Blame it on the weather or on the large number of commuters between the suburbs and the Twin Cities: The average Minnesotan drives almost 2,000 more miles per year more than the average American. In Minnesota (especially during the winter), people need to get to where they want to go in a way that is fast, comfortable and convenient, but those extra miles have negative consequences. Each extra mile traveled is more time wasted in traffic, more pollution in the air and a higher chance of deadly car accidents.
Last month, Minnesota economic think-tank Growth and Justice published a transportation report on how to reduce the number of miles driven while at the same time increasing the speed and convenience of travel. The report points out that a number of combined strategies are necessary to create an effective transit system. City planning that encourages mixed-use and compact development can decrease the distance that Minnesotans need to travel from home to work or the store. State investment in transportation projects has benefits that last long into the future. Projects can be funded through cost-effective incentives, such as a highway use fee or subsidies and rebates to use public transit.
The problem right now is that big infrastructure projects and transportation programs are going to have a tough time getting funding when there is a state legislature set on budget cuts. To build momentum to create transit systems that benefit communities, we’re going to have to start looking at business and non-profit avenues more closely in order to set the stage for state- and nation-wide policies that affect transit development. Insurance companies can create packages that are based on the number of miles driven. Employers can offer subsidies for living close to work or taking the bus or light rail. Municipalities and neighborhood associations can enact their own small-scale policies. Moving Minnesota forward means that we must also consider other ways to get things done.