terms of housing costs, with a $359,700 average, and has been at the center of residential real estate development for several years, few of the newly built units are affordable. This issue is further exacerbated by restrictive zoning and a sluggish permit and approval process. For those who manage to make Malden their home, the town offers a variety of Victorian houses, upscale high-rise apartments and single, two and three-family homes.
Belmont: Nationally-Acclaimed Schools
Working parents looking to provide the best schooling environment for their children should consider Belmont. Having the highest school rating of the cities that made our top 10, Belmont has a range of strong elementary schools. According to a recent ranking released by U.S. News & World Report, Belmont is also home to a top-notch high school, rated as one of the Top 100 STEM schools in the U.S.
While the cost of living is steep compared to other entries in this list, with the median housing value around $759,500, it does come with the added benefit of a reasonable 20-minute average commute time. Also known as the Town of Homes, Belmont’s 1920’s and 1930’s condos and houses provide this town with plenty of historic charm. Residents have access to several green and recreational spaces, including Lone Tree Hill’s walking trails and Beaver Brook Reservation’s playgrounds and pool.
We looked at towns located between 5 and 30 miles from Boston. Each town was allocated points based on the following metrics: commuting time, housing value, crime rate and school rating.
Points for commute time, housing cost and crime rate were awarded inversely proportional to their value. Points for school ratings were awarded directly proportional to their value.
Entries could gather a maximum of 100 points, spread across the four metrics as follows: 40 points for commute time, 30 points for housing value, and 15 points each for crime rate and school rating.
The average commute time by car or mass transit was calculated by Google directions. We’ve considered the shortest typical trip time for arriving in Boston between 07:40 – 08:10 on a Monday.
Housing values are based on a 5-year Census estimate (2013-2017) of the median price of owner-occupied housing units.
FBI crime rates indicate the number of violent crimes committed per 100,000 residents. We only included towns that have a violent crime rate lower than the state average of 341 crimes per 100,000 residents.
School ratings were calculated based on the average score by town for schools that had a review on GreatSchools.com by April 2019.
Cities with less than 25,000 residents, based on 2017 Census estimates, were excluded from the list.