Sure you’re stuck in traffic, but at least you’re not in Boston

For reasons that remain unclear — there weren’t that many accidents — rush hour traffic in the Twin Cities Monday evening was a nightmare, particularly the stretch of Interstate 35W southbound where someone once thought it a fine idea to design an off ramp to Interstate 94 westbound that intersected two other ramps.

The more we pave over the Twin Cities with highways, the worse the traffic seems to get, and we don’t even get bragging rights out of the deal for our horrible traffic.

In a survey released Tuesday, Minneapolis ranks only 24th among the nation’s urban centers for congestion, according to INRIX’s Global Traffic Scorecard.

Boston ranks No. 1, although its congestion has dropped 10 percent from last year while Minneapolis is up 4 percent, still good enough for our fair city to rank 134th in the world.

It says the average cost in wasted time per driver is about $1,000 a year. Drivers spend about 70 hours a year in traffic jams during rush hour compared to other times of the day.

That’s still a far cry from Bogota, Colombia, where drivers spent 272 hours going nowhere. Minneapolis drivers lose $1.3 billion a year to traffic, the report said.

We’re no Singapore, though. The report gives credit to the city which is among the most populated in the world, but ranks relatively low on traffic congestion because of “aggressive policies” against driving.

To be fair, the annual report has its critics. StreetsBlog, for example, noted that its methodology penalizes older, denser cities. And its definition of congestion is flawed.

The definition of congestion is a novel and expansive one: Any time travel speeds fall below 65 percent of free-flow speeds, Inrix regards this as being “congested.”

Inrix says it determines free-flow speeds using actual traffic data. As we and other have noted, this approach often results in using speeds that exceed the posted legal speed limit for a roadway as the baseline for determining whether a road is congested.

For example, if “free flow” speeds on a posted 55 mile per hour road are 60 or 65 miles per hour, Inrix would presumably use this higher baseline for computing congestion. This has the curious implication that the inability of a motorist to engage in an illegal behavior constitutes a “cost.”

Also: its worth noting that roadways achieve their maximum throughput (number of vehicles moved per hour on a roadway segment) and speeds that are usually much lower than free flow speeds. (At higher speeds, drivers increase their following distance and the road carries fewer cars per hour).

So in many cases, these lower speeds (say 40 miles per hour on a 55 mile per hour roadway, where free-flow speeds are 60 miles per hour), may actually be more efficient.

StreetsBlog also says the report inflates the cost of being stuck in traffic.

  • The Resistance

    Although we can’t always build our way out of traffic jams, Minnesota has historically been a federal tax donor state, which has deprived us of billion of dollars of transit and transportation infrastructure and the jobs associated with them. I’m surprised that this never comes up as a topic during campaigns.

  • This is pretty much my “go to” phrase:

    [Irritating issue], but at least we’re not in Boston

    • KariBemidji

      And my go to is “at least I’m not in the cities”.

      • Barton

        And to add to it (as I uttered this morning) at least I work and live in the cities so I don’t have to deal with the suburbs. 🙂

        I find it funny that no one at work will let me join in on their “my commute was so bad” discussions anymore – mainly because mine are never bad, since I both live and work in the same city.

        • Kassie

          On the worst day, when all my coworkers had 2+ hour commutes, mine was 45 minutes. That’s still faster than taking the bus on a sunny day. Also, I’m just not in that much of a hurry anymore. I didn’t have a meeting until 10am this morning, so I knew I had plenty of time to get in and just put an audiobook on and took my time getting in.

          • so I knew I had plenty of time to get in and just put an audiobook on and took my time getting in

            …and by “audiobook” you mean “listening to MPR News.”


          • Kassie

            Um yes? I’m more of a Current listener than news listener. Sometimes Classical too. I usually listen to the Current on the way in and a book on the way home. I can’t concentrate in the morning sometimes, so books aren’t great.

        • QuietBlue

          Live in a suburb, work in an adjacent suburb — mine’s pretty easy in general, and even on rough days, it’s still better than most.

          I have some colleagues who reverse-commute to our office from the cities proper, and it seems like that can be okay too. It’s the suburb-into-city and back out again commutes that are the worst.

        • Jeff

          I live about 35 miles away but most of the commute is down 35E. Most days later in the morning it’s pretty smooth. On bad days like today I can take the MnPass lane and blow by all the poor slobs in their domestic poverty wagons in my bimmer. (I’m not sure why more people don’t get MnPass.)

          • Barton

            Of course if more people got it, then it wouldn’t be as free flowing, would it?

          • Jeff

            I’m all for maintaining the status quo and keeping the “Jeff Lane” as open as possible, but if I was consistently sitting in traffic I’d wonder about the MnPass thing. It does require a $40 deposit but I use it only an average of 4-5 times a month and maybe spend $8-10/mo.

          • Free if you have two people.

    • Jeff

      Doesn’t work during football and baseball seasons.

      • Meh, I’m more of a hockey fan.

        *checks standings including college standings*


  • jon

    For work I was talking to some folks in Asia (Japan and singapore) during the polar vortex.

    I mentioned how cold it was here, and the person from Japan said “yeah, but you just drive everywhere anyhow so you don’t really go outside.” and I had to explain that cars aren’t warm after they sit outside at -35C…

    The one in singapore was just flabbergasted at the idea of -35C… they are basically on the equator there, and largely surrounded by water… so it never gets anywhere near freezing much less well below…

    Meanwhile when I chat with the netherlands I got to hear about their “worst traffic jam ever! (in the netherlands)” recently because they got 5cm of snow… (about 2 inches). it’s all melted now.

    I’ve taken to asking if any of them would want a roommate for the winter months…

    • IMHO part of the reason why driving is such a challenge in countries like the Netherlands (and from my own experience in Tokyo, in the ’70s) is that all-season/winter tires are not de rigueur. My dad recalled driving to work, during the first winter snow we experienced after moving to Tokyo in 1970, and how drivers were spinning their wheels because no one used anything but summer tires. (Tokyo /might/ get one snowfall every winter; always less than 3″.) And drivers knew nothing re: the importance of momentum to keep from getting stuck. Being the experienced winter driver he was (born and raised in MN), he managed to drive from our western Tokyo suburban home to his office in the central business district (Marunouchi) without incident.

  • chlost

    We just moved into a new home in the same town as my work. I am now 5 minutes from my office. I cannot tell you how wonderful that has been compared to my previous 1/2 hour commute on county and state roads out in the country .
    Husband, however, still has a 1- 1 1/2 hour commute depending on traffic levels), which expands to 2- 2 1/2 hours in this weather. It is hard on the psyche as well as the body to deal with that. Retirement can’t come soon enough.

    • Interesting. The last place I want to be is near work.

      • king harvest

        I’m a ten minute walk from work and I like it. Mainly because I really enjoy my job and my neighborhood.

        • Mike Worcester

          At one time I did much the same. It was a small town though; I could walk to just about anywhere I needed to. Saved big $$ on gas 🙂

          • king harvest

            To be fair, I drove 1,200 miles to get here and when this gig is done I’m going to drive another 2,000 to get to the next one. But once I get there, I can walk to work.

      • John

        I would love to live close to work. The biggest time suck in my regular day is time in the car going to/from work. If I could get back an hour a day, well – that’s more time I could spend on NewsCut.

        My first real job was two miles from my house. It was awesome. One tank of gas a month. 13K miles on my truck in two years (and that was the vehicle we used when we went anywhere).

        Then I lived 65 miles from work. . . over 30K miles/year just commuting. 2-3 tanks of gas a week. Too far.

        Now, 20 miles away – it’s tolerable, but feels too far when traffic is heavy (most afternoons) or the weather is bad (February 2019).

      • jeffk

        I don’t think there’s an infrastructure system know to man that can get a few million people that want to live as far from work as possible to work as quickly as possible. Long commute is the price you pay for living far from work – plus the price paid by everyone in carbon and building roads.

        I know for a lot of people living close to work is impossible, because of their job or their partner’s job. I’m further than I’d like to be. But at the very least we should be advocating for policy that brings opportunities closer together.

      • Rob

        Interesting. So, does this mean you’ll be moving to a condo near MPR World Headquarters after you retire?

        • No, I like living in a city where they plow the streets. I’ll stay where I am. Also I won’t have any money for fancy city condos.

      • lusophone

        I would love it if my work was near my neighborhood. There are many amenities nearby to distract me while not working. If it was just work that was close and nothing else then, yes, that would blow.

      • JamieHX

        Living close to work became more and more important to me the older I became. I’m 4 miles from work now and LOVE it. I hate wasting time on commuting.

    • Kassie

      I used to live in downtown and loved the two block walk to work. And the nap I could take over lunch each day. We chose to live in Minneapolis, even though I work in St. Paul, because the neighborhood had much more of what we wanted. I do regret not being able to easily commute by bus, but do appreciate being able to walk to so many great things once I get home.

  • Postal Customer

    If you thought Monday evening was bad, you should have seen Monday morning. Holy cow. There were no accidents because all the cars were going 2 mph.

  • Mike Worcester

    The disconnect between development and transportation can be dizzying at times.

    In St. Michael, you can find MN Hwy 241, which runs from I-94 to downtown St. Michael. It’s a nice four-lane stretch with multiple signals and turn lanes. At one time, that stretch of road was the two-lane Wright County Road 35. Then St. Michael (and Albertville) exploded in development, and poor CSAH 35 could not handle the traffic volume. Local leaders screamed about how the state needed to “do something”. So state tax dollars were spent fixing a problem caused by local decisions. And this is not an isolated example.

  • Rob

    Regardless of whether it’s Boston, Bogota, Beijing or inside the beltway boundaries of the Twin Cities, being stuck in commuter traffic sucks.