Having previously looked into the best commuter towns near Boston, Atlanta and Chicago, we continue our series with an analysis of the best towns to live if you work in Seattle. Using a similar methodology, we allocated points for each town’s performance in terms of commute time, housing values, school ratings, and crime rates to highlight ten of the most attractive locations for Emerald City commuters.
Seattle might be known as the place to be for cycling enthusiasts, but the city actually has one of the highest number of cars per capita among the nation’s most densely populated urban areas. Despite this, the number of single-occupancy vehicles (SOV) and even carpoolers have been dropping yearly in favor of public transportation or alternative mobility options. In fact, many tech companies offer employees benefits like subsidized ORCA transit cards, on-premise bike storage, and charging stations for electric scooters.
We found that the average commute time to Seattle is roughly 30 minutes, with a 17-minute difference between the shortest (Mercer Island, with 22 minutes) and longest travel times (Shoreline, with 39 minutes). Housing costs also vary significantly from $311,300 in Mountlake Terrace at the low end, to a whopping $1,034,600 in Mercer Island, with an average of $543,060 across the list. Keep reading to find out more about the best commuter towns near Seattle.
Issaquah: A Very Attractive Package
Opening our list of top 10 Seattle commuter towns is Issaquah with a total of 81 points and a 4-point lead over Kirkland in second place. It ranked above average across the four indicators, fetching 37 out of 40 points for its commute time, 13 out of 15 points for the third lowest crime rate, and 10 out of 15 points for the fourth best school rating.
Situated 15 miles from Downtown Seattle, further than most of the other cities that made the top 10, Issaquah residents have nevertheless the second shortest commute time, spending an average of 27 minutes on a one-way trip. That’s only five minutes more than those living in Mercer Island, and 12 minutes less than Shoreline, the longest commute time in our top 10.
Between 2013 and 2017, the median home price in Issaquah was $502,500, making it 25% less expensive than neighboring Bellevue, but placing it 61% below rates in Mountlake Terrace and 6% below those in Kenmore. Issaquah’s housing stock has grown significantly over the last couple of decades, with roughly 45% of its current inventory built since 2000.
Issaquah High School placed 35th on U.S. News & World Report list of the nation’s top high schools. The entries are ranked according to reading and math proficiency, graduation rates, underserved student performance, college readiness, and curriculum breadth.
Shoreline: A More Accessible Housing Market
Commuting from Shoreline to Seattle by car or public transit reveals a 33-minute gap between the two average travel times. For those choosing to drive into town, the commute can be as short as 22 minutes, whereas residents hopping on the bus might take as long as 55 minutes during a typical work week. On average, commuters can look forward to a 39-minute trip, the longest commute time in our list.
Despite this, Shoreline has managed to acquire 73 points, landing in fifth position, between Redmond (with 74 points) and Kenmore (with 71 points). The town’s score got a big boost from its median housing value, the second most affordable in the list at $389,300.
On the one hand, this is due to an overall cooling-off of the housing market in the past couple of years, with Shoreline’s residential market estimated to shrink by roughly 4% this year. On the other, several major development projects are expected to increase its inventory, among them Trammell Crow’s 330-unit six-story Alexan Shoreline at 15500 Westminster and Merlone Greier Partner’s mixed-use Shoreline Place.
Bellevue: Bringing Work Closer to Home
Landing in seventh place, Bellevue totaled 71 points with an average 27-minute commute, the third best score for this indicator. The largest city in our top 10 with over 100,000 residents, Bellevue lies just across East Channel Bridge, roughly 8 miles from downtown Seattle, connected to Mercer Island via I-90.
The city received 15 out of 30 points for its current housing opportunities, making it the second worst scoring entry in this category behind Mercer Island. The median price for an owner-occupied unit between 2013-2017 was $665,700, more than twice that of the lowest housing value in the list, Mountlake Terrace’s $311,300.
Amazon’s relationship with Seattle officials has become increasingly tense resulting in the e-commerce giant announcing plans to relocate one of its core businesses to the company’s original birthplace. The worldwide operations team is scheduled to move into several Bellevue office spaces, including the 13-story Summit II, the currently under construction 17-story Summit III, and the 441,000-square-foot Expedia Building.
In order to deal with the estimated population growth, the city is trying to capitalize on an underused industrial area, building new streets, parks, bike lanes and roughly 5,000 new housing units in the 900-acre neighborhood of Bel-Red. Bellevue will also be a part of Sound Transit’s East Link train line, scheduled to open in 2023, linking Central District, Mercer Island, Bellevue, and Redmond.
Mercer Island: The Ideal Place for Those Who Can Afford It
In many ways, Mercer Island looks like the ideal option for Seattle commuters, being the leading entry for three of the four metrics examined in this study. However, it garnered only 70 points, the lowest score overall. While it collected 40 out of 40 points for its average 22-minute commute time, 15 out of 15 points for both its low crime rate and high school rating, it incurred a serious penalty for its steep housing costs. Mercer Island gained zero points for its $1 million median home value, which is 106% more than those looking to move to Issaquah would have to pay, and 55% more than commuters living in Bellevue.
Today, commuters living on the island are served by Metro Routes 204, 216, and 630 and Sound Transit Routes 550 and 554. The future East Link train will also feature a stop on Mercer Island and a 447-stall park and ride. The city has 35 parks and open spaces and many great biking trails for those looking to avoid traffic or enjoy their downtime. Several festivals and events pepper the island’s calendar throughout the year, including the Forest Stewardship on Oct 10th through 17th and the Monster Mash Dash Family Run on Oct 31st.
We looked at towns located between 5 and 30 miles from Seattle. Each town was allocated points based on the following metrics: commuting time, housing value, crime rate, and school rating.
Points for commute time, housing cost, and crime rate were awarded inversely proportional to their value. Points for school ratings were awarded directly proportional to their value.
Entries could gather a maximum of 100 points, spread across the four metrics as follows: 40 points for commute time, 30 points for housing value, and 15 points each for crime rate and school rating.
The average commute time by car or mass transit was calculated by Google directions. We’ve considered the shortest typical trip time for arriving in Seattle between 07:40 – 08:10 on a Monday.
Housing values are based on a 5-year Census estimate (2013-2017) of the median price of owner-occupied housing units.
FBI crime rates indicate the number of violent crimes committed per 100,000 residents. We only included towns that have a violent crime rate lower than the state average of 365 crimes per 100,000 residents.
School ratings were calculated based on the average score by town for schools that had a review on GreatSchools.com by July 2019.
Cities with less than 10,000 residents, based on 2017 Census estimates, were excluded from the list.