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With more people moving to Seattle, fewer miles traveled on area roads


The number of miles traveled in a car around Puget Sound has barely risen as the region experiences a massive migration of new residents to the area.

That’s the conclusion of a trends report from the Puget Sound Regional Council. Total annual number of vehicle miles traveled in the central Puget Sound region rose by .5 percent in 2017. But the slight rise in miles traveled doesn’t track with the sharp rise in population. Per person miles traveled is about a quarter of the population increase during the same year in King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Kitsap Counties.

Unpopular opinion: Blame yourself for bad Western Washington traffic

The council measures vehicle miles traveled to gauge how well people are moving through the region, which has implications on traffic and environment. The council’s goal is to decrease vehicle miles traveled while increasing alternate modes of transportation. According to the report:

It is important to view the modest increase in VMT (vehicle miles traveled) in the context of a robust economy and growing population. Between 2010-2017, the total VMT in the region has increased by 5 percent, half as fast as population and one-fourth as fast as employment. In contrast, transit boarding in the region increased by 19 percent during the same time period.

The report notes that for the first time in many years, the vehicle miles traveled in Washington state went down, though slightly. Statewide, VMT went from 61.8 billion miles to 61.6 billion. To put that into context, that number had been on the rise since 2011 when it was 56.1 billion miles. The decrease in miles traveled across Washington is blamed on rising gas prices. Whenever gas prices go up, people drive less.

The region’s traffic has been of high concern as a number of factors add to congestion. The population increase is among them. Seattle has been noted as the fastest growing city in America, receiving new residents largely from other parts of the state, Oregon, and California. The central Puget Sound region is expected to grow by about 6 million people by 2050.

So many more people in town has prompted one Seattle of Transportation director to say that the city cannot accommodate any more cars.

As the economy and population booms, more and more people have been pushed out further from Seattle and other economic hubs. That means they have to drive into town, adding more cars on the road, with more time on the road and more accidents. Longer commute times are being noted as far as 50 miles away from Seattle.

The issue has prompted companies such as Amazon to pitch in toward mass transit, donating $1.5 million to fund increased bus service in Seattle this year. Amazon has paid at least $60 million since 2014 providing ORCA passes to employees

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There are some successes to report. A study from 2017 found that despite 45,000 new jobs being added into downtown Seattle, only 2,255 more cars were added to the commute into that area, meaning more people opted to walk, bike, or take transit, etc.

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