By Mindy Ahler and Lori Richman
Our collective angst about congestion is often a primary concern related to development proposals.
We lament, “It’s already so congested, this new development is going to really mess things up!” or, “The city isn’t considering all this additional traffic!” In fact, when new developments are proposed, completing a traffic impact study is one of the required steps. The traffic impact study (sometimes called a traffic impact analysis) is an in-depth study of the likely impact a development will have on the adjacent transportation systems.
In Edina, the traffic impact study is an important tool for considering the results of a proposed development, yet it is often the least understood part of the process for residents. Let’s investigate a few of the common misconceptions of this tool.
Fiction: The traffic impact study process is hastily conducted in order to move a development proposal through the process as quickly as possible.
Fact: The traffic impact study process takes three to six weeks to conduct, depending on the size of the proposed development.
Fiction: Developers hire whatever traffic consultant they know will deliver the result they want and will get their proposal accepted.
Fact: The city of Edina hires a qualified, experienced consultant to conduct the study. This is important, as it ensures that the results of the study are unbiased. The city works with the consultant to determine the scope of the study. The cost of conducting the study is reimbursed by the development applicant, regardless of whether the project is approved by the city council.
Fiction: When a traffic impact is conducted, it doesn’t take into account the full range of the current conditions or future growth in an area.
Fact: The study considers many existing and proposed factors, including traffic volumes, parking capacity, pedestrian and bicycle traffic, traffic signal timing and adjacent developments. It also considers the recommendations of adopted city policies and plans, like the Living Streets Plan, the Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan, small area plans and the Comprehensive Plan.
Fiction: The traffic impact study only looks at the volume on the road at one time during the day, and only immediately adjacent to the proposed development.
Fact: The study considers what volume will be generated by the proposed development, for traffic and for parking, both for the development and for the area, at peak times and non-peak times. But that’s not all. The estimated volume for all traffic (non-motorized as well as motorized) includes a complex set of variables, including, but not limited to the following:
• The already-mentioned current traffic and parking volumes and the changes likely to be generated by the proposed development
• Additional changes occurring or likely to be occurring in the area, whether development-related or transportation system-related, such as changes to transit, bike and pedestrian access, as well as anticipated changes in the very nature of transportation, such as ride-sharing (Uber/Lyft), micro-transit (e.g. e-scooters), and technology (e.g. charging stations for electric vehicles).
Fiction: Even with so much data in the traffic impact study, nothing actually comes of all that information.
Fact: When the traffic impact study is completed, many knowledgeable individuals review and analyze the data, including engineering staff, the planning commission and the city council. The study may include “red flags” of the proposed development and recommendations for geometric improvements to the area, traffic control changes, pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure and other items. Examples of infrastructure improvements required as part of development projects include the installation of pedestrian flashing beacons on Eden Avenue adjacent to the Avidor apartments and traffic signal improvements on West 77th Street adjacent to Pentagon Village.
Traffic impact studies continue to be a key part of the development proposal process. To understand more about this crucial element, you are invited to watch an educational video that explains this process in more detail: tinyurl.com/tuxu9jy.
Mindy Ahler and Lori Richman are members of the City of Edina’s Transportation Commission.