Washington Avenue Traffic Projections

Hennepin County is preparing to reconstruct a portion of Washington Avenue between Hennepin Avenue and 5th Avenue South.  There has been much discussion of this project, in part because the reconstructed road may or may not include some sort of bike facilities.

Today I got an email about an upcoming public meeting for the project, and I noticed the project webpage includes a Traffic Operation Analysis with some traffic projections through 2035. Hennepin County is projecting a 0.5% annual growth in traffic volumes between 2011 and 2035.

Hennepin County provided traffic volume forecasting information for the Washington
Avenue study area. Several considerations included in the traffic forecasts are:
Minneapolis overall expects to add 36,000 residents and 30,000 employees over
the next 20 years.

  • Closure of Washington Avenue through the U of M, east of the Mississippi River.
  • Construction of the new 4th Street S on-ramp connection to northbound 35W.
  • Reconfiguration of the interchange at Washington Avenue SE/Cedar Avenue.
  • Construction of the Central Corridor LRT line.
  • The impact of continued development in the downtown area including
  • townhomes/condos, office space and retail businesses.

Given the above considerations and through a review of past studies completed within the project area, Hennepin County recommends that the traffic forecasts be based on applying a 0.5 percent per year growth rate (13 percent increase by 2035) to the existing traffic volumes, then adjusting Washington Avenue, 3rd Street S and 4th Street S traffic volumes to account for circulation changes with the future 4th Street S on-ramp connection to northbound 35W.

I don’t feel qualified to speak about hyper-local traffic patterns based on certain street closures and circulation patterns.  That’s traffic engineer stuff.  But here are a few things (and charts) to consider:

  • According to Mark Filipi, who works on regional traffic modeling for the Metropolitan Council, the regional traffic model (based on old comp plan data) projects 0.3% annual growth in total Minneapolis VMT through 2025.  This is lower than 0.5%.
  • Total Minneapolis VMT has basically been falling since 2002, with non-interstate VMT fluctuating around flat growth (all VMT figures from MNDOT).Minneapolis VMT
  • Minnesota total VMT per capita has been falling steadily since 2004 at over half a percent each year, and total VMT has been falling since 2007.  Minnesota VMT and VMT per capita
  • According to the Minneapolis Traffic Count Management System, two of the three traffic count locations on Washington Avenue in the study area show a drop in traffic from their peaks in the late 90’s/early 00’s.  The third shows flat volumes.Washington Traffic Counts Between 3rd Ave & 4th Ave

Does all this mean that 0.5% annual growth rate on Washington Avenue is incorrect?  I’m not sure.  Minneapolis does plan to grow a lot of downtown jobs and housing.  On the other hand, per capita VMT trends have been falling not just in Minnesota, but across the country and world.  In addition, Minneapolis policy makers have stated their goals to shift modes.  It’s troublesome to me that in the “considerations” that Hennepin County used in their traffic forecasts, they didn’t include plans for that mode shift the same way they include plans for development.

Given the severe lack of detail on how the 0.5% growth figure was developed, I don’t think the community should accept any design predicated on that figure without some additional explanation, especially if the capacity needed to accomodate that growth is given as a reason to reject elements that will make this street a livable, vibrant and valuable place, namely, pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.

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13 Responses to Washington Avenue Traffic Projections

  1. helsinki May 3, 2013 at 7:06 am #

    Excellent post.

    It seems like this trend will only accelerate as the Boomer generation retires and ‘Millenials’ (a much less automotive generation – http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2013/04/22/why-arent-younger-americans-driving-anymore/) take over.

  2. David Levinson
    David Levinson May 3, 2013 at 10:09 am #

    Minneapolis should design for what it proactively wants to be, not in response to arbitrary (and wrong) forecasts based on extrapolation of out-of-date trend lines. From my read, the report did not at all mention induced demand, or how traffic counts would vary based on the capacity provided.

    Seriously, what is the point of spending $4B on new downtown-serving LRT lines (Hiawatha, Central, SW, Bottineau), hundreds of millions on freeway BRT systems, plus another probably $1B on streetcars if you are not going to reduce the number of cars entering the downtown area. We can debate whether those are worthwhile, but if you want them to be worthwhile you have to base your other decisions on their expected success, not on their expected failure.

    • Bill Lindeke
      Bill Lindeke May 3, 2013 at 10:38 am #

      Exactly right, David. Traffic patterns are not written in stone tablets, handed down from the fates. They are what you make them. Traffic is a social outcome, not a social input.

      Do we want downtown workers and residents to be driving or [walking/taking the bus/biking] down Washington Avenue in 2035? It’s a simple question with a simple answer.

      I had similar frustrations with VMT projections in Saint Paul planning documents a while back: http://tcsidewalks.blogspot.com/2013/03/what-does-peak-vmt-mean-for-twin-cities.html

    • Alex Cecchini
      Alex Cecchini May 3, 2013 at 11:04 am #

      Truth. Transportation Myopia – spending tons of money on a certain mode while simultaneously continuing to spend 10 x tons of money on other modes (especially in the areas the first mode was meant to serve) and being surprised by the results of low ridership.

  3. Sam Newberg
    Sam Newberg May 3, 2013 at 10:09 am #

    I’ll point out that Alliant Engineering did the study. http://www.alliant-inc.com/. I’m not sure if they are eligible to be awarded the design contract for Washington, but regardless, their website certainly shows a lot of freeway, stroad and road widening projects, but lacks pedestrian or cycletrack facilities.

    Let’s encourage the County to select a progressive designer and contractor for this important project.

  4. Karin Berkholtz May 3, 2013 at 10:52 am #

    I sure hope that they used the 2010 Green Book when crafting the analysis, assumptions and alternative solutions. That version tries to embrace Complete Streets and standards that are less auto-oriented. An auto-oriented solution is counter to trends and what we envisioned when writing The Minneapolis Plan for Sustainable Growth. That plan gives primacy to peds and bikes.

    Promoting multi-modality from UM to downtown along Washington Avenue makes a lot of sense.

    My dream was that we’d have a streetcar line coming down West Broadway thru downtown and continuing to the UM on Washington Av. And that the streetcar co co-exist harmoniously with autos, bikes and an enhanced pedestrian realm much as the Dutch fit multiple transportation modes on its streets.

    Karin Berkholtz
    Minneapolis Community Planning Manager (2007-11)

  5. Alex Cecchini
    Alex Cecchini May 3, 2013 at 11:02 am #

    I like when people use the “congestion = more pollution” argument for reason to speed up traffic flow. Disregarding the fact that there are other solutions to this problem. Like having cars shut their engines down when not moving/idling (a technology that is widely available for cars of all types). Or changing to other modes of transportation entirely.

  6. David Levinson
    David Levinson May 3, 2013 at 1:35 pm #

    @Alex, Yes, also as if vehicle and emissions control technology today is constant for the next 30 years.

  7. Jeremy Jones May 4, 2013 at 12:55 pm #

    Piling on here…
    This is yet another example of how bubbles between planning disciplines need to be busted. Here’s a refreshing idea — collaboration. It should be somewhat contentious, if not unacceptable, that projections take place without a more integrated team composition. Talk to the Downtown 2025 people (just to pick one example, of course there are others) — will this persistent ebb of traffic counteract a vision for “thriving, livable, green” etc. future? or a “consistently compelling experience”? let alone notions of mode share that deviate from status quo? There should be no magical keys to the kingdom held by any particular guild of planning, only outcomes successfully rendered.

    However, in response to the above, until human scale is made the #1 priority and all concerned are conversant in what that entails, satisfying results will be infrequent, unintentional, or require arm-twisting. This is not the way to plan the heart of a city.

  8. Reuben Collins
    Reuben Collins May 5, 2013 at 8:47 pm #

    The report goes to great lengths to describe the impacts of buses and increased bus service along the corridor – but only with respect to how buses are an obstacle to efficient motorized transportation, never in terms of how buses may be used to capture future trips.

    You really only need to read the introduction to understand a lot about the methodology:
    “It should be noted that the traffic operation analysis serves to define the minimum
    number of traffic lanes necessary for auto, bus and truck traffic operations…
    The remaining ROW space not used for motorized moving traffic lanes may be allocated
    for any other combination of uses (e.g., bike lanes, pedestrian sidewalks, medians,
    streetscaping, on-street parking, etc.).”

    It is clear that this project is not attempting to accomplish the city’s mode shift goals at all.

  9. Brendon Slotterback
    Brendon Slotterback May 6, 2013 at 9:24 am #

    There is a public meeting about the project on Tuesday, May 14th at 5 pm at the Mill City Museum. There will also be an online survey. Make your opinions known.


  10. Janne May 6, 2013 at 3:53 pm #

    This recent info based on the Travel Behavior Inventory seems relevant. From the Met Council News page:


    My favorite quote: “Different markets have different preferences. Transit makes up 3% of all trips in the region, but accommodates 8% of all trips by Minneapolis and St. Paul residents and 16% of their work trips. Central city residents take 20% fewer auto trips than residents region-wide, relying more on transit, biking and walking.”

  11. David Levinson
    David Levinson May 9, 2013 at 2:52 pm #

    Just for information, in support of Brendon’s main argument, volumes are dropping significantly from 2003 to 2011 (AADT at Washington Avenue between 12th and I-35W)

    VOLUME COUNT Date Int Total
    View Volume Count Detail Tue 10/18/2011 15 25,333
    View Volume Count Detail Mon 10/17/2011 15 23,766
    View Volume Count Detail Tue 6/15/2010 15 33,054
    View Volume Count Detail Mon 6/14/2010 15 28,809
    View Volume Count Detail Wed 9/5/2007 15 26,580
    View Volume Count Detail Tue 9/4/2007 15 25,672
    View Volume Count Detail Wed 8/31/2005 15 28,655
    View Volume Count Detail Tue 8/30/2005 15 27,874
    View Volume Count Detail Tue 9/30/2003 15 33,139
    View Volume Count Detail Mon 9/29/2003 15 31,108

    Location ID 735 MPO ID
    On NHS No On HPMS No
    LRS ID LRS Loc Pt.
    Located On Washington Av S
    Loc On Alias
    BETWEEN 12th Av S AND I-35W SB Ramp

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