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Seattle’s car population is growing just as fast as its human population

There are 637 cars for every 1,000 residents, according to a Seattle Times report

As Seattle’s population of human beings grows—it’s now more than 700,000, according to state population estimates—so does the number of cars on the street, a report by the Seattle Times’s Gene Balk found.

Crunching census data from between 2010 and 2015, Balk found that Seattle’s population grew by 12 percent, the same increase as the number of personal vehicles owned by Seattle residents.

All together, Balk reported, Seattle’s car population is 435,000. That’s more than 5,000 cars per square mile, or 637 cars for every 1,000 residents.

That’s an incredibly large number of cars per capita, Balk noted:

We fret a lot here about turning into the next San Francisco, but when it comes to car ownership, we’ve got nothing to worry about. The City by the Bay has 160,000 more people than Seattle, but about 50,000 fewer vehicles.

It’s a higher per-capita car rate than Los Angeles, he reported.

Still, as car ownership is rising, household car ownership is not. During that same time period, the rate of car ownership among city households fell 1 percent. It’s not a huge drop, but it’s a far cry from a 12 percent increase.

Balk attributes the household drop to millennials, although they’re not giving up their cars as quickly as many would think, a survey by Forterra found.

There’s another piece of this picture though. With the number of cars growing at the same rate as humans, what does that mean for transit?

That’s growing at around the same rate, too. King County Metro ridership grew at about the same rate between 2010 and 2015: just over 11 percent for that agency alone, not including Sound Transit. (Sound Transit ridership has grown much faster, but that’s more likely because of an increase in options, like Link Light Rail.)

According to Commute Seattle data, solo car commutes downtown have fallen by 5 percent since 2010, and only make up 5 percent of new commutes during that time—looking at that side-by-side would imply that not many of those new cars are being used for downtown commutes.

Which leads to another problem Balk pointed to in the report: “Cars spend a lot more time parked than they do traveling,” he wrote. This increases demand for on-street parking, but requiring off-street parking adds dramatically to the cost of housing, and leads to higher rent in a city where rent is already pretty steep.

As Seattle grows, it’s possible at some point that car ownership will be less convenient than being car-free. But for now, many are still choosing personal vehicles.