Bridging the gap between our two cities

Emily Bahna

Only Durham

I love Durham, NC, and feel proud to call it my home. Though I’m originally from New York City, I have been living here for 14 years. Durham has grown up a lot in that time.

In 2015, I launched my own design consultancy and joined the American Underground. I loved walking through downtown to work each day, and being part of a supportive community that helped me grow my business. I was thrilled to be in Durham, and I found a cohort of colleagues who felt the same way.

Two years later I was offered the position of managing directorship in the Raleigh office of thoughtbot, a globally recognized software design and development consultancy. Thinking about commuting to Raleigh for work, I hesitated in accepting the offer, but the position was too attractive to turn down. I needed to find a way to make it work.

photo credit: [bendertj], August 15, 2013, [Some rights reserved]

Discovering the express bus

I found the DRX (Durham/Raleigh Express Bus) and it’s no stretch to say that the bus has changed my life.

Today, I enjoy the best of both cities without hassle and with extra bonuses. Here are some of the benefits I get from riding the DRX bus to and from Raleigh most days:

  • The bus has comfortable seats and I always get one. I get to relive what it was like to ride public transit in New York City but with more style and more comfort. I love to people watch and meet people I would not normally see.
  • The DRX has free WiFi so I can get a lot of work done on my 45 minute commute — in fact, I’ve started to line up business meetings on the bus.
  • The DRX can ride on the shoulder of Interstate 40 and pass all those poor people who have to drive to work. I don’t mind riding over the bumps when I see us passing all the traffic.
  • The DRX allows me to feel good about my carbon footprint while saving me money on gas. Best of all, I don’t have to worry about parking, which has become a challenge in both cities.
  • The DRX takes me 2 blocks from my office. I have the option to grab a great cup of coffee from three outstanding coffee shops before I head to work.
  • Bike shares are located right at the Durham bus station, making it easier for me to ride home after work or get to my son’s basketball game at the YMCA.

Discovering Raleigh is great too.

Working at thoughtbot over the past 7 months has opened up my network of collaborators and clients across two cities, I have doubled the number of meetups, conferences, and events I can attend. I get to explore the great culinary artists in both cities on a regular basis.

In Raleigh, I am a regular at 42nd & Lawrence, Sir Walter Raleigh, Morning Times while and in Durham I frequent at The Durham Hotel, Beyu Cafe, 9th Street Bakery

I am able to volunteer and mentor young professionals in both cities.

Why we’d be better off if there were more collaboration across the triangle

This kind of two-city thinking would go a long way towards growing our local start-up community, as TechStars’ Chris Heivly mentioned at a recent Startup Grind for early stage founders. The startup community would be stronger if we can find a way to think of ourselves as one place, Raleigh/Durham, rather than as two cities competing with each other, Heivly said. I agree. Collectively, Raleigh and Durham have so much more to offer. But we have to make it easier for talent to travel from city to city, and people have to be willing to try making the trip.

thoughtbot recently moved into The American Underground@Raleigh, where we share the space with Momentum Learning, a new local coding school. Both organizations are working to break the divide between the two cities by offering access to space and programming in both cities. thoughtbot offers lunch-and-learns on design and development topics, how to run your own product design workshop, and hosts a monthly Elixir development meetup. We will be developing more programming in the next couple of months. Please contact me if you want to get news of upcoming events:

Join me

Living close to the downtown Durham bus station makes my commute easier than it would be for many other people. But I am not convinced transportation within the Triangle needs to remain a problem. We are a smart city. Raleigh and Durham are the No. 2 and No. 3 most educated cities in America. I know we have long term plans for transportation infrastructure which are still years away from completion. Can we improve transit for today? Maybe innovation does not have to be new and shiny. We can learn from other cities like Pittsburgh, where they run a bus rapid transit lane with limited and express lines and buses coming every few minutes.

In the meantime, if anyone wants to check out Raleigh for the day, I am happy to pay your bus fare and offer you an awesome office space for the day. See how easy it is to cross I-40, tell your friends, and become an advocate for eliminating the gap between two great cities. Contact me at or just say hi next time I see you on the 7:34 AM DRX to Raleigh.