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Times: Seattle joins ‘select group’ of US cities where fewer than 50% of residents drive alone to work

Screenshot from Seattle Times. Click for story and interactive map of low and high drive-alone cities
Screenshot from Seattle Times. Click for story and interactive map of low and high drive-alone cities

Seattle is one of only five large US cities where fewer than half of residents drive alone to get to work.

Gene Balk at the Seattle Times followed up on our Census reporting to note that by crossing this 50 percent threshold, Seattle joins a “select group” of car-lite American cities.

Among the 50 most populous US cities, only Boston (63.4%), Washington DC (65.9%), San Fransisco (66.9%) and New York (way ahead at 77.4%) have such a low percentage of working residents getting to their jobs by either carpooling, public transit, walking, biking or telecommuting. Seattle’s rate is 50.8 percent.

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More from the Times:

As Tom Fucoloro pointed out over at the Seattle Bike Blog, new Census Bureau data show that last year, 50.8 percent of Seattle residents found some way other than driving solo to get to work.  In 2011, the Census Bureau estimated the number at 46.4 percent.

In crossing the 50 percent threshold, Seattle joins an elite “club.”

Among the 50 most populous U.S. cities, Seattle is now one of just five where the majority of workers take public transit, carpool, walk, bike, or have some means of commuting other than driving alone.

I think this is cause for a celebration of some kind. Anyone have any ideas? A block party downtown? Free concert at South Lake Union Park?

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29 responses to “Times: Seattle joins ‘select group’ of US cities where fewer than 50% of residents drive alone to work”

  1. meanie

    Oh I can’t wait to read the comments on that one.

    how many posts till bike licenses come up?

    1. Leif Espelund

      The first 6 comments are all negative. The 7th is somewhat positive (saying we need to increase the carpool lane minimum to 3 people in the vehicle, which I agree with). So far there is only one comment that is specifically disparaging to bicyclists. Things are improving!

      On a side note, I’d really like to get a party together where the attendees entirely consisted of Seattle Times commenters. I rarely meet people with such strongly conservative opinions in Seattle. Who are these people?

      1. Biliruben

        I think you would have to throw that party in a bunker in North Dakota.

        I picture a room, about 200 feet below ground excavated by the Kochs, with 3000 desktops occupied by an army of former wallmart greeters and tax fugatives.

        They get a dollar a post, 50 cents for a thumbs up, and a bonus of 25 cents for any legitimate replies.

        This probably isn’t true, but the possibility allows me to not lose faith in my follow human beings. It would be interesting to get the IP data. It would be sad if it was all coming from the Goldbar library or something.

      2. Gene Balk

        Ugh, I know…I don’t read them. But we’re supposed to have this new commenting system rolling out by the end of the year. It’s supposed to improve the situation.

      3. Andres Salomon

        Speaking of comments, it might do the Seattle Times well to read this and gauge the value of a commenting system appropriately.


  2. Jeff Dubrule

    Nah, SLU park will never work… It’s a nightmare getting off I-5 at Mercer, and there’s never any parking over there.

    1. Leif Espelund

      I see what you did there.

  3. Tamara Stephas

    Great news!
    Math check: I think you meant to say that only these cities have such a high percentage of working residents getting to their jobs by either carpooling, public transit, etc. Not low percentage.

  4. Gene Balk

    It was Tom’s idea to look into the Census data to see how many other cities had a majority of commuters who don’t drive alone, so thank you for that! We knew it wouldn’t be a large group, but I was a little surprised that Seattle is just the 5th. I agree, cause for celebration!

  5. merlin

    Party at Westlake Park, where transit converges. Someday it should also be possible to get there by bike.

    1. Gary

      You can get to Westlake from the South by riding down 4th Ave. From the East by riding down Pine from the North by riding up 5th.

      It just means you need to be able to ride in traffic.

  6. […] Half of Seattle residents don’t drive alone to work. So, you know, let’s cut Metro or […]

  7. EM

    So, that leaves out the hundreds of people who live in Snohomish, Everett, Tacoma, Mount Vernon, Bellevue, Kent, Burien, etc. who commute by themselves into or through Seattle. Yay for Seattle, but our highways are still clogged.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Of course! But we gotta start somewhere. Neighboring cities should be looking at Seattle for ideas to follow suit.

      The only way out of congestion is to provide people with more options.

      Every greater Puget Sound community should be doing everything they can to get high capacity transit and safe biking and walking routes connecting those transit hubs to homes.

    2. Leif Espelund

      I’m not sure how this is actually figured out or if it is just for Seattle proper, but even if that is the case there are thousands of people who live in Seattle who commute to the Eastside via transit or bikes. My point being it might be a wash.

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        I think that data could be teased out of the Census data. It might take me a while to figure out how to do it, though (the Census website is not super user-friendly).

        If someone else wants to take a stab at it, here’s the website: http://factfinder2.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/index.xhtml

        The dataset ID you probably want to use is S0801: COMMUTING CHARACTERISTICS BY SEX

        Other datasets about commuting don’t have a specific bicycling category, which is confusing. But again, maybe there’s a way to use them that I just haven’t figured out yet.

      2. Bob Hall

        Here’s a screenshot from a table I made using the Census’s awkward site:


        It compares the City of Seattle (ie, people who live stricly in the Seattle city limits) to the greater urbanized Seattle area (ie: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seattle_metropolitan_area).

        The results are not surprising (to me). Seattle has 49.2% driving alone vs 68.5% for the whole region. Bicycling is 4.1% vs 1.3%. For the greater urban area, nearly 80% of people get to work in a car, truck, or van.

        The Census isn’t meant to be a comprehensive transportation study. The Census is asking “For every resident at X address, what means did they use to get to work?”. I doubt they answer the question “For every job in Seattle proper, where did the employee commute from?”

      3. Tom Fucoloro

        Thanks, Bob!

        I think they do ask the question of where you work, so I think the data is hidden in there somewhere (maybe a different data set?). But you did a pretty good job of getting a chart out of that confusing site!

      4. Gary

        Well those who live in Belleve and bicycle are far fewer than in Seattle. 0.43%

        But Tacoma beats Bellevue… 0.83%

        All in all pretty pathetic. I think it shows that if it’s easy to drive, folks will prefer that to bicycling.

      5. Leif Espelund

        Oh, I have no delusions that we’ll ever get to a very high mode share of bicycles. I love bikes and think we should do everything we reasonably can to provide safe, convenient options for cyclists, but the vast majority of people will never bike commute thanks to one or more of the following: weather, hills, laziness, sweat, safety concerns, time. Decent mass transit is the only way to get those people out of their cars.

      6. Tom Fucoloro

        Actually, transit growth has been sluggish, with biking and (especially) walking leading the way (working at home/telecommuting is doing its part, too).

        I agree that quality high speed regional transit is the key to decreasing reliance on cars in the suburbs. But I also think biking and walking access (and bike share!) is vital for those transit efforts to work. We can’t just do park-and-rides, we need transit connected to places where people live. Many low-density areas in the region will find this to be difficult, but that’s the challenge facing us for the next generation.

        As a child of the suburbs, I’m fascinated by the possibilities for fixing car-dependent ‘burbs. It’s gonna be hard, but we have to do it.

      7. Bob Hall

        I always thought it was obvious that in order for any city to become less car-dependent the #1 factor is land use and density. Where are the job centers and where are the population centers? How are humans going to inhabit the landscape? Seattle has very inefficient land use with many people living and working too far apart. I think this graph from Seattle Transit Blog says it all:


        (Although I think they had the same confusion about city limits versus greater urban areas).

    3. Gary

      ya know, I don’t think that those commuters are inconvienced by the large number of Seattle commuters who aren’t driving. In fact, if the Seattle commuters all drove, it would be worse for everyone else as there would be even more cars clogging up the roads.

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        Well, yeah. There would be two times as many Seattle-based cars on the road. Can you even imagine?

  8. […] how some other Washington Cities stack up.  More info at Seattle Bike Blog and on the Seattle Times […]

  9. […] number 5 in people avoiding the SOV […]

  10. RossB

    I wonder how you are supposed to answer the question if you use a mix of options to commute. For example, what if you drive to a park and ride, then take a bus? How about riding a bus, then biking? For a city like Seattle, these mixes make a lot of sense. A lot of people (myself included) won’t ride where we don’t feel safe. We are also a bit lazy, and don’t feel like going up and down big hills. So this pretty much limits our commute to a handful of plateaus and bike paths like the Burke Gilman. Unfortunately, these aren’t connected very well. All of this suggests taking a combination. For example, I take a bus from the Pinehurst area to the U-District, then ride my bike to work at Fremont. This type of commute will be even easier once the light rail gets built to Husky Stadium. But this suggests that adding bike lockers to this station makes a lot of sense (an issue discussed here: http://seattletransitblog.com/2013/09/24/bike-cages-coming-as-soon-as-next-year/).

    At the same time, connecting the nice plateaus to one another is another big win. For example, east of Aurora, you can travel pretty easily and safely from the south end of Phinney Ridge (a block or two west of it) all the way to the city limits. However, areas to the east are problematic. The Haller Lake area is a great plateau that would connect to that area nicely if it weren’t for the lack of quiet, safe streets.

    As Danny Westneat points out in his front page column (http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2021890245_westneat25xml.html) we should spend more on improving pedestrian and bicycle facilities, given their overall popularity. [Side Note: To see the actual numbers, you have to rotate through the pictures. ] Bike use is now at 4.1% and growing. This is huge. It is one thing to be growing rapidly; it is another thing to see that growth continue once you get over one or two percent.

  11. Cascadian

    In case anyone is still watching comments on this thread, I have a question that hopefully somebody can answer. What’s the percentage of City of Seattle and King County transportation funding for each mode? My guess is that walking and biking do not get 14% of the city’s transportation budget, or 5% of the county’s. I can also see an argument for spending on broadband and other services that help telecommuters. I think it would be really helpful to get this money because paying proportional to current use should be the minimum we do to acknowledge that not everyone drives. (My guess is that this spending would induce more walking and biking over time and thus increase the political support for greater investment in infrastructure for bikes and pedestirans.)

  12. […] of alternative forms of transportation, namely bicycles and the public bus system. Census Bureau data published by the Seattle Bike Blog showed that over 50% of Seattle residents use alternative […]

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