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Traffic congestion in the Twin Cities down 83% in 2020, report finds

The COVID-19 pandemic changed travel behavior "seemingly overnight."

Anyone who still commuted to work in the Twin Cities in 2020 saw a major reprieve from traffic congestion. 

Drivers in the Twin Cities saw an 83% decrease in delay on the roads in 2020 compared to 2019, according to the INRIX's 2020 Global Traffic Scorecard, which was released Tuesday. INRIX is a traffic analytics firm that analyzes traffic in the most congested cities in the world. 

“COVID-19 has completely transformed when, where and how people move. Government restrictions and the continued spread of the virus led to shifts in travel behavior seemingly overnight,” Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX, said in a news release. “Morning commutes in cities across the world went without delay as people reduced auto and transit travel to offices, schools, shopping centers and other public spaces.”

The report shows motorists in the Twin Cities used to spend an average of 52 hours in traffic, but in 2020 they lost just 9 hours to congestion. 

Fewer cars, higher speeds

The number of miles the average person drove last year in the Twin Cities was down 23%. However, with fewer cars on the road, people were going faster. The average speed for those driving during the peak of the morning commute last year was faster, at 37 mph, compared to in 2019, when it was 29 mph. 

Off-peak commuting hours (the time between the morning and evening commute) people were driving at an average of 40 mph, 1 mph less than in 2019. 

The Minnesota Department of Public Safety (DPS) also noticed more motorists were driving faster in 2020 than in 2019, writing 1,068 tickets last year to drivers who were going more than 100 mph. That's more than a 100% increase from 2019, when state troopers wrote 533 tickets to drivers going more than 100 mph. 

The number of citations written for drivers going 100-plus mph last year started skyrocketing in March, when COVID-related lockdowns went into effect. That month, the State Patrol issued 92 citations for those going over 100 mph, compared to 34 in 2019. And in April 2020, it wrote 148 citations compared to 58 in April 2019. 

The Global Traffic Scorecard noted the number of collisions in the Twin Cities was down 32% in 2020 compared to 2019. However, fatal crashes were up, with DPS saying preliminary figures show there were 397 traffic fatalities in 2020, the most in five years. Of those, 120 people died in speed-related crashes, the most since 2008. 

The number of trips to downtown Minneapolis compared to pre-COVID (February 2020), dropped 75% in April 2020 and was down 56% in September and 61% in December. In February 2021 compared to February 2020, trips to downtown Minneapolis were down 52%.

Across all metro areas in the U.S. last year, trips to downtown were down 44% compared to February 2020. 

“Although travel to downtowns has been the most affected by the spread of the virus and subsequent government restrictions, the reduction in congestion has resulted in quicker commutes for essential workers, more reliable deliveries and streamlined freight movement, all of which are vital to the economy,” Pishue said in the release. “We expect downtown trips will continue to lag suburban and rural travel through 2021.”

Nationally, the average driver lost 26 hours due to congestion in 2020, down from 99 hours in 2019. This equates to a savings of $980 per driver compared to 2019.

Minneapolis ranked No. 77 out of the most congested cities in the U.S. in 2020 and No. 433 out the 1,000-plus cities INRIX looked at globally. 

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