Puget Sound and Other Washington Urbanized Areas Driving Less, Using Transit and Alternatives More

Media Contacts
Chris Esh

Reduction in Car Commuting Among Fastest in the Country, Study Shows

WashPIRG Foundation

SEATTLE – A first-of-its-kind report by the WashPIRG Foundation shows reduced car commuting in Washington’s urbanized areas—including the Greater Seattle area, Greater Spokane, and Portland-Vancouver—and more use of  transportation alternatives, like public transit and biking.

“This report confirms what we’re seeing on the street, with increased ridership on Metro buses,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine. “The future for metropolitan areas like ours is more commuting by bus, train, and bike, and our state investments in transportation need to keep pace.”

“There is a shift away from driving in and around our cities in Washington and across the country,” said Chris Esh, Program Associate for the WashPIRG Foundation. “It’s time for policy makers to wake up and realize the driving boom is over and understand how more people are trying to get around.” 

The report, “Transportation in Transition: A Look at Changing Travel Patterns in America’s Biggest Cities,” is based on the most current available government data. Among its fingings:                                                  

·         In the Seattle urbanized area (stretching from Everett to Fort Lewis, and including East King County) there was a 6.4 percent decrease in vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) per capita from 2006 to 2011, according to data from the Federal Highway Administration. In the Greater Spokane area VMT per capita decreased by 9.5 percent.

·         Total annual transit passenger trips in the Seattle urbanized area increased by 30 million from 2005 to 2010, according to U.S. Department of Transportation data. Spokane experienced a transit passenger trip increase of nearly 40 percent—the 10th highest percentage increase among the 100 largest urban areas in that category.

·         The percent of workers commuting by private vehicle in Seattle fell 3.6 percent between 2000 and 2007 to 2011—the 7th largest reduction out of the 100 largest urbanized areas in the U.S. (Portland-Vancouver ranked 6th).

·         As Washington trended, so did most urban areas elsewhere. Across the country, the proportion of workers commuting by private vehicle—either alone or in a carpool—declined in 99 out of 100 of America’s largest urbanized areas between 2000 and 2007-2011, according to Census data.

·         The proportion of commuters travelling by bicycle grew in Seattle as it did in 85 of the most populous 100 urbanized areas between 2000 and 2010. In Seattle the rate increase of bike commuting cracked the top-ten in the nation.

“It’s time for politicians in Olympia to support transportation initiatives that reflects these travel trends,” said Esh. “Instead of primarily spending taxpayer dollars to enlarge our grandfather’s Interstate Highway System, we should be investing in the kinds of transportation options that the public increasingly favors.”

Across the nation, young people have shown the steepest reductions in driving. Americans 16 to 34 years of age reduced their average driving miles by 23 percent between 2001 and 2009.

Download the report, “Transportation in Transition: A Look at Changing Travel Patterns in America’s Biggest Cities” here.

To read an earlier WashPIRG Foundation report on the implications of the state and national decline in driving, download, “A New Direction: Our Changing Relationship with Driving and the Implications for America’s Future” download here.                     

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WashPIRG Foundation works to protect consumers and promote good government. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public, and offer meaningful opportunities for civic participation. http://washpirgfoundation.org/