Seattle, Washington has accomplished what many cities only dream of. They’ve revitalized their downtown, adding tens of thousands of new jobs, but did it without increasing downtown traffic. Their strategy for success, of course, was boosting public transit.
Seattle worked with the business community and King County Metro to incrementally improve 3rd Avenue and set aside space for use as a transit-priority corridor.
If you visit 3rd Avenue at 5 p.m., you’ll be struck by the volume of buses and the crowds of passengers boarding them. These thousands of people are among the workers filling tens of thousands of new jobs downtown.
Through all of these efforts, Seattle was able to reduce the proportion of drive-alone work trips into downtown Seattle from 50 to 31 percent over the course of 14 years, making it possible to add tens of thousands of jobs downtown while keeping car trips into downtown more or less the same. 27,857 jobs were added in downtown Seattle just from 2010 to 2013. Making that kind of expansion without choking downtown with traffic would not have been possible without expanding transit and making it work for more people.
The appetite for new offices or housing in downtown areas hasn’t been limited just to downtown Seattle or even just the city, however. Other cities in the Puget Sound region have seen resurgence of their downtowns as well.
Tacoma’s downtown resurgence started with a new University of Washington campus in 1990 and is still going strong, with State Farm Insurance opening offices nearby in 2013. Young professionals are flocking to downtown Bellevue — the fifth largest city in Washington and home to offices for Microsoft, Expedia, Eddie Bauer, and video game developers Bungie and Valve — where the median age of downtown residents has dropped from 57 to 34 since 2000. Planners expect the population of downtown Bellevue to balloon from about 11,000 today to 19,000 in 2030.
The region’s light rail system, Link, run by Sound Transit, connects Sea-Tac Airport on the south side of the city to downtown Seattle. Sound Transit opened a northward extension to the University of Washington in March 2016 — an incredibly popular extension which increased the entire system’s ridership by 63 percent almost overnight. In September, Sound Transit completed a southern extension to Angel Lake just south of Sea-Tac.
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