Congestion may not be bad in the Twin Cities, but it should be much better

The metro area ranks low on the list of worst world cities for travel.

The 2017 Traffic Scorecard by Inrix has found that Minneapolis-St. Paul ranked 17th among U.S. metro areas for traffic congestion.

That's actually not that bad, considering commuters spend on average 41 hours of their working year stuck in rush-hour traffic, compared to 91 in New York and 102 in Los Angeles.

And at $1,332 per driver, the economic cost of Twin Cities congestion (ie. time and fuel wasted, lost productivity), is the lowest out of the country's 25 largest metro areas.

But while the study presents a comparatively positive impression of traffic in the Twin Cities, we all know the roads of far from perfect, as we continue to deal with a lack of foresight by city planners decades ago.

Jesse Ventura got in trouble as governor when he said St. Paul's street system was designed by "drunk" Irish workers, and while you can take offense at the language, he's not wholly wrong about the roads.

It's of continual amazement that interchanges of 3-5 lane roads like I-35W, I-394 and I-94 south of Minneapolis are connected by single lanes.

Then there's the 90-degree angled turn on I-35W south of downtown that backs traffic up along not just 35 but also I-94 all the way to St. Paul.

Meanwhile regular users of Highway 62 will be accustomed to slow as they navigate the narrow twists and turns near the Cedar Road/Mall of America exit.

These systems were put in place when there was a fraction of cars in circulation and it shows.

It would also help if we knew how to zipper merge.

Action needs to be taken now to ensure we don't repeat the mistakes of the past, given the Metropolitan Council predicts the Twin Cities population will rise by 800,000 by 2040.

But there is hope

Ok, the rant about the worst bottlenecks in the Twin Cities is over.

There are possible solutions out there, which are nicely broken down in this Pioneer Press article that includes driverless cars, denser development, and congestion pricing (ugh).

It also discusses the advantages and pitfalls of widening roads, which may provide short-term relief but cause more drivers to use the roads, negating the effect.

Increased adoption of transit is a surefire way of reducing congestion, but the Twin Cities seems to be treading water.

Metro Transit recently revealed that its light rail lines continue to go from strength-to-strength, with ridership up in 2017, but a fall in bus users meant total transit use dropped compared to 2016.

And we know that for car lovers, bike lanes instill a venomous rage like none other, but they really do have a huge role to play in reducing congestion (outside of winter at least).

If you're living in Minneapolis and live within 5-6 miles of downtown, it's just as quick in many cases to bike to work rather than drive.

We should know, we tried it last year.

Transportation officials think the answer lies in the growth of the sharing economy, aided by improvements in mobile technology and initiatives such as Nice Ride MN.

A collection of Twin Cities organizations unveiled a plan this past October to take 20,000 vehicles off our roads over the next five years.

The plan by the Shared-Use Mobility Center (SUMC) is specific to the Twin Cities and seeks to alleviate congestion by moving people away from single-occupancy car use and onto transit or rideshare.

It intends to encourage 30,000 more people to take public transit daily, sustain 600 carshare vehicles, add a further 800 bikes to the Nice Ride program, and increase use of the Twin Cities' vanpool services.

Let's hope for the sake of future commuters in our growing metro area that it's successful.

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