A booming population and growing economy have pinched Eastside traffic, forcing workers to get creative about how they get to and from work. Many are now car-free, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are carefree.

If you travel to and from — or even within — the Eastside for work, you might spend those hours thinking about the different ways you could reach your destination faster.

Perhaps the rising cost of living in the Puget Sound region has spurred you to find money-saving commute alternatives. Maybe being the lone driver behind the wheel of an automobile has you feeling guilty about its deleterious effects on the environment. Or possibly you are looking for a mental health reprieve, a break from being parked on Interstate 405 between Renton and Woodinville during rush hour, cursing at other drivers.

Factor in our region’s booming job market and population growth, and commuting to work on the Eastside is increasingly challenging.

For a long time, the idea of getting around on the Eastside without a single-occupancy vehicle was a peculiar notion. But more people are looking elsewhere for solutions, such as cycling to work or taking public transportation. And for commuters who already have made the switch to buses, bikes, vanpools, and other forms of transportation, it’s already apparent that much of the Eastside is navigable without a car.

“I think some people probably see the Eastside in the way that it used to be, which was very car-centric,” Vicky Clarke, Cascade Bicycle Club’s East King County policy manager, observed. “But Kirkland, Bellevue, Redmond, and the cities that I know most intimately have made great strides in the last several years to try and move away from that — and that’s more what people are demanding and wanting.”

This behavioral shift among some Eastside commuters isn’t entirely anecdotal. According to data compiled by Sound Transit, ridership on the transportation agency’s most popular Eastside bus services has increased by as much as 25 percent over the past five years.

Employees aren’t the only demographic looking for commute relief.

“Employers on the Eastside want to provide best-in-class benefits to keep and attract employees, and mobility is at the top of the list,” Patrick Bannon, Bellevue Downtown Association president, explained. “For Eastside cities, including a growth area like downtown Bellevue, our competitive edge and long-term economic success is primarily tied to access and the ability for employees to get to and from their jobs. Businesses still want office space and to bring people together to create and innovate, and we are continuing to see strong demand for office space. We have an ongoing need to solve for mobility and our transportation challenges.”

When REI announced two years ago that it would relocate its headquarters from Kent to Bellevue’s Spring District by 2020, it didn’t hurt that the new campus would be within walking distance of a future light rail station and the Eastside Rail Corridor, a 16.7-mile trail that will one day link Renton to Woodinville.

“We’re envisioning a sustainable, transit-friendly, urban neighborhood that blends working space with green space, takes inspiration from the community around it, and connects to the rest of the Puget Sound area,” said Eric Artz, REI’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, in a press release.

Added Clarke at Cascade Bicycle Club: “(REI’s) specific ask to the City of Bellevue wasn’t tax breaks. They said, ‘Build a bike network; build the Eastside Rail Corridor.’ Those were the things that they wanted. This is really representative of what businesses increasingly want.”

But it’s not just about bikes. Sound Transit’s Link light rail is scheduled to open in 2023 and connect Seattle to Mercer Island and Bellevue. Waze launched a carpool app in Washington state in March, joining similar services, such as Uber Pool, Lyft Line, and Scoop.

In the pages that follow, we profile five Eastside workers who have turned to bikes, buses, trains, vanpools, and other modes of transportation for their daily commutes. We also learn firsthand how two Eastside transportation professionals get to work. And we explore resources available should you decide to leave your car at home and explore other forms of commuting.


 

Commuting - Lauren CollinsLauren Collins

Commute: Whidbey Island → Bellevue
Modes: Vanpool, Ferry

By the time the first ferry sounds its horn and pushes back from the terminal at Clinton at 4:40 a.m., Lauren Collins — in her home a few miles away — has been awake for more than an hour.

“I like to have a cup of coffee and emerge gently, so to speak,” Collins explained.

It’s a quiet pause — a moment of reflection, if you will — before she begins a voyage-like vanpool commute that, on Google Maps, is a downward curving line that represents only 35 miles. In reality, however, Collins’ commute is a 90-minute trek that crosses Puget Sound, and continues along State Route 525 and Interstate 405, before it terminates a few blocks from her office at Sterling Realty Organization in downtown Bellevue.

When Collins describes her commute to friends and co-workers, they consistently ask two questions: How do you do it? Why do you do it?

The first question has everything to do with a synchronized, domino-like structured sequence of events that would put most high-profile event planners to shame. By 5 a.m., she pulls out of her driveway and makes the 10-minute drive to a park-and-ride, where she meets her fellow vanpoolers — a group of six people that range from 21 to 57 years old, and who work for employers in a variety of industries (online travel, investment banking, legal, property management, and automotive sales) but all have one thing in common: They live on Whidbey Island and work in downtown Bellevue.

From there, the vanpool heads toward the ferry terminal, is ushered to the front of the line (vanpools have priority embarking and disembarking privileges, no matter the lineup or how crowded the vessel), and drives onto the 5:30 a.m. ferry to Mukilteo. The 20-minute sailing gives her and another carpooler time to complete a walking lap of the boat (“We get our steps in,” Collins said), before they all climb back into the van and head south toward Bellevue.

By 6:20 a.m., the assistant property manager is in downtown Bellevue and headed to her office, where she has worked for the past 12 years.

“It is a long day,” Collins conceded. “But when you choose to live on an island and work in downtown Bellevue, which is my choice, that’s just part of it.”

Later that day, Collins is in the parking garage at Expedia’s headquarters by 3 p.m., where the van is parked, and ready to make the trip back to Whidbey Island, arriving home by 4:30 p.m.

As for the second question: Why does she make this commute?

“Some people say, ‘Couldn’t you just find another job on the island?’” Collins said. “I love my job. It’s a really great company, and I’ve worked here a long time. It’s hard to give that up.”

For 28 years, Collins and her husband lived near Cougar Mountain. The 8-mile commute to Bellevue along Interstate 90 was simple. But Collins’ husband retired last year, and the couple sold their Eastside home and moved to Whidbey Island.

It helps that Collins’ employer is flexible (she works 6:30 a.m. to 2:45 p.m.) and pays for a majority of the $130 monthly fee for Island Transit vanpool service.

And the van can be a productive place. In the mornings, she might recharge with a short nap; in the afternoons, she might respond to emails or make a few phones calls. And Collins said she gets along with her fellow vanpoolers. “A lot of times, we have some very lively conversations,” she added. “It’s a good dynamic, being how different we all are.”

Besides, at the end of the day, bucolic island living makes it all worthwhile.

“Once we are on the boat back to Whidbey Island, for us, there is a shift,” Collins said with a sigh. “You are home. It’s all good. It’s very peaceful.”

 


How’s Your Commute?

Eastside transportation professionals share how they get to and from work

Commuting - Anna LoffingAnna Loffing
Eastside Mobility Coordinator, Hopelink

I live in South Seattle and commute every day about 12 miles to my workplace in Bellevue. My job requires me to travel all over the Eastside, in many cases carrying heavy materials. Unfortunately, often the car is my only option. Driving alone increases my carbon footprint significantly and has not only a negative impact on the environment, but also on my health, and contributes to traffic congestion. Whenever possible, I take the bus or carpool with colleagues.

I am really looking forward to the (Sound Transit) East Link (light rail) extension, which will connect Seattle with Bellevue and Redmond by 2023 or 2024. Riding Link light rail is very convenient, fast, and you don’t get stuck in traffic!


 

Commuting - Levi BinghamLevi Bingham

Commute: Puyallup → Factoria
Modes: Park-and-ride, Train, Bus, Shuttle

Captain Transit.

That’s the nickname Levi Bingham’s wife bestowed upon him three years ago, when he started to commute from their home in Puyallup to his job as a senior manager of store operations at T-Mobile headquarters in Factoria.

A time once existed when Bingham — a career salesman and father of three kids — would have thought it impossible to do his job and leave his car at home.

“I was always out in the field as a district manager for a couple of different companies,” said Bingham, who has worked at T-Mobile for nearly a decade. “I probably drove 35,000 to 40,000 miles every year.”

Today, Bingham can’t imagine driving his car to and from work. Instead, his 90-minute commute is an amalgam of transportation modes.

The day begins around 6 a.m. with a short drive from his home to a park-and-ride lot. A quick bus ride drops him off at the Sounder station in Puyallup, where he begins a 50-minute train ride to downtown Seattle. From there, he can either board a King County Metro bus or connect to one of T-Mobile’s fleet of pink-colored employee shuttles.

Cars. Buses. Trains. Shuttles. It seems like a lot of trouble to travel roughly 40 miles between home and work. But Bingham said the benefits are many.

T-Mobile pays for his ORCA card and the shuttle service, so he essentially — save for his gas to and from the park-and-ride — commutes for free.

Hours of productivity aren’t lost to this blended form of commuting. “My average commute time from the park-and-ride to the office is almost exactly the same, if not faster, than when I drive,” he said.

And by living farther away from high-density population centers, such as Seattle and Bellevue, Bingham and his family could afford to buy a home.

“Some of my colleagues, when they are trying to buy a house, I tell them they should look farther south or north, because the (Sounder) train runs from Edmonds down to Lakewood,” Bingham said. “I think more people are starting to be open to that because finding somewhere to live in the greater Seattle area and on the Eastside is getting tougher.”

Bingham’s commute does have its drawbacks. He’s had to duck out of meetings early to catch a train back to Puyallup.

And, for him, working on a bus or train is not really an option.

“It’s tough to take work conference calls while on a train,” said Bingham, who oversees a team responsible for many of T-Mobile’s product launches. “I see a lot of folks who do their work on the train. Honestly, I can’t do a lot of work stuff on the train. I don’t need whoever is sitting next to me to be looking at what’s the next T-Mobile product to launch.”

In a weird twist, the inability to work while commuting serves him well.

“When I get home, I’m relaxed, and I’ve had some decompression time,” Bingham said. “I’ve read books. I’ve watched movies. I’ve kind of gotten work all out of my system so that I can be present for my family.”

 


How’s Your Commute?

Eastside transportation professionals share how they get to and from work

Tim Kelley
Transportation Program Director, TransManage / Bellevue Downtown Association

Coming from the East Coast and Washington, D.C., I have one of the easier commutes that I have had in my working career. Right now, it’s 3 miles from the Bridle Trails neighborhood to downtown Bellevue, and it takes me about 15 minutes (by bicycle).

There are a lot more hills here than I am used to in the D.C. area. I have a big hill right near my house that I go down in the morning, which is great, but in the afternoon, heading home, I am chugging up the hill slowly.

I ride rain or shine. If it’s raining, I can put on some rain gear, which is something I invested in when I moved to the Pacific Northwest.

I am a person who chooses to bike because it’s the easiest way for me to get around. I don’t have to deal with parking (or) bus schedules. It works for me, my independence, my timing, and my schedule. My morning bike ride is my morning cup of coffee and I get to work and feel refreshed and ready to take on the day.


 

Maggie Lovell

Commute: Woodinville → Redmond
Modes: Bicycle

&

Michael Brown

Commute: Bothell → Redmond
Modes: Bicycle

What are the unnerving aspects of your commute? Maybe it’s a crowded light-rail train, gridlocked traffic, or a late bus.

For Maggie Lovell and Michael Brown — City of Redmond co-workers who commute by bicycle mostly along the Sammamish River Trail — it’s the owls.

“It’s dark in the morning, and all of a sudden something will just go right by me,” said Brown, 51, a maintenance technician who helps to keep the city’s parks in good form by mowing lawns, building fences, and making repairs to building plumbing and electric systems.

“Oh yeah, the owls in the morning,” Lovell confirmed. “They come pretty close.”

“A couple of times, I actually felt them hit my helmet,” Brown added.

Brown and Lovell were gathered around a table in the breakroom at the city’s Parks and Recreation Maintenance & Operations headquarters, recalling their separate experiences commuting on two wheels.

In addition to dive-bombing owls, the pair have also glimpsed deer grazing trailside, swerved around beavers inexplicably sitting in the middle of the bikeway, dodged Canada geese aggressively protecting their goslings like helicopter parents, peered up to see eagles hovering drone-like overheard while scanning the landscape for small prey, and witnessed explosive splashes as salmon launch bullet-like and ever so briefly out of the river.

And then there is the Rollerblade Guy. “I just saw him yesterday,” Lovell said.

“Oh, yeah,” Brown added. “Big beard. No shirt. He’s out there every day, even in the winter.”

Brown lives in Woodinville and has cycled to and from work for long as he’s worked for the City of Redmond, 13 years. Lovell, a 61-year-old grandmother who lives in Bothell, has commuted by bike for most of the 21 years she has been employed by the city.

Most mornings, both are on their bikes by 5:30 a.m. for the ride to work. Lovell’s commute one-way covers about 13 miles in 50 minutes; Brown’s commute covers about 10 miles in 40 minutes. The pair work flex schedules, 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., and use on-site lockers and showers when they arrive. After a rainy ride to work, they can toss their cycling apparel into a dryer for five or 10 minutes so it is warm and dry for their rides home.

Both said cycling to and from work makes them more productive. Lovell finds the experience meditative and relaxing, a head-clearing experience that prepares her for the day ahead. For Brown, it helps to keep him in shape for his physically demanding job.

Neither has entirely abandoned his or her cars. There are days, still, when the commute involves a single-occupancy vehicle. For Brown, that’s usually Monday mornings, when he often feels languid after a weekend, and has trouble getting up and on the bike before dawn. He dislikes Mondays for an entirely different reason than most people.

“Let’s put it this way,” Brown said. “My blood gets raised when I’m in my car commuting. I guarantee it. When I commute by bike, I get home, I feel relaxed, I feel good, and I’ve got a smile on my face. If I’m driving and sitting in traffic after work, it can be pretty aggravating.”

Heavy rain and windstorms rarely keep Lovell and Brown off their bikes. In fact, Brown thinks these are the best times to ride. He’s amused by co-workers who offer him a ride home on these days.

“If traffic lights are out or power lines are down, it creates this massive traffic nightmare,” Brown said. “But I get on the Sammamish River Trail, and my commute is exactly the same.”

 


Car-Free Commute Starter Kit

Want to commute without your car? These resources will help you get started.

Trails & Roadways

Eastside Rail Corridor
This 16-mile trail will open in phases and connect Renton to Woodinville. Ideal for Eastside Boeing workers.

Cross Kirkland Corridor
A 5.75-mile passage linking State Route 520 to Totem Lake. Ideal for workers at Google and EvergreenHealth Medical Center.

State Route 520 Trail
Live in Seattle’s University District and work at Microsoft? Use this path to cross Lake Washington.

I-90 Trail
A popular route for T-Mobile workers who live in Seattle or on Mercer Island and want to get a workout during their commutes.

Bellevue Grand Connection
A 1.5-mile route that one day will link Meydenbauer Bay, downtown Bellevue, and the Eastside Rail Corridor.

Sammamish River Trail
A scenic, 11-mile route ideal for Bothell biotech workers.

Bellevue Grand Connection
A 1.5-mile route that one day will link Meydenbauer Bay, downtown Bellevue, and the Eastside Rail Corridor.

Organizations
Greater Redmond Transportation Management Association (GRTMA)
This Eastside organization promotes alternatives to single-occupancy vehicle commuting. grtma.org

Cascade Bicycle Club
The nation’s largest statewide bicycle nonprofit has a wide regional presence and will host the Eastside Business Bike Summit at Redmond’s Nintendo headquarters in September. cascade.org

TransManage
This Bellevue Downtown Association program works with employers and property owners to encourage transit, ridesharing, and other forms of commuting. transmanage.org


 

Commuting - Bruce DawsonBruce Dawson

Commute: Kirkland (in-city)
Modes: Many

If you think you can’t commute to and from work on the Eastside without driving your car, you haven’t met Bruce Dawson.

The 52-year-old veteran software developer has worked for Microsoft, Valve, and now Google, and has made the weekday trek to the office mostly by bike or bus.

“For some reason, I have always hated cars, and I don’t know why,” Dawson explained. In fact, before moving to Washington state, the Canadian-born Kirkland resident says he lived in Wisconsin, and often commuted to work via cross-country skis. “I didn’t buy my first car for years, and I always got around using other methods as much as possible.”

Recently, Dawson decided to take his interest in alternative commuting to the extreme. For one month, he commuted using a different means of transportation — 20 work days, 20 different commute methods.

His imagination went wild.

If you happened to be in Kirkland in April one year ago, you might have seen Dawson, say, pull on two wet suits at Heritage Park and slip into the chilling waters of Lake Washington for a swimming commute, only to emerge at David E. Brink Park and walk the seven blocks or so to Google. Or maybe you saw him ply the waters on water skis, aboard a canoe, or tucked inside a kayak. You might even have seen him slip past vehicle traffic while perched atop a giraffe unicycle, Solowheel, Ripstick, Segway MiniPRO, or ElliptiGO.

When Google sent him to Silicon Valley for work that month, he commuted via Caltrain and Google’s fleet of employee buses.

The best commuting experience that month? Water skiing.

“Sure, it’s not practical,” Dawson said. “(But) it felt great to do something improbable before breakfast.”

The worst experience? Skateboarding. “I think I’m just a terrible skateboarder,” Dawson said. “A couple of times, it just shot out in front of me, and I was just lying on my butt. I stuck with it because I’m extremely stubborn, not because I enjoyed it in the slightest.”

These are some of the ways he commuted between his home and his office that month, an event he calls the Commute Challenge.

“I would like people to step back and think about their commute and other options for their commute,” he said. “There are some people who, realistically, don’t have any way of getting to work other than driving. Fine. But there are a lot of people who could get to work in ways that have less impact on traffic and the environment, and are better for health and happiness.”

Dawson admitted his commute is simple. The distance between his front door and Google’s Kirkland campus is about 1.25 miles. And depending on which route he chooses, it can be a scenic trek that winds past three city parks and terminates at the Cross Kirkland Corridor, which bisects Google’s Eastside headquarters.

But he also notes it’s no accident he lives close to work. Proximity to the office was a key factor when he bought his home 10 years ago.

“When people say, ‘I hate sitting in traffic,’ I just want to grab them by the shoulders and say, ‘You realize that you are traffic, right?’” Dawson said. “‘Part of the reason that traffic sucks is because you are out here participating in it.’ If everybody does what is individually best for them, which seems like hopping in the car, then collectively it’s a disaster and that’s the situation we are in now.”

Dawson plans to repeat the Commute Challenge in September and use totally different modes of transportation. The shortlist includes a penny farthing, pogo stick, rickshaw, and kite surfing. Like last year, he also plans to share his experience on social media (he even made a short video recapping his experiences). This year, he will encourage others to join him, even if it’s only for one week out of the month and involves more gradual and conventional modes of commuting: driving to work one day, taking the bus another day, and cycling to work.

“Maybe drive to work one day. Drive to a park-and-ride the next day, and take the bus. Then bike to a park-and-ride the next day, and take the bus,” Dawson explained. “We are now up to four different commute methods. “I would love it if it opened up a few people’s minds to the possibilities they have for commuting.”

 

Commuting

Photo By Rachel Coward


Most Popular ST Express Bus Routes

Total Passengers By Year

522

Woodinville ↔ Seattle

2016 = 1,568,904

2012 = 1,284,225

545

Redmond ↔ Seattle

2016 = 2,605,320

2012 = 2,143,992

550

Bellevue ↔ Seattle

2016 = 3,151,998

2012 = 2,364,328

554

Issaquah ↔ Seattle

2016 = 1,180,368

2012 = 882,885


Source: Sound Transit

Bellevue Commute Trends

People who live in Bellevue and commute alone

1990 = 77.2%

2000 = 74%

2010 = 68.4%

2015 = 65.9%

People who work in Bellevue and commute alone

1990 = 82.3%

2000 = 78.5%

2010 = 75%

2015 = 73.4%


Source: City of Bellevue U.S. Census Bureau