Maps show longest, shortest commutes

When it comes to long commutes, those living north of the Twin Cities have it the worst. A quarter or more of commuters in Isanti, Chisago, Sherburne, Kanabec, Wright and Mille Lacs counties spend 45 minutes or longer getting to work.

You might have heard from some of those commuters in my colleague Sasha Aslanian's story on the radio today. I looked a American Community Survey data from 2005-2009 to find out who has the longest and shortest commutes in Minnesota. Below is a map showing counties with the highest percentage of long commutes. The darker the shade, the higher the percentage. Click on any county to see how many commuters have long trips.

It's outstate Minnesota that wins in the shortest commute category. About two thirds of commuters in Traverse, Pennington, Brown and Stevens counties spend less than 15 minutes getting to work. The map is below -- the darker the color, the larger percentage of short commutes for that county.

The maps above focus on percentage of all commuters. The one below shows the average commute time in minutes for each county -- just an additional way to look at the data.

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Sasha talked a lot in her radio story about rising gas prices. has put together this graph of gas prices in Minnesota in the last six years. The price peaked in summer of 2008 at about $4 a gallon before bottoming out at under $2 a gallon when the recession hit in late 2008.

So what happens when gas prices rise? Do more people ride the bus or carpool? American Community Survey data from 2008 and 2009 showed very little change in behavior statewide and in the Twin Cities. But keep in mind the quick changes in gas prices can be difficult to capture in annual behavior data.

A better indicator of changes in behavior is transit ridership data. According to Metro Transit data, mass transit use peaked in 2008, when gas prices also peaked (see graph below and mouse over to see what ridership was in a given quarter).

If you're wondering about the peaks and valleys, keep things like weather and school season in mind. Also, Metro Transit spokesman John Siqveland points out that Northstar commuter rail service began Nov. 16, 2009.

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