As I’ve written previously, Seattle’s bus network is fantastic for commuting in to the region’s major downtowns from the suburbs, assuming you work a traditional 9-to-5 job. For other uses, like evenings and weekends, or getting from neighborhood to neighborhood without first going downtown, there’s work to be done.
An interesting report in The Atlantic Cities suggests that transit networks focused on commuter trips may be implicitly biased towards men over women. Clare Foran writes that the city of Vienna studied men and women transit users in 1999 and noted that the women had far different transit usage patterns:
The majority of men reported using either a car or public transit twice a day — to go to work in the morning and come home at night. Women, on the other hand, used the city’s network of sidewalks, bus routes, subway lines and streetcars more frequently and for a myriad reasons.
“The women had a much more varied pattern of movement,” Bauer recalls. “They were writing things like, ‘I take my kids to the doctor some mornings, then bring them to school before I go to work. Later, I help my mother buy groceries and bring my kids home on the metro.’”
Women used public transit more often and made more trips on foot than men. They were also more likely to split their time between work and family commitments like taking care of children and elderly parents. Recognizing this, city planners drafted a plan to improve pedestrian mobility and access to public transit.
With the news that less than 50% of Seattle residents now drive alone to work, I’d like to suggest that the heavy lifting is done when it comes to converting 9-5 commuters to transit use, at least as far as the city is concerned. A good chunk more will likely convert to transit if and when Link arrives in their neighborhood, and we should absolutely continue outreach and education programs to downtown workers, but otherwise any more effort to provide better bus service to downtown-bound commuters is likely to have a high cost and a relatively low return.
Obviously Seattle and Vienna are different cities. But it does seem as if the low-hanging fruit, when it comes to our transit network, is improving the sorts of trips that the women of Vienna wrote about in the study above: going to the doctor, buying groceries, taking the kids to school, and visiting friends and relatives. It’s all possible, and can be done for relatively little money. It just requires the sustained commitment of voters, politicians, and businesses. You know, the kind of commitment we’ve given to commuter trips over the last 40 years. As a bonus, making these sorts of trips better will likely help commuters as well, since a fair portion of the 49% who still drive alone probably work in the urban villages outside downtown. It’s win-win.
Apologies to Ian Betteridge for the headline of this blog post.