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Twin Cities traffic congestion? Eat your heart out, Portland

Twin Cities traffic congestion? Eat your heart out, Portland
In its annual assessment of traffic congestion, the Texas A & M Transportation Institute rated MSP 44th of 100 cities.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, city planners and other urban do-gooders tiresomely and endlessly praise Portland, Ore., for its efficient use of land and transit -- to the detriment of our more sprawlicious metropolis. In hopes of boosting local confidence, I itemized several rankings that put the City of Lakes and America's Most Livable City (that's us) ahead of the City of Roses.

Well, here's another arrow in our quiver. In its annual assessment of traffic congestion -- a very rigorous one -- the Texas A & M Transportation Institute rated MSP 44th of 100 cities, while Portland came in 17th. In other words, traffic is much worse there than here.

In case you're curious, Washington, D.C. is the most congested city in the land. (Apparently, there's gridlock on the highways as well as in Congress.) Bakersfield, Calif., is the city with the loosest traffic. You can see a sampling I plucked out in the table below, which lists annual amounts.

Just so you know, TTI translates to Travel Time Index. It compares the lengths of time it takes a driver to get somewhere during peak travel hours to times when traffic is flowing freely. So if the drive to the airport takes 20 minutes at 5 a.m. on Sunday and the TTI equals 1.3, then the ride will take 26 minutes during rush hour.

The Planning Time Index or PTI represents the amount of time that should be planned for a trip if you want to be late only one day a month. So if your office is 20 minutes away from your house and the PTI is 2.5, plan on spending 50 minutes traveling there. (No wonder I was always late when I lived in New York.)

Anyway, the average TTI for the nation is 1.18; the average PTI is 3.09. If you are into data, there's a swamp to dive into, going back to 1982. One plus, sort of: Our nation's congestion hasn't grown worse in recent years, but that trend is probably due to the ongoing recession and the decline in business activity. Better we should be congested.

CityRankExcess Gallons Used per MotoristCost of DelayLbs of CO2 per vehicleLbs Total CO2 UsageTTIPTI
Wash., D.C.167$1,3986311,703K1.325.72
New York4281,2815575,146K1.334.44
Twin Cities4412695249444K1.213.14

Source: Texas A & M Transportation Institute

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Comments (15)

More than just CO2... coming out of the tailpipe while stuck in traffic. Vehicle exhaust is the single largest source of air polllution in the state, according to the MPCA.

The TTI is flawed and rewards sprawling metros

Please read up on the TTI and it's flaws before using it to brag. The TTI rewards sprawling places because it's not an accessibility measure, it's a measure of how fast we can move traffic.

Even less useful than "how fast"...

It measures the consistency of travel times, not the raw speed. A city with peak-hour congestion could see its TTI score improve by increasing off-peak congestion (as long as peak-hour congestion doesn't get worse at the same time). Granted, congestion at 3AM is unlikely, but if you define off-peak that strictly, the TTI score would presumably fail to reflect whether the peak period lasts half an hour or four hours.

A city could also improve its score by moving suburb-to-core commuters farther out into the suburbs, assuming the congestion is in the core. Those commuters spend just as much time in the congested region, but because they spend additional time at high (or rather, consistent) speeds on the suburban end, the ratio goes down.

Auto Traffic?

Based on 5 minutes of internet research, I am under the impression that PTI and TTI refer just to auto traffic travel times. In cities like Portland and Washington it doesn't make much sense to calculate just auto times. To be more accurate these ratings should take into account travel time for metro and other public transit users. If these ratings don't take into account metro and public transit, then I see no reason why these ratings are of much value . . .

This is a valid point and one

This is a valid point and one that I wish would be considered when designing transit systems. It is the only way transit will ever be taken seriously by a majority of citizens.

On a recent airline, I saw a map at the back of the travel book listing airport cities and travel times from airport to city center using bus, train, taxi, or private car. Only in cities outside of the US was travel time faster via public transit. Of the US cities, only San Francisco came close with their BART system.

Using Google maps right now, I typed in directions for Portland Airport to downtown Portland. If I left right now, my travel time is 18 minutes via taxi or car and 53 minutes via the rail system.

Great post Marlys!

I hope some of the municipal (and state) traffic planners and anti-work-at-home bean counters read your table.

I love congestion

Well, sort of.

Do you want to go to a restaurant that's empty? Are your favorite Twin Cities neighborhoods the ones empty of people (and cars), or the ones with lots of activity?

I'm not alone in thinking that when many people (and their transportation) want to go to the same place at the same time, that indicates desirability. Sure, it can be taken to extremes, but I'm not quite ready to celebrate the lack of activity.


Activity, yes. Spending the evening fighting horrendous traffic, no. People don't necessarily need to get there by car--just look at all the people who bike or bus into the State Fair every year.

Personally, I'd like to see traffic congestion move down the scale and bus/train congestion move up.

My thoughts exactly.

Look, congestion is correlated with a strong economy. You can't build your way out of it. As that chart shows, there are no traffic jams in Bakersfield. That's not good, that's bad.


As Yogi Berra said

No one goes there anymore, it is too crowded (in agreement with Janne).

Here's where Portland is miles ahead of Minneapolis

If you don't want to drive, you don't have to.

In ten years of living there, there was exactly ONE occasion when I couldn't get to something I needed or wanted to go to by public transit. That one occasion was a wedding held at a camp just outside the urban growth boundary.

But the American mindset is so attuned to cars-cars-cars-and-only-cars that many people who complained constantly about traffic or parking never seemed to notice that I went to all the places they did without having to sweat either one. Still, during the time I lived in Portland, five of my friends also gave up their cars and didn't regret doing so.

I tried to live car-free in Minneapolis when I first moved here, and it's too hard, due to the way the transit system is set up. So in a sense, Twin Cities residents have it worse than Portlanders. They have no alternatives to congestion.



Well stated. If people want to play in traffic and deal with congestion that is certainly an option they can enjoy no matter what city they live in. But if you have easy access to a bike path, bus route, or train station, then you have additional options beyond simply driving.

I have relatives in Portland and when we go to visit we typically don't get a rental car there. Instead we pop on the train and take that around town. AAA estimates that a car costs $8,946 per year, not a small sum by any stretch of the imagination. Even people who get a free car from a relative find their pocketbooks are drained being drained through insurance, gas, repairs, and parking.

Certainly Portland is not the be-all-to-end-all when it comes to urban planning, but we have a long way to go before we catch up to them. Can you imagine what their congestion would be like if they DIDN'T have trains?

I did get a "free" car from a relative, and at tax time,

I figured out that I was spending $3000 a year more than I had been in Portland. That's $3000 a year more with a free car and driving far less than the average Twin Cities resident.

Miles ahead?

You can get anywhere in most cities, the question is how far to you want walk, and how much time to you want spend traveling? Nevertheless, Portland does have a better system, there's no denying that.

Where Portland has the greatest advantage is

that the transfers work. There are too many "you can't get there from here," at least not without going way out of your way, situations in the Twin Cities.