Chart of the Day: Percentage of Twin Cities Freeway Miles Congested

Here’s a great chart from the archives, from a 2015 post entitled “Twin Cities Traffic Congestion Goes From Fine to Still Fine.” The whole post is worth a read but the key point is embedded in this wonderful chart from MnDOT:

As the chart shows, congestion has been largely flat since it peaked around the year 2000 (because of a libertarian-style freeway ramp meter experiment). Here’s the author, Nick Magrino’s, takeaway point about the report, which he uses to throw shade on a Star Tribune article that commented on the data.

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.

Of course, I mention this now because the Star Tribune and other Twin Cities media have recently reported on a new study claiming that Twin Cities traffic congestion is terrible.

Spoiler alert: nothing much has changed in the last two years. (According to the study, congestion is risen since 2014, but the report does not state by how much.) The key takeaway: the Twin Cities still has a lot of freeway miles per capita and less congestion than comparable US metro areas. I know it doesn’t seem that way when you’re stuck on 494, but it’s much worse to drive in other cities with good economies.


Via Pioneer Press reporter David Montgomery, here’s the same chart updated with 2015 data:

Honest question: Does that change anything?

4 thoughts on “Chart of the Day: Percentage of Twin Cities Freeway Miles Congested

  1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    You know a really good way to avoid congestion? Don’t drive during rush hour.

    Yeah, that means you probably need to live closer to work. But maybe you can take transit or shift your work schedule or something.

    1. Justin Doescher

      People get pissed if they can’t run errands quickly and easily during rush hour. It’s rush hour, it’s not easy to drive during that time no matter where you live.

  2. Ted Hathaway

    I agree. On those occasions I have to drive, I have notice little or no change in driving in on 394 for the past 20 years. I bike in along the North Cedar as often as I can (March-Nov, about 100 workdays per year) and I will say, however, that bike traffic has increased dramatically in the past five years. I wouldn’t call it “traffic-y” but it is a major increase.

    The “report” cited above is from the Cato Institute by way of the Center for the American Experiment’. It’s author, Randal O’Toole, has made a career of opposing light rail and other public transportation options, more recently advocating “personal self-driving vehicles” – surely a solution to traffic congestion – and affordable for everyone, too! Why the Star Tribune (and other mainstream media outlets) continue to publish anything concerning public policy coming from an organization whose point of departure is that anything done by government is lousy, inefficient or corrupt is beyond me. Their relentless assault on even the prospect of good government is foolishness. States with weak government have a terrible track record. You’re always going to have government – You’d better make it a good one.

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