Chart of the Day: Mode Share for Select Cold Weather Cities

Via Kevin Gallatin’s Twitter feed, here’s a chart that shows some different “cold weather” cities and their commuting mode-share.


Gallatin plopped the Ford site targets and Highland, Saint Paul status quo into the chart to compare it with similar places around the world. He writes that “some say the Ford Site plan has unrealistic expectations of non-car use in a cold-weather city. Residents of these cold cities & I disagree.”

Personally, I’m with Gallatin. It’s true that, far from the moderating effects of oceans, Minneapolis/Saint Paul has one of the more extreme climates for a large city. But I think that doesn’t mean we need to remain stuck in our cars, or build elaborate skyways, domes, or indoor malls to escape our atmospheric fates. There are a few terrible weather days, but many more that are wonderful and most are pleasant if you have the right clothing. We shouldn’t let winter be an excuse for misanthropic urban design.

For example, check out the blankets I spotted on the patio at Saint Paul’s Moscow on the Hill the other day. That’s an old European trick to help people enjoy outdoor dining, even when the weather might be a little bit nippy.

More of this please.

10 thoughts on “Chart of the Day: Mode Share for Select Cold Weather Cities

  1. Jeff

    In my experience, transit’s utility really shows itself on cold, snowy days. Yes, there might be some waiting at a stop, but the LRT and BRT stops both have heat lamps. And then once you’re on the train, no waiting in traffic. I remember days in the past few winters when people would have two-hour commutes to work and my commute remained about 40 minutes.

      1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        I look at the chart and think (using some assumptions here): so when you build a usable transit network people ride transit instead of driving? Huh.

        Also assume that Malmo and Gothenburg have great bicycle infrastructure too.

        1. GlowBoy

          Goteborg (Gothenburg) has great bicycle infrastructure. I was there 20 years ago, and even back then they had an impressive network of bike paths and lanes. Combined with the canals, that gave the city a surprisingly Amsterdam-like feel for me, though less densely packed.

    1. GlowBoy

      Twin Cities are colder than most of these cities in winter, but I think it’s important to call out Montreal, which is about the same – AND located in car-dependent North America. Although Montreal is quite a bit larger, I would think a designed-urban location like the Ford Site should easily be capable of supporting mode share similar to Montreal as a whole.

        1. GlowBoy

          I did not say that. By “about the same” I was talking about winter temperatures, not mode share.

          1. Eric SaathoffEric Saathoff

            No, I’m commenting upon the data itself. I thought Montreal had a higher mode share, but it appears to be 2% and further research corroborated it is under 3%.

  2. GlowBoy

    MT’s winter ridership is a wonderful and amazing thing, coming from Portland and Seattle. The idea that people would think of public transit as *more* dependable than driving, when it snows, is heartening – and exactly the opposite of what I’m used to.

    In Portland and Seattle, it of course doesn’t snow anywhere near as much as in the Twin Cities (although this past winter actually came close), but when it does snow it is ridiculously more disruptive. Traffic is more heavily impacted, but public transit becomes utterly UNdependable. In Portland the traffic effects are mostly due to limited snowplowing and deicing capability, but in Seattle that is compounded by very hilly terrain and the fact that it’s already severely congested on a normal day. Anytime Seattle gets a big snowfall the roads (including freeways) end up lined with abandoned cars, as people simply give up after waiting in the same spot for hours. This sometimes happens in Portland’s legendary ice storms too: I know people who’ve slept in their car on the Sunset Freeway because it got so icy the freeway was closed at the West Hills tunnel (imagine the Lowry Hill tunnel with a 600 foot descent leading down to it).

    Unfortunately, when cars get stuck in epic traffic jams, so do buses. On top of that, again especially in Seattle, many buses divert to flatter “snow routes”, which throws them off schedule even without traffic effects. If they’re still running at all it’s because the transit agency had the foresight to order them to be chained up — which limits them to 30mph and throws them even further off schedule. So you can’t count on your bus showing up – at all, let alone late – precisely when it’s dangerous to be shivering in the cold waiting for one.

    Unfortunately Portland’s vaunted MAX system – 65 miles of light rail – doesn’t fare much better. Trains derail at junctions or inclines because tracks pack up with slush and ice, and overhead lines ice up (especially in Portland, more prone to ice storms). So even though they’re not affected by traffic as much as buses, the trains aren’t reliable either. Unlike buses, if one train gets stuck the whole line backs up, usually for many hours before service gets restored. And that’s even though TriMet proactively suspends service to the further-flung ends of the system – Gresham and Hillsboro – which tend to be more heavily affected by winter storms. I’m not sure why TriMet’s LRT is so much more severely affected by snow and ice than Metro Transit’s, but it sure is the case.

    So the bottom line is that even people who ride transit daily decide to drive instead when a winter storm is forecast, despite the risks of doing so, because their car is perceived to be *less* unreliable than transit in winter conditions. And when I tell Portlanders that Minnesotans often so the opposite in winter storms – switch from driving to transit because transit is likely to be *more* reliable – it often blows their minds.

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