Despite Seattle’s record-setting population growth in recent years, rush-hour traffic into downtown has remained about the same: absolutely insufferable. This passes as good news in Grist’s hometown because, well, apparently it could be a lot worse.

A new survey conducted by the Downtown Seattle Association finds that nearly 70 percent of commuters are now choosing to get to work in ways other than driving their own cars. That’s up from just 50 percent in 2000, and it means that, even with more people coming into the city to work, “the sheer number of cars [is] staying flat,” the city’s transportation commissioner, Scott Kubly, told the Seattle Times.

Here’s what that looks like from about 7 to 9 in the morning, and 4 to 6 in the evening, on an average weekday:

Seattle traffic

Oran Viriyincy

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According to TomTom, a company that makes GPS devices, Seattle has the fourth worst traffic in the country, worse than New York, Miami, and Washington, D.C. No wonder Seattleites are opting for the bus: Why be stuck in traffic all by yourself when you can do it with 30 or 40 of your closest friends?

The new numbers support my longtime contention that the one sure way to pry Americans out of their cars is to create gridlock so impenetrable that no one in his right mind would want to suffer through it. And it’s going to get worse in Seattle. Writes the Times’ Mike Lindblom:

The Seattle Department of Transportation plans to reduce the vehicle speed limit downtown to 25 mph this year, to squeeze bicycle lanes onto Fourth and Fifth avenues within three years, and to ban certain right turns on red for pedestrian safety. The City Council hopes to run streetcars in exclusive lanes along First Avenue someday.

Less room for autos on the streets means the traffic will likely get worse even if car numbers continue to hold steady. That may spell doom for drivers, but it smells like progress to me.

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