10.5.13

Today at Streets.mn: Are 20-year Traffic Predictions Astronomy or Astrology?

[The Mpls Bike Coalition's preferred alternative would be a vast improvement.]
I have a post up over at Streets.mn today (which is, to be frank, blowing up this week). I just got mad about the recent Washington Avenue traffic study, which purports with great pomp and circumstance to scientifically prove that we need an uncrossable 6-lane super duper car-moat between the bulk of downtown and the Mississippi River.

Here's the gist of my post:
 Reading through the Washington Avenue study, the same principle might apply. Even without knowing the details of the traffic prediction model used in this study, how can any analysis pretend to know, to incredible degrees of precision, what someone’s commute time will be in 2035, twenty-three years into the future? The variables are intricate beyond measure. Twenty-three years ago it was 1990, and much has changed since then. Nobody had heard of the internet, a gallon of gas cost $1.16, and a barrel of oil was under $20.  How will our commuting patterns, transportation choices, and economic decision-making change between now and 2035, when I’m 67 years old and yelling at kids to get off my lawn? How many trends could you project forward that would completely change this model’s outcome? Google cars, car sharing servies, telecommuting, downtown population increases, increases in transit, increases in the gas price… any of these could change the rules of the game. How can we possibly say, with a precise number of seconds, what a driver moving this particular mile through downtown Minneapolis will experience in 2033? This is surely another case of precision without accuracy.

The reason this is important is that the conclusion of the study appear so dire. Here's the apocalyptic meat of the County's recent 73-page report:

If the third westbound travel lane between 5th Avenue S and Hennepin Avenue is not retained, noticeable impacts to the motorists along both Washington Avenue and 3rd Street S are expected.
Significant congestion can be expected, with backups extending to around 10th Avenue during the PM peak period.
Motorists may experience 2 to 3 minutes additional delay (an approximate 30 to 60 percent increase).
Bus service is anticipated to experience approximately 2 to 5 minutes of additional delay to westbound routes on Washington Avenue and may experience greater difficulty exiting the Gateway ramp Transit Hub due to the resulting traffic congestion on 5th Avenue S.
Vehicle stops are expected to be increased by 15 to 20 percent.
Air quality emissions and fuel consumption are expected to be increased by approximately 6 to 8 percent.
The anticipated westbound traffic congestion may result in traffic diversion (estimated to be about 10 percent). 3rd Street S is the likely alternative route for motorists, which will operate at capacity if all 10 percent choose to move there. Given the congestion impact to 3rd Street S, this diversion scenario at this 10 percent level may likely not occur.
Traffic diversion is also expected to not just be isolated to westbound Washington Avenue movements. The key northbound streets (Marquette, Avenue S, Park Avenue S, 5th Avenue S and 3rd Avenue S may also be impacted by traffic diversion. This may result from motorists shifting their overall travel pattern to access Washington Avenue further west, or to avoid using Washington Avenue all together.

Today, Washington Avenue really degrades the quality of life downtown, turns the pedestrian realm into a soul-sucking experience. Meanwhile, Rybak and the city have for years been talking about how we need Washington Avenue to be this grand boulevard, the "main street" of the city, a place for strolling and sidewalk cafés and thriving with businesses and active storefronts.

You can't have it both ways, folks. Thus the space of recent posts by friends critiquing the way this decision is going, and my post today at Streets.mn comparing the traffic study methodology to the most meaningless kind of pseudo-science.

There's a meeting on Tuesday evening about this very issue, and it'd be great to have a huge turnout. At least, email or call your Hennepin County commissioners and let them know what you want Washington Avenue to look like in the future. As Jeff Speck says, "the #1 thing that cities need to do is stop letting their directors of Public Works design their cities".

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thanks for share..