The perception that traffic congestion is worse today than in the past is a real phenomenon. Might as well call it traffic nostalgia. Plus, the perception that traffic is only going to get worse is a common objection for constructing new housing anywhere. A fourplex or daycare being proposed can bring forth primal concerns about congestion.
We have seen real evidence that brick and mortar retail, as typified by the suburban mall, is facing competitive pressures from online shopping that has caused a trend of retailers closing across the country. In some cases entire malls have. Cities and the property owners have strong incentive to find new uses for the large amount of underutilized retail space. Because there is a shortage of housing, turning the space devoted to store cars into homes for people makes a lot of sense from the broad view.
Many neighbors of the shopping centers still object to redeveloping the empty stores and vacant retail parking lots to housing because of their fears about congestion. They don’t believe that traffic is truly reduced despite closing stores and windswept pavement. Among the objections to The Estelle towers along France was that the 152 units would overwhelm the Southdale area with empty nesters driving.
I’ve worked in the Southdale area since the early 1990s and I still do today. Because my workday begins at 9:30 in the morning and I leave for home at 6:30 pm I never witness congestion on the highways nor on the arterials. I had a nagging feeling that I remembered traffic a bit heavier in the Southdale area. So I decided to go digging into the MNDOT traffic counts. I downloaded the maps for every year from 2000 to 2016 (the most recent year available).
I was surprised by how much traffic has dropped. West 70th is down over 7,000 vehicles per day. France along Southdale was down nearly 8,000 vehicles per day. York is down over 6,000 vehicles per day. Here are the numbers.
For those who work better visualizing numbers, here is a map of the area where I put in the chart for each section of street to see the trend lines.
Some notes: the Y-axis for the France Ave charts were set the same. The Y-axis for the York Ave charts were set the same. To make the trend clear in the charts I set the minimum and maximum Y values so the trend fit the space I had. Refer to the numbers above to get the percentage change.
The counts along 69th and 70th along Galleria between France and York have been stable for the past 15 years. Valley View between 66th and France was 11,000 in 2000 and is 8,900 in 2016. West 66th St east of York has also been pretty stable, but west of Valley View was 5,000 in 2000 but rose to 6,700 in 2016.
There is most certainly room to develop the Southdale area with the already approved residential proposals that have not yet finished plus a whole lot more based on the traffic trends alone. Concerns about worse “traffic” from new apartments and condos surrounding Southdale won’t come close to the traffic that the recent past experienced.
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