The Mysterious Case of the Missing Traffic Chaos

Last week Jon Tevlin wrote in his Strib column about how the combination of detoured traffic from Franklin Avenue (now closed to replace the bridge over 35W) and new bikes lanes on 26th Street and 28th Street was going to result in “traffic chaos” that would be like “push[ing] hamburger through a straw.”

Here’s a photo of 28th Street approaching Blaisdell Avenue last night at 5:14 pm (taken from the new bike lane, of course):

Bike lane-induced gridlock (or not)

Okay, maybe I was being tricky and snapped the only moment where there wasn’t a single non-parked car in view. Nope.This was was two minutes earlier, about three blocks further west:

28th near Grand Ave. No cars in sight.

But hey, I did pick up one car at the red light, with a few more up the block:

Just like hamburger

So what’s the deal? Why isn’t there gridlock?

Well, one possibility is that I was too late for the real crush. Minneapolis rush hour starts closer to 4pm (y’all are early risers or something), so maybe it was over by the time I got there. I can’t rule that out, but have to say, if we’re talking less than an hour of congestion, that doesn’t seem so much like a hamburger and straw situation.

Another possibility is that the rush was in the other direction, on 26th Street (these are a one-way pair, after all). Nope. You’ll have to take my word for it, but just before snapping these I rode the parallel stretch on 26th and there wasn’t any big deal over there either (unfortunately I didn’t take pictures).

Maybe it’s the mornings that are the issue? Nope (this morning at 8:56am):

Good morning, 26th Street

Something isn’t right! Tevlin tells us that 15,000 cars a day use Franklin Ave near 35W. That route is closed to them and the detour is on these streets. What happened to all of those cars?!

It’s pretty simple, actually. Road capacity creates traffic, not the other way around.

Okay, so that might be a little too strongly stated, but that is the basic idea of induced demand. Traffic is not X number of cars needing to take a given route. Traffic is the number of cars that show up to use the route you give them. When there’s an unexpected change, it may be like a pound of hamburger in a tight space at first, but unlike hamburger, traffic adjusts. People take other routes, use other modes (i.e., bike, walk or take the bus), or adjust to go to other (perhaps closer) places and businesses. Even if the predicted chaos happens at first, it dissipates over time (see also, Portland Avenue while the bridge over the Greenway is being replaced).

Actually, this particular situation is much simpler even than that. Many, most or nearly all of the cars using Franklin Avenue near 35W are there to get to or from the ramps to 35W. Those cars are going to or coming from places farther out than the nearby city and thus won’t be using the detour to 26th and 28th because there’s no freeway access on those streets. I don’t know about you, but that sure seems like a pretty obvious detail that maybe was more important to put in a column than a colorful analogy.


Adam Miller

About Adam Miller

Adam Miller works downtown and lives in South Minneapolis. He's an avid user of the city's bike paths, sidewalks and skyways. He's not entirely certain he knows what the word "urbanist" means.

24 thoughts on “The Mysterious Case of the Missing Traffic Chaos

  1. Sam

    I had a chance to both bike and drive 26th and 28th yesterday. Biking through around 3:30, traffic was fine (and there weren’t any more parked cars in the bike lane- thank you whoever fixed that!). Driving through around 4:30, traffic was pretty bad in both directions between Park and 1st but otherwise fine. If anything was the cause of congestion yesterday, it was people driving badly not bike lanes.

  2. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker

    I was struck in that recent CBS hit piece on bicycles that in not a single second of their b-roll did they show cars actually stuck in congestion. The entirety of their footage showed cars moving along mostly empty roads.

    This is yet another illustration of that classic principle that we’ve become so familiar with lately: when you’re used to getting everything your way, any change feels like oppression. To be clear, when you’re used to having the entire right-of-way dedicated to cars, anything less feels like congestion.

  3. Dave Carlson

    I happened to be traveling by car heading east on 28th Street from Hennepin over to near Abbott-Northwestern on Tuesday around 5:40 p.m. and traffic was light until right around the hospital where it backed up for a couple blocks… but it seemed most of the tie-up was due to a backup on southbound Chicago Ave. where it spilled into the intersection. I did see two cars bolt over and use the bike lane (where the bollards are) to make right turns at that backup. However, I only saw a couple of bikes on 28th St. so I hope more bicyclists use the lanes or that could fuel ore backlash.

    1. Rosa

      26th/28th are often congested between Hwy 55 and Chicago, which just supports the point that it’s highway choke points that make for bad traffic on the cross streets.

  4. Taylor

    I’ve been sitting in the stop and go of 26th on my way to my sons daycare and I actually left early today to beat some rush but it’s still choked up and drivers are just using bike lanes to cut up a block (which won’t work). Maybe you should swing by when people are normally driving on those streets. PS this is not an endorsement of Tevlin columns they are a joke.

    1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

      There would be some humor if most drivers were alarmed by the scaremongering enough to all head out early to beat the crush resulting in a shift of the rush hour.

    2. Adam MillerAdam Miller Post author

      So far the “choked up” I’ve seen is a few blocks of congestion during evening rush hour on 26th. During construction, that’s hardly a big deal.

  5. Adam MillerAdam Miller Post author

    Clarification : “today” and “yesterday” means last week when I wrote and submitted this.

    Update: I’ve since seen some non-trivial backups on Portland trying to turn right for the detour and milder backups on 26th in the evenings. Not nothing, but not much considering it’s a construction detour.

  6. Sam

    I think people have trouble understanding how the comment about the streets being “choked up” and people using the bike lanes to pass is related to there not being a ton of bicyclists using the lanes. Remember when the concrete medians on 28th (at Chicago or Portland?) were removed because people kept driving into them? Sure makes you want to bike there, eh? I wonder how much a new focus on improving driver behavior and or better barriors and crossings would increase cycling and walking…

    That being said, the streets are still 2000x better for anyone who has to live near them, cross them, or walk or bike down them than they were before.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller Post author

      Those medians were removed because public works didn’t want to plow around them. The old director said as much.

      Yes, they also were run into a few times when they were brand new. I still bike there regularly and see lots of other people doing the same during my commute.

      There’s a big misconception that bike lanes aren’t being used because you don’t see big backups of bikes like you do cars. That’s because bikes take up way, way less space. Check out the numbers of crossings of the Franklin Ave bridge, which has a counter, for how many bikes can be there without really noticing them.

      Personally, I don’t think there’s such a thing as improving driver behavior. There’s infrastructure that accommodates bad behavior or infrastructure that doesn’t.

  7. SSP

    Am I correct that the first photo shows cars on the right (north side of the street) that are all parked illegally? I drove 28th Street Sunday evening (with 35W closed to get to the airport) and it crawled all the way from Lyndale to Hiawatha. I noted all the No Parking signs from Lyndale to Blaisdale were being ignored and cars were parked in a traffic lane.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller Post author

      None of these photos show any illegally parked cars.

      Please be more specific about “crawled.” Traffic is definitely slower for the whole stretch, which was kind of the point. Cars used to breeze through at 40+ mph, now even when not particularly congested, they may never top 30. That’s great.

      I’m assuming you mean slower than that given the particularly large disruption of 35W being closed. Then again, should we be deciding how to use our transportation right of way based on a relatively rare event?

  8. SSP


    Cars were stop and go; at several signaled intersections it took more than 2-3 light cycle to clear the intersection. But recall that 35W was closed, so a lot of Viking fans were trying to figure out how to get out of town.

    I agree with your comments about bad behavior by drivers, I am constantly amazed at the incredibly stupid driving decision I see on the road, both when riding my bike and driving my car. I’d really like to see some sort of uniform signage on car/bike/pedestrian conflicts. For instance, bike lanes create some serious risks to bicyclists where drivers turn right and don’t look to see if there are approaching bicycles.

    The new Hennepin bikeway from 94 to Loring Pa
    rk is a great example, there are signs warning cars about pedestrians, but nothing warning drivers to look out for bicycles. I also don’t understand why we don’t make it illegal in the City to turn right on red across a bike lane. Better yet, install blinking right-hand arrows so cars have to stop before making a right turn across a bike lane. Another alternative would be to install lane markers for both pedestrian and bike lanes crossing busy intersections that flash in the actual lane markings when pedestrians or bike are approaching.

    1. Monte Castleman

      I’m assuming you mean a flashing red arrow? Those do have the legal meaning of “stop”, but unless there’s a slip lane people in cars are already required to stop on a red light before turning.

      Some agencies have experimented with flashing yellow arrow right turn arrows to reinforce the need for people in cars to yield to those on bicycles and on foot. A flashing red arrow in conjunction with a green would be widely disregarded- motorists disrespect traffic control devices that they don’t see an obvious need for (like stop signs improperly used for traffic calming or speed control) and if a right turn lane wasn’t provided would likely pose a danger to people in cars due to rear-end collisions.

    2. Rosa

      the “bike lane as shared right turn lane close to corners” and required J-turn is actually pretty good for reducing the risks of right-turning drivers, though drivers suddenly deciding they can’t bear to wait one more second and just suddenly turning from not as far right as possible still happens.

      There’s no hope for no right on reds. Even at intersections signed no right on red (like 35th street right after the northbound I35 exit) cars will honk if you don’t turn right on the red in a car, and most drivers roll through barely slowing down.

  9. Winehurst

    Huh??? I have 2 weeks of dash cam footage showing 26th off Chicago is a complete nightmare around 4-4:45pm every weekday. You can’t even turn right onto it because it’s that clogged. Not angry, just wondering why people keep saying it’s not backed up to all hell Someone tell me where these clear streets are because I feel like I’m going to die on 26th every day.

    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller Post author

      I think you’re right that 26th St gets pretty clogged for about 45 minutes to an hour during the peak of rush hour on weekday afternoons. That’s pretty minor for a construction detour.

      The good new is that you’re actually much less likely to die in traffic that’s slow moving, because speed kills 😉

  10. Taylor

    Hey me again. Just writing from the parking lot on 26th not moving at all. Both lanes totally full for several blocks. Maybe pop over here check it out?

  11. Adam MillerAdam Miller Post author

    Funny, when I went by last night – admittedly a bit late for rush hour around 5:30 – it was wide open and free flowing and there wasn’t even a back up on Portland trying to turn for the detour.

    Granted, Portland was closed north of their at 94, which probably explains the latter, but still, no issues at 26th at all. It’s almost like it backs up briefly at rush hour and then is fine.

    1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

      This feels like a redux of the traffic apocalypse wailing in Edina when 169 was closed for the Nine Mile Creek bridge/causeway replacement and people there howled over the traffic.

      So we concede there is a bump of congestion (it is a small window yet to be defined), construction-caused congestion is zero basis to determine how many lanes are needed in all 24-hours/7-days for the next 30 years.

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