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).
- 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.
- 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.
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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