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.