Ever dreamed of kayaking to work? Or walking a couple hundred feet to your office? Or are you stuck in traffic daily? Six commuters share their stories.
Seattle’s status as a world-class city now extends to its traffic. Several studies rate the city’s traffic congestion as among the worst in the country, right up there with Los Angeles and New York. When GPS device maker TomTom released its “Traffic Index,” Seattle ranked fifth in the country for stifling congestion.
And, like Americans everywhere, locals are sitting in traffic longer. TomTom estimates that a person with what should be a 30-minute car commute is delayed 89 hours a year all together — an average of 23 minutes per day.
But, not everyone spends two work weeks’ worth of time a year in traffic. Befitting a tech- and environment-conscious city, Seattle’s residents have been early adopters of car- and bike-sharing services like Car2Go, Uber and Pronto Cycle Share. And it’s not surprising that residents of a city home to a website that calculates a neighborhood’s “walk score” would aim to commute in novel ways. Of course, that’s not always possible, and many among us cling to our cars, still subject to the whims of traffic.
Six commuters shared their habits — explaining the choices they made around living and traveling to work. The commutes range from serene and peculiar (and particular to the Northwest) to enviously quick and painless to tedious and infuriatingly unpredictable.
Mode: Walking Time: Two minutes each way
Cost: $0 Distance: 420 feet
Shy of rolling out of bed and walking to a desk across the room, Cortney Bigelow has the quickest, easiest commute imaginable.
How short is her commute from her Belltown apartment? “By the time I get through [reading] three emails, I’m at work,” she said.
To get to her office at Tune, a mobile-marketing company, she walks under the viaduct and crosses the street, arriving a block away. She knows how lucky she is: Her husband travels to Bothell (which can sometimes take up to an hour) for his job.
Surprisingly, Bigelow doesn’t often take advantage of the perks of being so close to home. Though she periodically brings Smalls, her French bulldog, to work for half the day, she rarely goes home for lunch, instead staying for the meals provided on site (“We really have great lunches,” she said), and eats at her desk.
“I thought I would be going home a lot more than I actually do,” she said. “I tend to work later hours because I’m closer to home and don’t have a long commute.”
Even more reason to envy her? In March, Bigelow moved even closer to her work, shaving her taxing four-minute commute to just two.
Mode: Pronto Cycle Share Time: About 10 to 15 minutes each way
Cost: $75 a year ($6.25 a month) Distance: 1 mile
In five years, Evan Swope had three bikes stolen, totaling $350. So when the bike-sharing program Pronto Cycle Share started in Seattle, he was quick to sign up. As a University of Washington employee, Swope receives a 10 percent discount, reducing his cost to $75 a year. “If I lose a bike about every year, it’s still cheaper, and I don’t have to do any maintenance,” he said.
Swope’s commute is a mile from his house near the original Portage Bay Cafe to the far side of campus, taking him about 10 minutes. He likes that he can dump the bike and helmet when he’s done but was disappointed that the time limit on Pronto bikes is so restrictive. Members can only take bikes out for 30 minutes without being charged extra. He can’t ride leisurely and has to plan his day to make sure there is a nearby kiosk.
“I had actually just spent time in Europe — I was expecting more like what I experienced in Vienna. It’s owned by the city, it’s a municipal service,” he said. “You can keep it an hour or 90 minutes.”
Still, even with the time limitations, he’ll be renewing his service. For the price, it’s a steal.
Mode: Car2Go or bus; kayak Distance: About 4.2 miles
Time: 1 hour 20 minutes to 2 hours each way
Cost: About $60 a month plus the purchase of the kayak
Most people don’t willingly make their commute longer, but then, most people aren’t paddling a kayak to work. On a normal day, Jessica Blat, 32, will ride a scooter from Green Lake to Amazon in South Lake Union, which takes her about 20-25 minutes. But last summer she started kayaking to work.
She first got the idea when she lived in Wallingford and could see her house from her office. She thought: “I could just cross the lake and kayak home,” she said. “But I didn’t have any feasible way.”
After she moved to Green Lake, she saw an episode of “Shark Tank” that featured an Oru kayak, a foldable kayak that weighs 26 pounds and tucks into a large backpack. It cost approximately $1,200. She bought one last summer.
Now, a few days a week during the warmer months, she takes a Car2Go or a bus to Terry Pettus Park in Eastlake. She unfolds her kayak, a process that takes 10 minutes, and paddles to Lake Union Park, about three blocks from her office.
The commute on the water — about three-quarters of a nautical mile — takes 20 to 30 minutes. “I find it really nice to come to work after I paddle. There’s no one on the lake in the mornings,” she said. “It’s really calm and beautiful watching the sea planes take off.”
It takes her about one hour and 20 minutes door to door. When she gets to work, she often has to change clothes.
During the long summer days, she’ll kayak the entire length of Lake Union home, which adds 40 minutes to the trip. “Everyone optimizes for a different thing, of course, when they are commuting. Most people I talk to are super jealous and wish they could do a kayak commute,” she said.
Mode: Personal car Time: 20-40 minutes each way Distance: 9 miles
Cost: $371 a month ($140 for parking, $35 a week for gas, $91 for insurance).
Erin Schloff has the same type of commute as many Seattleites: According to census data, the average King County commute is 27.6 minutes. And like many, she drives south on Interstate 5 from her home in North Seattle, near Shoreline, four days a week to the Belltown hair salon where she works. Her schedule fluctuates; sometimes she’ll leave at 9:30 a.m. and return at 7 p.m. If she leaves during rush hour, it can take longer; at 5:30, a drive that should take only 20 minutes can be more than double that.
She’ll check Google for route options, sometimes going out of her way to avoid Denny Way. On I-5, traffic snarls around 85th Street. When she’s stuck, she listens to NPR or music on SoundCloud.
Besides spending her time, she spends money on her car. She rents a private parking spot from a condo owner for $140 a month in Belltown, “which is a good deal,” she said. “The last one was $200.” And she forks over an additional $35 a week in gas for her 2008 Mazda, paying $91 in insurance a month.
She’s not averse to taking a bus, but with her inconsistent hours and sporadic breaks — sometimes clients cancel in the middle of day — she’d rather have her car. She can run errands, drive home to do laundry before returning for the last few clients. “I like the instant gratification of going home when I want,” she said.
And Belltown after dark can still feel shady. “It’s not my favorite at nighttime,” she said.
Mode: UberX Time: 7-15 minutes each way
Cost: $252 average per month Distance: 2.75 miles
Lara Behnert has never owned a car. Originally from Alaska, she spent 12 years in New York City, flagging cabs and riding subways. When she moved to Seattle in 2007, she stuck with her Big Apple commuting habits. “I believe in working and playing close to where you live,” she said.
When she worked in Belltown, she took the bus. “It was a straight shot,” she said. “It was a factor when I bought my house.”
She lives in the Central District, but when she switched jobs, her new office in Sodo required a transfer at Third and James and could take up to 45 minutes. An UberX ride, by comparison, takes about eight minutes, and costs $6 to $8 — or $8 to $14 during peak hours — one way.
The adage about time and money is especially true for Behnert — as a creative director for a major company, she sometimes works 15-hour days, starting at the crack of dawn.
“It’s somewhat a safety issue,” she added of her choice to mostly take Uber to work. “If you’re traveling in the dark, you’re a lady still.”
Also, she often takes clients out after work. “I can go out to dinner and drink and not worry about parking or drinking and driving,” she said.
She knows the cost seems exorbitant to some, but, she said, “I did the math, I figured between the car payment itself on a nicer car could get up to $500.” Add in parking and insurance, and she concluded, she was actually coming out ahead. “I know I’m in a privileged situation. It’s sort of a luxury,” she said.
Behnert is curious to see how the forthcoming Broadway Streetcar will change her commute, as it will connect to the light rail. But, she said: “I’m all about public transportation in theory, but what I believe to be true is that it has to be faster than cars to really be adopted.”
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Mode: Car, ferry, bus Time: 2 hours and 40 minutes
Cost: $350 a month, including daily parking at the ferry, ferry fee, insurance and gas.
Distance: 35 miles one way
Most people were still sleeping when Cameron Reese began his day. Waking at 4:20 a.m., he would leave his Bremerton home by 5:30 a.m. to catch the 6:20 a.m. ferry to Seattle. He traveled an hour to Pier 52, where he hopped on the 550 bus to Bellevue at 7:35 a.m. sharp at the Pioneer Square tunnel. By the time he arrived at his job at Expedia at 8:10 a.m., he’d already been awake almost four hours.
Though many people would dream of reading all the books ever written during such trips, Reese tended to catch up on sleep or answer work emails on his phone or laptop.
On most days, he tried to catch the 4:20 p.m. ferry from Seattle back to Bremerton, leaving Bellevue at 3, working for the duration of the commute home.
“It’s pretty exhausting mentally and physically,” he said. “It’s definitely a hindrance for certain things. You are very much reliant on the bus and the boat and making sure you leave the house in enough time to get to those places.”
His arduous commute also impinged on his social life, making happy-hour drinks less … happy.
“You want to do those things, it’s just you do pay for it the next morning with how tired you are,” he said.
Why would anyone subject themselves to such a long ride? Reese, 25, was living with his mother, and though he contributed to the rent and bills, he still saved money.
And he’d been commuting this way since he was 18, traveling to the University of Washington and to a job in Fremont. “I knew that if I was able to tolerate commuting to and from the UW every day for four years, I would come out of college without any debt,” he said.
When he first started working for Expedia, he was a contractor and could work from home. But the insecurity of contract work unsettled him, and when a full-time position came open, he jumped at the chance.
But recently, after about a year and a half, he decided a change was in order. In March, he moved into a new apartment in Kirkland. His new commute: just 25 minutes by Metro bus. And thanks to an employer subsidy, it’s free.
This article was corrected on Friday, June 26. In an earlier version, Evan Swope’s last name was incorrect in one reference.