How much time did Seattle drivers save on the roads in 2020?

Jul 22, 2021, 5:32 AM
seattle cars, drivers...
Traffic in Seattle. (Photo courtesy of SDOT/Flickr)
(Photo courtesy of SDOT/Flickr)

It’s fair to say that most of our congestion has returned to pre-COVID levels, as we’ve seen in our daily drives in recent weeks. State data shows we’re only off 4% now, but just how much time did Seattle-area drivers save last year when the roads were so empty?

I think commuters remember April of 2020 well. That’s when Washington’s stay-at-home order first went into effect, and the roads emptied out. Traffic bounced back a bit through July 2020, before making a more gradual rise back to normal over the last 12 months.

Kirkland-based traffic data firm INRIX has crunched the numbers through this June, estimating that the average Seattle-area driver spent 67% less time stuck in congestion last year than in 2019. Seattle drivers still lost 25 hours in congestion, but again, that’s a 67% improvement.

Analyst Bob Pishue told the Washington State Transportation Commission (WSTC) this week that the average Seattle driver also drove 24% fewer miles during the pandemic. There were 35% fewer crashes in Seattle as well.

“With less traffic congestion, there were fewer collisions. Although, as the federal data has come out, fatalities are still up there, even with the drop in vehicle miles traveled,” he said.

And we were driving faster too. The average peak hour speed in Seattle jumped 12 miles an hour with fewer people on the road, from an average of 25 miles an hour to 37 miles an hour.

INRIX has also noticed a change in our traffic patterns. The afternoon commute has come back faster than the morning commute, and a new middle-of-the-day commute has emerged, INRIX’s Ted Trepanier told the commission.

“The emergence of the midday peak, which is enabled by telecommuting, is something that we kind of expect to persist,” he said. “The lessening of the morning peak — much more traffic in the middle of the day, which is bi-directional — very different trips than what we’ve seen previously.”

Will this commuting shift stick around forever? Pishue expects our congestion to return to normal over the next two years. Anything more specific just can’t be predicted right now.

“Anyone who says they know for sure may be kidding themselves,” he joked.

Another interesting piece of this is that Pishue says weekend and leisure trips are still strong, and that a lot of the people on the road are going somewhere other than work.

INRIX also looked at transit. It is still way off pre-COVID ridership numbers, down 45%, and Pishue said that won’t change until more companies have their employees return to the office. He doesn’t believe it has much to do with a fear of sharing tight spaces in buses and trains.

“Transit ridership is more correlated toward downtown trip demand versus something else, like aversion to transit or something like that,” he said. “That does not have a strong correlation, whereas the demand for trips downtown does.”

Though he admits that you can’t analyze and quantify people’s feelings about returning to transit. I will say that I keep hearing from listeners that they still aren’t comfortable sharing those spaces, but that is a really small sample size and more anecdotal.

Check out more of Chris’ Chokepoints.


Trash is strewn along an Interstate 5 freeway on-ramp as viewed in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by G...
Chris Sullivan

Sullivan: A glance at current Washington state laws to avoid littering on the road

Littering is still a huge problem on our roads, but are you still required to carry a trash bag in your car?
6 days ago
Expansion joints underneath I-5 (KIRO Newsradio)...
Chris Sullivan

I-5 expansion joint repair will hamper your summer driving

If the weather holds, southbound I-5 will be shut-down this weekend through Seattle for the first of a summer’s worth of weekend closures for expansion joint repairs.
11 days ago
(Photo by Karen Ducey/Getty Images)...
Chris Sullivan

ORCA card gets a reboot with instant value transfer feature

The new site and app will allow more than five million users to add money to their accounts instantly alongside 6,000 new card readers and vending machines.
14 days ago
Chris Sullivan

Sullivan: Sound Transit passes fare reform with diminished ridership accountability checks

Sound Transit no longer has mechanisms in place to check I-D's and track who isn't paying in the first place with their decision to remove law enforcement from the fare enforcement process.
17 days ago
Expansion joints I-5, bumps...
Chris Sullivan

Work to remove bumps along I-5 through downtown Seattle set to bring months of weekend closures

Workers are about kick off work to remove those bumps on I-5 through Seattle, but it's going to come with a heavy price for drivers.
25 days ago
WSDOT, HOV lanes...
Chris Sullivan

Northbound HOV optimism and aggressive litter cleanup in Puyallup

Nearly every morning on the KIRO Newsradio text line, I receive this question: When will the northbound HOV lane open?
27 days ago

Sponsored Articles


Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]

Compassion International Is Determined to ‘Fill’ a Unique Type of Football ‘Stadium’

Compassion International SPONSORED — During this fall’s football season—and as the pandemic continues to impact the entire globe—one organization has been urging caring individuals to help it “fill” a unique type of “stadium” in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of many. Compassion International’s distinctive Fill the Stadium (FtS, initiative provides […]

What are the Strongest, Greenest, Best Windows?

Lake Washington Windows & Doors SPONSORED — Fiberglass windows are an excellent choice for window replacement due to their fundamental strength and durability. There is no other type of window that lasts as long as fiberglass; so why go with anything else? Fiberglass windows are 8x stronger than vinyl, lower maintenance than wood, more thermally […]

COVID Vaccine is a Game-Changer for Keeping our Kids Healthy

Snohomish Health District SPONSORED — Cheers to the parents and guardians who keep their kids safe and healthy. The dad who cooks a meal with something green in it, even though he’s tired and drive-thru burgers were tempting. The mom who calms down the little one who loudly and resolutely does NOT want to brush […]
Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.
How much time did Seattle drivers save on the roads in 2020?