Twin Cities Traffic Congestion Is Worse Than Ever

Yesterday’s Star Tribune headlined: “Solutions sought with Twin Cities traffic at its most congested since 1993.”

The Minnesota Department of Transportation released its annual Twin Cities congestion report last week, and the news was kind of ominous.

Congestion rose to its highest level since 1993, when the agency began tracking rush-hour traffic conditions and reporting them in its Metropolitan Freeway System Congestion Report. This year’s report found roads were jammed 23.7 percent of the time between 5 and 10 a.m. and 2 and 7 p.m. on weekdays. Even more foreboding is that roads are projected to be jammed 30 percent of the time within the next 10 years. Translation: You will spend more time stuck in traffic.

This is, of course, the congestion problem on which the Center ran a major project over the Summer. You can read our report on Twin Cities congestion here. The fundamental point we made is that congestion is not just a fact of life, like cold weather. Rather, it is the avoidable result of policy decisions that have been made by the responsible agencies, the Met Council and MNDoT. If we want less congestion, we need different policies.

The Strib implies that the cause of congestion is population growth in the Twin Cities. But the Twin Cities are a slow-growing metropolitan area, 17th out of the 25 largest metro areas in population growth in the most recent rankings. As we have pointed out many times, Indianapolis has been growing twice as fast as the Twin Cities, yet that metro area has gone from being more congested in 1982 to being less congested than the Twin Cities today.

The obvious solution to traffic congestion is to build more lane-miles of streets and highways, as has been done successfully in many other cities. But the only reference to this common-sense option is this ritual claim by MNDoT:

MnDOT says it won’t be able to build its way out of the looming congestion.

But history tells us this isn’t true. As the Center’s report showed last Summer, the Twin Cities added more highway lane miles in the early years of this century, and commute times dropped significantly. Now, not only are we not adding lane-miles, the agencies are going out of their way to make major streets like Washington Avenue smaller by getting rid of traffic lanes and adding dedicated bicycle lanes.

So if building an adequate street and highway system isn’t the answer, what is? Make it so difficult to drive that we will be forced to walk, bicycle or take public transportation:

The Shared-Use Mobility Center (SUMC), a national nonprofit dedicated to increasing the use of mass transit, bike-sharing and car-sharing programs, has a goal to remove 20,000 vehicles from metro-area roads in the next five years and 50,000 within the next decade by getting commuters to use other modes of transportation.

How do you get commuters to use other modes of transportation? For many of us, there is no viable way to get from home to office and back except by car.

More than 74 percent of workers in Hennepin County drive to work solo while about 8 percent take public transportation, according to 2016 data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

“As long as parking is cheap and abundant, it will be difficult to encourage people to use sustainable modes of travel and build a more balanced transportation network,” the Twin Cities Shared Mobility Action Plan reads.

So they want to get rid of parking.

Strategies range from reducing parking options in areas where drivers may be inclined to shift modes, to raising parking fees and using the money to offer discounted transit passes, to creating mobility hubs that put a variety of transportation options in a single place.

This is outrageous. The agencies in charge of Twin Cities transportation are not trying to meet the needs of Twin Cities residents. Rather, they are trying to make our lives worse in such a way that we will have to live according to their grand plan. Note, too, who will be most hurt if parking is made scarcer and more expensive–people with limited means.

This is no way to solve the Twin Cities’ congestion problem. For constructive solutions, see the paper that Randal O’Toole wrote for the Center.