Non-car commuting options winning over downtown Seattle workers in droves

So, what’s it like for a city’s downtown workers to forego the car and utilize other means in terms of satisfying or fulfilling duties?

Just ask Seattle, Washington, the Pacific Northwest-located city.

Commute Seattle in a 2014 “Downtown Seattle Commuter Trends” press release reported, “[m]ore people are commuting to Downtown Seattle than ever, but the proportion of commuters driving alone fell to a historic low in 2014. Just 31% of Downtown commuters now drive alone to work, continuing a strong downward trend from 35% in 2010 and 34% in 2012.”

Commute Seattle reported the downtown Seattle commute mode share split in 2014 was:

Transit – 45%

Drive alone – 31%

Rideshare – 9%

Walk – 7%

Bike – 3%

The Seattle-based organization further related: “Public transit continues to serve more commuters than any other mode, growing from 43% in 2012 to 45% today. Non-motorized commutes – walking, bicycling, and teleworking – now account for 15% of all commutes, another all-time high.”

Also, apparently, transit is getting backing from voters at polling time, not just in Seattle but elsewhere too.

The American Public Transportation Association in a Nov. 8, 2017 press release reports that “Nearly 90% of public transportation initiatives were approved by voters from coast to coast across the United States this year. In the November 7th election, seven of eight initiatives passed…. Throughout the country this year, voters in 17 states and communities of all sizes voted for increased investment in public transportation, bringing the success rate to nearly 90% (87.5%).”

Back to Seattle, the recent investment in public transportation is making access to such easier for more residents, which no doubt is helping drive the changing commute. Besides this, there is concomitant change going on downtown.

Commute Seattle, meanwhile, in its “2017 Mode Split Press Release” declared: “A new Commute Seattle survey conducted by EMC Research shows that more than 70 percent of downtown’s estimated 247,000 daily commuters … opt for transit, ridesharing, biking, walking and teleworking – leaving less than 30 percent of commuters to drive alone to work. That continues a strong downward trend in solo driving from 35 percent in 2010 and 34 percent in 2012 and 31 percent in 2014. Downtown Seattle added 45,000 jobs from 2010 to 2016, and an impressive 95 percent of the net increase in daily commute trips have been absorbed by transit, rideshare, biking and walking.”

Meanwhile, according to information from a related Commute Seattle infographic, transit accounted for 47 percent, solo driving 30 percent, rideshare 9 percent, walking 6 percent, other 5 percent and biking 3 percent.

So, what’s spurring this kind of success regarding Seattle’s Monday-through-Friday workday commute?

As best as I can determine from my reading of “2017 Center City Commuter Mode Split Survey – Survey Results” the share of walking among workers living in closer proximity to downtown-based employers is greater than what was previously the case, this primarily prompted by the addition of a number of closer-to-work sited residential dwelling units (they are located within walking distance of downtown, in other words). This coupled with changing commute patterns, that is, commuters exchanging driving for viable and suitable alternatives such as light rail transit and commuter train travel, vanpool services not to mention the availability of other options like working from home, are all making a difference.

Meanwhile, there is the one casualty of transit bus ridership which, according to the way I understand things, has fallen off some. Despite that one setback, this still begs the question: If Seattle can experience this kind of success, why can’t other cities? The short answer and point is other cities can. But, why more cities aren’t realizing the same success and reaping the same cleaner-air benefits as Seattle in this regard could be that a number of other metro areas may not be implementing programs similar to those Seattle is implementing and for those that are, they may be going about it much less aggressively, comparatively speaking.

That said, any time people opt out of driving and instead make the switch to alternative modes to meet daily travel needs, especially modes less damaging to the air, this moves the transportation platform that much closer to being balanced, which, if realized, depending on situation (and extent), could result in an easing of congestion on roads utilized by those who stick with driving.

And, last but by no means least, for those using public transit, there is something to be said for the convenience of living close to transit stations or stops not to mention having access to more varied transit options compared to what existed in times past.

Good for you, Seattle!

For even more detailed information, see the “2017 Center City Commuter Mode Split Survey – Survey Results” document here.

Image above: Wikimedia Commons

This post was last revised on May 10, 2020 @ 6:51 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time.

– Alan Kandel