The Connect Downtown Partnership recently conducted a transportation survey of downtown Bellevue commuters and residents to determine the commute habits, motivations and program awareness of individuals within set boundaries of downtown. The survey was developed with the intention of determining what messaging would best target this audience, and will be used to inform future programming, branding and messaging of Choose Your Way Bellevue.
The survey was taken by 394 individuals, 61% of whom were commuters to downtown Bellevue, 37% of whom were downtown residents that commute to other locations, and 2% of whom who both lived and worked in downtown. The survey went out in postcard form to all residents of downtown Bellevue, was posted in commercial buildings and was live on the Choose Your Way Bellevue website May 1 through June 14, 2011.
The majority of survey respondents commuted to work by driving alone (44.8%). In explaining their top reasons for doing so, respondents listed that were no reasonable transit options, they require the use of a car for errands before and after work, and because it saves time. 37% of this population reported that increased bus service would motivate them to ditch their vehicles, though in an illuminating statistic, 22.7% of drivers indicated that nothing would encourage them to change their habits.
Riding the bus was the second most cited commute method, comprising 21% of the mode-share, followed by carpool at 10.4%. The top reason for using both these modes was cost savings. Respondents also cited stress reduction, time savings, convenience and an employer subsidy for doing so. 5.5% of respondents walked to work, and 2% of respondents reported cycling to work.
When respondents were asked about general motivators contributing to their choice of commute mode, the top three reasons were convenience, cost savings and time savings. The top impacts to commute mode choice were transit service levels, traffic levels, and gas prices.
Respondents were also asked the minimum monthly financial incentive that would encourage them to try a non drive-alone mode. The majority of people indicated that $50 would help them make a change, though $100 was the second most oft-cited amount.
These results are quite illuminating as Choose Your Way Bellevue moves forward in branding, messaging and programming efforts directed towards downtown residents and employees. It is clear that we are working with a primarily drive-alone population, and there are some major obstacles to overcome to change these habits.
Considering that neither Sound Transit or King County Metro are in a financial position to expand service in the near future, we will not be able to use that as a motivating factor to encourage non-drive alone habits. Furthermore, there is a segment of the population who claims they would never change their method, which is understandable given that the ample amount of free parking in Bellevue keeps the actual costs to drivers down.
But perhaps we could do a better job at quantifying the cost savings, stress reduction and health benefits of participating in alternate commute modes. Driving eats up a large portion of American’s annual budget, and is the second highest cost behind housing, but because driving has become so normalized in our culture, these costs remain invisible to many people. Whether it’s getting people excited about what they could do with the money saved by not driving, or demonstrating how often during peak travel times, driving isn’t actually faster (which my anecdotal evidence on I-90 overwhelmingly supports), there must be a way to show it visually, either through infographics or videos.
Additionally, walkers and cyclists overwhelmingly report being happier and healthier commuters, so we ought to encourage them to be more vocal (though not evangelical!) about their commute stories. Cycling burns an average of 300 calories per hour, and walking burns 136. Compare that to the 80 or so you burn while sedentary (car commuting) and active transportation starts to look like a winning option, eliminating the need for extra time at the gym and requiring no monetary contribution beyond start up costs.
But the reality is that most people live far enough away from their jobs that walking or cycling is not a viable option—only 6% of workers in Downtown Bellevue report actually living downtown, and the average commute distance is 14 miles. There’s always the possibility of combining active transportation with public transportation, and 7% of our respondents indicated being multi-modal commuters. But commuters tend to dread transfers, which add stress and uncertainty what can often be a lengthy commute.
Stay tuned—our next post will be about programs around the country that are encouraging people to live closer to where they work, which will help to alleviate some of the necessary driving wrought by extended distances between home and work.