The Seattle Transit Gender Gap

Earlier today Frank posted an article about designing cities to help serve women and their transportation needs.  I thought I’d take a look at numbers for Seattle’s current mode splits.  All numbers are from the 2012 American Community Survey, and the percentages you see are the total number of commuters of a given mode and gender over the total number of commuters of any mode in that gender.

First, let’s look at the similarities.  There are similar numbers of commuters overall, with only 7% more male commuters than female (189,929M, 176,274F).  Male and female Seattleites drive in almost identical proportions (49.3%M, vs. 49.2%F).  They walk to work in similar proportions (10.1%M, 9.7%F), and work at home in similar ratios (7.2%M, 6.8%F).  But when we start looking at transit, the numbers start diverging.

Looking at “public transportation” as a group, women are well ahead of men (21.5%F, 18%M), and they keep this advantage when looking at buses in particular (20.5%F, 17.4%M) and “subway or elevated” (0.5%F, 0.3%M).  Even carpools have women leading men (9%F, 8%M).

Where men lead in alternative commutes is bicycling (5.6%M, 2.5%F) and taxis (1.8%M, 1.3%F).

Of course, one weakness of the ACS is that it only tries to capture commutes.  Like Vienna, it seems common in Seattle to have traditional gender roles of women running more errands than men, which might explain the 7% difference in number of commuters.  I’d love to see a study here that captures all trips, not just commutes.

As an aside, I’ve always found it interesting that our STB meetups seem to have many more men than women, and all of our regular writers here are men.  Considering women dominate Seattle’s transit scene, it’s strange that we’re missing out on the female perspective or even a female voice.  If you have something to contribute, send it to us at

Are Seattle Women the Key to a Better Bus System?

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.

Book Review: The End of the Suburbs

Downtown Seattle, 1961
Downtown Seattle, 1961. Photo from the Seattle Municipal Archives.

Something I’ve been following with great interest for a long time is the decline of vehicle miles travelled and the increase in demand for in-city living. There has been a sea change in America’s relationship with low-density, auto-centric “sprawl”, where fewer and fewer Americans are opting for that lifestyle. In Leigh Gallagher’s new book, The End of the Suburbs: Where the American Dream Is Moving, Leigh Gallagher tries to explain the causes behind the trends and extrapolate the future of the same.

Gallagher details the public policies that made suburbia and exurbia what they are today. Road polices have long supported highway construction rather than fixing urban streets, while municipal governments have let builders pay the up-front cost of building sewage, electricity and the like out to remote suburbs, but then foot the bill for maintenance. Gallagher also points out how unsustainable those policies are: the low-density construction results in a small tax base trying to pay for a lot of physical infrastructure spread over large distances, and large highways and large distances result in a long commutes that have become very expensive with higher fuel prices.

Gallagher also documents the shifting taste that “millennials” have vis-a-vis their parents. Millennials seem to value cars, space, and privacy less than their parents, while instead putting a premium on human connections and activities. Some of this I attribute to the “end of stuff“, and some of it I attribute to this generation never really experiencing the problems cities had in the 1960s and 1970s. What remains to be seen is whether this trend will hold when millennials children start to attend schools, especially when cities have fallen behind on keeping schools around and up to high standards.

One interesting trend is the “urban-lite” suburbs that have become more popular. While, Downtown Bellevue, downtown Kirkland and Renton Landing don’t look a lot like Sammamish, they also don’t look a lot like the U District, Capitol Hill or Belltown*. This realisation was a bit of a wake-up to me. When the King Farm residents in Maryland fought to route light rail around their walkable development, rather than through it, I really couldn’t understand what was happening. But now it makes a bit more sense: not everyone’s idea of what a good urban area constitutes is the same. A lot of people want to drive to work but walk when they get home.

I mostly enjoyed The End of the Suburbs, but I think a few important topics are missing or given scant attention. First, restrictive zoning rules – usually instituted and administered by the generations before the millenials – have been blocking more housing from being created. The problem has become acute now that at demand is rising. As Seattle has been experiencing, this is turning real city living into an option for only the privileged. Second, while cities and “city-lite” suburbs have been growing, we lack much of the physical infrastructure to make these lifestyle choices scalable to larger populations. The combined effect is one of a dramatic increase in the immiseration of the poor as they are displaced to the less desirable suburbs without the personal capital or the public infrastructure to easily leave for where ever they wish.

We’ll have to wait and see the trends play out. Still, I worry that if we don’t make the choices that allow cities and inner suburbs to scale up, we might end up missing the trends entirely, with low urban population grow due to restrictive zoning used as ammunition to justify more restrictions. It’s up to us to make sure the sea change doesn’t drown the poor along with it.

* Whether or not they look like South Lake Union, is a question I’ll leave for the comments.

North End Cities Comment on Lynnwood Link

City of Lynnwood
City of Lynnwood

The Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace, and Shoreline city councils have all submitted their comments on possible Link alignments. Mike Orr’s report on the options may be a useful reference to follow along.

letter suggests stations at 145th and 185th street (each with a 500-space garage) while dismissing one at 155th. 145th “will serve as a regional station” with good connections to neighborhoods East via a “main thoroughfare.” Furthermore, the Council’s letter cites that 145th was in the original ST2 literature, station area planning to improve access has already begun there, and Shoreline is even considering annexing the street from Seattle and King County.

155th is accused of “significant negative impacts to the surrounding stable, single-family neighborhood,” while 145th has mixed uses. The council also fears that the station will congest 155th, which currently has “one-quarter to one-half the daily traffic of 145th Street.” Of course, it was precisely this fact that led David Lawson to comment in Mike’s post that the lighter traffic would make bus service much more reliable on 155th.

Continue reading “North End Cities Comment on Lynnwood Link”

University Link Will Likely Open Early

Since early this year, we’ve noticed that Sound Transit’s quarterly Link progress reports (pdf) show University Link with a lot of padding in the schedule – 169 days of what they call “float” (see page 13).

At today’s Sound Transit board meeting, staff presented a plan (pdf) to study how early University Link can open, and work with contractors and Metro to implement it! While we’ve noticed this float for a long time, this is the first time Sound Transit has officially confirmed the possibility, even tweeting it.

If University Link does open five months earlier than the currently expected September 24th, 2016 date, as early as mid-April by my count, it could mean a lot for a 2016 Sound Transit 3 measure. The early open could boost ridership, impacting living choices for students and employees starting at UW for the 16-17 school year, as U-Link would already be in operation when students make their living arrangements. A great September ridership number would be a great news item during a campaign. And, of course, the more people ride grade separated rail, the more they want.

This is no small feat – the other similarly sized projects in our region, WSDOT’s SR-520 bridge replacement and SR-99 tunnel, are both plagued with overruns and delay. Sound Transit is reaffirming today that under Joni Earl, they’re the most capable construction management outfit in the region.

Wheel Options 2013 Kicks Off Next Week

Wheel Options Banner

Washington’s annual statewide commuter incentive campaign, Wheel Options, starts October 1st.  Any employee who records at least six days of eligible Wheel Option commutes in the month of October will be entered to win a trip for two to Hawaii or many other great prizes. Wheel Option modes include carpool, vanpool, bus, train, light rail, streetcar, bicycle, walk, working from home or skipping the commute because of a compressed work schedule (e.g. four 10-hour shifts in a week).  Everyone who participates will receive a coupon for a free companion fare on Amtrak Cascades.   If you already have a account (did you participate in last year’s Wheel Options campaign, or the RSO Summer Promotion earlier?) you are good to go.  Just sign in, update your information and start logging your trips.  If you don’t, go here and register first.

As its name suggests, RideshareOnline (RSO) is first and foremost a tool for helping match up carpoolers, vanpoolers and others whose needs aren’t met by fixed-route transit.  However it has evolved into the primary tool through which incentive campaigns are implemented in our region.  Given the easy qualifying threshold for Wheel Options and the growing number of other incentive campaigns (such as Metro’s Rideshare Rewards), it is well worth your time to familiarize yourself with both Wheel Options and

Prize List below the fold. Continue reading “Wheel Options 2013 Kicks Off Next Week”

News Roundup: Less Primal Scream


This is an open thread.

Mayor McGinn Proposes Transit Improvements in 2014 Proposed Budget

Multimodal afternoon jam on 4th Avenue South. Photo by zargoman.

Yesterday, Mayor Mike McGinn issued his proposed budget for 2014.  The $4.4 billion total proposed budget represents a 1.9% increase over the 2014 budget endorsed as part of last year’s budget process.  The mayor’s office reports that the increase is possible largely because of better-than-expected tax collections resulting from the sustained economic recovery.  SDOT fared better yet in the Mayor’s proposal, receiving a 3.9% increase (bottom of p.3) from last year’s endorsed budget, to a total proposed amount of $407 million.  (The existing Seattle Streetcar, which is a separate line item from SDOT, saw no change.)

Buried in the details of the budget proposal are some items of considerable interest to transit riders.  There are direct improvements to the city’s transit network, as well as street improvements with the potential to have a disproportionately positive impact on transit service quality.  Further details below the jump.  The descriptions in the budget documents are relatively basic; text in italics represents my commentary.

Continue reading “Mayor McGinn Proposes Transit Improvements in 2014 Proposed Budget”

Bike Cages Coming As Soon as 2014

Slack Action/Flickr

Shortly after my post on the Rainier Station bike cages, Sound Transit got back to me on my question. ST spokesman Geoff Patrick said Beacon Hill is the first facility scheduled to have bike cages. The cages could “come online as soon as next year, but it is too early to confirm the timing, ” and will follow “a reconfiguration of the bike parking there.” Almost simultaneously, the Tukwila Sounder station will incorporate cages when its renovation finishes in late 2014.

More importantly,

Going forward they are going to be our primary strategy for promoting bicyclist access to the system and will be located at most new facilities that are in the pipeline, including not just East Link but the other ST2 extensions.

Patrick added that there are some exceptions:

University of Washington Station, where there is no room for a cage and we’re maxing out the space available for bicycle parking with racks under the bike/ped bridge; and at Capitol Hill Station, where a cage is planned to be added later, either during TOD construction or afterwards.

Where space is at a premium I imagine conventional racks are more efficient, but the bike cage trend is a welcome one.

The Impact Of A Hotel

Last week, the local hotel workers’ union, UNITE HERE Local 8, sent a letter to Seattle DPD recommending that the 1620-room hotel project planned for the Greyhound site (and the rest of the block around it) require a supplemental environmental impact statement for downtown, rather than just an addendum to the existing downtown EIS, because it has a significant unplanned impact on downtown employment and housing affordability.

This project, to me, is fascinating. My first response, upon speaking with UNITE HERE earlier in the year, was frustration – slowing down downtown development drives up prices, impacting affordability and adding pressure for sprawl. But during that initial conversation, I realized my frustration was misplaced. A hotel doesn’t have those kinds of impacts – it’s not a factor in housing supply. Or, at least, not usually.

Right now, aside from the Greyhound station, the site where this hotel will be built also contains the old Bonair Apartments, a residential building that serves as de facto affordable housing. As Jane Jacobs covers for an entire chapter, old buildings tend to become affordable as they age, and the Bonair is an excellent example – most of its 48 units are priced low enough to be considered affordable by those earning 50% of Area Median Income (AMI).

The hotel project also contains affordable housing – 160 units (for 50 years). That housing, however, is only required to be affordable by those earning 80% of AMI – so while that level of affordable housing is also needed, this project isn’t a clear benefit. It will displace some low income people, many likely downtown service workers, and replace them with people making more money. Arguably, that’s still a wash – it’s the other side of the equation where the real impact lies, and why UNITE HERE is involved.

More below the fold. Continue reading “The Impact Of A Hotel”

Sound Transit 2Q 2013 Ridership Report

Slack Action / Flickr

Sound Transit has released their Q2 Ridership Report.  Another quarter, another ST ridership record set.  This quarter it is the first time weekday boardings have exceeded 100,000 for a full quarter.  Ridership was stable or showed growth on all modes except for Tacoma Link.  The system as whole was up 8%, 7% on weekdays.  ST Express boardings rose 7%, Sounder 6% (increases in Sounder South overcoming decreases on the North Line), and Central Link 10%, 9% on weekdays.  For a more indepth look at the ridership numbers, see the monthly ridership posts.  May and June and July.

Link’s cost per boarding continued pulling away from ST Express as we moved into summer at $5.83 for Central Link compared to $6.50 for ST Express.  $5.83 is a dollar lower than Link’s Q2 2011 cost and a 25 cents lower than the 2013 budget estimate.  This will likely be the low point (or high depending on how you look it) for cost per boarding on Central Link this year as seasonal variation lowers ridership moving forward. There are other metrics not covered in the regular monthly report so the full quarterly report is worth checking out.

Below are some charts I created focusing on Cost per Boarding. Continue reading “Sound Transit 2Q 2013 Ridership Report”

Book Review: Snob Zones by Lisa Provost

Darien, Connecticut, one of the townships discussed in Snob Zones
Darien, Connecticut, one of the townships discussed in Snob Zones

At Seattle Transit Blog, we often play host to arguments for density and affordable housing played against neighbourhood and community groups who fight to keep things in “character” and “scale”. In her book, Snob Zones: Fear, Prejudice, and Real Estate, Lisa Provost has taken a look at how zoning rules in small towns across New England have often been used to block any housing that is new, moderately priced or moderately sized. Straight away, the book shows the arguments and techniques used to fight housing are nearly identical to what is attempted here, even though the towns in the book are often orders of magnitude smaller than Seattle and thousands of miles away.

Snob Zones is a collection of in-depth case studies of project and zoning clashes in small towns in Connecticut, Maine, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts – the book takes its name from Massachusetts law 40B, the so-called “anti–snob zoning act”. In each case, when developers arrive with plans to build housing, be it $300,000 condos or a moderately-size retirement home, local residents fight the proposals by turning up to review meetings and arguing, organising communication drives to local politicians, and passing strict “character” rules that are nearly impossible to pass.

More below the fold. Continue reading “Book Review: Snob Zones by Lisa Provost”

Special Service to Fair and Football this Weekend


If you are going to the Huskies football game, the Seahawks, or the State Fair this weekend, Metro and Sound Transit have some extra service lined up for you.

As we previously covered, Sounder will be running an all-day schedule Saturday, with the State Fair being the star attraction. The first South Sounder run leaving Lakewood at 9 a.m. and arriving in downtown Seattle at 10:13 a.m. will also be convenient for those trying to get to the Huskies noon football game. Arriving that early is probably a good idea, given how crowded the buses from downtown to UW are on game days.

For those willing to pay a little more for the convenience of quick service, Metro will be running shuttles from seven park & rides to the Huskies game, and back. These shuttles cost $5, unless you have a UW Athletics Season Pass. No ORCA passes are accepted. But the shuttles depart as soon as they fill up.

Sunday will feature the first Sounder service to a Seahawks game for this season, and the first-ever Sounder trains to a Seahawks game from Lakewood and South Tacoma, departing Lakewood at 9:50 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. Pierce County residents can also use this service if they want to spend the day at the Fair (its final day), and catch the train back after the Seahawks game, with the first of the two returning trains reaching Puyallup Station sometime after 5 p.m. Seahawks fans can also jump on one of those two trains (making sure not to jump on the train that skips Puyallup) to catch the final hours of the Fair, and then catch the 578 back.

Metro will also have special shuttles to the Seahawks from Northgate, South Kirkland P&R, and Eastgate P&R, costing $4 cash each way, with no ORCA passes accepted. If you just want to use your ORCA pass, the 41, 255, and 554 will get you from these locations to very close to the stadium. You can still take the shuttle back for $4 if you don’t want to wait for the regular bus. The shuttle pick-up point is 5th Ave S and S Weller St.

ST and Metro September Service Changes Roundup

Photo via Zargoman (Flickr)

September 28 is service change day, and while it’s nothing as contentious as last year’s overhaul, there is nonetheless a considerable amount of added service on key routes, major construction detours, and significant changes to corridors such as I-90. We’ve written about these previously here, here, and here. Check out the service change pages (Metro, ST) for full details, but a summary is below the jump.

Continue reading “ST and Metro September Service Changes Roundup”

Rewind: Tuesday’s Senate Transportation Forum

Tuesday’s hearing, photo via Twitter user @LizSattert

This past Tuesday, Senate Transportation leaders held a public hearing at Stevenson Elementary in Bellevue.  One of many planned across the state, the forum was meant to gauge citizen input on state funding for transportation.  By all the accounts I’ve heard, it sounds like transit supporters dominated the crowd and podium, speaking primarily for preserving Metro service.

If you were in attendance, let us know how the meeting went in the comments.  You can also relive the hearing in real-time on Twitter, where the #moveKCnow hashtag is being used to document what will likely be a massive lobbying effort to prevent Metro cuts.

Rebutting Justice Johnson’s Dissent

East Link and I-90

Legal wonks out there will appreciate this gem: Andrew Villeneuve at the Northwest Progressive Institute has a blistering takedown of Supreme Court Justice Jim Johnson’s dissent (PDF) in the Freeman case. Johnson, one of only two to vote against Sound Transit and WSDOT, largely framed his opinion around constitutional protections for drivers and cited the 18th Amendment extensively.

Andrew’s entire post is a treasure trove of transit legalese, so I’ll let it speak for itself. But I do want to pull out probably the single most important distinction in this entire case:

What the Johnsons do not acknowledge in their dissent – and what anti-rail conservatives either don’t get or won’t admit – is that the urban King County portion of Interstate 90 is not simply a highway. It is a multimodal corridor that contains a highway. And this distinction matters.

More below the jump. Continue reading “Rebutting Justice Johnson’s Dissent”