To hear Expedia officials tell it, the company’s new Seattle headquarters will be an oasis for employees who want to avoid driving to work, offering private shuttles, plentiful bike amenities and cash for every day they don’t drive.
Then, there’s the parking garage.
A 1,230-spot garage was already on the 40-acre site when the company announced its move from Bellevue to Seattle’s Interbay neighborhood. Expedia Group Inc. nearly doubled that to include 2,300 spaces. Eventually, the company could expand that further under an agreement with the city.
“They seem to be working hard to address” reducing drive-alone trips, said Ellen Monrad, chair of the Queen Anne Community Council. “On the other hand, they’re building a huge parking structure for all these people that are not going to drive.”
This fall, Expedia employees (the company includes multiple travel sites) will start their move to the new campus, with 4,500 workers expected there by February. The company could expand to as many as 8,000 employees by 2031.
In contrast: When the site’s former occupant, biotech company Amgen, announced in 2014 that it would close the campus, it eliminated 660 jobs across that site and a plant in Bothell.
While Expedia’s workforce is small compared to a behemoth like Amazon, the move will challenge the region’s commitment to reducing drive-alone trips and tackling Seattle’s largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions: vehicle traffic. It could also test commuters in the area.
Monrad said her group is not against the campus, but will be watching nearby choke points. Traffic could worsen on Elliott Avenue directly in front of the project and on already-slow crosstown routes like Mercer Street and Denny Way, and backups could have ripple effects up 15th Avenue West into Ballard.
Slightly less than half of Expedia’s employees live on the Eastside, according to the company, which would not share a more detailed breakdown. In coming years, light rail will carry riders between the Eastside and downtown, but a line through Interbay to Ballard won’t open until 2035.
That leaves the city and company to find other ways to drive down car use. Expedia and the city have agreed to a plan they say will reduce expected drive-alone rates from 49% when the campus opens this year to 30% by 2031.
At the company’s current Bellevue headquarters, “we’ve already begun the behavior change,” said Melanie Truhn, Expedia Group’s headquarters commute manager.
The company offers most employees unlimited transit passes, free carpool parking and a “commute coach.”
In Seattle, Expedia will add another sweetener for employees: $5 a day each time they take transit, van pool, bike or walk.
The company has also agreed to a range of other measures, including road improvements and monitoring along Elliott Avenue West and the Galer Flyover. The city required the company to pay for signal improvements in the area. The city and company declined to say how much Expedia is paying for those improvements.
The new offices will add about 2,900 new daily car trips in the first phase and could bring as many as 4,000 daily trips by 2031, largely on 15th Avenue West/Elliott Avenue West, the city predicts.
Employees who drive to the Seattle campus will pay a daily market rate for all parking, and the company will not offer monthly parking permits, according to a transportation management plan signed by the company and city. If the site doesn’t meet its drive-alone rates, some parking stalls could be cordoned off and made inaccessible or the company could implement surge pricing.
Carpool parking will be free early on but could cost later; vanpool parking will be free. All Expedia employees who work at least 20 hours and three times per week will get free ORCA passes. Along with improvements to the Elliott Bay Trail, the campus will have 400 bike-parking stalls, 28 showers and 400 lockers.
The company will run at least three shuttles from residential areas like Redmond, Kirkland and Bellevue and at least one from downtown. The shuttles will be “reasonably accessible” to 75% of employees who live on the Eastside, according to the company.
“We fully recognize that people are going to have to drive in some days because that’s what life is,” said Mark Nagle, Expedia Group vice president of global real estate. “We just want people to try different things.”
The large parking garage visible to passersby on Elliott Avenue is meant to serve fewer than half of the company’s employees, a spokesman said in a statement. “If we have empty parking spots because our employees are choosing other ways to get to work, we’ll be very pleased.”
Ultimately, if Expedia fails to meet its drive-alone goals, the company will have to come up with additional strategies and, if those fail, could be required to pay toward city traffic-management efforts.
With a few months to go until employees start arriving, the mood in the neighborhood near the campus is cautious but not panicked.
Early on in the project, the Port of Seattle wrote a biting letter in response to a draft environmental impact statement for the campus, calling the assumptions about how many employees would not drive “unrealistic.”
“There is a high risk to the city’s and state’s cruise ship industry if the paper plans for a Transportation Management Program don’t work, and the preexisting economic activity is gridlocked by transportation congestion,” the Port’s regional transportation manager, Geraldine Poor, wrote in 2016.
In a May interview, though, Poor said the Port has come around on the company’s efforts. According to Expedia, drive-alone rates at the Bellevue campus have fallen about 10% in two years, according to internal employee surveys.
Last year, 38% of employees said they drove alone to work. Aside from driving, travel by bus and carpool were the most popular ways to get to work, according to company figures.
“We’ve seen what they’re doing in Bellevue,” Poor said. “We hope they’re able to translate that here and … believe it’s possible.”
Poor also cited increased transit use in Seattle. Since the 2016 letter, “we’ve seen a lot of changing in commute patterns,” she said.
At Leone & Vaughn Orthodontics, down the street from the new campus, administrative staff say patients already work to avoid appointments at the busiest traffic times. That “does mess with our schedule,” said employee Samantha Frieders between phone calls. Employees, meanwhile, sit in traffic, particularly trying to turn left onto Elliott Avenue.
“We’re kind of locked in down here,” said another employee, Joan Fuller.
Nearby at Baskin Robbins, “some customers have told me they may not be able to come by [if the traffic gets worse],” said owner Emily Carlson. “I said I hope not. Let’s wait and see.”
Others are hoping increased traffic could boost business. Mitsy Geogy hopes Expedia workers will visit her nearby cafe, Global Eats. Richard Kinssies hopes they’ll need his services at Wine Outlet.
“I’m a retail business and to have 4,000 people move in across the street — it doesn’t take a business genius to [see the benefit],” Kinssies said.
Traffic may worsen, Kinssies said, but “when the viaduct came down and it was Carmageddon, everyone was just fine. Here, I think we’ll adapt.”