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.