Fifth most accessible metro area

The Greater Minneapolis-Saint Paul region ranks fifth nationally in accessibility to jobs by car, following much larger metropolitan areas: Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, and Chicago, according to a study we recently completed at the University of Minnesota. The region is punching above its weight following a boxing metaphor. Why?

Accessibility is the product of speed and destinations. The more destinations I can reach in less time, the more accessibility I have.

As noted previously, at 72 km/h the region has one of the fastest street networks in the United States (which has an average of 65 km/h across all 51 metros in the study).


Our circuity (the ratio of network to Euclidean distance) has increased by about 10% over this period, from 1.34 to 1.37 (note the minimum circuity is 1.00, so a 0.03 change over 0.34 is about 10%), meaning the routes are on average less direct. We can attribute this largely to suburbanization, suburban street networks in newly developed areas are more circuitous than networks built in earlier decades. National trends have been similar but more modest, increasing by about 3% to 1.37

Looking at this over time, accessibility has increased about 20% in the metro area from 1990, though it has dropped about 4% since 2000. Overall, the region had the fourth largest increase in accessibility rank between 1990 and 2010, following only Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Jacksonville (To be clear, other cities had larger increases in overall accessibility, but Minneapolis move the most places up the standings.).

The small changes in accessibility from 2000 to 2010 is due to the decrease in employment between 2000 and 2010, following a sharp rise from 1990 to 2000. This also mirrors national trends. There are many reasons for the decrease in employment, including changing demographics, labor force participation rates, and the Great Recession, among others, but the fewer jobs the lower the accessibility. While employment drops, speeds increase (fewer cars on the road) so these effects are somewhat offsetting, though I think most people would trade some congestion for more employment.

For further detail, Access Across America website includes an interactive map. The report can be downloaded directly here.

3 thoughts on “Fifth most accessible metro area

  1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

    I seems like the reasons for our relative high ranking can be attributed to a few things that have increased car accessibility:
    – A bunch of very recent capacity increases and road network extensions over the past decade while congestion has not yet caught up (212 in Chanhassen/Chaska, 35W/62 interchange, 35W north of 62 to downtown, 35W lane extension in Burnsville + MnPass, etc etc)
    – The relative strength of the job economy of MSP area (unemployment lower than national average) compared to other metro areas

    Would you say these anecdotal things are contributors? Furthermore, what does this mean for policy at MnDOT/etc? Will they realize that our road netowrk is not only very built out but gives access to users among the best in the country? Maybe time to step back and simply say no to anything new, maintain existing (consider letting some go longer in their schedule), and make investments elsewhere?

    1. David LevinsonDavid Levinson Post author

      As someone said “data is the plural of anecdote”, so enough of those projects certainly help speeds, and I agree our job market is relatively good. What MnDOT does with this information is up to MnDOT and politicians, but one could make a case this proves the success of their program in enhancing accessibility by automobile, so why change. I think staff well understands the nature of the problem: rising costs, diminishing benefits, peak travel, etc. but the political level needs to be educated. And in this case, I think educated is correct rather than sarcastic, there are a lot of misconceptions about the benefits of investments in the mature network, especially among politicians who learned some facts 20 or 30 years ago (congestion always rises, e.g.) and find it hard to unlearn.

      1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

        I agree with you – with no snark intended one of the biggest problems facing making better financial decisions regarding infrastructure is a lack of education. This is not just at the politician level, the general public is largely uninformed as well – meaning even if politicians (or would-be ones) have unlearned much of what was deemed to be truth, their constituents haven’t – making large policy changes or reversals VERY difficult.

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