Map Monday – Minneapolis Commercial Street Traffic Trends

Imagine the city came to a local business street or node and proposed something like a bike lane, wider sidewalks, or any other design change that might cause vehicle traffic passing by to choose another route instead. Maybe the city wants to put in parking meters. The expected drop in traffic would be something like 10-20% over the next decade. What would the business community’s reaction be?

What if I told you daily traffic counts along major commercial streets in Minneapolis have been dropping for the past 10-15 years? The map above shows points along a selection of streets across Minneapolis, with nearly all of them losing motor vehicles passing by each day. Here’s an example chart showing points along Hennepin Ave from Franklin to Uptown:


The average drop in daily traffic counts across all points measured was just shy of 20%. East Lake Street is the only one of the bunch that saw traffic counts generally hold or grow over the time period. And, like nationwide VMT trends, the peaks typically occurred before the economic downturn in 2007:


Most areas of the city are seeing residential and commercial renaissances, with the greater Uptown area adding thousands of residents since traffic peaked along Hennepin, Lake, and Lyndale between 2003 and 2005. But for a few micro-economies along these corridors, it’d be hard to argue businesses have struggled as a result of falling vehicle traffic. I doubt most business owners are even aware of this trend. My takeaway: we should be at least a little skeptical when businesses predict doom and gloom due to public realm changes.

11 thoughts on “Map Monday – Minneapolis Commercial Street Traffic Trends

  1. Shawn

    I was curious how we know that less tragic means less business rather than less business means less traffic. Which is the chicken, which the egg?

  2. Jeff

    My take-away is that there is not really a chicken-egg relationship (in that the two things exist more independently of each other than one might think). But I guess we’re missing data on how sales have trended for businesses along those corridors over the same time period. This is already a powerful post, in that it debunks the idea that any one thing would trigger a reduction in AADT, and that it’s instead a longer-term trend. But if it could be paired with data showing flat or better sales over the same time period, that would be powerful.

  3. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    Traffic =! thriving businesses, nor growth for that matter. In conversations with engineers, particularly at county level, they argue or imply that there will be ADT growth at the micro level, in the city, despite plateaued VMT at the macro scale. Sure we might be changing in the big picture, they suggest, but here on this street in this city, traffic is sure to increase in the future.

    Well, that’s not so! Minneapolis has decoupled without even trying very hard.

    1. Michael Mason

      Is this where the micro-economy of Saint Paul comes in? I love these graphs, but have learned that data and reasoned argument don’t sway those in opposition to 8-80/multi-module/human-friendly infrastructure changes.

  4. Rosa

    Wow, this is a great article. Thank you! Just about every part of Hennepin seems to be doing better, commercially, over that time – it would be great to see some documentation of that overlaid on this graph, but I don’t know how you’d get the info.

  5. Michael M

    For a new comer to this website there is a lot of missing information in this article

    ADT = average daily traffic
    AAdT = ????

    What do all the colored dots in the first map mean?

    Did the author cherry pick Hennepin Ave, because it fit his theory?

    What happened to ADT and property values on west Broadway and east Lake st. during this time period

    It will be interesting to see what happens to University between Hwy 280 and downtown St. Paul comparing 5 years before the LRT opened and 5 years after. How many businesses closed, expanded; did the mix of businesses change from small mom & pop to chains, stay the same or??; change in property values etc.

    The LRT eliminated 70% of on street parking, which will probably reduce the number of small businesses that relied on on street parking for their customers. Businesses at LRT stops may do OK because of increase in transit customers. But businesses in the middle between stops will suffer. Businesses between stops will have to provide surface parking lots for their customers to replace the lost on street parking.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      You are right! Apologies. Not using jargon is something we should remember to be vigilant about.

      ADT = “average daily traffic,” or the # of cars. Public works departments and DOTs use these terms as their basic barometer of what’s possible on a street, and will often “project” ADT growth into the future.

      Alex’s point here is that growth in traffic hasn’t happened along cherry picked, but (I think) an interesting and fair sample of main commercial streets in Minneapolis

      As for University Avenue, I think the exodus of businesses hasn’t happened. You’re welcome to point to counter examples, but construction did encourage some businesses to leave (Porky’s, Finn-Sisu) that might have already been planning on closing or moving. There’s a lot of off-street parking on the street. The place I worry about is Ax-Man, which doesn’t have a lot, lost its store-front parking, and is located 2 blocks from the stop. If it goes out of business my heart will break.

    2. Monte Castleman

      AADT is engineer speak for “Average Annual Daily Total”. It makes it clear that you’re taking the the average total for the year, not the average of say a Friday in June.

  6. Monte Castleman

    For the sake of argument, assume that parking meters really are going to drive away customers. (I don’t know that for sure, but as the Lindt Truffle / Hershey Kiss study showed, people don’t behave rationally when something is “free”, a fact well known and exploited by marketing). And assuming it’s going to be X%. That’s 100% of those X% no longer shopping there. But of the 20% drop in traffic, only a fraction of that is interested in shopping there, and the fact that they picked another route, another mode, or just didn’t make the trip indicates most of them aren’t. To invoke the streets,mn Godwin’s law, those predicting disaster for downtown Stillwater should take note that only 8% of the bridge traffic not bound for Stillwater stopped anywhere in the city.

    Of course you have to offset it by the people that would come because there are now spaces available thanks to meters (and would come to downtown Stillwater because it’s now a much more pleasant place).

    Interesting is some of the 1950s Minneapolis traffic count maps I found doing research for an article on traffic signal warrants, after the growth of car culture and suburbia but before the interstates. Some of the traffic levels on local arteries are mind-boggling.

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