By Bill Sheets, Herald Writer
EVERETT — There appear to be many reasons why people are driving less than they did a year or two ago.
The economy and gas prices are two of them.
Andrea Martin of Everett lost her job recently. She used to drive to work in Lynnwood every day.
“No money, no gas, no car,” said Martin, 21, a single mom.
Both in the state and nationwide, commute times are down and people are spending less time sitting in rush-hour traffic, according to two studies.
Across the nation, the average driver spent a half-hour less per year stuck in rush-hour traffic in 2007 than in 2006, according to a study being released today by the Texas Transportation Institute. The number dropped to 36.1 hours in 2007 from 36.6 hours in 2006, according to the study.
In the Seattle area, drivers spent two hours less sitting in traffic in 2007 than the year before — 43 hours, down from 45 in ‘06.
More recent numbers collected by the state show the trend continuing. In the second half of 2007, the average morning trip from Everett to Seattle took 41 minutes, state traffic engineer Ted Trepanier said. In the second half of 2008, the same trip took 36 minutes, he said.
The return trip in the afternoon took 38 minutes in 2007 and 34 minutes in 2008, Trepanier said.
Numbers for trips between Everett to Bellevue were comparable, down from 42 minutes to 37 in the morning and from 41 to 35 for the return trip in the evening, he said.
Earlier in the decade in Washington state, vehicular travel of all kinds, for work or leisure, started to level off after growing steadily in the 1990s, Trepanier said.
Telecommuting, ridesharing, vanpooling, denser development patterns and improvements to roads and transit were all aimed to some degree at loosening congestion, Trepanier said.
“You’re starting to actually see some of those things take hold,” he said.
Then, when gas prices spiked last year and the economy tanked, the trend deepened, he said.
Last year, when many people ditched their cars for buses and trains, many didn’t return to their cars even when gas prices went back down.
Ridership at Community Transit, Snohomish County’s public bus agency, and at Sound Transit was not as high in May 2009 as it was in May 2008 — when gas prices were pushing $4 per gallon — but still was higher than it was in May 2007, according to figures from both agencies.
“Some of the people who got on the train and got on the bus decided that worked for them,” Trepanier said.
Others, while they may still be commuting by car, are cutting down their other driving. Lee Clark of Everett still drives every day to his job with Seattle Public Schools, “but not so much after work,” he said.
Bob Stokes, 67, changed jobs last year so he wouldn’t have to drive every day from Everett to Redmond. His commute dropped from more than 30 minutes to about 2, he said.
“It was the afternoon traffic that got me,” he said.
Other findings in the study by the Texas Transportation Institute, part of Texas A&M University, include:
n After Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., the most congested metro areas were Atlanta, Houston, San Francisco, Dallas-Forth Worth, San Jose, Calif., and Orlando, Fla.
n The least congested metros were Lancaster-Palmdale, Calif., and Wichita, Kan., where drivers were delayed an average of six hours a year.
The report urged state and federal governments to act now to develop highways or mass transit, since these programs can take 10 to 15 years to complete.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.