Mobile apps promise real-time traffic info, but - honk! honk! - picking the best route is still a gamble. It's the commuter's constant question: Stay the course despite the traffic jam or stray in search of a faster route?
Winter weather only ups the ante.
Routine and gut instinct, plus a well-timed radio traffic report, used to be our guides.
Then the smartphone-turned-navigator came along, giving us real- time traffic updates with the tap of a touch screen. Apps like Waze and Google Maps highlight the fastest routes based on traffic data, while state-run tools post traffic and road conditions.
But computers aren't always the best co-pilots, especially in a snowstorm. The technology can provide a nifty snapshot of the present, but it can't say with absolute certainty what will come next.
"It took me over an hour just to get to the basilica," she said. "It was just absurd how wrong it was."
So is our faith in such apps misplaced? Our hope for technology too high? Will we be stuck in traffic forever?
"(Apps) can tell you what may happen in the near future, assuming that nothing out of the ordinary takes place," said John Hourdos, director of the
Construction updates, road conditions (reported by snowplow drivers), plus hazards or crashes reported by the State Patrol have long been available to traffic reporters and the general public by calling 511 or checking www.511mn.org.
That wealth of public data is often the basis for other navigation apps.
Google Maps, which displays real-time traffic flow with red, yellow and green lines, also draws data from the GPS coordinates of Android phone users who have opted to anonymously share their locations.
Waze, purchased by
Before setting out on snowy mornings,
She uses MnDOT for winter road conditions,
"It's been a little bit of a tossup. There have been a couple times where it's been great and I've ended up cutting off a good chunk of time," she said.
Yet even without a 100 percent success rate, Kulseth recommends Waze to friends. "The more people use it, the better it will get," she said.
Waze had nearly 50 million users when
But sometimes people would just rather get their traffic updates from a real human.
"I receive tweets from people in bed. I receive tweets from people just leaving, especially in the afternoon," he said.
He bases most of his tweets on data provided by MnDOT, with occasional updates from people who report from the road.
While tech-fueled traffic updates aren't always accurate, they can help people adjust their expectations, said
"If it's going to be 15 or 30 minutes because of some incident and you can't change it, then you can notify people or feel much more comfortable about accepting it," Levinson said. "You feel better about the situation when you have more information about it."
Mobile apps promise real-time traffic info, but - honk! honk! - picking the best route is still a gamble.
It's the commuter's constant question: Stay the course despite the traffic jam or stray in search of a faster route?