By all rights, Seattle’s explosively expanding job market and constrained geography should equate to a traffic nightmare. But that is not what is happening. Commute Seattle is a little organization simply educating the community that transportation can’t be done the way it always has been. The way it works in unison with lots of other groups throughout the city to make it all work is a model for all places in the U.S.
Commute Seattle’s biannual commuter survey shows that despite adding 45,000 new downtown jobs since 2010, commuters have generated only 2,255 single occupancy vehicles in the city core. An overwhelming 70% of downtown commuters get to work via transit, walking, biking or telecommuting. In fact, nearly half of the 247,000 commuters entering our center city ride our thriving public transportation system. In just the past year, Seattle’s transit usage increased 4.1%, leading the nation at twice the pace of the next closest city.
These efforts were not just government-led. Advocacy groups like Cascade Bicycle Club, Feet First, Seattle Greenways, Seattle Subway, the Transit Riders Union and Transportation Choices Coalition are engaging thousands of volunteers with grassroots lobbying efforts aimed at increasing options for travelers.
Created over 10 years ago by the Downtown Seattle Association, King County Metro, and the City of Seattle, Commute Seattle helps businesses fulfill their state and city commute trip reduction responsibilities, leveraging city, county, and state-funded programs in order to offer the commuter benefits employees want and our economy requires.
In 2016 alone, Seattle-area companies invested more than $100 million in transportation. This includes millions raised to support the ST3 campaign, as well as broadly-used employee transportation benefits and amenities. Companies offer their employees flexible schedules, telecommuting options, and are replacing parking allowances with prepaid ORCA transit cards. Employer-sponsored education powered by Commute Seattle helps new hires learn about transportation options, and many firms offer incentives for carpooling or using vanpool services. Some employers are even using clever and creative incentives like gamification to reward employees for riding transit.
Had voters and businesses not made these investments and the drive-alone rate continued at 2010 levels, the city would have needed to add surface parking equivalent to the area of downtown itself, or a block-wide, 87-story parking garage.