We Read the Traffic Congestion Report’s Comments So You Don’t Have To

When controversy happens….when tempers flare….we read the comments, so you don’t have to.

Today the Center of the American Experiment, Minnesota’s Think Tank, released the report, “Twin Cities: Traffic Congestion: It’s No Accident.” The Star Tribune gave it above the fold coverage in their article, “What’s to blame for Twin Cities traffic congestion: regional growth or bad public policy.” I swear I read all 28 pages of the report. Really, I did. I will let some other smart (daft?) streets.mn writer cover the content, but I have bravely waded into the comments section to save you the trouble.

I could only find the Strib article and a KSTP article, which (sadly) had no comments. So while coverage was not broad, I guarantee you the Strib comments ran deep. When I last looked, there were 602 comments.

Kitten Reading Internet Comments

Emergency kitten

In previous posts Julie Kosbab gave comments sections a rating of 1 to 5 stars, where 1 means “reading these made us feel dumber,” and 5 means “we have hope for our civilization and maybe not everyone insists on driving from Stillwater to Eden Prairie every day.”

I give this section a 3. About half the comments were critical of the report and/or offered some thoughtful commentary on how to reduce congestion (not including from adding more freeways), how to improve transit, or how to balance growth and movement demands across the region. Maybe I should add another ½ star because of this shout-out to the Best Website of the Twin Cities:

  • Jchris25 says: Please take a minute and read the streets (dot) mn chart of the day in response to this article. Good context.

Yay, Jchris25!


If Only You Knew How to Drive

Many commenters laid the blame for congestion on other drivers. They are great drivers, but if only those other idiots would LEARN TO MERGE things would be 1,000% better.

  • Adrianwi says: If everyone drove like me it would reduce congestion dramatically! Seriously though, too many people tailgating, braking hard, accelerating too slowly, not knowing how to merge and way too much texting really messing up the flow.
  • Heididog laments: How about Minnesota drivers just learn how to merge – that could reduce congestion just as well as any bus or train. Lets throw looking at cell phones while driving too as that has appeared to become the latest and greatest distraction.
  • Intouch642 bewails: One major piece is so many drivers are idiots. Probably due to the “me” syndrome. Most drive like they are at the Indy 500, drafting the car in front to what, save gas?  They tailgate to the point many times you can’t see their front bumper in your rear view mirror.  In order to change a lane, all traffic has to come to a screeching halt for the poor fellow in the left lane that needs to exit in two miles!  People speed up when cars are coming down entrance ramps rather than move over….if they could move over, since the car in that lane speeds up to stay ahead of the merger. And much is because of the jerk who feels everyone should yield to them when they decide to make their move rather than drive with “anticipation” and manners.

Take a Look in the Mirror, streets.mn Regulars

  • Denier calls out “liberal armchair city planners” (it me!): The liberal armchair city planners are out in force today. While they tell everyone else to find a new job closer to home or vice versa because its all about choice; they would never use the same argument for those demanding $15/hr. Hypocrites.
  • Akicita1 is concerned for the quality of planning and engineering schools: “She said building high-density housing near transit lines — something the Met Council is doing — is part of the solution to curb the area’s traffic snarls and keep more cars off the roads.” Good grief, the solution from the egghead community is to manage the people, not the roads.  When governments attempt to control the environment for the good of the people, they end up controlling the people for the good of the environment.

Actual Policy Discussions

There was a fairly thoughtful discussion of congestion pricing, both of toll lanes and fees for driving in downtown, like central London. Lots of comments were about the challenges of planning a transit system in a metro area with sprawling suburbs and jobs located outside of major downtowns.

  • Swmnguy captures a lot of that discussion with his comment: “You’ve laid your finger on the main problem. Unbridled development has created communities that can’t exist on their own, without massive infrastructure subsidies.  It’s not just the roads; it’s the miles of water, sewer, electrical, gas, internet and other services, costing far more than local residents can pay per household in low-density areas, without the businesses, amenities or tax base to cover the costs, requiring people to drive cars to do every single task of basic living.  Even getting the mail can require a car trip in some neighborhoods. (WHAT? – my italics added) It’s not possible to have public transit that goes from one remote location to every other remote location.  If people don’t want to be tied to a car and road commutes, they need to live and work in higher-density areas that are serviceable by transit.  Or they need to ride bicycles. The idea that people can choose to live wherever they want, and work wherever they want, and then expect everyone else to build roads for them with enough capacity that they don’t ever have to slow down for other drivers just like them is very odd and won’t last long.

Live Closer to Where You Work

Liberal armchair planners protested that people should just live close to where they work.

  • FrankL responds: Here’s the reality. In our household we have 4 people working full time.  From the house we fan out 180 degrees to different destinations.  Only one person can use transit for about half the trip, which she does.  The fact is that homes and employment are a matrix, that is ever changing as people change jobs.  Transit is a linear system, it goes from point A to B, and rarely works for suburb to suburb travel.  Living close to work is not practical since most households have 2 workers and people tend to have a dozen jobs in their lifetime.
  • Twinsgrrrl points out how the housing market relates: If you own your house. It is likely that over the life of you mortgage, you will work 5 or 6 jobs. You take a job you can find even if it is on the other side of the metro. You can always sell your house and by another one but that too has been impossible as I spent 10 years underwater on my house. From my experience and people, living close to work is a hard thing to do over time.

Many, many, many other commenters shared their individual situations and how they ended up with 50 mile commutes – changing employers, employers relocating, cost of housing, wanting a particular school district.

Who is REALLY to Blame?

The answer is so short that we didn’t need a 28-page report to tell us.

  • Steven blames those rascally tax scofflaws: The traffic problems in Minneapolis stem back to the decision by the City of Minneapolis to let all the non tax paying bike lanes. Taking away one or more traffic lanes severely impact the commute drivers face.
  • Herigo has a simpler answer: What’s to blame for Twin Cities traffic congestion: regional growth or bad public policy? Answer: Democrats.

Random Thoughts

  • Chablis28 doesn’t think we’ll ever be cool: Finally, someone speaks the truth! Thank you! If we build more lanes we CAN reduce congestion. We don’t need to keep our freeways at 1991 capacities forever.  I know, Minneapolis center desperately, wants to be San Francisco but that city sits on peninsula surrounded by water on three sides and giant hill mountains everywhere. No matter what we do, we’ll never be as cool because we don’t have mountains and oceans abutting us.  OTOH, SF’s wonderful topography dictates that it doesn’t have room to expand freeways like a Midwestern corn field cities can and should. Why don’t we be smart and follow the lead of a couple other less sexy, less cool, cities like Kansas City & Indianapolis  both of which are much more like Minneapolis – St Paul from a density and topographical situation and both of which have reduced congestion by adding lanes.   The Left needs to lighten up on its self serving transit religion and coastal envy and do what’s right for the rest of the metro and outstate to relieve congestion. What we’ve been doing for decades with a transit emphasis & purposely underbuilt freeway system is not working for most citizens.
  • Trcarls1 clearly has it out for Richfield: Finally – an article stating the obvious. Think of these massive congested spots where land is already available for expansion. Example #1 – Hwy 62 between 494 and 35W.  Example #2 – Hwy 494 in the south metro – plenty of room for entrance/exit lanes between exits.  Example #3 – the new Hwy 169 bridge in Edina/Minnetonka – isn’t it only two lanes?  Looks like a great opportunity to make that bridge larger for the future. My point: a large portion of this article is spot on.  MNDOT and Met Council, let’s make some easy funding choices to increase capacity where the land is available!!!!
  • Sel7071 brings it from far left field: The root cause of the problem is our economy (capitalism) and strong land owner rights. It incentivizes people to make as much money as possible off of land they own while trying to pass as many costs on others as possible. So we get farmers that sell at a high price to developers that want to build expensive homes and sell them to wealthy people that don’t want to pay for more roads. When it’s always someone else’s responsibility to build the infrastructure, there will be free-riders and there’s your problem. The government could never build enough roads to keep up.

In Closing

Lowpher pretty much sums up my thoughts on the issue: “I’ve lived in bad traffic towns and this aint one of them.”

Traffic in the Twin Cities? Really? Been to Los Angeles lately? My sister lives in Newport Beach, California, and I am always completely in awe of the traffic on the 405. It takes an hour to get anywhere, no matter where you are going.

Anyways, I am going to wash my hands with bleach and look forward to some smart planner/engineer’s take on the report content.

Kitten Reading Internet Comments

Emergency kitten again

Dana DeMaster

About Dana DeMaster

Dana DeMaster, MPP, is a program evaluator and researcher for human services programs who lives and bikes in Saint Paul. When she’s not analyzing data, she can be found rabble-rousing for neighborhood bike improvements in Saint Paul, playing Legos with her two children, or sewing practical things. You can find some of her other writing on the Grease Rag and Wrench blog.

25 thoughts on “We Read the Traffic Congestion Report’s Comments So You Don’t Have To

  1. Jackie Williams

    Thanks for your perspective on the star tribune article. It always amazes me how passionate people become when it is about traffic. Everyone has a solution. LOL

  2. Justin Doescher

    I understand people can’t always live close to where they work, but when someone buys a house in one suburb, takes a job in another…well there’s gonna be traffic issues when you go to work. These people could buy houses near their jobs but I think they usually just don’t want to live in those neighborhoods, or they can’t buy the house they want in those neighborhoods. They want a newer built, suburban house, with the features that they want, in a “good” school district. And there’s nothing wrong with that at all, but there are always trade-offs.

    We shouldn’t plan the transportation network of the Twin Cities around the desire to live in one suburb and then be able to jet across the metro quickly and easily to another suburb in your own private car during the busiest traffic times.

    1. Hannah PritchardHannah Pritchard

      My husband used “location of job” as one of his top deciding factors in deciding where to work. Granted, as a software developer he was in a unique position with lots of jobs to chose from. Like, a really really unique position.

      But, at the same time, we both ended up with jobs in downtown Minneapolis, so when we started shopping for a house the location choice was obvious. We’re 2 miles from his job and 1.5 from mine. And, again a unique position, in the event that either of us does change jobs, we now have a density of other employment opportunities that we are qualified for that are pretty close to what we do now.

      It’s almost like – if you centralize employment, the chances that people can live by work are greatly improved. Crazy.

      1. Justin Doescher

        Yup, I take that into consideration as well, and consolidating jobs is a good idea for everyone.

      2. Rosa


        My husband’s employer is near downtown (they started out in Dinkytown) and they were thinking about moving, but since the employees not close to the current office were far away in every direction, there was no choice that would not have caused an employee revolt.

        Most employers don’t have to care, though – not every office is low numbers, high skills. And when you get into super specialized things, and two-body-problem households, people take the long commutes. I have friends who are a couple where one is an academic and the other is a zookeeper. They were willing to move anywhere in the country AND put up with very long commutes if they found a combination of jobs in even the same state that fit them.

    2. jeffk

      Yes. No doubt there are complicated individual situations but it sure seems like a lot​ of people are deciding on housing location based on granite countertops and white students at the local school and then whining that their commute is too long. Maybe we need more learning the hard way about prioritizing location.

    3. GlowBoy

      I don’t disagree that a lot more people could choose homes that are closer to employment *centers* at least, but the premise that one should buy a home near their job is shakier than ever these days. It probably made a lot of sense 50 years ago (when, ironically, people were choosing to NOT buy a home near their job), but it’s harder now.

      – When I was in college, I was told that I should expect to have multiple careers (and numerous jobs) over my working life. I’m middle aged now, and that has more or less proven true. I’ve certainly had a lot more jobs than homes! Should I have moved everytime my job changed? And the pace of change has only accelerated in the ensuing decades. The best we can hope to do is choose a home that’s close to employment centers, but today’s decentralized employment makes that more difficult.

      – That premise also worked better in the days when only one spouse in a family usually had a career; now that we’ve accepted that women should participate as fully in the economy as men, we need to recognize that only a few fortunate couples will be able to *both* work near home (or live near work, if you accept the work-location-comes-first premise).

      Either way, I agree with Hannah below that re-centralizing employment is the direction we need to go (and to some degree we are). I’m relatively new to the Twin Cities, and fortunate enough to still have my old job in Oregon and work from home most of the time, but if I ever do need to look for a job here … yikes, the major employers are so spread out that realistically I would only be able to consider a small fraction of them (basically those in downtown Minneapolis and maybe some of the SW suburbs) to avoid having a nightmare commute.

  3. Melody HoffmannMelody Hoffmann

    Your labor here is appreciated. Your categories are also very helpful. I hope you had plenty of anxiety-lessening tools at your disposal while writing this story.

    In regards to the comments you pulled out, I must agree with one of them:

    “The traffic problems in Minneapolis stem back to the decision by the City of Minneapolis to let all the non tax paying bike lanes. Taking away one or more traffic lanes severely impact the commute drivers face.”

    I am also very mad at all the bike lanes that don’t pay taxes! I am so tired of the freeways paying all the taxes. It isn’t fair. And don’t get me started on those plastic sticks lining the protected bike lanes. When are THEY going to pay up?

    1. Justin Doescher

      Hmmm…I believe my property taxes cover the bike lanes on my street, so I’m not sure that commenter knows what they’re talking about.

      1. Jackie Williams

        its a common misconception that bike lanes are soley funded by the hard working drivers who pay their car tabs. Just read comments in the strib. Even if the article points out that bike lanes are funded by everyone. there is a lot of anger.

        1. Rosa

          A common misperception among people who would NEVER live in the cities they drive through because the property taxes are so high.

  4. Ben Wright

    Anyone know swmnguy? I would love to have a beer with that guy. He always has the best comments.

  5. GlowBoy

    Seattle’s traffic and transportation problems are far more severe than the comparably sized Twin Cities, but Seattle-based columnist Dan Savage (yes, that Dan Savage, the syndicated sex columnist) really nailed this very issue a couple weeks ago:


    A couple of choice excerpts, basically putting the Strib commenters in their place:

    “Way, way back in the ’50s and ’60s, people got it into their heads that they had a constitutional right to live in the suburbs and drive in or through the center of a city—to jobs, to stores, to stadiums, to hookers, to suburbs on the other side of the city—going seventy miles an hour. Our local politicians can’t bring themselves to tell these entitled ***** the truth: It’s never going to be the 1960s around here again, when expressways were expressways, not parking lots. We can’t build our way out of this. We can only build alternatives to cars, aka mass transit.”

    “Sit in traffic or take rapid transit: those are your options, when you live, work, or play in or near a big, thriving urban center with a functional rapid transit system. New York, Chicago, Portland, D.C., London, Paris, Vienna. Complain about your commute and you’ll be told to pick one: traffic (that you and your car help create) or transit (that you and your taxes help subsidize). Politicians in cities with functional (that’s functional, not perfect) mass transit systems—where they still spend a lot of money maintaining roads—don’t have to waste billions of dollars on [freeway-expansion programs] … to assuage the irrational anger of entitled drivers whose votes they need.”

    1. GlowBoy

      I should add that (not surprisingly, given Dan Savage’s day job) some of the text of the article I linked is NSFW.

  6. Rosa

    The “you don’t have a real traffic problem” point is the most important one – i took a friend from the Bay area out to General Mills when she was in town and I was like, ugh, rush hour, and she kind of laughed at me. Half the stress of driving on our interstates is that they’re running 10-20 mph over the limit in the places where you have to left-enter and get over several lanes to exit again right away. If they were congested it would be easier!

    But the thing I really wonder about is, these people wanting more lanes, are they looking around while they drive? Because of the ways the highways connect, a lot of times there will be several entirely empty or very fast lanes while you’re sitting in one lane that isn’t moving at all, because it’s the one and only lane that exits to where you want to go (maybe that’s what the “learn to merge” people are talking about? No one uses the empty lanes because there’s 0 chance someone will let you in when you need to get into the full one). Adding more lanes won’t help with that at all.

    1. GlowBoy

      I think that’s a good point Rosa, that adding lanes often doesn’t resolve congestion at all. Look at 35W northbound between the 35th/36th and 31st/Lake exits: congested a huge amount of the time in the right lane or two, even at nonpeak times and on weekends. Why? Because the exits are really close together, with a very short mixing zone between where the 35th onramp ends and the 31st exit begins. You could add 3 more lanes and do absolutely nothing to resolve that bottleneck.

      I live near the 35W/Crosstown commons, which is a staggering *fifteen* lanes wide in places. And despite phenomenally expensive efforts to widen it in recent years, it’s one of the most congested places in town. Did more lanes help? Maybe a little bit, thanks to untangling of some of the mixing zones but not simply because of more lanes. It’s still a mess, and more lanes fundamentally doesn’t help.

      The same debate is going on in Oregon right now, where a proposed $8 billion transportation bill (this is in a state with a budget less than half that of Minnesota’s, and with persistent budget shortfalls even in this “strong” economy) would widen a couple of heavily congested Portland-area freeways. In particular, the stretch of I-5 between the north end of I-405 and the downtown exit would get additional lanes. But this the congestion is due to the fact that you have traffic from FOUR major exits – I-405, Broadway, I-84 and Belmont/downtown weaving in and out, in the space of a little more than a mile.

      Those with some understanding of transportation issues point out this expensive boondoggle won’t do much to actually reduce congestion, but far too many people bury their heads in the sand, saying we just need to widen the roads and stop “wasting” money on bicycling, transit and pedestrian improvements. Same complaint we heard 2 years ago when the Tillikum Crossing transit/bike/pedestrian was being built, *scandalously* not including any lanes for cars. Nevermind that there are already *forty-three* lanes over the Willamette River open to cars in the downtown area (Ross Island Bridge to Fremont Bridge). And nevermind that all of these bridges are *always* congested at rush hour (I found it not unusual to wait 30-40 minutes to get on the Ross Island when I lived there, and traffic has substantially worsened since then). Also nevermind that adding even two general lanes open to cars and trucks would have required a substantially beefier bridge, more than doubling its $150 million cost. The same old illogic went around and around, but fortunately did not prevail.

      1. Rosa

        The cost differential for car infrastructure vs. bike infrastructure is so huge it’s hard to believe anyone on the car side manages to complain about bike infrastructure with a straight face. Especially since, as I’ve recently realized, it’s actually ALL car infrastructures – either stuff like the bike lanes on Park/Portland that are mostly there to slow car drivers so they don’t kill themselves and others (the old, narrow lanes were plenty wide for bikes, I sued them for years) or like the Sabo bridge there to make it so cars don’ t have to wait for bikes to cross 55.

        It is really hard to think about things systematically while you’re in the middle of it – myself, I am almost always on the interstate for very short periods of time and in the cities and so I’m very very often having to cross all the lanes in a very short amount of time between my entrance and exit. Where that’s from a right entrance to a left exit or a left entrance to a right exit (like 280 to Cedar Riverside, west on 94) there is absolutely no way adding lanes would make it better for me. But where I really feel it is when I have to get one 94W from 35 – there’s only the one lane that does that headed north, and the line of cars backs up so far that you have to decide to be in it long before you can see the sign. I don’t do it very often but every time it’s like….am I doing this right? Why am I not in one of the empty or fast-moving lanes? This can’t be the right place, can it? Why am I doing this at all? That doesn’t leave a lot of space for big picture thinking (though it leaves a lot of space for hating whoever at MNDOT is in charge of signs. No earlier warnings possible?)

  7. Jacob

    They say that want MnDot and the Met Council to build more lanes, well they have expanded a number of freeways in the Twin Cities region the last few years. 494 was recently expanded to 3 lanes by the Fish Lake interchange, Highway 100 was just expanded to 3 lanes, Highway 610 was just completed linking up to 94 and 694 is being expanded to 3 lanes from Rice to Lexington. There are places where we have started to reach the capacity to expand lanes without demolishing houses and business which nobody wants to do. Given the various lakes and rivers we have in our area, not to mention our developed housing stock and infrastructure it’s unrealistic that more freeways will be built. Maintaining our existing roads and interchanges and investing in transit will be the only way to alleviate congestion on our roads, but nothing is going to magically solve the congestion problems we have. More lanes isn’t going to make commutes go faster in the winter time when it’s snowing like crazy or in the spring and summer when it is storming and raining out.

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