Better in reverse

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September 27, 2004 // UPDATED 4:09 pm - April 25, 2007
By: Sarah McKenzie
Sarah McKenzie

Not everyone moves Downtown to be close to his or her job. Many find reverse-commuting to suburban jobs is also quick and convenient.

The headlights on Joan Lerdal's car point in the opposite direction of most highway drivers'.

Instead of making a lengthy morning trek from the suburbs to Downtown for her job, Lerdal avoids the traffic snarls by reverse-commuting from her North Loop apartment to Minnetonka's East Middle School, where she is a speech and language clinician.

The journey from Minnetonka to Downtown could easily take 45 minutes or longer during rush hour, but Lerdal's 15-minute commute is a relative breeze.

The same is true for Lerdal's neighbor Robert McNae, managing director of a Wayzata manufacturing company. McNae lives in the Rock Island Lofts, 111 4th Ave. N., with his wife and baby.

He makes his a.m. commute on a wide-open stretch of westbound Interstate-394 that is the envy of conventional commuters backed up on lanes heading Downtown.

Said McNae, "Because I reverse-commute, it's really easy for me to get on to 394 and get to work. It takes 10 or 15 minutes. I come out of my garage, I turn left, turn right and I'm on the highway. It's easy."

Conventional wisdom is that suburbanites migrate Downtown to be closer to their jobs, fueling the local condo boom. However, many live Downtown and work in the suburbs, experts say.

John Beal, a Coldwell Banker Burnet real estate broker who markets the Bookman Lofts, a 57-unit, five-story condo conversion at 525 N. 3rd St., said several Bookman residents commute to other cities for work.

The reason, Beal said, is not proximity to a job; Downtown's lure has less to do with the workplace than with being close to sports venues, theaters and music clubs.

"They want the Downtown experience, and they're not getting it [in the suburbs]. I think what drives the Downtown housing has less to do with the commuting and a lot do with the fun of living Downtown," Beal said. "You can walk everywhere. There's a pace -- an energy. There's a variety of people and things."

Fritz Kroll, an Edina Realty agent with who focuses on Downtown properties, puts newcomers into two categories.

"Many Downtown buyers are young professionals who live Downtown regardless of where their jobs are," said Kroll, who moved to North Loop from Uptown two years ago. "I think more empty nesters are bothered by the commute and move Downtown because their job is Downtown."

For Lerdal and McNae, living Downtown translates to a simpler life less tied to the car and the yard. Their commuting times are about half the state average, according to the 2000 Census.

The average journey to work for most Minnesotans takes 21.9 minutes, up from 19.1 minutes in 1990, according to a report by the state's Demographic Center. The number of people reporting commutes of 90 minutes or more has also doubled in the past 10 years.

Lerdal's 15-minute trips mean she is in her car an hour less per week than average, saving more than 50 hours a year.

As she bucks commuting trends, Lerdal and her husband Paul don't seem to miss what everyone else drives home to most days.

"I really miss lawn-mowing and snow-blowing -- getting stuck in my driveway," Lerdal said sarcastically.

Instead, they find life more satisfying Downtown than in their native St. Cloud. They walk more, they see more sports games and plays, and don't live in a neighborhood home to only white faces, Lerdal said.

"We really like the diverse neighborhood -- the diversity of people, and not just being in a neighborhood where it's all the same. You kind of get in ruts out in the suburbs sometimes," Lerdal said. "I hope we grow a little -- that we're a little bit more tuned into what's going on with the world."

The couple moved to the North Loop, a neighborhood encompassing the Warehouse District and much of the riverfront, two years ago on a trial basis after their children left for the University of Minnesota.

They live in an apartment in the Creamette Historic Lofts, 432 N. 1st St., and plan to move down the street in the new 212 Lofts, a Shamrock development at 212 N. 1st St. set for completion next spring.

They don't mind having less space and enjoy spending more time exploring Downtown's offerings.

"We park the car when we're done with our work and don't take it out until Monday when we go back to work. A lot of times we're just on our feet," she said.

For McNae, a native of Capetown, South Africa, Downtown's appeal might be a temporary thing. "We're going to spend probably the rest of our lives living in the suburbs," McNae said.

For now, he wants to keep things simple. Loft life meets his needs because his family is small and his demanding job leaves little time for maintaining a larger home.

"There's no maintenance, and that's a big appeal. I work like 11 or 12 hours a day, so I don't want to have to come home and worry about a yard. I don't want to have to be doing that on the weekends."

McNae said he has other reverse-commuting friends drawn to the urban core for something missing in the suburbs.

"They want the sense of the Downtown feeling," he said. "It's a nice community. You're close to everything, but yet|you're far enough away from everything that it doesn't bother you. Actually, it's surprisingly quiet."