Twin Cities Traffic Congestion Goes From Fine to Still Fine

The Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) released a report last Thursday noting a slight year-over-year increase in Twin Cities freeway congestion. It’s a report and has lots of numbers, but it’s a fairly easy thing to skim through if you are interested. Lots of good stuff in there, and also in this newspaper version of the report.

Some highlights would be that:

  • The technical definition of freeway congestion is automobile traffic flowing at 45 miles per hour or less.
  • Out of the 758 directional miles of freeways in the Twin Cities, 21.1% of them were considered congested at some point during the day in 2014. This is in comparison to 2013, when 19.9% miles were considered congested at some point during the day.
  • Over the course of year, motorists spent 34 hours per year “stuck in congestion.”
  • MnDOT predicts that, if we do not make more investments in transportation infrastructure, that number will jump to 45 hours a year by 2025.
  • To put everything in perspective, the Strib article also cites a survey done by a Dutch GPS device maker (TomTom) naming Minneapolis-St. Paul the “35th most traffic-riddled” metro area in the United States. We are also the 16th most populous metro in the United States.
  • The Strib article has 326 great comments.

So doing a little bit of simple math here…52 weeks in a year, five of which are workdays, so 260 workdays annually, we’ll take out ten for various holidays and say that there are 250 days with a normal commute. 34 hours in a year is 2,040 minutes…so 2,040 divided by 250…8.16 minutes a day? So like…for four minutes each direction during a commute, motorists have to go less than 45 miles an hour on freeways?

That sounds…completely fine? The study was done in October, which is considered one of the “more average” months because school is in session and there’s not much construction going on. Notably, October is a big month for sports, so you probably get a bit of weekend traffic on freeways from that, but probably not much more than a blip in the grand scheme of things.

It’s probably a good idea to post this handy map, as well:

Congestion MapAs you can see, the most congested freeway segments are concentrated in a handful of miles around Downtown Minneapolis, though there are congested areas out in the beltway too. You certainly can’t build your way out of congestion in the core cities, as it’s pretty close to physically impossible to add lanes in a lot of areas. Sixty or seventy years of experience has also shown us that adding capacity out on the fringes will probably not help much, either, and certainly won’t help things in the core of the system.

Perhaps most importantly, check out this chart that was published with the report:

MnDOT Congestion Trends

This chart tells a very different story than the Strib article. This could go a lot of directions, right? The line has bobbed around since 2000, and the seven county metro area has added hundreds of thousands of residents in that time period. The 10 year trend is up a bit, but a 15 year trend would be pretty middlin’. Que quote about statistics. Granted, the economy has been a bit shaky at times throughout the past fifteen years, but there have also been some good times, and the static here looks to be pretty general.

But people think the traffic is terrible! Almost as bad as the parking. A lot of it is mental, in an understandable way. People like driving because they’re in control of a big steel machine going 75 miles an hour on a racetrack–it feels good. Then they have to slow down, and it is infuriating. Honestly, the same thing happens when you’re walking (the best and highest form of transportation) on a nice day before hopping on a bus that stops every block and a half and then it starts raining. You’re not in control of the situation anymore so it’s damned frustrating.

Traffic in the Twin Cities is not particularly bad. As a transportation mode, one car driven by one person is not particularly efficient at peak times. Sure–it’s great if you’re just one dude in Brooklyn Park trying to get to IKEA in Bloomington on a Sunday to buy a dresser. But, thus far in America in 2015, we have not figured out a way to build a metropolitan area of 3 million people driving their own cars where things did not slow down for a few hours at rush hour. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise.

Nick Magrino

About Nick Magrino

Nick Magrino grew up all over the place but has lived in the Loring Park neighborhood of Minneapolis longer than anywhere else. He has a new cat, Sweater, and does not use hashtags at @nickmagrino. He is probably on a bus right now.