Paxtyn Merten, Puget Sound Business Journal [$]:

Since moving entirely into downtown Seattle’s F5 Tower in August, workers have capitalized on those benefits. Phillips said drive-alone rates among employees are just under 25 percent, down from 55 percent at the former headquarters.

About 29 percent drive and park vehicles, which F5 partially subsidizes within the tower, though there’s only 322 parking stalls in the tower for F5’s 1,500 headquarters employees. When the neighboring Rainier Club hosts events, 60 of those spots disappear as well, Phillips said.

“There’s a long waitlist for the garage because we had more parking at Elliott,” Phillips said. “We see that waitlist get smaller and smaller and smaller. The method to the madness of the waitlist is people will rethink, ‘Why not try the bus? Why not try light rail?’”

For context, 25% is the average drive-alone rate for all of downtown, per Commute Seattle’s mode split survey. For the commercial core, the drive-alone rate is actually lower, at 15%.

That’s not to dismiss F5’s accomplishments: other commercial core employers and employees have had years to settle in to commute patterns, whereas F5 took basically the same group of employees who were driving alone and plopped them downtown. In that context, it’s remarkable. One wonders what the rate would be without the subsidized parking.

On a similar note, here’s Gene Balk in the Seattle Times:

In 2018, just 44% of the 444,000 Seattle residents who were employed drove alone to work on a typical day, according to the latest census data. That’s a huge decrease since 2010, when a solid majority (53%) of Seattle’s workers were solo car commuters.

Seattle’s 9 percentage-point drop is easily the largest decline among the 100 most-populous U.S. cities since the start of the decade. And we now have the sixth-lowest percentage of drive-alone commuters among those 100 cities. The lowest is New York, where only about 23% of commuters drive alone.

We’re now under 50% of car commuters citywide. There’s a simple reason why Seattle continues to put up amazing transit numbers while much of the rest of the country goes in the other direction: we’re investing. Let’s not backslide.

27 Replies to “Policy choices matter”

  1. I attribute more of the decrease in single-occupant driving to higher parking costs and lack of new parking supply in Downtown Seattle. Of course, the anticipation of ST2 has a big effect on these development trends Downtown so in that sense, past investment decisions as well as a long tradition and culture of great bus service helped set the stage for meeting demand created by new jobs with transit. In contrast, I don’t think ST3 has had much effect — at least not yet.

  2. Being the devil’s advocate: if the downtown drive-alone rate is only at 25%, then why are the freeways still clogged during rush hour?

    1. Is it not obvious? The city is growing (in population and jobs), and the freeways are not growing in capacity.

      We have more people both living and working in the city, so the entire number of commuters has grown (even people that walk to their jobs are still commuters), but if the same number of people are driving on the freeway (the same number because the freeways are already at 100% capacity), then rate of drive-alone drops.

      (To anyone thinking the answer is building more freeway lanes, please Google induced demand and try huffing less air in the vicinity of I-5.)

      I think you could improve your devil’s advocate question by asking if the drive-alone share has dropped among commuters traveling in/out of the city limits. That is more proximate to freeway use, but that’s also to do more with regional transit success or failure, and really, unless the freeways become optimally-tolled tollways, induced demand will keep them congested at every rush hour, so…

    2. Too many carpetbaggers (like you?) “passing through” on their way to a job in a suburb “across the water” (e.g. on the other side of Seattle) from where they live.

      1. Just noting that there’s almost no reason to pass through Seattle for a job on the Eastside from anywhere but Seattle. If you’re living north or south of Seattle, it’s likely far easier to just head to the other side of the lake on land, not on the bridges.

        Do you mean to imply that the carpetbaggers are folks living in suburban Seattle SFH heading to Microsoft in their cars every day?

      2. Actually, AP, it’s really only north of the interchange at north Lynnwood that it might make sense to go down 405 than 5 (pay attention to the I-5 vs. 405 travel times as you approach the interchange). South of the interchange, you need to backtrack (also in heavy traffic) or go through slow winding local roads to get to 405, and you’re hardly rewarded with a smooth ride on 405 itself! Most days, it’s better to go down 5 and pay the toll to cross the 520 bridge.

    3. The absolute number of people driving to work in Seattle is up slightly, even if the relative number is down significantly. Also, I’d imagine people simply driving through Seattle is up a lot given population growth and strong economy.

    4. The last stat I saw was that the number of downtown jobs increased but the number of downtown SOV commutes didn’t. So it sure looks like none of the new workers drive. But that can’t be the case because somebody is parking in those SLU garages. So it looks like the number of new drivers equals the number of people who switched from cars. Transit ridership has consistently increased since 2012, so this year it must have gone above the new-driver rate.

      Downtown is an isthmus with only two highways, I-5 and 99, so everybody going between the north end and the south end goes through downtown. That includes people going from Lynnwood to the airport, Northgate to Boeing, Bellingham to Oregon, etc. The freeway was designed with only one through lane becaus they assumed 3/4 of the people were going downtown. That turned out to be completely inaccurate. so I-5 backs up through downtown with all those through drivers squeezed onto one lane and the collector-distributor lane.

      Downtown Seattle has 10% of the region’s jobs. That’s higher than most US cities, but it still means that 90% of the jobs are outside downtown.

  3. The negative reaction to the passage of 976, combined with this post, suggests to me that transit advocates want people to own cars, just not to drive them to work.

    1. Actually, Sam, that’s exactly what “transit advocates” advocate. Everyone understands the need for cars for intercity travel, shopping for heavy stuff, and going out with a group. And if cars were used for those purposes while transit more universally selected for commuting trips, traffic would plunge, air quality would rise, and people would get to know each other more.

    2. Bingo! It’s just like how public health advocates want people to smoke , since anti-smoking programs are funded partially from cigarette taxes

    3. 3/4 of trips are non-work trips. We definitely want to move the needle beyond driving to work. That’s why we’ve been pushing full-time frequent transit, so that it’s a viable alternative for non-work trips.

      The downtown expresses are a double-edged sword, so in some ways they’re good and other ways they’re bad, and transit advocates sometimes argue both sides or focus so much on the negatives that they neglect the positives. The negatives are the historical neglect of non-downtown jobsites and off-peak service, and the service hours lost to deadheading. The positives are that those expresses are the reason SOV mode share is so low downtown, and they helped keep jobs concentrated downtown rather than scattered in transit-inaccessible office parks and far-flung suburbs.

    4. This tends to be exactly the case in European cities. Car ownership is at the same level as the US, as it’s more directly tied to wealth. However, car usage for daily, routine trips in Town is much lower. Especially true in Germany, which has the Autobahn and a strong car culture! In fact you’ll find very few transit advocates want to ban cars everywhere and round up people’s cars (though there are of course some).

  4. Way I look 976, Sam, is that it cost both of us the right to get our cars out of each other’s way. And also added far more in maintenance, depreciation, and insurance than we’ll ever save on car-tabs. Got to say I’m with Tim Eyman on one thing, though:

    Heard on the radio last night that the Sound Transit Board gave him a lot more speaking time than the two minutes the average person is ever allowed at public comment. To extent this is true…..I’m madder at Seattle than is anybody else in the State.

    Mark Dublin


    Also owe Seattle and by extension an apology for my criticism of their performance at ST Board meeting. The Board did what it had to and turned off the mike. Do remember some footage of Tim in front of a camera telling the whole room that Sound Transit had lost “Big Time!”

    Considering the source, with every day’s work and especially pm rush hours the Agency chalks up a considerable victory with the quality of its service and the effort all its operating people turn in. Over the years since Tunnel service began, have had visitors returning to the Airport sit beside me on buses and trains wishing their own systems could ever do as well.

    Tell you what, Tim. Understand that LINK is now hiring train drivers “off the street.” Giving you your chance to show the voters how many voters you can handle in a public office where you really are in charge of something a lot closer to the size-and attached set of consequences- of the State of Washington.

    Guarantee that in transit history, results of your first hour in the control seat will definitely register as “Big Time!”

    Mark Dublin

  6. As someone who uses TNCs frequently, it’s always struck me as odd that we count rideshare rides in the same category as carpools/vanpools. A bus route’s ridership numbers don’t include drivers. If you take an Uber or Lyft by yourself, there’s only one person in the vehicle who is going somewhere useful. (If and when Uber/Lyft deploy self-driving cars, there might only be one person in the vehicle, period.)

    TNC riders don’t need to park, and that’s a big difference, especially downtown. But even so, I’d love to see future studies distinguish between “single-passenger” rideshare (only one person in the vehicle besides the driver) and “high-occupancy” rideshare (carpools, vanpools, Uber Pool, Lyft Shared, 2+ person taxi rides, etc.).

    1. Assuming that all TNC trips are “solo”, the neighborhood ordering changes slightly. First Hill and SLU perform notably worse, and Chinatown/ID performs notably better, forming about 3 clusters:

      1. The downtown core (Westlake through ID), where transit has >50% mode share.
      2. Denny Triangle, Belltown, and Pike/Pine where transit is the most common mode.
      3. North of Denny (Uptown, SLU) or east of I-5 (First Hill), where SOV+rideshare is the most common mode group.

      Pike/Pine is a very interesting outlier. By location (east of I-5) and SOV mode share, it seems like it should be in group 3. But it has the highest transit mode share outside of the downtown core, presumably because of Link. Metro Connects proposes moving the 8 to Harrison west of Fairview and making it a Rapid line; if it’s frequent and fast enough, I could imagine this route significantly increasing SLU/Uptown’s transit mode share even if nothing else changes.

      1. During peak hours, I doubt most of the trips are solo, especially home->work trips. There’s a pretty significant price difference, and price sensitivity increases when it’s a trip you make every day.

        Of course, with a well-designed transit system, people would choose it over shared TNC rides, cost aside, simply because the bus would be faster. Of course, a bus would stop more, but they would be quick stops with multi-door boarding, off-board fare payment, and most important, the bus would stay on route with no out of direction travel. Compare to a shared TNC ride where picking up a single passenger might require the car to turn off and on a busy street, drive down a residential street with speed bumps and stop signs, or, worse, make a U-turn through lots of traffic. What time a bus does spend making stops, it can make back through bus lanes or signal priority. Replace bus with a subway, of course, the speed benefits of transit get much larger. And, of course, a bus that runs every 5 minutes is likely to arrive at your stop sooner than a TNC car.

      2. As an example of how inefficient TNC pickups can be, I had one occasion where right as the driver and I were going down Montlake Blvd., passing UW Station, the driver’s phone buzzed with a pickup request at UW Station. To the dumb routing algorithm, it was a sensible pickup because we were close by. But, turning around, getting to the station pick up area, loading the passenger, then getting back onto the road again, took nearly 10 minutes total. That’s 10 minutes of overhead to load one single passenger. By comparison, when a bus makes a special stop for one passenger, the overhead is usually less than 1 minute. Even when that passenger has a wheelchair, it’s usually less than 2-3 minutes. When multiple passengers get on or off at the same stop, the marginal overhead of one additional passenger can be as little as 5 seconds (assuming no wheelchairs and everyone has Orca cards). A 4-car Link train can load or unload 100+ people within a 30-second dwell time.

    2. ” it’s always struck me as odd that we count rideshare rides in the same category as carpools/vanpools.”

      I don’t think that is the case, based on my reading of the survey document:

      Basically they ask people how they get to work downtown. There is no category for “take a cab”. Carpool is one category, vanpool is another. There are other categories like telecommute and motorcycle. Then there is “other”, if none of the categories seem to fit. My guess is those that take a cab to work (whether it is a yellow cab or Uber) count themselves in the “other” category, not carpool or vanpool.

      Then all the data from the various categories is lumped together. That is the chart you see. On that chart it lists how they lump things:

      Rideshare Total: 9.7% Includes carpool and vanpool

      Other Total 5.7% Includes Telecommute, compressed weekday off, boarding ferry with vehicle and other.

      So Rideshare includes only those that answered “Carpool” and “Vanpool” — nothing more.

      On a related note, I think the lumping is kind of weird. They have lumped in “other” with several additional categories (telecommute, motorcycle, etc.) and then labeled them all “other”. This means that “other” (AKA miscellaneous) is fairly big. Personally I would lump “telecommute” with “compressed workday day off” in the category “trip reduction”. That category is bigger than biking. I would throw in “ferry with vehicle” as just driving. Motorcycle/Moped is hard to categorize, but it is so small it doesn’t matter (personally I would put that in the “drive alone” category if it gas powered, and biking if it is not — but again, that makes it tricky and it probably isn’t worth that much effort). Either way, once you remove telecommute, the main “Other” category is pretty small, and likely includes those who take a cab.

      I will say that “carpool” is a problematic category. Let’s say I drive my wife to work, then turn around and drive home. To me, that doesn’t count as carpooling. On the other hand, let’s say I drop my wife off at South Lake Union, then drive to First Hill and start my job. That is carpooling, even though it is two different places. Since carpooling is a significant set of commuters (over 10% in some areas) I think it would be interesting to tease out the data and see how far away the carpoolers employers are.

      1. It looks like I’ve already gotten my wish:

        If a commuter shares their Uber/Lyft ride with another commuter, they are in a carpool and should answer “carpool” as their mode. For commuters not sharing their Uber/Lyft ride, they are commuting alone to work and shall answer “drove alone” as their mode. People using an employer-provided shuttle to get to work would answer “other” and write in “employer-provided shuttle.”

        Now I’m slightly embarrassed, because I’m pretty sure I filled out the survey incorrectly last month. :(

  7. F5 is behind the curve for DT companies. Not surprising since they’ve upended thier employees commutes. Some will move, some will adapt and some will find another employer. Stats at this point don’t really mean much. But, since it’s relatively easy to P&R it to DT might this move facilitate employees moving to far flung exurbs since the total commute time to jump on an express bus isn’t much different than dealing with transfers from a neighborhood inside the city limits.

  8. Glad to see F5 employees finally giving up their cars. I used to work there a few years ago and it was cheap parking and nearly everyone drove. They also didn’t give us an orca card, hopefully that changed.

  9. Of course, it’s not like the office space in F5’s previous campus is just going to sit there vacant. Once somebody else moves into their former space, it will generate the same number of car commutes as it did before; it will just be some other company’s problem, instead.

  10. F5’s former headquarters along Elliott Way was a difficult place to reach via transit, at least a two-bus ride. That’s a big part of the reason for their new-found success.

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