Percent commuting to work by transit, walking, or bicycling in large Minnesota metropolitan areas

Chart of the Day – Mode Share for Bike Walk and Transit

Today’s Chart of the Day is Mode Share for Bike Walk and Transit in Minnesota

Percent commuting to work by transit, walking, or bicycling in large Minnesota metropolitan areas

Percent commuting to work by transit, walking, or bicycling in large Minnesota metropolitan areas

Source: MnDOT Annual Transportation Performance Report 2012

47 thoughts on “Chart of the Day – Mode Share for Bike Walk and Transit

  1. Steven Prince

    Interesting graphs, consistent with my anecdotal observations in the Wedge.

    When I moved here in 1985 many of my neighbors (like me) did not have a car. They couldn’t afford one and chose to live in a high amenity neighborhood where walkable businesses and transit connections to downtown and the U made living without a car possible.

    Today, there are many more cars in the neighborhood (and much more congestion) than 30 years ago, a result of increased density and incomes: higher rents mean more people per unit in many units; newer housing is targeted at high income folks who also want a car even if they regularly use transit or a bike.

    My sense today is more people make the decision to live in the Wedge because it adjoins an entertainment district than because they can go without a car. The neighborhood was more affordable 30 years ago, so it was a good option then for people who could not afford cars.

    We bought our home in 1992, it had a duplex on one side and an (illegal) triplex on the other side. There was one car between those 5 units and the 8 people that lived in them. Today there are 10 people in those 5 unit and 6 cars.

    1. Matt Brillhart

      You also need to factor in the massive amount of job sprawl that has taken place since 1985. Suburban corporate campuses, west Blooming office towers, suburban municipalities giving out huge tax breaks to lure companies, has taken a huge toll on employment in the core cities. Not just existing employers moving out, but new or expanding businesses chose to set up around the 494/694 beltway and along 394. A significant percentage of people living in south Minneapolis now commute out to work in those areas, which are accessible only by car. This was not the case in 1985.

      1. Janne

        I’d like to add a data point. I owner-occupy a four-unit, 9-bedroom building at 22nd & Dupont S (the area Steve is talking about.). The house has had consistently declining numbers of cars per occupant over the 18 years I’ve been there, culminating at ZERO now. There has also been an increase in residents choosing to not get drivers licenses over time. That is still unusual, but now owning a car is also unusual.

  2. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    Land use trumps personal / cultural preferences. Despite what we may think in our small bubble world of urban glee, Minnesota isn’t really making progress on reducing automobility yet. A good first step would be to change funding priorities at MN-DOT.

  3. Steven Prince

    Bill and Matt,

    You are both saying that increased housing density in my neighborhood will not change automotive ownership pattens for my neighbors. I agree.

    We already have the residential density for transit based neighborhoods, just not the infrastructure to reduce automotive use. So why does everyone seem to argue that increasing density is going to reduce automotive use in a neighborhood that is already one of the densest in the metropolitan area? Where is the recognition that increased density in Uptown is only going to bring more congestion?

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      This is one of the biggest generational differences that I’ve seen. Older people can’t imagine living without a car, and so density is inherently viewed as causing more traffic and putting added pressure on the parking situation. Younger people are increasingly demanding the ability to live without a car, and are trying to achieve that goal. That means improving transit and housing options near transit. For these people, density and car traffic are NOT linked. Rather, density simply means more street life, more transit and/or bike usage. This is a big generation gap. I don’t really expect people from my parent’s generation to understand or adapt very well…

      The data in this post aren’t fine-grained enough to reveal these changes, but there’s plenty of other evidence out there. Frankly, the number of transit corridors in the Twin Cities’ metro that offer the possibility of a low-car lifestyle is small. Uptown is one of the few places where you might even consider it. The impending Green Line corridor will be another. The U of MN area is another. Many people moving to these places won’t need or want cars. If they do have them, won’t drive them very much. In short, we can have density without traffic. Hopefully, this chart will start to look different in 5-10 years.

      1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

        Also, job sprawl had a lag of a few decades behind our all-in car infrastructure and gutting of other transport modes and walkability. So the undoing of job sprawl will take a few decades too, but we’re already at the tipping point.

      2. Scott ShafferScott Shaffer

        Yep! It’s easy to be low-car (like I am) if you live along Hennepin or Lyndale avenues south (like I do). It’s harder in the rest of Minneapolis, harder still in St. Paul, and nearly impossible in exurban Carver County. I used Census data to determine how many people live in car-free or car-lite households in these different areas. I took the liberty of defining “car-lite” as any multi-person household that shares a single motor vehicle.

  4. Steven Prince


    Do you have any data for your generational assumption? Because my experience is the opposite of yours – I know lots of “older” people (>40) (like myself) who are “car-lite” as Scott defines us, or even car-free, but younger people mostly want to have a car. All the car-free households I know are people over 50, full-time students or very low-income.

    This is largely a function of constraints – as Matt and Matt point out, if the jobs are randomly placed around an auto-oriented region – and if you work – you are probably going to need a car. It doesn’t matter if you live in a cute village or a walkable urban neighborhood, you are going to need a car to get to the job. I’ve passed on a number of offers over the years because I didn’t want to have to buy a car and drive to work everyday, but I recognize most people don’t have that luxury.

    Let’s not confuse effect with cause. In the pre-auto era the high density in central urban neighborhoods was NOT what made them walkable or transit friendly – it was a reflection of real-estate value – which was highest in the walkable low-income neighborhoods. The lowest income people had the least transportation options (they had to walk), the greatest job mobility (often day workers whose job location changed constantly) so in Minneapolis they needed to live within walking distance of the mills – which were near the falls. That meant stacking lots of housing in central neighborhoods (often in SRO housing that is almost all gone today).

    Now urban centers like Minneapolis rely on high value professional jobs (requiring face to face contacts) and the people who have those jobs can afford to pay more for housing and transportation. That means the people who can live in the most desirable neighborhoods (high amenity and urban) can afford to own cars, even when they don’t need them. Real Estate value now reflect different amenity values, not walking distance to an assortment of jobs.

    Assuming transit follows density makes about as much sense as those western boosters who though plowing up the arid North American West would increase rainfall – “Rain follows the plow” they used to say.

    While a certain amount of density is desirable, too much, in a city like Minneapolis that lack transit infrastructure, will give us neighborhoods we are not going to like.

    Most of our city was built when the streetcar was the dominant transportation technology, and those neighborhoods worked quite well as transit oriented neighborhoods until the auto replaced the streetcar as the dominant technology. They were much less dense then Uptown neighborhoods today.

    Why am I going on about our history? Because so many “urbanists” seem bent on destroying the few walkable neighborhoods we have left – thinking denser is always better, because that will get people out of their cars. It is not going to happen. It comes, in part, from a failure to understand the historic fabric of our city, assuming that transit will only succeed if we make our neighborhoods denser.

    I don’t buy all the talk about “tipping points” with respect to regional transportation systems. We have built an auto-centric region and unless we want to tear down most of the metro region to place housing in more transit-friendly nodes (that would support an alternative transportation technology to autos), auto congestion is going to keep going up.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      Steven, even though we might disagree, you’re bringing up very important questions: How meaningful are recent trends? Are political/cultural movements to end automobile dependency just a feel-good façades? Are we seeing impacts from the bike/walk/bus movement in the real world?

      Some data, in addition to the graph Scott posted (which isn’t longitudinal):

      Just google “peak VMT” or “peak car”.

      Here’s a piece I wrote about it a while ago (, and two from the archives ( and all about decreasing traffic.

      Here’s one about young people not getting driver’s licenses (

      One problem is that these data aren’t very good. The charts in this post come from the ACS / Census, which only asks about commutes to work. I was personally included in the recent ACS, and it’s not thorough at all. The only ask about trips to work in the past week. What about all the other trips we take?

      I can offer you all kinds of anecdotal examples of people who aren’t students who are living without cars or driving them far less than previous generations.

      As you point out, land use, transportation, and every day life habits are deeply interconnected. We are inseparable from our environments, and figuring out “causality” is close to meaningless.

      But I tend to think there are a few trends working in combination: aging boomers, “culture”, the role of cell phones (, the economy/young people’s debt, and changing workforce relationships. (There’s also a little thing called “climate change,” but nobody seems to be paying attention to that.) That said, you’re right that our built environment isn’t going away. Retro-fitting the 75% of the Twin Cities’ that’s almost completely auto-dependent (suburbia) isn’t really going to happen without extreme changes.

      I tend to think that we’re going to have an increasing bifurcation between the ‘burbs and the core cities for the next 10 years, where places like Uptown become more and more car-free while cars become more and more expensive in places like Burnsville. Traffic isn’t going away on Hennepin Avenue (forget that dream), but more and more people will be able to escape it through other modes and means.

  5. Steven Prince


    I will repeat my point: increased density in Uptown is going to result in greater auto congestion and have no positive impact on the ability to add multi-modal transportation options in Uptown.

    Do you disagree?

    I don’t doubt there are lots of young people in the neighborhood trying to live without cars, I see them every morning when I walk, bus or bicycle to work downtown. But as you add more higher income people congestion will go up and add no advantage to adding transit options in the hood even if only 69% of the new residents drive in Uptown, compared to 90% in the suburbs.

    There are other parts of the City where the arterials and grid can handle increased densities without increased congestion, but those neighborhoods are not in Uptown.

    That’s why ALL the buildings built in Uptown over the last ten years have a lot more parking than apartments built before. These new residents are more accurately described as multimodal, but they have cars and they drive them.

    Here’s what you said originally: “For these people, density and car traffic are NOT linked.”

    So I am not clear if you are describing what this demographic’s beliefs are about their impact on traffic, or that you believe adding young people (to increase density) to uptown will mean no more traffic – either way its wishful thinking.

    As for your statement “Older people can’t imagine living without a car, and so density is inherently viewed as causing more traffic” well, that’s just patronizing to those of us who have been living urban “car-lite” and car-free existences for decades.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      “Increased density in Uptown is going to result in greater auto congestion and have no positive impact on the ability to add multi-modal transportation options in Uptown.”

      Yeah, I guess I semi-half-disagree. You’re right about one thing. Congestion isn’t going away, no matter what we do. If you own a car, it’s a fixed cost. Because of this, car trips are flexible and elastic, limited only by congestion. You’ll drive somewhere if you can do so easily and quickly. If there’s congestion, you won’t drive. Marginal car trips will always “fill up” the roads, and you’re going to be stuck in traffic on Lyndale and Hennepin no matter what.

      That’s why I’d like to see our civic priorities focus on providing alternatives. You can increase density without increasing car traffic. You’ll still have the same amount of congestion, only with many more people living and moving around your city. Vancouver Canada did exactly this:

      I’d like to see Minneapolis start building apartments without parking! Our assumptions become self-fulfilling at this point. If we invest in aBRT or other transit modes and un-bundle parking from apartment construction (through reducing minimum parking requirements), we can begin creating the kind of city both of us seem to want. Maybe your point is that we’re not yet making these kinds of changes in Minneapolis… In that case, I agree! But the conversation has certainly improved over the last 5 years.

    2. Rosa

      Can’t it be both? Same amount of congestion AND same modalities (bus, walk, bike, carshare, taxi – what Uptown already has) with more people? That seems like the path most families we know take – if you can afford a car, not having one is a huge risk, because you can’t just go acquire one suddenly if you get a new job or have a doctor’s appointment in Bloomington, but most people’s everyday getting around isn’t car dependent because the car is a pain in the butt around the neighborhood and a second car is a huge expense.

      It seems like in Uptown, it’s more the hassle of parking than the hassle of congestion that makes people not want to have a car. In other parts of south Minneapolis there’s more parking but less highway access. One car per 2 or more adults seems to be the norm in the parts of South I hang out in – Phillips, Seward, Powderhorn, Central, Bancroft, Longfellow. That’s still an awful lot of cars but also a lot of people walking, busing, and biking.

      1. Steven Prince


        I think the answer to your question is no, we can’t add people without adding cars. Not with our present regional transportation system, economy and land-use controls.

        This is not just a question of what we do in Uptown. Until the jobs (and yes, the doctors’ offices) in the suburbs are accessible by reliable regular transit (which requires changes to both the transportation system and land use regulations in those places), adding more people means adding more cars.

        People may think that is an OK trade-off to let more people live in Uptown. OK, let’s have that discussion, instead of the one that pretends adding more people will not increase congestion, or even more maddening, the claim that adding density in Uptown will result in more transit options.

        My point is that more transit options will become possible when there is greater density elsewhere, not in Uptown – where we already have the density we need to support more transit than we have.

  6. StevenPrince


    Very interesting chart. How are you defining “Greater Uptown”? Assuming this is 2010 data I wonder what the values would be for the same defined areas in 2000, 1990 and 1980.

  7. Steven Prince


    LHENA/the Wedge has over 15,0000 people per square mile, Vancouver, 13,590. The Wedge has direct access to 94W and 35W, Vancouver has no access to limited access highways in the City. People in Vancouver have ferries, rail and trolley systems, 12-month-a-year bicycling, Minneapolis residents do not. Vancouver also has the worst traffic congestion in North America.

    Can Minneapolis become Vancouver? Of course not. Can Minneapolis do better at offering multi-modal transportation options? Of course.

    Will adding density to Uptown help that process? Of course not. Would policies that make more parts of the City transit friendly help reduce City-wide congestion? Of Course.

    As for building apartments without parking, our neighborhood has been suggesting that to developers for years, they are not interested, because the people they rent (or sell) to are not interested.

    So what exactly do you “semi-half-disagree” about?

    There is a political narrative that emerged in the last City election where the “old” folks “don’t get it” and need to get out of the way of the (young) urbanists who understand how to make this a better City if the old folks would simply take their families and move to the suburbs where they belong.

    Your claim that “If there’s congestion, you won’t drive.” is supported by what, exactly? It seems empirically obvious in the Minneapolis experience that congestion keeps going up, yet more and more people drive.

    Congestion only has an impact on driving when it becomes a sufficient constraint that a substitute mode of transportation becomes more desirable. There are other costs that can be imposed that would work better than congestion to reduce auto trips; figuring how to remove daily constraints to transit use, walking or bicycling would be even better.

    1. Janne

      I’ve sat in more than one LHENA meeting where a multifamily building was proposed, and the neighbors were NOT suggesting they be built with less parking. Rather, they were complaining that there needed to be more parking because all the street parking is already full. Now, that may not have been you, but the message was loud and clear — a demand for MORE parking than required, not less [if the developer wanted neighborhood support for minor variance requests].

      1. Steven Prince

        Perhaps it depended on the project (or meeting). I recall that for the projects south of the Greenway on Lyndale several board members were asking why they could not be built with less parking.

    2. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      More people drive? Not really. VMT has decreased steadily since its peak in 2007.

      There’s no way to avoid congestion that is compatible with human habitation, so no point in even trying to worry about congestion.

      1. Steven Prince


        I’ve seen all those videos – they are making perfectly valid points – but have no relevance or applicability to what I am saying about what taking a dogmatic “must increase density in Uptown” approach will actually mean to community livability.

        It’s fascinating that no one can admit I am right – and move on to a discussion that includes this factor. Instead I see deflection (congestion doesn’t matter), fantasy (density will reduce driving), collectivism (we will simply have to sacrifice the community you like to get the one we all know will be better).

        Its discouraging that the complexity of reworking an existing landscape and community is something that self-described urbanists find too challenging to engage. This whole exchange reminds of my days as a grad student in Geography where commitment to dogma got in the way of understanding.

        1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

          As a grad student in geography, I agree completely! I can barely understand anything any more.

          That said, I think this conversation appears to be stuck in congestion. What does “liveability” mean to me? Congestion for private cars has almost nothing to do with it. But if you want to talk about getting buses out of congestion, that I care deeply about. How can we improve service times on the #6?

        2. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

          I don’t get why people think we “must” add density to the Wedge. Sure, it was zoned R6 through a process that included neighborhood input, but incumbent land uses and lower-density land uses are still allowed. Nobody is forced to build apartments… but people are building apartments because there’s demand for apartments. And clearly folks demand apartments despite “congestion” – probably because they’re in a bus or on a bike for their commute, and not in the congestion.

          1. Steven Prince


            The neighborhood was not zoned R6 through a process that included neighborhood input, it was imposed from downtown by planners in the 1960s. Back then there was no neighborhood input and no neighborhood organizations. Planners saw zero value to preserving any existing structures in the Wedge at that time.

            The only properties in the Wedge zoned less than R6 are a result of neighborhood action since those 1960s decisions.

            As for why people are building apartments -it’s economics impacted by land use regulation – R6 zoning lets you build an apartment building, R2b does not.

            So the R6 zoning of 100+ year-old properties in the Wedge is what I have referred to in other threads as”tear-down” zoning, because zoning presents a City’s view of what is “highest and best use,” and if you have a home on a lot zoned R6, you are not suppose to be there (according to the zoning map).

            Last time we counted we had 121 of those properties.

            The neighborhood did go through a planning process (created by City Council action to address this very issue) from 2003-4. It included City Planners and neighbors, and a series of public meeting to consider 2 plans:

            one created by the City Planners that made spot zoning changes throughout the neighborhood based on “the planners best professional judgment;”

            and a plan created by the neighborhood that used specific rules looking at lot size, existing use and adjoining land uses to create a new zoning map that downzoned many of the “critical properties” to R2B or R3, while identifying some internal neighborhood parcels that were suitable for redevelopment at greater density because that redevelopment was compatible with the neighbors.

            The City plan was rejected by the Planning Commission and the neighborhood, the Neighborhood Task Force plan was adapted by the neighborhood, but the Planning Commission never took it up for a vote.

        3. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

          Also, not sure how saying congestion doesn’t matter is deflection. Many people, including myself, believe it. We can allocate a scarce resource (public right of way) for space-inefficient automobiles in one of two ways: By queue (congestion) or by price (tolls). I am fine with either one of those.

      2. Steven Prince


        Are you talking per capita or total VMT?

        Because congestion is a function of the total miles driven – when the number of cars is going up, so does congestion, even if individual averages are going down.

        Comparing 2008 and 2012, here’s what MN DOT says for miles driven on Minneapolis municipal roads (in thousands of miles):

        2008 2012
        daily average 667 797
        annual total 244,134 291,782

        MN DOT has data for all road categories – interesting that the interstate miles through Minneapolis changed very little while local traffic increased dramatically.

        (see ).

        1. Steven Prince

          The chart got reformatted.

          Daily average miles driven on Minneapolis municipal roads went from 667k in 2008 to 797k in 2012.

    3. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      Density numbers might not be comparable? Vancouver as a whole city vs. the Wedge neighborhood… Why not pick a dense neighborhood of Vancouver and compare, or else compare to Minneapolis as a whole?

      1. Steven Prince


        You are actually making my point! You keep talking in municipal generalities, I am talking about specifics in one part of the City.

        1. Steven Prince

          Vancouver has much denser neighborhoods than the Wedge. But they also have a transportation infrastructure that no one is talking about building in Minneapolis.

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

      It’s amazing how some of the best places in the world have been built with little or no concern for traffic congestion. Yet some of the worst places in the world have been fighting congestion with as much money as they can muster.

  8. Steven Prince

    The only cities built without concern for congestion have significant transportation infrastructure. So yes, In NYC, people do not worry about congestion. We don’t have subways in Minneapolis.

    Saying there is “no point in even trying to worry about congestion.” or (as Matty says) “Worrying about private auto congestion is a big part of the problem.” Well, that’s amazing – apparently pointing out that people actually make transportation decisions that are different than the ones you think they should make should just be ignored.

    1. Matty LangMatty Lang

      I don’t think it’s “amazing.” I don’t think Matt and I are suggesting anyone who wants to drive a car should be ignored. Personally, I do say that people who want easy, congestion-free, ample parking motoring in urban environments should be ignored. We have to draw the line somewhere and I think we’ve already gone past the point of having more than sufficient space devoted to private auto use (lane miles and parking).

      What we ought to be doing now is building out significant transit, walking and biking infrastructure rather than wasting more money on adding lane miles for private motoring, parking, and thereby, adding more congestion.

      1. Steven Prince

        Matty, I agree with you!!!

        You are missing my point – perhaps because you don’t think congestion matters. We can do all the things you mention without changing the densities in Uptown (where the Wedge is already 15,000 people/square mile).

        What we need to do is create density at nodes in other parts of the city that approach Uptown numbers so we can actually afford the system we both want. W

        We do not need to destroy livability in Uptown to achieve that.

        1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

          I think about Boston, and how difficult it is to drive around places like Cambridge, Somerville, or Allston. Parking is a nightmare!

          Is it liveable? Is it exciting? Do people love it? Yes yes and yes. I don’t think adding density to uptown or the wedge would erode livability, unless you’re going around trying to park for free.

          Yogi Berra once said of one of his favorite restaurants, “Nobody goes there any more, it’s too crowded.” That’s what this conversation sounds like to me.

          Is livability so tied to cars moving quickly?

          1. Steven Prince


            All the neighborhoods you mention in Boston have a grade separated underground T system (the oldest in the U.S.).

            So yes, those are great neighborhoods – they reflect an urban environment built around a transportation system we do not have and have no intention of creating.

            You make assumptions about what increased density in the Wedge will mean to livability – but they are just guesses.

            You don’t say we cannot achieve the transit oriented city we want in Minneapolis without increasing density in Uptown.

              1. Steven Prince

                True, but the proposed closing of Hennepin to autos achieves the same thing as a grade-separated system by eliminating conflicts between autos and trains (or streetcars).

                I think you would have more political buy-in for a cut and fill light rail system under Hennepin than for closing Hennepin to autos.

                I remember how I was vilified by the then Ward 7 counsel-member for leading the charge against her plan to eliminate parking on Hennepin to add an additional lane of traffic in each direction. Imagine what Hennepin would look like now if that had been achieved in the name of “less congestion” back in the late 1980s.

                1. Matty LangMatty Lang

                  I think you’re correct that David’s plan would be a tougher sell politically. I was thinking more along the lines of funding difficulties in mentioning it. Removing the auto conflicts with transit lines at grade is much cheaper than building cut and cover tunnels on all of our streetcar/aBRT corridors although the latter would be much easier politically.

                  Thank you for working to stop that proposal in the 1980s. That would have been a nightmare.

            1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

              I intend to promote and advocate for a transportation system that rivals Boston’s. That’s a great goal. I doubt we will achieve it without increasing density along transit corridors.

              Density creates pressure for alternatives, which support more density which creates pressure for alternatives, etc. We have to shift incentives (price + congestion/time) away from encouraging car trips to encouraging other kinds of trips. All decisions have impacts on certain kinds of “livability.” If livability = free parking, than parking minimums, road widenings, and parking lot construction achieve that, but at the expense of walkability and transit efficiency. Likewise, a dedicated bus lane or unbundling parking boosts “livability” for other kinds of lifestyles.

              Where in the city do we want to be doing this? Wherever demand can support it. I’m guessing you’re talking about spots like the corner of Franklin and Lyndale when you say density in the Wedge. I think that mostly vacant lot could absolutely support more density. I’d like to see a building there without a parking lot.

              If we plan well, we can create density without added car trips. A Nicollet streetcar will increase congestion, but also increase livability for those traveling without a car. It won’t solve the congestion problem, but it’ll let people escape from that problem in the first place.

              Liveability isn’t a universal concept. Hell, I can’t even spell it consistently. So yes, my assumptions are guesses. Most of my policy prescriptions are designed around making life more expensive for people driving their cars. Not always more difficult, but more expensive. For too long we’ve subsidized auto travel in our cities that were originally designed for walking & transit. We need to reverse that cycle. Let’s have “congestion” mean all people moving through the city using any mode, and also try to prioritize those modes according to things like environmental and health impacts. People on foot > bike/bus > single-occupancy car.

              1. Steven Prince

                We agree on Franklin and Lyndale. The building without the parking structure would be great, although I’d like to see it step-down a story from north to south to make it more compatible with the existing homes to the west.

  9. Steven Prince


    I appreciate your vision, but respectfully suggest you should be focused on other neighborhoods than the Wedge for increasing density if you want to achieve it. Whether regional and national priorities will allow the system you describe to be built, well we will see. It certainly is not going to happen any time soon.

    So, the result of building density for a system we don’t have, and probably will never achieve is an Uptown that looks like Times Square much more than it looks like Cambridge.

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