I Am Induced Demand (and So Can You)!

Induced demand” is the “build-it-and-they-will-come” theory of driving. If you add a lane, that lane will fill with traffic. Essentially, if you make it easier or faster to drive, people will do just that, and do it in droves. So the latest discussion of the future of 26th and 28th Streets has prompted me to realize that I’m proof of induced demand.

For example, I live near the 38th Street light rail station, and if I need to get to get to anywhere north of the Midtown Greenway in Uptown or Whittier, I’ll take Hiawatha Avenue to 26th Street. Why? 26th Street is a fast one-way. Coming home, even if I’m south of Lake Street in Uptown, I’ll drive north to 28th Street, the fast eastbound one-way street across town, even if my destination (home) is to the south again. Need to get to the Electric Fetus? I’ll take 38th Street to Park Avenue and jet north to Franklin. I remember as a kid riding in the back seat as my dad drove us to Abbott Northwestern Hospital to see my newborn brother – he set his speed at 38 MPH on Park Avenue and we hit every green light. Driving downtown to swimming lessons as a kid, my mom could do the same thing. Talk about induced demand, how could you not drive on a sweet road like that?

Even today, with Park and Portland and their new “protected” bike lanes and speed limit reduced to 30 MPH, the street is built for higher speed. Just look at the photo of Park avenue below – how can you not drive fast on this street? The lane at the center of the street is really wide, built for about 40 MPH. Portland is the same way. The induced demand is still there.


Not that the Midtown Greenway hasn’t helped. It sure makes getting to Uptown or Midtown much easier by bicycle, with only four traffic signals to negotiate, and those are on Hiawatha Avenue. Still, driving is much quicker because of these awful one-way streets. It isn’t that we aren’t making meaningful improvements to non-driving options, it’s that we’re not correspondingly making it harder or more expensive to drive. Induced demand still wins.

The same problem persists in downtown Minneapolis as well, despite converting Hennepin and 1st Avenues to two-way streets. If I’m trying to get home from Golden Valley or some other western suburb (not that I’d admit to this!), and heading east on 394, my typical route would be hop on 94, go through the Lowry Hill Tunnel and then Highway 55 south. As crazy as this sounds, if 394 traffic is backed up at the 94 interchange, I will actually take 394 in to downtown, take 4th Street through downtown, and hop on a sneaky on ramp that accesses Highway 55 (I think this can be accomplished legally without even using a turn signal!). I’ll let that sink in for a moment – I choose to drive through downtown Minneapolis instead of using a freeway, because it is faster, or feels faster. Same thing getting to the North Loop from my home. Because there is a ramp from northbound Highway 55 to 3rd Street, which is the one-way pair of 4th, it’s too easy to refuse.

What is more interesting is considering what is located along these one-way streets. Park, Portland, 26th, 28th, 3rd, 4th? Very few, at least as a ratio of the linear feet of street frontage. I’ve been to the 112 Eatery, but that is about it. Block after block of fast moving one-way streets, and what do we get for them? More parking ramp entrances than storefronts, that’s for sure. The message these streets send to people is “there is no reason to be here; please use this street to move quickly somewhere else.” This isn’t the kind of message a livable city sends.

Should we make it harder for me to drive? Why would I want us to do that to me? Am I insane!? If the question is solely about speed, then the answer clearly is to leave well enough alone. But if the question is “are we doing all we can to encourage a mixed-use, sustainable, livable city with a variety of transportation options?” then we are vastly selling ourselves short. If we waved a magic wand and converted all one-way streets in the city to two-way, we’d immediately make these streets more pleasant and safer overall for walking and biking, and we’d very quickly make the real estate along these streets more valuable, thereby increasing the tax coffers of the city. Of course, I’d prefer that we also improved transit, cycling and crosswalks as part of this effort, like making the 23 bus a High-Frequency service, for example.

This is not the first time the issue has come up, but progress can’t happen fast enough. Well-intentioned plans do not necessarily lead to good results on the ground. Do we need a sweeping executive action, under cover of darkness, like when Chicago’s Mayor Richard Daley ordered Meigs Field closed, carving big X marks in the runway to force the issue? Maybe, because convincing already unhappy drivers to allow their commute times to increase and negotiate slower streets is a very tall order.

The goal in 1960s was to move traffic quickly through the city. Unfortunately for the livability of the city, we’ve succeeded. And now drivers feel it is their right to continue to drive fast on our one-way streets. But think for a moment of the best streets you’ve ever walked along or sat near on a bench or at a sidewalk restaurant, or simply crossed. I bet the one-way streets of Minneapolis rarely make that list; they sure don’t for me.

Bottom line is this – as Enrique Penalosa, former mayor of Bogota, says, we cannot build our cities for cars and people. We must choose. We can improve transit with light rail, streetcars and better bus service, and build more bike lanes, but we leave something on the table if we don’t also make it a bit harder to drive. Converting one-way streets to two-way would be a great start. Minneapolis hasn’t always had one-way streets slicing up the city. Keeping them limits the social and economic potential of the city. Besides, they just induce us all to drive more.

Sam Newberg

About Sam Newberg

Sam Newberg, a.k.a. Joe Urban, is an urbanist, real estate consultant and writer. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two kids, and his website is www.joe-urban.com.

14 thoughts on “I Am Induced Demand (and So Can You)!

  1. Eric SaathoffEric S

    “If the question is solely about speed, then the answer clearly is to leave well enough alone.”
    Ah, but why do you need such speed? Because everything is now so far from you. We can slow the cars and keep the speed (depending on the destination) by increasing the density and mixed use. By decreasing possible travel speeds we can decrease necessary travel distances.
    This ties in with the previous post regarding density of local grocery stores.

  2. Casey

    “If we waved a magic wand and converted all one-way streets in the city to two-way, we’d immediately make these streets more pleasant and safer overall for walking and biking”

    I prefer to bike and walk down one ways when I have the chance. I feel they are safer. As for grocery stores, I think it is a shame Minneapolis has seemed to do away with the convenience store, and no I do not include a super america store as a convenience store. I would love to see more neighborhood bodegas like there used to be.

    1. Rosa

      me too! I used to commute on Park/Portland when they were faster – they are a lot nicer to bike on now (and the speed is a lot slower, whether it’s the pain or enforcement or culture shift). Actually back in the day I commuted on my bike on 28th street, which was fine (for a single adult rider) except for the regularity with which people turned out of Abbott driving the wrong way. Having the traffic only go one way and the cross street traffic terrified to peek out made it fast and not ridiculously dangerous for a cyclist at the same time.

      But, going across 26th or 28th on foot or on a bike is terrible. So there’s only speed for one direction. There need to be some places (like 17th Avenue, or Bryant, or one of those other “bike boulevards” where the one-way traffic has to stop so people can cross the street.

  3. mister.shoes

    Hey! I’m induced demand, too! Many a time over the course of each year, my wife and I head north on 35W to 94 and up to St. Cloud (or beyond). If it’s rush hour and the NB 35W to WB 94 ramp is backed up (and it always is), I’ll take us through downtown instead. At rush hour. Because…yeah. At least I can claim I’m looking at all the neat new urbanist construction while I do so. And yet it still doesn’t make a lick of sense.

    1. Eric SaathoffEric S

      Is this how induced demand works? My impression was that building another lane of highway would get people to drive more because it is easier.

      Two possible results:
      – Someone who wasn’t going to drive to St. Cloud for vacation because of traffic decides to do it because it is so much faster and easier now
      – Someone who was going to buy a house in the city decides to buy out in St. Cloud because it’s just so much easier to drive there and back each day

      The example given by Mr. Shoes seems like a trip that would already have been made but just switched routes. Is the shifting of existing traffic flows also induced demand rather than just the creation of new traffic flow?

      If people are using “reliever” routes instead of the highways, this will free the highways up for new trips that wouldn’t have taken place before?

      1. mister.shoes

        I read the article (and crafted my example) as though the excess capacity and overbuilding of large one-way streets through neighborhoods causes people to use those routes for through traffic instead of those designed specifically for the intended purpose. Upon reflection and thanks to your comments, I see that it isn’t so much “induced demand” as it is “unnecessary car trips through neighborhoods due to the overbuilding of capacity in the wrong places for the wrong reasons.” Maybe that’s a subset of or corollary to induced demand, but either way I have no business using downtown for my trip to St. Cloud any more than the author should be using 26th/28th to go a short distance across S MPLS.

      2. Janne

        Eric, highways certainly are the poster child of induced demand, but it doesn’t stop there. Local streets that make it easier or faster to get from A to B induce demand on those streets (and probably also result in additional trips).

        I know that the greenway induces my bike trips. I sometimes attend events that I might not have otherwise attended due to the unpleasant bike route. And I take a route to bike to work that is 6 miles long rather than the 2.5 mile direct route — the greeway is inducing an additional 3.5 miles of bike travel. (And inducing exercise.)

  4. David MarkleDavid Markle

    This article could be taken as a reminder of the importance of arterial streets, not just for personal automobiles but for the deliveries that keep the city running. But I’d cite it as an argument for having the kind of transit system that induces demand, a system that can get you near your destination in roughly the same amount of time that it would take to drive and park.. Few parts of our present system can do that. ,

    1. Eric SaathoffEric S

      Induced demand on transit is how we got Joe Soucheray on the Green Line.

      Can mass transit in the Twin Cities compete with the car to induce demand? Even if we had subways or elevated tracks, I’m not sure transit would win very often aside from these major events, for which Soucheray indicates our transit system should function more as a shuttle. For the evidence, look at the maps recently posted comparing walk/bike/transit/car times in various US cities.

      Do we just want everyone to slow down? Slow the cars, go at the speed of bikes/buses, live more locally? Or do we want to speed everything else up to meet the speed of cars?

      Also, I really question the role of arterials. Where I live in east St. Paul they really divide neighborhoods up and make it hard to get around by anything but a car. Walker has argued before about closing off the grid for cars but keeping it open for pedestrians and bikes, but it seems like this creates car sewers that are dangerous to cross.

      Do New Urbanists favor a reconnected grid for all uses with fewer “stroads” and broadly slowed traffic or main arterials to get quickly from car-light neighborhood to neighborhood?

  5. Joe ScottJoe Scott

    But the biggest reason to convert 26th and 28th back to two-ways is that one-way arterials that cross hard borders (i.e. 35w) decrease the permeability of the grid and make short trips from one side to the other much more inconvenient especially by bike, but also by car. The best thing about the greenway is that it can be crossed at essentially every single block north-south, and the absence of this feature is what makes 35w so damaging. That and if you live next to it your kids will get asthma.

  6. David MarkleDavid Markle

    Well and good, if Soucheray rode a few stops on the train to avoid traffic around the stadium, but as we all know it’s not a good example of “induction.” As I noted elsewhere, I’ve ridden the Green Line a number of times (partly because I have no choice after No. 16 was dropped from the West Bank) for part of a daily 4 mile trip. The train goes 3/4 of the distance, but using it saves me only about 20 minutes compared to walking the entire 4 miles! I think Green Line inducers have been the secondary aspects of ease of boarding and exit, novelty, and its qualities of brightness and shine. Certainly not speed or local service. Wait until winter, when many riders will find the train adds to their walk (compared to the bus stop nearest their destination).
    Speaking of the 35W damage to the urban landscape and environment, I wonder what the former Minneapolis Tribune (or was it the Star) publisher Otto Silha would have thought about the Green Line. For years he railed against bringing freeways into the city while advocating for transit (rail transit, as I recall).

  7. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    I’m induced demand! Today I drove to a place down by lake Calhoun (from White Bear). I’d have gone some place closer if I didn’t have so much highway to get me down there and back so fast.

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