Urban residents pay the price for ‘traffic flow’


‘Adaptable’ commuting may keep traffic flowing, but neighborhoods pay the price.

If we needed any more evidence that the Star Tribune has abandoned its city readers for those in the suburbs and exurbs, it came Monday morning in an article by reporters Jim Foti and Pam Louwagie, “Adaptable drivers avert expected metro gridlock.”

The featured “adaptable driver” is Lola Kjenstad of East Bethel, which, according to my road atlas, is 30 miles north of Minneapolis in Anoka County, just south of the Itasca County line. When the 35W bridge collapsed, Lola evidently had to scramble to find another way to her job as a legal secretary downtown. After some trial and error, she was able to select a route that added just 20 minutes to her standard 50-60 minute commute.

According to Foti and Louwagie, thousands of clever drivers have gone through the same process, not following official detours but instead constructing savvy commuting strategies that will get them and their cars from their homes in East Bethel and elsewhere across the Mississippi River and into the city in the shortest time possible. The good news, the reporters says, is that this “adaptability . . . has kept the metro area moving.”

Buried in the middle of the article, however, is one small exception. According to Nick Thompson, a manager at MnDOT, some places, “particularly city streets near the collapse site,” are “much, much worse.”

Well no kidding, Nick. But who cares anyway? As long as Lola and the thousands of other suburban and exurban commuters are able to keep moving on their 60-mile round trips into the city, everything’s OK, right? Until they start belly-aching about gas prices going up, I suppose. And of course pooh-poohing those tax-and-spend liberals who want to impose a gas tax to help generate some revenue to repair the roads and bridges Lola and company are using everyday on their marathon commutes.

The article also states that MnDOT has made many changes to specific roads designed to improve the all-important “flow of traffic.” In my own neighborhood of Marcy-Holmes, for example, you can now get off of southbound 35W at 4th Street and immediately turn right whether the light is red or green because the longstanding “No right on red” sign is gone. Now granted, very few people paid any attention to that sign before, but if traffic conditions were hazardous enough to warrant that sign in the past, why shouldn’t we have it now?

The truth is, it’s very trying to have 35W traffic basically rerouted through a residential neighborhood like Marcy-Holmes. Many of us actually participate in old-fashioned activities like walking and riding bikes, and if getting across 4th St. SE and SE University Ave. was a challenge before, it’s now an activity only for daredevils in peak physical condition. Forget the old, the young or the simply slow—-those clever adaptable commuters are coming too fast and furious for them to ever make it across. And even though we now need a traffic light at University and SE 6th Avenue more than ever, I’ll bet it’s never been less of a priority with city traffic managers. After all, it would impede the almighty traffic flow through the city.

Instead of encouraging traffic flow through the city, I’d like to see more traffic constipation. Put the “No right turn on red” sign back up at the freeway exit and plant a cop there to issue top-dollar tickets to offenders—-that would generate some needed city revenue. And all those dapper traffic cops in the white gloves directing drivers at every intersection at Central Avenue during rush hour? Trade them in for real cops to keep an eye on crime around here and let the drivers clog up all those intersections the way you know they would. After all, if we didn’t make traffic flow our top priority and instead let the drivers sit and stew in their own exhaust, maybe they’d decide to take the bus, pay for better transit options or even just work closer to where they live. Besides, when the cars on SE University Avenue are bumper to bumper, it’s much easier to cross the road because you can walk or bike between them.

But enough about me—how has traffic changed in other corners of Bridgeland? Over here in Marcy, the other new headache is the 10th Avenue Bridge. It’s a benefit to have it open, but only if you’re heading southbound. But woe to the driver who tries to cross it northbound. From what I’ve observed, it is completely backed up at all hours in that direction, and you can sit on it for a good half hour before you finally make it across. And who wants to be stuck sitting on a bridge these days?

If you have thoughts or stories about your experience getting around on local streets—-by car, bike, or foot—-let me know by e-mail (lmlincoln@comcast.net). I’ll share those thoughts here and maybe together we can remind our city and state traffic experts that our community is not just one big drive-through for gas-guzzling suburban commuters.