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Commuting in Seattle: How many people bus, drive, and bike?

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What are the city’s most popular ways of getting from point A to point B?

An older-style Metro bus sometime in the 1980s.
Via King County

It’s Transportation Week at Curbed, which is all about how we get around our cities. Which raises a big question: How do we get around in Seattle?

Fortunately, we have plenty of data from Commute Seattle, a nonprofit partnership between the Downtown Seattle Association, King County Metro, Sound Transit, and the Seattle Department of Transportation. Back in February, they released the results of a survey tracking how downtown commutes are made.

Let’s take a look at those numbers, supplemented by more recent citywide ridership data.

Public transportation

Lee LeFever/Flickr

Overwhelmingly, the most downtown commute trips happen on public transportation: 47.3 percent. More than anything else, this means the bus, which accounted for 36.8 percent of total commutes—which is no surprise, since bus service has the largest coverage area.

In July, about 397,000 people rode King County Metro transit on an average weekday citywide, about 66,000 of them on BRT lines. More than 66,000 rode Sound Transit Express buses every day throughout their whole network, too.

Trains, light rail, and streetcars made up 8 percent of commutes, the survey found.

Looking at train commute options, Link Light Rail has the highest ridership, with that same July data showing 77,000 average weekday boardings. Sounder, the agency’s heavy-rail commuter train, shows an around of 17,000 boardings per weekday.

Streetcars don’t have the same ridership numbers as other rail, but the network is still pretty small. May 2017 data shows an average of 4,555 boardings per day—that’s 2,854 on the First Hill line and 1,701 in South Lake Union.

The last 2.4 percent or so of downtown commuters walked onto a ferry. It’s hard to tell how much of the ferry’s ridership resulted in downtown commutes—but 1.9 million people boarded a Washington State Ferry between April and June 2017. Out of those passengers, the two most popular routes go straight downtown: 474,526 from Bremerton and 859,422 from Bainbridge in that same three-month period.

Single-occupancy vehicles and driving alone

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Even with the high numbers for public transportation—and a typical 58 hours per year searching for parking among Seattle drivers—a 29.7 percent of downtown commutes still happen alone in a vehicle. The survey notes that this includes people who drove with children, so that could be a factor in the commute choice.

Out of these commutes, a tiny fraction are made by moped or motorcycle: 0.6 percent.

Whether they use then for a regular commute or not, Seattleites own a lot of cars. Seattle has 637 cars for every 1,000 Seattle residents—a higher per-capita rate than Los Angeles.

Non-motorized commutes: 12.4 percent of trips

The Commute Seattle survey found that when people don’t rely on a motor at all to get to work—about 12.4 percent of the time—it’s usually via walking, with 6.2 percent of total trips happening on foot. And a tiny sliver of non-motorized downtown commutes, 0.1 percent, make up commutes that don’t happen at all—either by telecommuting or with a compressed workweek.

2.9 percent of trips, the survey found, happen by bicycle.

How often Seattleites cycle really depends on weather—which seems like a no-brainer, but SDOT provided recent data from their bicycle counters to back that up. Bicycle ridership went down during our cold, wet winter this year—34 percent, 21 percent, and 33 percent in February, March, and April, respectively—compared to last year.

This summer, though, ridership jumped, with a 7 percent increase in July and August compared to that time last year.

Over the past year, SDOT citywide monthly bike counts have ranged from 93,765 (February 2017) to 324,698 (August 2017).

Carpools and vanpools: 8.8 percent

Carpooling made up the majority of ride-sharing trips, with 8 percent. Another 0.8 percent used vanpools, like the 300,000 or so boardings on King County vanpools throughout the month of May 2017.