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?

Bill Lindeke

About Bill Lindeke

Pronouns: he/him

Bill Lindeke has writing blogging about sidewalks and cities since 2005, ever since he read Jane Jacobs. He is a lecturer in Urban Studies at the University of Minnesota Geography Department, the Cityscape columnist at Minnpost, and has written multiple books on local urban history. He was born in Minneapolis, but has spent most of his time in St Paul. Check out Twitter @BillLindeke or on Facebook.