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Seattle Times news librarian Gene Balk crunches the numbers

July 11, 2014 at 11:27 AM

The surprising places where car ownership is up in Seattle

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Click to open interactive map

Which is growing faster where you live — the number of people, or the number of cars?

In Seattle, people have the upper hand lately.

In 2013, 456,000 non-commercial passenger cars and trucks were registered in Seattle ZIP codes, according to Department of Licensing data. That represents a 4.4 percent increase from 2010.

But in the same period, the 18-and-older population rose even faster — 5.7 percent, according to Experian.

That means for every 100 adults in Seattle, there were 76 cars last year — one car fewer than in 2010.

But here’s a twist: The Seattle neighborhoods where a carless lifestyle is easiest are trending in the opposite direction.

In the city’s most walkable, transit-friendly areas — including Capitol Hill, First Hill, the Central District and most of the downtown neighborhoods — cars increased at a faster clip than people between 2010 and 2013.

This trend was most pronounced in the 98101 ZIP code, which includes the northern half of downtown and parts of First Hill, Capitol Hill and the Denny Triangle. The adult population increased 7 percent, but was eclipsed by a 12 percent gain in passenger vehicles.

To be fair, these neighborhoods still have some of the lowest rates of car ownership in Seattle, despite the increase. In the 98104 ZIP code, which includes Pioneer Square, the International District and part of First Hill, there were only 33 passenger vehicles for every 100 adults in 2013 — up from 31 vehicles in 2010, but still the lowest rate in the city.

So what’s behind the growth in car ownership in Seattle’s central neighborhoods?

One factor, certainly, is the influx of young professionals who have the means to own a car.

For Holly Robins, 33, of Capitol Hill, the decision to buy a car was work-related. When the graphic designer took a contract job in Kirkland, she initially tried commuting by bus, but found the transit schedules didn’t jibe with her work hours.

So Robins bought a car — and she still owns it, even though she no longer commutes to the Eastside. A self-described “nature nerd,” Robins says, “not having a car sometimes made me feel like I was stuck in the city.” Although she admits that street parking on Capitol Hill can be a challenge, she still feels the benefits of car ownership outweigh the negatives.

But just because the rate of car ownership has increased in these areas doesn’t necessarily mean that people are driving more.

Robins typically goes for days without driving: “Sometimes I forget where I parked,” she says.


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