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Commuting to an Urban Campus

Last updated on February 18, 2022

Northwest being such an urban campus gives its students a unique experience that few other schools across the country can offer. We have Capitol Hill on one side, an eclectic collection of locally run stores and restaurants with streets covered in art. The lively energy of the neighborhood can be felt even through the walls of Northwest. On our other side is downtown Seattle with Pike Place market just a few blocks walk from school. The tall buildings can be seen out of classroom windows and even the wind coming off the Puget Sound sometimes reaches all the way to Northwest School. While the urban experience and energy that we are so lucky to have is amazing, it also poses an accessibility issue. Northwest students come from all over the greater Seattle area and whether by bus, car, or bike figuring out how to get to school is a challenge for many. Finding an easy and affordable way to get to school is hard for members of our community whose parents cannot drive them to school.

Northwest has a number of school buses that pick students up from neighborhoods in and surrounding the city. Taking the school bus costs $900 round trip or $450 one way per trimester. This price is covered by the school for students on financial aid. In a survey sent out to The Northwest School about 26% of the 100 students who responded said they take the school bus to and from school. The issue with this method of commuting to school for some is getting from home to the bus stop, and then again in the afternoon after being dropped off. In addition to the problem of getting to the bus stop, some students are on the bus for over 30 minutes before they arrive at school, which means they are waking up considerably earlier than other students who live much closer and have easier ways of getting to school. One student said in a survey that “Riding the school bus from West Seattle is pretty slow,” which speaks to a struggle many students feel. Some students may even opt out of taking the school bus because of these issues. One student said, “I would take the school bus but the West Seattle bus route is very inconsistent and has been up to 30 minutes late before and it leaves over an hour before school even starts, and I do not want to wake up over two hours before school starts every single day.” This is a big complaint of many students, but many of them have no option other than taking the school bus.

Students who take the school bus are not the only ones who face a long commute. The dreaded Seattle traffic is at best annoying and at worst can leave you sitting unmoving on the highway still 20 minutes away from school. Another issue for members of the Northwest community that commute by car is parking. Whether impossible to find or too expensive, there are many obstacles in searching for a place to store your car for 8+ hours. The cost of parking in the Capitol Hill area is an accessibility issue itself. The cheapest public parking in Capitol Hill is 10 dollars per day, and the average price for 8-hour parking in a parking lot within a 16-minute walk from Northwest is $14. That means you would be spending about $2,310 a year to park near school, which not everyone can afford. Only 7% of students drive themselves to school. Of those students, the closest parking is just across the street and the farthest is 6 blocks away from school.


Public transportation is another way of getting to school, but many students try to avoid this option because of concerns surrounding COVID-19. Nevertheless, about 14% of students take the bus or light rail to school. One student who takes public transportation to and from school said “I like seeing everyone on the bus and having time to myself.” Another student posed the environmental benefits of taking public transportation saying “it’s better for the environment to take a bus rather than everyone taking personal vehicles.” Some students, however, are not as enthusiastic about public transportation. One student complained that “the city bus is dirty and the bus comes at a super inconvenient time. I wish the NWS bus was cheaper” Many students use public transportation as a cheaper alternative to parking on Capitol Hill or paying to take the school bus. 

The most popular way of getting to school is being driven by someone else like a parent, sibling, or carpool. About 42% of students said that is how they get to school most of the time. Morning commute times range from less than 10 minutes (8%) to over an hour (12%) with the majority of students falling in a 10-20 minute commute (20%). Afternoon commutes tell a similar story with most students facing a 10-20 minute commute. However, both 20-30 and 30-40 minute commute times each rose to 21% of students. This means that 42% of students spend over 20 minutes commuting home from school. Despite this fact, 70% of students said they enjoy their commute to school. Anonymous survey responses reveal that students use this time to listen to music, talk with friends on the bus, or catch some extra sleep in the car. The 30% of students who said they do not enjoy their commute had a lot to say about it. A theme among these students was lengthy commutes causing them to be late, saying things like, “I hate that my commute is long and I get scolded for being late which is something I can’t control” and “it takes too long and I don’t like being late.” These are all very valid complaints, which are bound to come with any urban commute. 

Finding ways to make Northwest more accessible goes beyond financial aid. While traffic is beyond anyone’s control (however much we sometimes wish it weren’t) there are things Northwest can and has done to make the commute better. School buses, while they pose certain challenges, are a huge help for many families. A later school start time is something that students were wanting for many years and finally got. This is so important because while it doesn’t necessarily cut down commute time it gives students who live farther away more time to sleep in the mornings. If we as a school want to continue to have a more diverse student body that comes from many different parts of the greater Seattle area, then these are the issues that we must address. Issues that may seem minuscule to those who aren’t as affected by them are huge roadblocks for others. I believe that our determination and commitment to social justice will be a large factor in improving Northwest’s accessibility.


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