Busing down, nightlife up

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March 1, 2004 // UPDATED 9:22 am - April 25, 2007
By: Scott Russell
Scott Russell

Commuter count chronicles how people get Downtown

In the past five years Downtown's nightlife has picked up substantially, the streets have significantly fewer heavy trucks and bus occupancy rates are continuing a slow descent.

Those are among the findings of the city's most recent "Cordon Count," wherein more than 100 people on Downtown street corners counted the comings and goings of cars, buses, bikes, taxis and pedestrians between 6:30 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. The city has done 18 such counts since 1958 to get a snapshot of people's movements.

The count found that 16,000 people stayed in Downtown past 6:30 p.m. -- 10,000 more than the last count in 1998.

The increase could reflect the rise of residential development, more shopping and entertainment activity, or simply people working longer hours. Neither the Target Center, 600 1st Ave. N., nor Metrodome, 900 S. 5th St., had major events during the most recent count on Sept. 10, 2003, wrote Jon Wertjes, Public Works assistant director of traffic and parking services.

According to the count, the number of heavy trucks passing through Downtown is lower than ever: 3,785 -- a 38 percent drop from 1998. This surprised Wertjes, and he said the city is investigating the trend.

Downtown bus occupancy during the Cordon Count also hit an all-time low -- 13.4 passengers per bus. Compare this to the 1998 average of 14.2 passengers per bus and 1987's 19.7 passengers per bus.

(Metro Transit spokesperson Bob Gibbons said bus ridership systemwide peaked at 90 million in 1979 during the energy crisis then fell until the late '90s. It rebounded from 62 million in 1996 to more than 73 million in 2000 but has since declined due to state funding cuts, Gibbons said. In 2003, Metro Transit had 67 million riders or 25 percent fewer than 1979.)

Counters circled Downtown's core, forming a ring generally defined by 5th Avenue South, 12th Street South, 2nd Avenue South and 1st Street South. Every 15 minutes, they totaled the number of people, how they traveled and whether they were entering or leaving Downtown.

Participants counted more than 310,000 vehicles and 522,000 people passing through Downtown -- a 4-6 percent drop compared to the September 1998 count, due most likely to the economic downturn, the report said.

People's transportation choices had not changed significantly since 1998, the report said. They were: auto (64 percent), bus (21 percent), pedestrian (7 percent), heavy and light trucks (5 percent), taxi (2 percent) and bicycle (1 percent).

The average auto occupancy was 1.26 passengers per car. (The first count in 1958 had the highest auto occupancy, 1.44; the 1990 and 1998 counts had the lowest, 1.23.)

The next Cordon Count is set for September 2005.

The 2003 report is available online at www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/cityhall/; type "Cordon Count" in the search box.

The Cordon Count is a joint effort of the Minneapolis and Hennepin County Transportation Departments and their consultant, SRF.