City Pages is wrong; Minnesotans can’t all cycle everywhere

Our report “Twin Cities Traffic Congestion: It’s No Accident” has generated a good amount of debate. But, so far, no response has been as wrong-headed and revealing as that of Ward Rubrecht in City Pages.

Not all Minnesotans are like you, Mr Rubrecht

“Traffic congestion is annoying, sure”, Mr Rubrect writes, “but it’s also a necessary tool to fix what ails Minnesota highways”. He continues

“The real solution (to traffic congestion) is convincing fewer people in town to own cars, and convincing people who do own cars to use them less to get around town. Viewed this way, traffic congestion is perfect for driving people off the road.”

This shows how parochial Mr Rubrecht’s thinking is. I don’t know him, but I’m willing to bet that he lives in the Twin Cities and works somewhere else in the Twin Cities. I imagine he is reasonably young and somewhat healthy. In short, cycling is perfect. For him.

But, alas, we cannot all be Mr Rubrecht. As I wrote last week, while mass transit can play a dominant role in transport in my home town, London, it cannot do so in the Twin Cities. Most people do not work downtown. They do not live there. They work and live in the suburbs around it. Geographically, these are widely spread. The idea that my wife could have commuted from Hastings to Maple Grove by bus or bike is downright bizarre. But her commute is more typical for most Minnesotans than a 10 mile zip across downtown.

“What planet is this guy on?” I asked my wife as we discussed Mr Rubrecht’s article last night.

“Uptown Minneapolis, probably” she replied.

They want to increase the cost of your commute

Mr Rubrecht deserves credit for his candor, if for nothing else.

He says explicitly that “traffic congestion is perfect for driving people off the road”. Again, as I wrote last week, driving has a cost. Not the financial cost of filling your gas tank, but of what else you could have been doing in the time you were stuck in traffic. Maybe seeing the kids off to school or going for a jog.

Mr Rubrecht would like to raise that cost; less time with your kids and no morning exercise. And, unless you are lucky enough to both live and work downtown, it is a cost you have to pay if you want to get to work.

There is no alternative

For most Minnesotans the alternative to driving is not cycling or getting the bus or rail. It is not traveling at all. I didn’t drive when I lived in London, few people do. Instead, I paid a very high rent to live near mass transit. And, if Minnesotans are to huddle round transit hubs the cost of buying or renting by them will rocket. Think about that the next time you’re stuck in traffic.

John Phelan is an economist at Center of the American Experiment.