For those destined for the West Coast, Seattle could be the place for all you looking for a city with beautiful scenery, mild weather, and a lively environmental scene. It is relatively easy to get around without a car and in fact, preferable.
Walking in Seattle
Walking around Seattle is easy, especially if you don’t mind frequent rain. While the city receives less precipitation than New York, expect a drizzle at least 150 days of the year. Luckily, after the winter rain, the city dries out in the summer. If you want an insiders perspective on walking around Seattle, scroll through this “Walking in Seattle” blog.
Not only does the downtown area cater to pedestrians, but also most nearby neighborhoods have nearly everything you could need within a few blocks. Walkways are constantly being improved. The City of Seattle drafted a Pedestrian Master Plan with the goal of making Seattle the most walkable city in the nation. Check out the current walking conditions and monthly improvements at the Seattle Department of Transportation.
Many streets have biker-designated “green lanes,” that highlight areas where bikes and cars cross paths; the thick green paint indicates that motor vehicles should to yield to bicyclists. Some one-way streets have contraflow lanes, which are bike lanes headed in the opposite direction of motor vehicle traffic. Access a Seattle bike map here. While the city does have many well established routes, such as the Burke-Gilman Trail, there are a few spots bikers have nightmares about. Exercise extreme caution if using the trails adjacent to the West Seattle Bridge, the Ballard Bridge, and the Montlake Bridge.
For more information, check out the Seattle Bike Blog.
Seattle Public Transit
Buses are the way to go in Seattle and how most people use public transit. Take a look at Bus Chick’s blog to see how a woman has been living car-free in Seattle since 2003. To find the bus routes in your neighborhood, access the King County Transit page.
Seattle has a relatively extensive “Park & Ride” program that offers plenty of parking and even lots with electric vehicle charging stations as part of the “Plug-and-Ride” program. The King County website lists all the stations and parking lots in your area.
Downtown Seattle features a “Ride Free Zone” where you can get around the downtown area by bus for free between the hours of 6 a.m. and 7 p.m.
The “Link” light rail runs north/south from the SeaTac airport up to West Lake. Trains run frequently, about every 7 to 15 minutes depending on the time of day. There is a convenient space for bikes on-board the train as well. The train is very quiet and has push activated doors. Here’s a clip of the train arriving at the Beacon Hill Station.
The Seattle Center Monorail takes passengers from downtown Seattle to Seattle Center. While its practical use is limited by the short one-mile track, it is a quick alternative to get from one place to the other and a cool thing for tourists to explore.
For more updates on transit legislation, interesting studies, and lively arguments, check out the Seattle Transit Blog. Transitsleuth is another great resource.
If you cannot get to a bus station, you can take a van. Seattle boasts the most extensive publicly owned and operated commuter van program in the nation. Metro provides everything you need from fuel to tires to the insurance. Want to take your bike with you on the van? No worries. Metro will install a bike rack for free. The ride matchboard helps you locate potential carpoolers in your area.
There are HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes reserved for people carpooling or taking the bus. If you see a solo driver in one of these HOV lanes, SDOT encourages you to call 1-877-764-HERO and become a highway hero. You could even rock out to the band 764-HERO while making the call.
If you want to take a weekend trip or need to run errands, Zipcars are readily available. Find a friend to share the ride!
Driving in Seattle
If a personal vehicle is your only way to get to those hard-to-reach places of Seattle, you might face high parking rates and stagnant traffic. Seattle Bike Blogger tells us why nobody in Seattle drives anymore. Take a look at the pothole map to prepare for what you might face on your drive and which of the craters are being filled . To avoid the daily jam on the notorious 5 mile stretch on the SR-520, check out your public transit options.
Here are a few of the neighborhoods that are easy to live car-free in and that have people talking.
Fremont is the self-proclaimed “center of the universe,” transitioning from an artsy-hippie community to a more upscale neighborhood. The main business district is pretty much on the side of a hill, five miles from downtown Seattle, and filled with independently owned shops and galleries. Public walls are canvasses for street artists and statutes are frequently decorated with costumes. Be sure to check out the outdoor beer movie theater and the Sunday farmer’s market. Rent for a studio or one bedroom is typically in the $700-800 range.
To get downtown, you can take bus routes 5, 26, 28, or 82. If you want to check out the zoo, hop on the 5. If you need to head to the University District, catch the 31 or 46. A lot of people in this neighborhood depend on public transit, walking, or their own bikes to get around.
Typical Transportation Cost: $767 /month
This is probably the most walkable neighborhood in the city with a hipster flair. Part of its walkability is due to the fact that its one of the most dense and urban of Seattle’s neighborhoods. Capitol Hill is a gay friendly neighborhood and arguably the best spot for Seattle nightlife along the Pike/Pine corridors. If you must drive, there’s easy access to the I-5. It is definitely a little cheaper to live here than, say, Queen Anne; a quick search on Craigslist yields a few sub $700 per-month studios, but plan on spending $800/month.
There are tons of bus lines that run through Capitol Hill. For a trip downtown, 10, 11, 12, 14, 25, 43, 49, and the 84 will get you there. If you need to go to the hospital, grab the 8 or 2 to the Children’s Hospital.
A streetcar line is opening in 2013 and a light rail station opens in 2015.
Typical Transportation Cost: $699 /month
Lower Queen Anne
For those of you with low transportation costs, you might put some of the savings towards a higher rent. You might consider Lower Queen Anne, the place for the 20-30 year old working professionals. You might be able to get away with paying less than $750 for rent on a studio, but plan on spending $800-$900 a month.
With many different bus routes to chose from, getting downtown should never be a problem. Take your pick: 1, 2, 3, 4, 13, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 24, 26, 28, 33, and the 81/82 “Night Owl.”
Typical Transportation Cost: $759 /month
If the college crowd isn’t your thing, this might be the neighborhood for you. The majority of the residents used to be Scandinavian fisherman, boasting “Ballard Pride.” However the area has quickly gentrified into a slightly more upscale neighborhood with many galleries and boutiques. There are many different housing options (apartments, small houses, etc.) with rent around $700/month for a one bedroom. Lots of restaurants and a great bar scene. The Ballard Transportation Guild is rallying community members to decrease neighborhood traffic. Some interesting projects include a bike-rack design contest and issuing “undriver licenses.” Or take some notes on how this family of 5 survived without a car in Ballard for a year. There are east, west, and north public transportation options that head into major areas like Fremont, Belltown, the University District, and downtown.
Typical Transportation Cost: $807 /month
To get around downtown, hop on buses 15, 17, 18, 28, 994, or the 81 “Night Owl.” If you are headed to the UW Campus or the Northgate Mall, catch the 75.
A residential area named after Ravenna, Italy, it’s filled with lots of University of Washington grad students. Definitely a quieter scene, but it surrounds the Ravenna Park, which is a nice place to spend a Sunday afternoon or pass through on your bicycle. In terms of housing, you are probably looking at a house or duplex rather than an apartment. Rent here is relatively average in the $700-$800/month range.
Bus lines 64, 74, and 76 will take you downtown weekdays, while the 71 will take you there on weekends, and the 83 will get you there at night. If you need to get to the UW campus, you can catch the 65, 68, 83, or the 372. To go to the Seattle Tunnel, you can take the 71, 74, 76
Typical Transportation Cost: $850 /month
Overall, Seattle boasts an excellent network of public transportation that provides plenty of means to get around without a personal vehicle. The city is actively working towards increasing routes and stations to encourage ridership. As highway traffic slows and bike lanes open, more people are turning in their car keys for a bus pass or a bike. Want to join the movement? Get out to Seattle.
Are you moving to Seattle? Do you live there now? Let us know how you get around Seattle!