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It's Time Seattle's Car-Loving Transplants Get with the Program

Two wheels forward, four wheels back: Nearly two-thirds of Seattleites under age 35 drive alone to work.

By Josh Feit February 23, 2017 Published in the March 2017 issue of Seattle Met

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Traffic on Second Ave.

WTF, newbies? Almost two-thirds of Seattleites under 35 drive alone to work, and it’s safe to say that, like you, many of them are transplants. Do you punks even know where you live? This city’s reputation as a cutting-edge ecotopia—not to mention the future of the human race—is on the line here. So you gotta ask yourself one question: Do you want to put us on a road to environmental ruin or are you going to get with our zero-carbon ways? 

We should have seen this coming. For two decades SDOT has been working with the city’s biggest companies to encourage their employees to take transit. And it was working! In 2010 solo drivers dropped 6.8 percent. That rate slowed in 2012, which experienced a 1.4 percent drop, but at least it was still trending in the right direction. Then in 2014—right around the time you people started showing up in droves—the rate actually reversed course, with a 0.5 percent increase in driving-alone rates. 

How do you get to work?

Looking closer: Those under 35 are significantly more likely than those 35 and over to drive alone to work (61.8% versus 43.4%).

You can’t blame us older Seattle vets for being a little bitter. We’re an eco-friendly lot: Only 43 percent of us drive alone to work. (Even with you guys mixed in, the citywide rate is 50 percent, which is pretty good compared to the 76 percent average nationwide. But it’s certainly not up to the emergency standards our planet needs.) We’re also good planners, wisely voting for a whole host of taxes (that you’re paying too, by the way) to take cars off the road and fund transit. Last fall we passed a $54 billion Sound Transit measure that will pay for 62 miles of new light rail. The year before that, we passed a $930 million levy to pay for, among other things, seven new RapidRide bus corridors crisscrossing the city. And the year before that we taxed ourselves to the tune of $45 million explicitly to buy new buses. We’ll forgive you for missing that while you unpacked your hoodies and flip-flops, but you can’t plead ignorance anymore.

We’re going to go out on a limb and guess you work in South Lake Union. You know what, at least 12 Metro bus lines cater to your neighborhood—where we also built a streetcar basically for Amazon employees. And speaking of Amazon HQ, we invested about $1 billion there to transform the former industrial wasteland into a hipster terrarium of condos, bike lanes, and wide sidewalks so you could roll out of bed and breeze into work without a car. Oh, and Amazon has a stupendous commute trip reduction program, including free Orca cards.

We’re not the only ones who’ve noticed this. Our earnest, green city officials are on to the wayward youth of today. And in order to make sure the next generation is bus trained, SDOT and urbanist Seattle City Council member Rob Johnson are now looking to make Metro free for everyone under 18. So homegrown Seattleites will continue to be as enlightened as ever. As for you youngster transplants, we’re thrilled that you like our tech jobs. But it’s time to start loving our planet too.

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