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Monday, March 11, 2013

Seattle Ranked 10th in Nation for Horrible Commute Times

Posted by on Mon, Mar 11, 2013 at 3:08 PM

Congratulations, commuters in the Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue area! You are finally being recognized for your considerable trials in getting to work. Two recent studies place Seattle on the short list of shitty commutes. One study examines long-distance or supercommuters (defined relatively as people who commute from a county outside that of the central metropolitan area), while the other examines an advanced class of supercommuters known as megacommuters, who travel 50 or more miles and 90 or more minutes.

Click through to see the average commute time in your zip code
  • WNYC Commute Times
  • Click through to see the average commute time in your zip code—hint, dark pink means bad!

Seattle is the third-fastest growing city for long-distance commuters, according to the first study by the Wagner School at NYU, which used census data to map changes in commutes from 2002 to 2009. The total percentage of supercommuters in Seattle, at 6.8 percent, is a couple points higher than the national average. It breaks down to 71,000 people travelling from far outside city limits to get to work. Most people are coming from the surrounding counties: Pierce, Snohomish, Kitsap. But two points stand out:

• 12,900 people are driving six hours-round trip from fucking Portland to Seattle, and
• Another 7,700 drive (or fly) from Spokane to Seattle, over a goddamn mountain range, to get to work.

On to the second study:

Last Monday the Census Bureau released more numbers, tracking megacommuters—which the bureau defines as commuters who clock in at 119 minutes or 166.4 miles on average—across the nation's largest metropolises. The national average for commutes is 26.1 minutes or 18.8 miles. A few more noteworthy points about this study:

• Seattle falls at number 10 on the bureau's list of longest commutes, with .57 percent of commuters enduring these 166-plus-mile marathons. (At the top of the list is San Francisco, where 2.6 percent of workers are megacommuters.)
• While we have the 10th longest commute in the bunch, we do not appear on the top ten list for farthest commuting distance.
• Like the other cities listed, we have a massive transit network, but people who use it spend more time on the road than drivers, and both groups have to deal with congestion.

Both the Wagner and U.S. Census Bureau studies showed that super- and megacommuters are likely to be middle class (people who make less than $40,000) and young. However, Seattle's growth in long-distance commuters is a little different from the rest of the country. The Wagner report says our income breakdown sets us apart. Middle class and young commuters more than doubled in Seattle, faster than most other cities, but not as fast as in the entire working population. Basically, they show that in an inflated housing market with a high cost of living, such as in Seattle, people aged 29 and younger are getting started on that American dream thing by buying a house someplace far away and then commuting long distances to jobs that help them afford that mortgage.

Seattle also stands out from other metropolises like New York and Houston because there are a lot more oldies supercommuting in this region. While the majority of our supercommuters are under 30 (as elsewhere), the number of people 55 and older is growing faster than these other cities.

The rise of supercommuters across the globe and in the Northwest requires us to redefine metropolitan boundaries. The Wagner report explains,

As a rule of thumb, the U.S. Census Bureau bases its metropolitan area boundaries on the degree of “social and economic integration, as measured by commuting to work” between adjacent areas and the urban core.

But the social impact of swaths of the population spending three hours in a car or on a bus goes beyond adjusting our idea of city limits. It means demanding flexible schedules and telecommuting from employers. It means we’ll cut family and social activities even thinner as people put time and money into getting to work. And it means we need to figure out how to make living in the urban core more affordable, so that in Seattle, we can match our obsession with eating and buying local, to living and working local.

 

Comments (25) RSS

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1
Traffic: the biggest reason not to live here
Posted by and bikes and trains won't help on March 11, 2013 at 3:13 PM · Report this
derrickito 2
i got a new job 7 blocks from my house. i took the freeway the first day.
Posted by derrickito on March 11, 2013 at 3:14 PM · Report this
3
The most surprising thing about that graphic is that the region's shortest average commute is for those living in--drum roll please--downtown Bellevue and some adjacent zipcodes like Medina. Times there are actually even lower than in downtown Seattle or Capitol Hill. Seattle neighborhoods like Ballard and West Seattle perform even worse than proper suburbs like Kirkland and Redmond and about as bad as relatively far out places like Lynnwood and Woodinville.
Posted by decidedlyodd on March 11, 2013 at 3:19 PM · Report this
bleedingheartlibertarian 4
My sympathy for supercommuters (and I know a lot, especially back in Atlanta) is really tempered by the fact that an awful lot (though not all) of them have decided that they have to live so far out in order to be able to afford housing, when in fact they choose to live that far out in order to have a particular size/type of housing.
Posted by bleedingheartlibertarian on March 11, 2013 at 3:22 PM · Report this
Sargon Bighorn 5
The solution is VERY CLEAR. Build MORE roads! Remember petroleum will be cheap and plentiful for ever and ever. Electricity will be plentiful for ever and ever. No need to consider anything but the car.
Posted by Sargon Bighorn on March 11, 2013 at 3:24 PM · Report this
Hernandez 6
@4 Yup. I have a friend who just bought house in the middle of nowhere (far, far north of Seattle) because it's more space than she could afford here and - you guessed it - she has a big backyard. She will now be spending somewhere around 1/6 of her life in a car getting to or from work, but I guess that just doesn't matter to some people.
Posted by Hernandez http://hernandezlist.blogspot.com on March 11, 2013 at 3:32 PM · Report this
word3 7
Whoa, that's a pretty accurate map - it predicted my commute time from Ballard perfectly at 25 min. That's up 15 min. from what it was in 2001.

Us Ballardites have noticed for a long time that commuting to work from Ballard is strictly forbidden - either on buses (routes eliminated) or in cars (no timed lights) or on bicycles (no burke-gilman extension). Please add another 3 stoplights and bring us to a standstill.
Posted by word3 on March 11, 2013 at 3:36 PM · Report this
8
"likely to be middle class (people who make less than $40,000)..."

That should probably read "more than $40,000".
Posted by uptown on March 11, 2013 at 3:38 PM · Report this
Will in Seattle 9
@7 and stop driving thru Fremont, ok? Take the Ballard Bridge like you're supposed to.
Posted by Will in Seattle http://www.facebook.com/WillSeattle on March 11, 2013 at 3:45 PM · Report this
10
It's been common for decades for mega-commuters to only go home for the weekends (many fly home). It seems a few have chosen to waste their lives driving.
Posted by uptown on March 11, 2013 at 3:47 PM · Report this
Dougsf 11
Whoa whoa whoa, 7,600 people commuting from San Jose to Los Angeles?! I can't really get my head around that, and not just because of the distance.

I've have the easiest goddamn commute for almost ten years and I've appreciated it every damn day.
Posted by Dougsf on March 11, 2013 at 4:07 PM · Report this
bleedingheartlibertarian 12
Note that the top 4 cities for supercommuters are Houston, Dallas, Phoenix, and Atlanta--all boomtowns that have plenty of single-family housing in-town, where rents really aren't that high (compared to older cities on the coasts), and are surrounded by seas of McMansion suburbs where you can get a LOT of house for not much money.
Posted by bleedingheartlibertarian on March 11, 2013 at 4:18 PM · Report this
13
@8 you're right--in cities with a high cost of living like Seattle (and really, most cities), 40k doesn't doesn't work out to buy you middle class amenities. but both studies classify >40k as "high income."
Posted by Guest Author on March 11, 2013 at 4:19 PM · Report this
Max Solomon 14
1. it's completely wrong by a factor of 2 on my commute. by bus its 45 in, 50 out.

2. yes, people DO commute to downtown Seattle from Indianola. every day.

3. i met a guy who commuted every day from Cle Elum. left the house at 4:30 am.
Posted by Max Solomon on March 11, 2013 at 4:20 PM · Report this
Bob Anderton 15
@3. The drive from West Seattle to downtown is a nightmare, but the bike ride along Alki is a joy. We even have a passenger ferry. Not so for Lynnwood.
Posted by Bob Anderton http://www.washingtonbikelaw.com on March 11, 2013 at 4:32 PM · Report this
biffp 16
When the City closes roads around Mercer, they have to adjust the streetlights. 15 minutes lost today. Obviously, the lack of fortitude with SPD is reason #1 to hate McGinn, but the complete inability to flow traffic through downtown is #2. It's complete laziness.
Posted by biffp on March 11, 2013 at 4:55 PM · Report this
keshmeshi 17
@3,

I wouldn't say it's surprising. Back when I lived on Capitol Hill, my bus commute was generally between 30 to 45 minutes every day in *good* traffic. My coworker who lives in Kirkland? Her commute was 30 minutes. Whatever you may say about the 'burbs, they're designed to get people in and out quickly, unlike the hell that is crosstown traffic in any city.
Posted by keshmeshi on March 11, 2013 at 5:10 PM · Report this
Tacoma Traveler 18
I hope Grant Cogswell is reading this online from his bookstore in Mexico City, and laughing his ass off at all you McIver supporters.
Posted by Tacoma Traveler on March 11, 2013 at 5:58 PM · Report this
19
I drive 10 minutes to work, past alki beach and toward westwood. this has been my commute for 5 years now (before that it was like 20 mins). I could never do the morning rush hour again, I would off myself!
Posted by high and bi on March 11, 2013 at 7:04 PM · Report this
20
These posts always bring out the "my-commute-is-only-5-minutes" braggarts -- as if anyone cares.
Posted by bigyaz on March 11, 2013 at 8:52 PM · Report this
21
As a single mother of two teen age boys, I cannot afford to live in Seattle unless I cram us into a two bedroom apt (I did for several years in the jxn). I can ride my bike faster then drive my car at heavy port times. My children don't fit on my handle bars, in fact they are much bigger then me at this point. And yes they have their own bikes and use them. I drive trolleys for Metro. Like many of the Muni drivers. WE can no longer afford to live in the cities we work. It isn't just those trading a mega mansion for a gas loss.
Posted by pussnboots on March 11, 2013 at 9:43 PM · Report this
22
"But building roads doesn't actually create less road density" but you know, that's kind of the point. If you don't build them, well it increases density no? As much as Seattle is trying to fight urban sprawl (yeah I had a good laugh as well) it isn't going to stop because you build more apartments. You ever buy anything you don't want? Yeah that apply's to living spaces as well.

I'll say this, businesses are partly to blame. There really is no reason for Microsoft or Amazon to have large centralized campuses. Businesses should be spreading offices around the region to limit the commute. Hell Microsoft just bought skype. Invest in outer centers such as Everett, Tacoma, Kent so people won't need to travel to the 520 corridor for work.
Posted by F'n F'gs on March 12, 2013 at 12:19 AM · Report this
23
@4 I second this, but feel that there are sometimes other factors at play besides just housing size. I found this study interesting because I am a formerly from Seattle and now living in Cleveland, OH area, which is another area found to have long commute times in the study. Cleveland is an even more extreme example than Atlanta or other cities of where cheap housing is plentiful within walking or biking distance of downtown. Professionals working downtown generally choose to live in far away suburbs not really because of housing size/quality (which is not as much of an issue here with neighborhoods full of single family homes right outside of downtown) so much as a perceived (and sometimes very real depending on the neighborhood) danger of crime living in urban Cleveland, as well as the abysmal quality of public schools in Cleveland for those with children.
@17 We have the same issue in Cleveland. I live in a lower middle class neighborhood and commute into a gentrifying "hip" poor neighborhood (similar to Columbia City). It takes me 20 min on bike and almost 40 min on public transportation to get there. Workers commuting from the second and third ring suburbs can get to downtown in half that time on express buses despite the fact that it is three or four times the distance. Its very disheartening to think that the regional transit authority is essentially rewarding workers for living in suburbs and commuting to Cleveland, as the lack of property tax base in Cleveland is what has caused most of its financial problems over the past 40 years.
Posted by jth on March 12, 2013 at 7:32 AM · Report this
24
@4 I second this, but feel that there are sometimes other factors at play besides just housing size. I found this study interesting because I am a formerly from Seattle and now living in Cleveland, OH area, which is another area found to have long commute times in the study. Cleveland is an even more extreme example than Atlanta or other cities of where cheap housing is plentiful within walking or biking distance of downtown. Professionals working downtown generally choose to live in far away suburbs not really because of housing size/quality (which is not as much of an issue here with neighborhoods full of single family homes right outside of downtown) so much as a perceived (and sometimes very real depending on the neighborhood) danger of crime living in urban Cleveland, as well as the abysmal quality of public schools in Cleveland for those with children.
@17 We have the same issue in Cleveland. I live in a lower middle class neighborhood and commute into a gentrifying "hip" poor neighborhood (similar to Columbia City). It takes me 20 min on bike and almost 40 min on public transportation to get there. Workers commuting from the second and third ring suburbs can get to downtown in half that time on express buses despite the fact that it is three or four times the distance. Its very disheartening to think that the regional transit authority is essentially rewarding workers for living in suburbs and commuting to Cleveland, as the lack of property tax base in Cleveland is what has caused most of its financial problems over the past 40 years.
Posted by jth on March 12, 2013 at 7:35 AM · Report this
25
The problem with more roads is: they fill up. Then the scream for more roads, so roads are added, they fill up, etc. Adding roads or lanes does NOT work. They ATTRACT MORE CARS...it's a fact. That's why modern-day urban planners try to find OTHER ways. Roads, lanes...do nothing but APPEAR to solve AND the short-term sham of a fix is paid for by the people. It's pretty much a waste of bucks and you only end up with concrete taking over your cities. Quality of life goes down. Waste for tax payers.
Posted by badams on February 26, 2014 at 3:18 PM · Report this

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