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.

56 thoughts on “Twin Cities Traffic Congestion Goes From Fine to Still Fine

  1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    Spoken like someone without a car and without a 30 mile commute across the metro’s freeways, Nick.

    But seriously. Congestion is actually a good thing in a way. Unless we have dynamic tolling, where price is a feedback mechanism, congestion is the only feedback mechanism we have to say “consume less lane miles.” It’s critical we value this feedback loop rather than destroy it with billions of dollars of new roadway capacity we can’t afford and which won’t ultimately fix our problems.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

      I agree. But how do you pull it off? Today a route gets congested, people complain, politicians promise to add capacity to reduce the congestion so that people will re-elect them, congestion decreases immediately and then rises repeating the cycle. How do we stop this cycle?

      1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

        The cycle will stop itself, hopefully. Money is more powerful than votes and pandering. Today’s detailed analysis of Lafayette, LA over at StrongTowns is an excellent example of what it takes to have an honest discussion about how much our land use costs. Right now we’re hiding from that discussion. The first step forward is to force us to come out of hiding and confront our reality. The longer we avoid that, the worse our future is.

  2. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

    That congestion chart also highlights a great data point: shutting down ramp meters in 2000 made regionwide congestion increase by 6.2% YOY. 35W bridge construction then failure (losing a freeway link in the most congested area in the metro) caused a 2.6% jump in congestion. Of course there were many other factors going on in both cases – the end of 2007 saw the economy tank, hence further congestion drop in 2008 – but it’s interesting to compare the two anyway.

  3. Nick

    The takes in the Strib comments section weren’t as hot as I hoped for, i.e. I couldn’t find any comments blaming Obama. There are still some good ones in there though.

    1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      “I recall many years ago Des Moines built a 4-5 lane (both directions) freeway along the north side of the metro area that, at the time, was in the middle of corn fields. Now that metro area has reached and extended beyond the freeway. I call that foresight/wisdom/planning.”

  4. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    I mostly agree that the problem is overblown, but I think it’s worth emphasizing that the average delay of four minutes might be fine, but the extreme highs in the range may be unacceptable. I think it’s usually where delays are much more than four minutes where people get most up in arms demanding a solution.

    One issue of human behavior. The slower things get, the madder the motorists get, and more nasty of risk-taking behavior they take. As a former rush-hour car commuter through the 494-5 commons, I saw a lot more incidents of people driving on the shoulder (into a cloverleaf!) when traffic was at its slowest. The lane drop EB between TH 169 and TH 100 saw a lot of people going on the shoulder to exit on Bush Lake or TH 100. Perhaps these issues are better addressed by enforcement, but it’s also hard to pull people over on a crowded freeway.

    More lanes are not the answer, although there are still arguably bottlenecks. When the Lowry Tunnel was built, there was no TH 12/394 freeway. 94 didn’t even extend through North Minneapolis. Expanding that tunnel could likely do a lot to alleviate congestion on 94 and NB 35W.

    But I wish we were talking tolling, where we could address the congestion while actually gaining revenue (and minimizing/eliminating need to take more homes and businesses).

    1. Joe D

      Thank you for the dose of reality. 4 min/direction/motorist is actually quite a high number. This includes everyone who uses the freeway no matter how short the trip. As more data is available, travel time reliability is becoming a larger part of showing when a freeway needs improvements to congestion. The best way to address this congestion is the installation of MnPASS lanes that provide value based capacity but also curbs long term congestion from just adding a general purpose lane.

      Another comment to Nick is that you should have posted the PM Freeway congestion map. Of course the AM is a lot less colorful than the PM map.

      1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

        I hope to see conversion of existing capacity into MnPASS lanes. Right now, we seem to only have the political will to build new MnPASS capacity.

        But regarding the average: Personal responsibility needs to come into play too, for people who are pushing the average high. If someone is sitting in congestion on average of 5 or 10 or 20 minutes a day, maybe they can find a job or housing in a better location. They likely knew there was congestion between their job and home when they started the arrangement, so isn’t it sort of their fault? Why should everyone else bail them out with new freeway lanes?

        1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

          That seems like a dangerous argument for the status quo. You often write about how dangerous Cedar Avenue is for people crossing the street. “Didn’t you know” it was difficult to bike or walk across Cedar when you bought your house? Same argument could apply against new bikeways, river crossings, etc.

          Although I’d like to see more housing and job density in general kept close into the city — and strongly discourage greenfield development on the fringe — I don’t think people should be faulted for taking a job they can get that’s not convenient to where they live.

          1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

            Cedar should be a street first and a road second. Calming Cedar would likely produce tens of millions of dollars in real estate appreciation along the corridor, which would in turn generate hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional yearly revenue for local governments if they raised their levies in proportion to the growth of tax base.

            I sincerely hope our job market heats up for a larger segment of our society, and that more people can vote with their feet to avoid horrendous commutes. I realize right now it may be a luxury for some to turn down recruiters the second they see “Anoka” or “Brooklyn Park” or “Eden Prairie” in a message, but if many people could do that, it would make a huge impact on our built environment.

            1. Ben

              I live in Brooklyn Park, and work from home when I am not traveling for work. When it comes to voting with my feet, my family and I are looking at doing just that, due to the LRT being forced down our street. Moving further out to maintain elbow room, reduce property taxes (40% premium compared to other neighboring cities). If the LRT were incorporated into Brooklyn Park in a way that works for the community, we would happily stay, but the route is not up for discussion from what the Met Council tells us.

              It boils down to, we need roads and bridges. We need to maintain the infrastructure we have. Emergency services need to be able to access the tax paying residents who live where they live. LRT can help alleviate some of the congestion and be happily used by those who want to use it assuming it takes them where they need / want to go. But for those who think LRT must take priority over maintaining the infrastructure we have is short sighted. For the majority of people, when the weather is not ideal for waiting for a train, walking or riding a bike, the car is a necessity. Picking up the kids, getting groceries, hitting the home improvement store to fix things at your house, it is hard to get around the need for a car.

              1. Rosa

                You can’t have both lower taxes and more spending on infrastructure. We could raise taxes and have both LRT and infrastructure upkeep. But expecting to always have low taxes AND a huge amount of infrastruture expenditure just to make your daily life possible is setting yourself up for failure.

                It’s not fair or economically feasible to just require every family to have a car – not only are an awful lot of people (many of them still driving) not physically capable of drivign safely, the costs are too high for a good chunk of employed people, way more than the amount of taxes it would take to make non-car transportation viable everywhere.

        2. Rosa

          or maybe they can find a rideshare, or argue for different shifts. When the 35W bridge went down, my husband’s office mates – who had always had the option of working from home – shifted to WFH en masse, because their commutes got so bad.

  5. Nathaniel

    How many people view congestion is actually insane.

    On a radio show last week, I heard a woman calling-in say that MnDOT wasn’t doing enough on metro highways (and spending too much on trains of course). She then said she commutes from East Bethel to Eden Prairie daily. That’s about 40 miles ONE WAY.

    At what point is your lifestyle NOT MnDOT’s problem?

      1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

        My dad works a physical job in a warehouse. He used to have a job in Northfield, where he lived. It was a short drive, and he biked much of the year. Company went under, and in his 50s, he had to start over. Age discrimination is really implicit in that kind of work: when you need physical strength and labor, why would you pick somebody in their 50s when you can get somebody in their 20s?

        He eventually found a job in Eagan, 30-40 minute drive each way. This company was great, but now in his 60s, the company moved to Hudson. Now he has to drive an hour and fifteen minutes each direction, every day to work. He doesn’t like this, obviously, and wouldn’t have picked it. But what should he have done differently? Taken a lower-paying job from a worse company 10 years ago to be closer to home? Retire early even when he wants to keep working? Try to get a job at the Northfield Target?

        Not everybody is in this kind of position. Some people have stable jobs in downtown, and still decide they just have to have a brand-new home on an “executive home lot” in Lakeville. I think those “lifestyle” commuters may not be as universal as we think.

        1. Monte Castleman

          They do exist of course, my aunt her husband work downtown, the used to live off Broadway, but then moved to East Bethel and then to North Branch. Their point was their commutes are only on weekdays and won’t last forever, (and they don’t complain about the commutes), on weekends and when they retire they can enjoy living on acreage. But I don’t think many people willingly do this. Maybe one person has a job in Forest Lake and one in downtown, and rather than split the difference they live where at least one of them can walk.

        2. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

          It’s not just people with jobs downtown. It’s people who live in Burnsville and work in Eden Prairie. Maple Grove to Edina. Etc. Certainly, some of these people are priced out of neighborhoods near enough to their job that walking or biking (and in select cases, transit) would be an option. That’s a failure of housing/land-use policies to be more inclusive. It’s also true that we have many jobs that moved to the fringe thanks to new freeways, the majority of which never actually “needed” the cheap land (ie manufacturing or warehousing), but were job functions that could easily fit into more urban areas with connected street grids. For example, while EP may be anchored by the 19% of total jobs in manufacturing, there’s a ton of education, management, healthcare, finance, etc jobs that took hold as well.

          But I’d say lifestyle commuters (and drivers for non-work trips) are by far the majority. I’d be very interested to see the % of workers who didn’t leave their last job on their own accord in the past 5? 10? years. How far back you want to reach will be based on how easily you think an individual or family can reasonably be expected to make a lifestyle choice to reduce commute length or change modes. Yes, people lose jobs, or have kids, or get married to someone working on the other side of the metro, or whatever. But without price signals, folks will make a different set of tradeoffs when something happens. A 45 minute commute doesn’t seem so bad at first, so keeping your family home or kids in their school district seems worth it. 5 years later and 10 minutes more a day in the car thanks to congestion increases, you’re asking legislators & MnDOT to add capacity.

          Let’s appropriate a slice of whatever revenues on toll roads (in some hypothetical universe) to helping out people who really do undergo dramatic life changes, weighted toward lower income residents. Job loss, a death or event that necessitates living somewhere, etc. We allow exemptions or reductions in other taxes based on these things, why not soften the blow for a couple years in transportation & let price signals work for everyone else?

          1. Nick MagrinoNick Magrino Post author

            I’m sympathetic to Sean’s dad’s situation and other kind of one off (it’s certainly more than one) complicated things, but it’s hard for me to sympathize with anyone who bought a house in East Bethel with the thought “this is the place from which I’m going to participate in the metro.”

            It all starts somewhere, I guess. I’m 24 and work downtown and live in Loring Park, and I pay a premium for that. I could, in theory, live somewhere else for considerably cheaper and then adjust my entire budget and lifestyle around that and ten years into it say “well this is where I have to live, given my budget and lifestyle.”

            1. Joe D

              “I’m 24 and work downtown and live in Loring Park, and I pay a premium for that.”

              Not everyone is 24 with the desire to live that close to the city. I would even say the majority don’t want to do that. Just as government gives you options to take public transit, it should also build freeways connecting the suburbs in a way that balances travel times.

              1. Nick MagrinoNick Magrino Post author

                This is true, though there are also tens of thousands of detached single family houses with yards within the city limits of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and tens of thousands more in the first ring suburbs. Probably wouldn’t want to have a kid in my one bedroom apartment (it’s hard enough sharing it with my tyrant of a cat) but “wants a yard, etc.” isn’t really justification in itself for living 40 miles away from the central city and then wanting the state to expand freeways out to you.

                1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

                  To me, it seems like we’re saying the premium is on an individual if they’re 24 and work downtown and live in Loring Park, but it’s on society to cover the commuting-without-congestion costs for someone who’s 48 and works in Mound and lives in Brooklyn Park. That seems like a double standard.

                2. Monte Castleman

                  I know there’s a lot of such single family houses. But some of them are in high crime areas, near lousy schools, need extensive renovation, are a pain to drive to, etc. But the bigger problem is that there’s a fixed supply of them and the metro is growing. Since the market isn’t building any more of this type of compact, affordable house (and no land to build them in the core cities, save maybe the Ford plant) the other option is for someone, whether it’s you or someone else, to live someplace else.

                  1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

                    There are a lot of homes that are empty, or being sold for far less because the market is flooded with greenfield sprawl homes that are bigger and more attractive.

                    If people valued their time/commute distance as much as amenities like three-car garages and jacuzzi tubs, they might pay as much for a single-family home in Minneapolis or Richfield or Robbinsdale as they would for newer home in Savage. If the homes people are paying $120k for now were going for $300k because of such demand, I think empty-nesters staying there would likely have much more incentive to move to housing that suits their needs better today.

                    As it is today, if you have a small single-family home in Richfield, you’d have trouble getting a decent condo with the proceeds from the sale of your home.

                    Sure, a lot of people don’t want to have to deal with renovations, but I think our standards and expectations are based on what’s available. When I was a kid, I literally thought that buying a “used” house was kind of an unfortunate situation, to be avoided — like buying a used car (something that I also no longer consider “bad”). Sadly, I think there are a lot of homebuyers who think like 10-year-old Sean in this regard.

                    1. Monte Castleman

                      I’m not sure we want to be like San Francisco though, where you have to be filthy rich in order to afford any kind of single family house anywhere. There’s no way I could afford a $300,000 house if that’s what I had to pay for my $150,000 house.

                    2. Matt Brillhart

                      That’s a good anecdote about wanting to live in a new home / not wanting to live in a “used” one. There is clearly a certain subset of the homebuying market (including first-time buyers…somehow) that put a lot of value in living in a brand new home. More often than not, that means it’s also in a brand new neighborhood on the far suburban fringe, unless you’re fairly well-off and are buying an infill home in Edina or SW Minneapolis.

                      I don’t really know what to do with that information, but it does helps explain why so many first-time homebuyers wound up underwater in St. Francis and Ramsey and New Prague, etc. Aside from the easy availability of mortgages a decade ago, those folks obviously bought what/where they did for a reason. If all homebuyers were forced to account for transportation costs when applying for a mortgage, things probably would have turned out differently for a number of them.

                  2. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

                    There’s a pernicious mindset that cities = crime or bad schools. Within Minneapolis’ borders you have some of the “best” neighborhoods/schools in the state (think: Linden Hills, etc) and some not as nice. What would North Minneapolis’ crime rate be if the entire population of Edina were transplanted there? It’s also ingenuous to talk about poor schools or bad neighborhoods without admitting how government policies (that happened to tie very strongly with the first wave of suburbanization) cemented them in place through redlining, freeway routing, etc.

                    I also disagree that the market isn’t making small lot, walkable single family homes. Find me a 3rd ring suburb who hasn’t built out yet without lot minimums, huge setback requirements, etc in their zoning code. What % of these places are even zoned for multi-family? Mixed-use?

                    You are correct that the supply of single family homes on an 1/8th acre lot within Minneapolis (or Edina or Richfield or Robbinsdale etc) is fixed (ignoring the couple hundred vacant lots). But we can’t act like having a family means you must have a certain sized patch of grass to exist. Families in cities the world over make tradeoffs. Some put 2 kids in a bedroom (I even shared one with my brother in a relatively large house in Lakeville growing up!) – a (very average) family of 4 could conceivably fit in a 2BR home. Some families realize having a separate dining room or craft room or office or gift wrapping room just isn’t worth it. When my wife and I were looking for a home in Minneapolis a year ago, we toured a couple attached condos/townhomes closer to downtown (and the lakes). But the limited supply of those units closer in meant higher prices. We may very well have ended up in one if they were 25% cheaper.

                    1. Monte Castleman

                      Well, even if every family of 4 thought they could get by with two bedrooms there’s still not enough of the compact houses near downtown for everyone.

                      As far as bad neighborhoods and schools, OK, suppose I admit that past policies have had an effect of making them what they are. Am I now going to put my family there to make a political statement? What relevance is it if hypothetically north Minneapolis would be better if Edina lived there if I’m looking for a place to settle down with my hypothetical family. (Although looking at the map we seem to have built our way out of congestion that direction. None on the “new” stretch of I-94 so it seems like an easy commute to downtown).

                    2. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

                      There will never be enough for everyone, but absent market distortions a whole lot more people (and jobs, shops, etc) *could live a whole lot closer and a decent amount cheaper. That’s a lot of people who would have the option of taking a bike or bus to work, maybe walking. Or a bunch of people located closer to the center of the region with more manageable radial commutes to the suburbs.

                      Nobody’s supposed to make a political statement. But gosh, if we stop building 212s to corn fields for people to buy $150k single family homes on mandated third-acre-lots, maybe some of those people would choose to populate some of the “less desirable” closer-in neighborhoods instead. Maybe some of the apartments scattered in all of the suburbs with people already living stack and pack inside them would have replaced some older run-down detached houses in Minneapolis or Edina instead.

                    3. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

                      I guess at this point, I think we’re so far from the San Francisco problem, that almost sounds like a good problem to have. Surely we could move somewhat in that direction — holding back on our ever-expanding urban growth area — and be fine for quite some time. SF is bound largely by geographic constraints, which don’t exist here.

                      If, in fact, we reached a point where our existing growth boundary was tapped out, we could certainly expand. But we need to build efficiently with what we have before we pave a cul-de-sac over every farm field within 100 miles.

                  3. Rosa

                    look at what Matt Steele said above. We subsidize some decisions a lot more than others. That doesn’t make the subsidized decision neutral.

              2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

                It really shouldn’t. Further subsidizing the destructive preference to live far from where you need to be is exactly the opposite of what government should be doing.

                But it does, and the political realities are that it will continue to.

                Preference can and do change with incentives. That’s how we got the current set of “normal” suburban preferences.
                There’s nothing wrong with changing them to encourage more more sustainable choices.

                Of course, I’m 38 and live near Loring Park and work downtown.

        3. Rosa

          at the height of the recession, a number of my friends who live in or very close to actual cities ended up with their 50something parents, from very small towns, staying with them and working city jobs.

          The long commute thing though – it’s a vicious cycle. Employers can assume or enforce that everyone they hire have a car and be willing to go out to the boonies, and then it becomes an individual and public (in the form of roads, pollution, congestion) cost, not a corporate cost. Individuals don’t have the power to break that on their own but we have to find a solution for it.

      2. Monte Castleman

        You own a house in East Bethel. The only job you can find is in Eden Prairie. Do you sell your house that you’ve invested a lot of time and effort into, and buy a new one, probably taking a financial hit and causing a lot of disruption, then do it again when you get laid off and find a job in East Bethel?

        Of course I suppose you could live in the city and be centrally located no matter what, so I guess not giving up all the advantages of living in the suburbs could be a “lifestyle”.

        1. Erik B

          People move for better schools, for a bigger house, to be closer to family, etc. is it too much to ask for people to move closer to their place of employment, the thing providing them with a salary?

          Yes, living in the city centrally located not only puts you close to the largest job centers in the region but also equally close to all the suburbs. Plus you often times get the benefits of public transit or a reverse commute by car.

        2. Wayne

          As a renter I’ve relocated to be closer to work. Why shouldn’t people who own? They get all the tax write-offs and social benefits of homeownership we’ve enshrined as some kind of birthright in America–so why shouldn’t they have to do the same thing? It’s not my fault they tied all their assets up in a mortgage and made it hard to follow their job.

          1. aexx

            You’re not wrong, but no doubt some of this lack of mobility is that we’re really only just now (okay, the last two decades or so) getting to a point where job stability isn’t a thing. Homeownership and incentivizing it looks really great when you can get a well-paid job at a big corporate campus and keep that job for 30-40 years before retiring with a pension.

            Mindsets take a lot of time to change and often come from the values passed on from parents (many of whom are not used to job search in the 21st century…my parents certainly had wacky ideas that made me roll my eyes), so it’s going to take a while before we see people realizing that a centrally located house is probably superior.

      3. Peter Bajurny

        A lot of this is related to the built enviroment, and it’s a lot more complicated than picking one thing (MNDOT in this case) and blaming them for everything and saying only they can fix it.

        We have people living 40 miles away from their jobs because we’ve built highways that have enabled the metro to grow that far and we’ve got land use policies that have us take up that much space etc etc.

        So you end in these weird situations where people are forced into these ridiculous commutes, and the “problem” is the entire system that’s allowed that to happen, rather than any one thing in particular.

        And fixing it is gonna hurt.

        1. Wayne

          Let’s try burning down everything under a certain density and building transit between whatever’s left.

          /only sort of snark.

  6. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    I listened to a radio report on this story that tried REALLY HARD to make the possible 2% rise in future congestion sound like doomsday.

    I don’t think they succeeded.

  7. Nick MagrinoNick Magrino Post author

    I s’pose it’s worth pointing out that, in some sense, my 20 minute, 12 block bus commute is also my fault because I could just bike in half the time, so maybe I should complain less. Or maybe it’s still crazy that it takes 20 minutes to travel 12 blocks. I dunno, could go either way.

    1. Wayne

      It takes me almost 40 minutes to go roughly two miles on a bus. I have quite literally walked it in about the same amount of time. I could bike it in probably 2/3 or less. And this is from one very dense urban area to another, but the gauntlet of going through downtown means I may as well be going to Anoka.

  8. Lindsey WallaceLindsey Wallace

    All of it comes down to choice and what you’re willing to give up. I’d be willing to make dramatic lifestyle cuts to retain a bikeable commute. So far I haven’t ever bothered applying to jobs that aren’t bikeable. Living in Whittier and having strong leg muscles gives me a good enough range.

    My office is moving because we’re growing. It’s interesting to see the conversation around office location. At least 15% of my coworkers bike from Minneapolis to West End at least occasionally, and four of us bike year round. One gal who recently chose to build a house out in the second ring suburbs sends eye daggers to anyone who mentions supporting moving our office downtown, because she already has a crappy commute.

  9. Daniel Herriges

    All the comments about individual people’s (real or hypothetical) highly individual situations and reasons for living out in the sprawl are interesting as thought experiments and anecdotes but may ultimately be a distraction from the point. Some people who live in East Bethel probably could and should sell their house and buy one closer to work. Others have family ties or complicated life situations that prevent it. Some people choose to live in East Bethel for stupid reasons, but others do so for very good ones.

    These situations are very personal and idiosyncratic, and it’s not a good look for urbanists to get into the moral-lecturing business. “Why is it my problem that you chose to live so far from work?” sounds a lot like when right-wingers say about poverty, “Why is it my problem that you’re poor? You should have tried harder in school so you could get a better job.” It’s wrong to presume to know enough about some total stranger’s life that you can tell that person what choices he or she should have made differently. And I think the perception that this is how the urbanist community views suburbanites—with judgmental disdain—feeds a lot of the distrust of our views that’s out there (just read the Strib comments to see it).

    Instead, let’s talk about incentives. By investing so heavily in road infrastructure to serve low-density land uses, we subsidize the decision to live somewhere like East Bethel. This tips everyone’s needle a little bit in that direction, relative to where it previously was. If we change policies to remove the subsidy, recognizing that sprawl in the aggregate is destructive of the environmental and fiscal health of the metro area, we’re not saying to any individual, “You are wrong to live where you live.” We’re tipping the needle back a little bit in the other direction, causing some people who were on the fence to reevaluate where they choose to live. The difference is at the margins, among people who really do have a choice and can be swayed. Not everyone will be swayed. Not everyone has good options. And that’s okay. It’s not about the ones who don’t.

    1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

      I guess maybe I see it as the reverse. The suggestion is: congestion isn’t that bad, and maybe instead of continuing to build more lanes in response to what congestion we do have, we should do [tolling/transit/upzoning closer in/etc]. The response is “that’s unfair to charge me more to drive/I don’t want to live stack and pack/biking isn’t an option for me/cities are full of crime/I have a nuanced reason for why I live where I do/etc.”

      I agree casting wide aspersions at people who live in Blaine misses the nuance. Which is why most of the time I see pro-urban folks readily admit there are any number of individual choices and situations that cause people to live where they do. But when talking general policy for transportation and land-use on an internet comment section, doesn’t it make sense to make a proposal for the general case?

      As to some negative comments, isn’t it at least a little understandable for people who live a transit/bike/walk commute every day to react with skepticism, perhaps a bit of snark, when someone claims it can’t be done? When the case being made for [bike lanes, removing on-street parking (or charging for it), tolling freeways, narrowing/removing lanes, etc] is backed by research showing it will save lives and improve public health and the response is that driving will become less convenient? I want an honest, open, respectful debate but sometimes the costs being weighed by both sides aren’t really on equal footing.

      1. Daniel Herriges

        Yeah, I don’t really disagree with you on anything you say here. I’ve been a cycling commuter for years and am definitely tempted to get snarky when someone who really could do it insists that it’d be an unbearable hardship. I do invariably get snarky when I hear (an able-bodied) someone suggest that having to park 2 or 3 blocks from their destination is a hardship, because seriously?! My comment was really in response to Monte, though I guess that wasn’t clear because I didn’t post it as a direct reply to him.

        I’m not advocating a policy of blanket benefit-of-the-doubt to anyone’s personal perception of why they have to live the way they think they have to live. Some people have really harmful misconceptions, such as that the city “isn’t safe” and urban schools are bad, and those deserve to be forcefully debunked. And you’re absolutely right that “the costs being weighed by both sides aren’t really on equal footing,” and I don’t think we ought to adopt some sort of faux-“balance” that obscures that fact.

        The moral hectoring tone directed at a real or hypothetical individual, instead of at a misguided belief or skewed priority, is where I draw the line. Not because it’s always unjustified, but because it’s really not a good look and open to all sorts of charges of hypocrisy and arrogance. And because it’s not necessary to make a forceful case for urbanism-friendly policies.

        We don’t have a winning coalition out there for most of the stuff writers advocate; not by a long shot. The majority of metro residents are suburban drivers and their priorities are likely those of suburban drivers… but I think many would be open-minded toward urbanist policy goals—for environmental reasons, for fiscal (Strong Towns!) reasons, for social justice reasons, etc. But that open-mindedness will go out the window the minute it comes across as an attack on them or the lifestyle choices they’ve made. Most of them made choices that were rational in the context they were/are living in.

        1. Julie Kosbab

          As Streets’ resident second-ring suburban soccer mom (who also owns property in the city), I think a lot of people dig in really hard on how we all could/should live in the city.

          My family has reasons not to, including proximity to an aging relative, schools, and commute. While I don’t personally commute at all right now (save to my basement, fueled solely by sustainably-harvested chai), my spouse splits time between NE Minneapolis and Coon Rapids. Our location makes plenty of sense in that context.

          I often serve the role of “suburban soccer mom for sane development” in advocacy conversations.

  10. Julie Kosbab

    Another thing to keep in mind is we have over half a century of public policy that not only incentivizes home ownership, but holds it up as a holy grail of “making it.”

    When people worked at a company for 25+ years at a crack, this could work out fine, even as jobs moved around to the 494-694 loop, etc. The issue is that the economy has turned to a much more revolving style of work, and it’s rare for people to spend long careers with a single employer now.

    Even in good markets, buying/selling homes is expensive. There are closing costs and agent fees and taxes and inspections and fixing that one thing that is no big when you live with it but has to be fixed to sell and etc. etc.

    This isn’t just about roads and jobs. It’s about a lot more.

    1. Matt Brillhart

      Also, lots and lots of baby boomers bought their current 2nd ring suburban houses in the 80s and early 90s – when gas was dirt cheap and crime in the central cities WAS a lot worse than it is today. Aside from a select few neighborhoods (proximate to the chain of lakes, Summit Ave, etc.) that have maintained desirability in perpetuity, buying a house in the central city was not a great investment. I’m not going to cast judgment on those folks for decisions they made 25-35 years ago that were extremely logical at the time, as much as I generally dislike outer ring suburbs (and their demands for new freeway lane miles at the expense of the core, job sprawl, etc.) Ignoring the very recent dip in gas prices (let’s pretend it’s still ~$4/gal), I don’t have the same reservations about judging people for making that decision today.

      1. aexx

        Anyone that is buying fringe-suburban housing or SUVs because of the dip in oil prices (which, sadly, appears to be something that’s actually happening) needs to maybe have their head examined. Definitely okay with throwing them some shade or at least a skeptical look.

  11. Casey

    All the people that work low income jobs have limited options on housing. One major problem is that many people can not afford to live near where they work. Think of all the cashiering jobs you encounter daily and ask yourself what is the possibility of that person living in that neighborhood. Many must commute.

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