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.
MnDOT’s report comes as the Metropolitan Council forecasts that the Twin Cities region will grow by 800,000 residents by 2040 and an additional 675,000 personal vehicles will merge onto already-stressed roads. MnDOT says it won’t be able to build its way out of the looming congestion.
So how can the Twin Cities absorb the population and vehicle growth and keep highways and freeways from becoming parking lots? There is a plan for that.
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.
Specifically, the plan, developed in concert with the Met Council, the McKnight Foundation, Nice Ride Minnesota and leaders from cities and other transportation organizations, calls for attracting 30,000 new daily bus and train riders and 1,000 new vanpoolers, sustaining a fleet of 600 car-share vehicles and adding 800 bikes to the Nice Ride system. It lists 10 strategies for making sustainable transportation acceptable, available and affordable.
“This is not a plan to put on the shelf,” SUMC’s Executive Director Sharon Feigon said last week when unveiling it. “The Twin Cities are growing, and to remain competitive, having an easy-to-use transportation system is important. Cities that do best are those where people don’t have to drive.”
The plan is now in the hands of an implementation committee, whose members are excited to get to work. They’ll have their work cut out for them. 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.
It also comes after Car2Go pulled out of the Twin Cities market, citing “extremely high” state taxes, and after fares on Metro Transit light rail and buses went up 25 cents.
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.
“It is not either/or, but all of the above,” said Katie Rodriguez, who heads the Met Council’s Transportation Committee. “We need to get to work.”
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