The Twin Cities need solutions to their traffic problems, not those of other cities

As a Londonder, one of the things I miss living in Minnesota is the tube. For work or leisure, I could jump on the underground a ten minute walk from my flat apartment and get to wherever I wanted. But Minnesota isn’t London. As our new report, “Twin Cities Traffic Congestion: It’s No Accident”, makes clear, the Metropolitan Council and MnDOT have been trying to shift Minnesotans out of their cars and onto mass transit. Their favored scheme has been the light rail. But what may be appropriate for a city like London isn’t for the Twin Cities.

Jobs density and transportation

London is a densely packed city. The vast majority of the jobs are concentrated in the central part of town with most of the workers living around this. To give you some idea, consider that from the most northerly to the most southerly places I worked was a distance of about 5 miles. From the most westerly job to the most easterly was about 2 miles. From where I lived, Walthamstow (about 10 miles from the most distant office), I could get to every job I’ve had in the last fifteen years with one underground line and a little walking.

Now consider my wife, who grew up in Cottage Grove. Her “grown up” jobs before moving to London were in Eden Prairie, Maple Grove, and Bloomington. From Maple Grove to Bloomington is about 20 miles. The two closest jobs, Eden Prairie and Bloomington, are 10 miles apart. She, like many others, has never worked downtown.

Given this spread of jobs, how is it possible that the Twin Cities’ light rail could even come close to giving the service given to London by its underground? It isn’t. And it makes even less sense to continue pushing the light rail out into less densely populated areas. Indeed, where the London Underground once extended into more thinly populated areas, it was shut down. This happened on both the Metropolitan and Central lines.

For all the pretensions of planners, beyond a point cities evolve. And they evolve in different directions. When that happens its becomes impossible to turn one city into another. It becomes impossible to transplant the solutions from one to another. The travel solutions for the Twin Cities need to be appropriate to the Twin Cities.

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