Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Traffic Issue in Uptown's Own Backyard (or Garage)

One of the complaints we all frequently hear about Uptown is that there’s too much traffic. I agree that the cars speeding through Lake or other major thoroughfares are a source of frustration. There are also many people driving to Uptown, and I do wish that more of those people would consider taking the bus, biking, or, when possible, walking. That said, too much of the traffic focus tends to be on the problem of “outsiders,” whether it’s the people coming to Uptown to shop or dine, those who drive to their Uptown jobs, or the people who are driving through Uptown on their way from and to places elsewhere. These groups of people are admittedly a major component of any traffic “problem,” but we can’t forget the group of people most likely to be on Uptown streets on a daily basis: Uptown residents themselves.

The 2000 census sheds some interesting light on Uptown residents’ commuting patterns (“Uptown” in this case defined as CARAG, ECCO, LHENA, and East Isles, with the numbers based on “workers 16 years and over). Some highlights:

  • 52 percent of Uptown residents drove to work alone, a five percent increase over 1990.
  • Six percent of Uptowners carpooled to work, the same percentage as in 1990.
  • A mere 17 percent took public transportation to work, a decrease from 22 percent in 1990.
  • Four percent walked to work in 2000; five percent walked to work in 1990.
  • Two percent of workers took “other means” (I’m assuming this means bicycles, plus perhaps the occasional skateboard or set of roller blades thrown in for good measure) versus less than one percent in 1990.
  • Two percent of Uptowners worked at home in 1990, three percent worked at home in 2000.

There were, of course, statistical differences between neighborhoods. The percentage of local workers commuting alone by car (in 2000) broken down by neighborhood are:

  • 58 percent in the Wedge
  • 61 percent in CARAG
  • 64 percent in East Isles
  • 72 percent in ECCO

I realize that not everyone can bike, walk, or take the bus to work. Still, these numbers leave a lot of room for improvement. The majority of those people - and we're talking thousands of Uptown residents - are driving to and from work five days a week, many of them in the same general morning and evening timeframe. Instead of focusing our energies on parking permits and battling new developments we can and should identify the most efficient ways to get people out of their cars and onto the sidewalks, onto bikes, or on the bus (and at some point, I hope, LRT). Some worthwhile potential goals:

  • Cut down number of cars per household. Not every adult member of every family needs a car, and some households can live without any car.
  • Decrease the use of each car. If even a relatively small number of current residents switched to, say, biking to work one day a week in the summer it would have an impact. So, too, would be if some current drivers switched to taking the bus to work one or two days a week instead of driving. And once at home, if more residents walked to local stores for their errands (including grocery store runs) we’d decrease local traffic even further.
  • Provide support for residents to get by without owning a car. Uptown has a car share service (HOURCAR); with time and increased usage we could expand the locations, making it an even more convenient option for those who don’t want a car yet still want to have access to one from time to time. And, of course, an Uptown LRT alignment, good (and affordable) bus service, and a bike- and pedestrian-friendly environment are also essential.

Traffic and parking are always going to be issues facing Uptown; it’s part and parcel with urban living. An equally important element of urban neighborhood life should be the ready availability – and embrace – of a car-free lifestyle. By all means continue to address through traffic and parking, but don’t forget the simple fact that in many cases the traffic problem is not just “them” – it is “us.”


  1. Interesting analysis. I wonder if the commute statistics for Uptown includes students traveling to the U. The 114 bus is almost always packed.

  2. Good question - I'm not where student commutes are counted. It could be that the relatively large local student population isn't reflected in these numbers, or at least not in terms of their commute to and from school. I would guess that the majority of Uptown residents going to school at the U get there by bus. I used to ride that bus on a regular basis back in 2000 (when it was a 52) and it was packed then, too.

  3. These numbers really emphasize the importance of courting "choice riders" to transit. Unfortunately, that isn't likely to happen if the Southwest LRT bypasses Uptown. Buses are obviously equal victims to traffic on city streets, and there is little to suggest that any of the major arteries can be re-engineered to improve traffic flow without serious negative side effects.

    All the more reason to reject the fallacy that Uptown is "well-served" by transit already and doesn't need LRT.

  4. I wish wish wish I could do anything but drive to work! It's in the middle-of-nowhere MN - more than 2 miles on HWY 55 from the nearest bus stop and all my coworkers live in the suburbs! I could just about cry!

  5. There is an error in the percentages. How can 52% of Uptown residents drive alone, yet the average of each neighborhood within Uptown be well above 52 % (specifically - 58, 61, 64 and 72)

  6. Thanks, George, for pointing out the disparity - I checked the numbers, and realized that the top number (52% of all local residents) was based on all Uptown residents age 16 and above (including those who do not work), while the bottom numbers (58, 61, 64, and 72)were percentages of employed residents of working age. When I have a chance I'll add a clarification/correction with updated numbers.

    Census data can be found here, for those who would like to crunch the numbers for themselves: