With an increasing number of people returning to work in their offices, Sammamish residents have begun to experience heavier traffic than at any point in the last two years, most prominently during rush hour near State Route 520, Redmond-Fall City Road, and Sahalee Way.
Yet, for most commuters, the traffic is still nothing compared to levels before the pandemic, as people are still slowly adjusting back to working in their offices while others are permanently working from home.
Jane Qu, 56, who works at MAJIQ Inc., a small company in Redmond, noticed this when she started heading into the office this year. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, traffic could often lengthen her 15-minute drive by as much as 30 minutes each way.
“Usually, it would take 45 minutes to drive to work… It [the traffic] could be really, really frustrating,” Qu said.
Similarly, Sean Quiriconi, 48, a program manager at Microsoft, also remembers the 1-hour commute to his company’s Redmond campus.
But now, with most people adopting hybrid work schedules, Qu and Quiriconi have found that traffic has drastically decreased in volume. Even at rush hour, the transportation time for Qu has only reached 25 minutes at most. Likewise, Quiriconi has never sat in his car for more than 30 minutes to get to work.
“Currently, we’re still kind of experiencing the effect of COVID. I would say that it was a lot worse in the past,” Qu said.
Quiriconi still thinks traffic may approach pre-pandemic volumes in the future.
“In my experience in the last three months, it feels more like ‘normal’ now than it did in the past. Traffic levels could fully rebound sometime this year,” Quiriconi said.
Mei Zhang, 47, has a different experience. Zhang works as a software engineer for Salesforce. She feels that the traffic levels going to and from Seattle have been about the same, as she has consistently been spending 25 to 35 minutes one way. That is because she has always avoided the worst of rush hour traffic. While most commuters usually leave for work at 8:00 a.m., Zhang has had the flexibility to go in later if she needs to.
“I try to avoid traffic hour. That is probably why I have not been hit so hard. If other people have a fixed nine-to-five office schedule, they might have to be stuck waiting,” Zhang said.
Higher traffic volumes have affected some people’s decisions to work from home. For instance, Quiriconi has adopted a hybrid work schedule where he goes in the office for half of the week and works at home for the other half. This way, he feels he is not losing as much time to transportation.
“If you think about being in a car, the best case for transportation time would be an extra hour a day. After two years of being fully remote, it does feel like a bit of wasted time that we’re now going to have to work to get back in the office,” Quiriconi said.
Their suggestions on what the city should do to further reduce traffic varied. Qu felt that Sammamish should expand construction efforts. With a rapidly growing population, there is a greater need for more lanes and roads.
Zhang believes that more construction would be the opposite of what the city truly needs because “construction takes too long of a time.”
Instead, Zhang thinks there should be more public transit options, such as the light rail that is currently being built to Redmond.
Quiriconi still believes his best option is to just keep driving. As a Microsoft employee, he has tried his company’s Connector bus service. It did not work for him.
“The problem with the Connector for me is, although it is convenient, it becomes a little difficult if you plan to leave at different times every day,” Quiriconi said. “The [population] levels will grow, and we will just have to deal with the traffic.”