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Seattle tops the West Coast in walking and biking to work

Click for more interactive graphs from OU.
Click for more interactive graphs from OU.

Census data divers at the University of Oklahoma have crunched the data and determined that a higher percentage of Seattle’s workforce walks or bikes to work than any other major West Coast city in the nation.

An impressive 14 percent of Seattle residents walk or bike to their jobs on an average day, just barely higher than San Francisco’s 13.6 percent and Portland’s 13 percent.

Seattle’s impressive biking and walking rates are certainly due in part to the city’s investments in walking and biking infrastructure, but it is also thanks in large part to the city’s ongoing strategy to encourage housing near employment centers.

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The numbers also reveal the effect of Seattle’s lagging transit system. When the bike/walk numbers are combined with transit, Seattle places second, far behind San Fransisco and that city’s more advanced transit system. Portland fares even worse when transit is included, coming in a distant fourth behind Oakland.

Among major US cities, Seattle places seventh in bike/walk/transit commutes. As we reported earlier this year, Seattle is now one of only five major cities where fewer than half of workers drive alone to get to their jobs.

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17 responses to “Seattle tops the West Coast in walking and biking to work”

  1. Jessica

    Do you know how the percentages are calculated? e.g. if I bike to work 60% of the time, bus 20% and drive 20%, where do I show up? Just wondering if they survey people about a typical week or how they represent commuters who use different modes of transit on different days or different times of year.
    At work, we just received a survey from WSDOT that asked specifically about how people got to work last week, not “most of the time” or “in a typical week”. I wonder if they have to do some correction factor based on the time of year (last week’s weather was decent but I think there were less bike commuters than in June).

    The walking numbers are surprisingly high to me! Good news.

    1. This is American Community Survey data, so it’s likely that they only ask respondents what their predominant commute mode is. If you bike 60% of the time, then you’d show up as a bike commuter. I don’t think the data is so fine as to take into account time-of-year fluctuations.

  2. Allan

    I participated in the traffic count a couple of weeks ago. While there were probably more walkers than cyclists at my corner I think that was because I was in between the bus stops and industry. I counted walkers that were walking from the bus to work. The cyclists were travelling long distances and fully commuting by bike. I think counting in between bus stops and work must have skewed the count. When I am in Portland it seems that I see a much higher number of people on bikes. I can’t help it, I love riding around that city.

  3. Dennis Bratland

    Further evidence that our helmet law has no effect on whether people want to bike or not. Given how heinously awful much of Seattle’s bike infrastructure is, you’d be tempted to give some credit to mandatory helmets for adults in making biking here so popular.

    1. daihard

      I am not sure I understand your point, unless you meant to say that the popularity of cycling is increasing here despite the helmet law.

      I wear a helmet every time I ride, but that’s because I feel safer that way, not because the law says I must. Honestly, I don’t think you should be required to wear a helmet for a quick ride for grocery shopping, getting around the neighbourhood, etc. In my opinion, not having to wear a helmet would make cycling even more popular.

    2. Tom Fucoloro

      Let’s not get into the helmet debate in this thread, y’all. It’s not relevant here, and it’s the kind of thing that can take over a story’s comments. Thanks!

    3. Allan

      Thank you Dennis for the link you posted. It just confirms what I have been saying about Seattle falling further behind as a cycle friendly city. It has become so unfriendly that I drive my Chrysler LHS a lot more and cycle less these days. A lot of times I put my bike on a car rack and drive to a trail head.

      1. daihard

        I agree 2nd Ave. is pretty bad with all the reasons listed in the article. I’ve been riding on 2nd Ave. to work for the last couple of weeks. While I consider it nicer than 5th Ave., which I used to take, I still get one or two close calls each morning – mostly from cars trying to turn left, blocking the bike lane despite the green paint.

        That said, is Seattle that bad overall? Maybe I should travel to Portland and/or Vancouver (BC) for comparisons. I hear nothing but good things about the bike friendliness of those two cities.

  4. I wouldn’t call San Francisco’s transit system “far more advanced.” Muni suffers some of the same pitfalls as Metro– notoriously slow inner-city service, and even their rail system isn’t much better. But the city’s sheer density and geography simply makes transit the best alternative.

  5. First, this doesn’t pass the “sniff test.” In my office, we have 120 employees… and I assume that we’re pretty average. That means we should have 17 people biking/walking to work regularly based on these numbers… and we definitely don’t have that many people.

    Second, this contradicts some research that our company did earlier this year about commuting methods for the US’s largest metros.
    This data shows that only 1.32% of the Seattle working population commutes on their bike.

    Since I helped with the latter report, I’m more likely to believe that it’s right :-)

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Your figures use “statistical areas,” which include the whole region around a city. The numbers noted here only look at workers who live in a specific city itself. These numbers are accurate, according to the US Census.

      1. Yeah, we’re including the whole MSA, which would include all of the suburbs… which I’m assuming have a lower bike/walk commute rate.

      2. Gary

        Few folks in my office commute by bicycle “every day” which lowers the overall “workers who commute by bicycle per day” if you look at only a single day. But if you look at it as “workers who commute by bicycle” then the number goes from that 1.32% up to nearly 5% because riding 1 day a week, or just in the summer on sunny days, gets you into that grouping.

        Lies, Dam Lies, and statistics… it’s all how you group things.

    2. daihard

      We have 20 people in our office (in downtown Seattle). Three of us ride to work regularly. One walks in every day. That’s 20 per cent. :)

    3. Doug

      What about my sniff test? My workplace has about 110 employees and generally 8-12 ride in to work every day, year round. More during the summer. At least another 20 walk.

      To be fair, my workplace skews young and less affluent.

    4. Sea

      2/5 people in my office commute by bike daily year round, 40%.

      1. Becka

        In my workplace, 95% walk, bike or bus. There are 15 people who bike everyday, rain or shine, and another ~20 who bike on nicer, warmer days. That works out to 40% or so. I work downtown and the company does not pay for parking.

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