Pedestrian Chronicles

Pedestrian Chronicles: Increase in Walking Outpaced All Other Modes of Commuting

Number of people walking to work in Seattle leaped by 50 percent.

By Josh Feit October 3, 2016

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Here's one more dispatch from the National Association of City Transportation Officials conference I attended last week. Subtitle: How Portland's bike stats led me to discover Seattle's impressive pedestrian stats.

There was an interesting presentation from a staffer from the Portland Bureau of Transportation whose thesis was that the proportional return on building bike infrastructure for increasing ridership numbers was astronomic.

To make his case in part, he had one slide showing that bikers made up the biggest percentage of Portland’s 54,000 new commuters since 2000. With 18,572 new bike commuters, bikers represented a serious 34 percent of new commuters. Solo drivers weren’t far behind, though, in second place at 29 percent of all new commuters. The bike stat is more impressive, though, when you consider this: With single occupant vehicles making up the vast majority of commuters in 2000 (63.6 percent), the percentage increase in the total number of car commuters (8.8 percent) is minuscule compared to the growth in bikers who represented just 1.8 percent of total commuters in 2000 and grew in raw numbers nearly fourfold, from 4,775 to 23,347.

By the way, some other (curious) stats from Portland: Telecommuters came in a close third as a percentage of new commuters just behind solo car drivers at 24 percent; transit was a distant fourth at just 10 percent of new commuters. And carpooling actually lost numbers. And setting up my Seattle comparison, Portland pedestrians made up just six percent of Portland's newest commuters. ...

Given this data, I checked in with the Seattle Department of Transportation to see what Seattle’s numbers are; they provided data going back to 2010.

Between 2010 and 2015, Seattle has added roughly 68,201 new workers. Within that new workforce: Transit riders make up the biggest percentage. New transit riders make up 35.1 percent of Seattle’s net new workers. The second biggest increase is single occupant vehicle commuters, who make up 24.7 percent of net new workers. Pedestrians come in third, right behind new drivers, at 21.3 percent. Telecommuters come in fourth, making up 7.5 percent of the increase. And people who bike to work make up just 5.7 percent of Seattle’s increase in workers, coming in fifth.  

In raw numbers bikers grew by 32 percent, though, from about 12,000 to about 16,000. That makes bikers the third fastest growing segment of commuters. Who's first? Pedestrians. Ped commuters increased a stunning 50.2 percent in raw numbers. And this isn't because a small number doubled to a slightly less small number. To wit: People who walked to work went from a legit 29,070 (8.6 percent of all commuters) in 2010 to 43,665 (nearly 11 percent) in 2015. Meanwhile, transit riders also posted an impressive increase, coming in second by leaping 39 percent. People who telecommute grew by 23 percent, for fourth place.

And coming in last when it comes to percent increase: Driving alone, which grew by just nine percent.

Overall, of Seattle’s 407,361 commuters in 2015:

Solo drivers are at 48.5 percent versus 53.3 percent in 2010.

Transit riders are at 21 percent versus 18.2 percent in 2010.

Pedestrians are at 10.7 percent versus 8.6 percent in 2010.

Telecommuters are at 6.8 percent versus 6.6 percent in 2010.

Bikes are at 4.0 percent versus 3.6 percent in 2010.

Footnote: I’m excluding categories such as taxicabs, motorcycles, and “other means” whose numbers from the outset are too small do represent any meaningful stats. My findings are based on data from the U.S. Census and the American Community Survey, which does yearly spot checks to supplement the Census. 

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