Herd Mentality: Expanding Seattle Increasingly Embraces Mass Transit

By: Bridget Clerkin February 21, 2018
Seattle traffics in all manner of public transportation: rail, ferries, buses, cars, and bikers. A recent report shows that the city's mass transit options are gaining in popularity.
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Seattle has long been a city known for its edginess, and the trend-setting town is once again blazing trails: the greater metropolitan area saw the use of public transit soar last year, despite an exploding job market and population boom.

The information came courtesy of a study conducted last year by Commute Seattle, a nonprofit organization dedicated to cutting down on solo driving in the city.

All told, just over 48% of survey respondents took some form of public transit to their downtown Center City jobs over the course of 2017, according to the study. The figure not only represents more than 117,000 communal trips to the office, it also marks the seventh consecutive year the option has grown in popularity among Washingtonians, and a 6% uptick from the survey’s 2010 results.

An increased number of public bus routes and light rail options, which city residents voted for in 2008, contributed to the growing trend. Of the survey participants, 36.9% reported taking Seattle buses to work in 2017, while 9% said they rode the Seattle light rail system, called the Link. Seattle traffic isn’t limited to the land, either: ferries bring in 66% of commuters from across the western Puget Sound counties of Island and Kitsap.

The uptick comes amongst a massive population boom in and around Seattle, with the greater metropolitan area adding more than 45,000 residents in the past six years. Solo commutes increased by just 2,255 annual trips over that same time period, and the percentage of city dwellers driving themselves to work actually decreased from 35% in 2010 to 25% last year, thanks to the influx of public transport commuters, according to the survey.

A $54 billion transportation plan approved by Puget Sound voters in 2016 intends to build on that progress by adding even more chances for residents to travel en masse to the office. The idea is to expand the reach of the Link even further to connect the city’s disparate neighborhoods to a centralized downtown hub with an additional 62 miles of light transit rails.

The project will take a projected 25 years to complete and Seattle will need to keep its foot on the gas to ensure its success can keep pace with the population: nearly 9,400 new housing units were constructed between 2016 and 2017, with an additional 20,000 units planned for the near future, as well as 14.5 million square feet of new office space and 3,602 more hotel rooms.

Hopefully, the fresh batch of residents won’t mind sharing their new city—or their morning commute.

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