Why I Support Move MN

(Photo: Nick Busse:/Flickr Creative Commons)

Minnesota Transportation Bill Basics

The Republican-controlled House has passed a transportation bill that uses General Fund money to support billions in new road funding, cuts transit, and ignores walking and biking.

The DFL-controlled Senate has passed a transportation bill that uses a gas tax increase to support billions in new road funding, a metro-area sales tax increase to fund building out on the Twin Cities transit system, and puts $56 million a year to walking and biking.

A “conference committee” made up of five legislators from each of the House and Senate starts meeting Tuesday, May 5 to work out details and try to bring the very different bills together.

But the high-level pieces of a transportation bill (will there be a gas tax? will there be a sales tax for transit/bike/walk?) will likely be part of a “global deal” and most directly connected to the Tax bill. The primary negotiators for that deal will be DFL Governor Mark Dayton, DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, and Republican Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt. The Governor has stated his support for a gas tax and sales tax package while Bakk and Daudt will work to reflect the will of the legislators from their party and their willingness to compromise on different elements.

This quote from Senator Bakk in MPR provides one insight into what might be to come: “He [Speaker Daudt] said, ‘Well, I have to have a tax bill.’ I said I really want to get a transportation bill. And he said a second time, ‘Well, I have to have a tax bill,'” Bakk recounted. “And I said I’m willing to consider matching you dollar for dollar. For every dollar in gas tax money he’s willing to give me in that bill, I’m willing to give him a dollar in tax relief.”

The session ends May 18 (unless there is a special session). A transportation bill is not required to avoid a government shutdown, so there is some possibility that no agreement will be reached, although all sides have made transportation (manifest in very different bills) a very public priority/promise, so there will be pressure to get it done. Will it be done with your priorities in mind? Well, that will largely depend on whether you let your ideas be known! We all make a difference–voice your thoughts.


Move-MN-horiz-WEB

Why I Support Move MN

The narrative that Move MN is bad increased in streets.mn circles back when there were actually discussions about the state transportation bill (there hasn’t been a post on this topic for many weeks). Some call it bombastic names like the “infrastructure cult,” while others have simply gone from actively supporting transit, bike, walk funding (and the transportation bill) two years ago to now standing on the sidelines as doubts creep in their mind (is it really worth supporting transit/bike/walk if it means more funding for road expansion?).

There are very legitimate questions about transportation funding. I think that it is very important to have messengers like Strong Towns explaining the challenges that come with misplaced transportation funding. I don’t agree with it all, but the fundamentals of the Strong Towns message are important.

But the simple reality is that the vast majority of Minnesotans drive for nearly all of their trips and want improved roads. Do I think that is sustainable (from many perspectives)? No, but it is the current reality. The vast majority of people and leaders across the state are not yet remotely cued into the Strong Towns message (I certainly am glad that more people are).

That reality manifests itself politically at the Capitol. A transit/bike/walk-only bill is impossible. Why would a legislator from Greater Minnesota vote for a bill that raises taxes in the metro (where their constituents go and spend money from time to time) to support projects that are only in the metro? Sure, you and I know that a strong Twin Cities is critical for the economy of the state, but does that really matter much to the immediate day-to-day life of someone in Greater Minnesota? Does it help a legislator in Greater Minnesota politically?

If you want more transit lines, better bus service, greatly expanded bike routes, and more pedestrian improvements, the reality is that a multi-modal state transportation bill that includes significant funding for roads is the only way that is going to happen. 

Some have said it is better to have no new funding for transit, biking, and walking rather than feeding our fundamentally flawed system and that we should just let it slowly die with less funding. That is a dystopian view of a race to the bottom and certainly not a place I want to live. It would also never result in great transit, biking, and walking because you can guarantee that as long as the vast majority of people drive for nearly every trip (which won’t change no matter what for decades) that the first things that get cut with no new funding are transit, biking, and walking.

We see that in the transportation bill that passed the House, which they have even named the “Road and Bridge Act of 2015” just to reiterate how focused on driving they are. That bill spends a bunch of new funding on roads by shifting funding from the General Fund (or potentially, more specifically, by eliminating MinnesotaCare) and by shifting funding from transit to roads (Metro Transit says, under the bill, they would have to cut bus service by 17 percent in the next two years and more in the future). It completely ignores biking and walking save for $500,000 for Safe Routes to School.

Move MN is for more funding for roads, but it has also been stridently for more funding for transit and for the first-ever dedicated state funding for walking and biking. The Coalition is strongly committed to a multi-modal bill that invests in all areas and I really appreciate that, and I personally must see significant dedicated walk/bike and transit funding in the bill to support it.

I fundamentally think that Move MN’s position would be a positive direction for the state. It would fix roads and bridges that need fixing. It would build out the Twin Cities transit system. It would be huge for walking and biking. It also would allow for some road expansion projects that I’m not too wild about, but the reality is that each of those projects has a big constituency. Often that constituency isn’t too wild/doesn’t care about the transit/bike/walk projects in my area. That’s compromise. That is fixing our transportation system in a way that serves all parts of the state. That is how positive things get done. That is Move MN.

Now, of course, not everyone in Move MN is committed to all aspects of the bill and there is fear that some might cut and run if they get their piece, but I think many are committed to making sure that doesn’t happen. I think it is also fair to say that Move MN has maybe focused too much on a roads and bridges message (and not as much on transit, bike, walk). I do think that is largely strategic (they need Greater Minnesota Republicans to pass a bill), but it has been challenging for some of us, especially on the walking and biking side. So, we have (with the leadership of the American Heart Association) continued to get positive bike/walk messages out outside of Move MN. But I was at Move MN’s rally a couple week’s back and nearly everyone talked about transit, biking, and walking.

When transit, bike, walk advocates sit on the sidelines or quietly turn to a no-compromise view that any new road money is bad, it increases the chances that a bill like the House version will pass with less transit, biking, and walking. There is significant momentum for road funding across the state. Roads have become the focus of the transportation conversations whereas two years ago it was much more balanced. Part of that is that the road advocates are not deterred while some transit, bike, walk advocates are not as strong and SWLRT is working through problems that have hurt transit support.

As the final discussions on the transportation bill happen, I hope you will stand up for what you want to see in it–even if that isn’t reflected in what you’ve heard. It is important to have your voice.


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55 Responses to Why I Support Move MN

  1. Sean Hayford Oleary
    Sean Hayford Oleary May 8, 2015 at 11:36 am #

    Nicely written, Ethan. I particularly like this point:

    “Some have said it is better to have no new funding for transit, biking, and walking rather than feeding our fundamentally flawed system and that we should just let is slowly die with less funding. That is a dystopian view of a race to the bottom and certainly not a place I want to live.”

    I have long felt that MoveMN and the DFL transportation vision is not good exactly, but the least bad option available. Although I would love if there were a viable option for “no new (free) roads” — truly maintenance-first for our freeway network — there just isn’t. We may need to support things we don’t intend to use in exchange for others supporting things they may never use.

    The one thing that does bug me, implicit in your post, but also implicit in the DFL/Republican urban/rural divide is the notion that bike-ped is solely a metro concern. I grew up in Northfield, in sort-of-greater Minnesota, and I know you grew up in the Moorhead area. Small towns are often more walkable or bikeable — or could be — than many areas of our cities and suburbs. And rural areas often see poverty persist in families largely because of the need of each person over the age of 16 to have their own automobile. Bike-ped could benefit small town Minnesota at least as much as it does the metro.

    • Matt Steele May 8, 2015 at 12:32 pm #

      We don’t get the ability to walk and bike just because we get more walk/bike infrastructure. That’s such a little gain compared to what is actually needed. We need massive land use changes to avoid the poverty-causing automobility you describe. Northfield needs a calmed Woodley St and better crossings of Hwy 3. But we need to stop building and subsidizing job-sprawl on the unwalkable outskirts of towns like Northfield.

      Job sprawl, doubled down by more road funding, is the failure here. If we stop subsidizing human-hostile land uses, biking/walking/transit will become the obvious choice.

      • Sean Hayford Oleary
        Sean Hayford Oleary May 8, 2015 at 1:35 pm #

        > “We don’t get the ability to walk and bike just because we get more walk/bike infrastructure.”

        I see that point in the metro (although I think it’s better addressed by local and regional authorities than bleeding the state’s transportation budget dry). Sure, we could build perfect bikeways everywhere, but if you live in Maple Grove and your job is in Lakeville, you’re still going to drive.

        However, I think in small towns, even ones prone to far-flung, highway-oriented development, meaningful high-quality bike-ped facilities make a huge difference. In Northfield, you could live in Viking Terrace and work at Target, and it would still be a fairly easy ride for most ambulatory adults. (For those unfamiliar, those are on roughly opposite north vs south ends of Northfield, with TH 3 connecting the two.) Even in sprawlier Faribault, the top distance is probably 5-7 miles.

        • Alex Cecchini
          Alex Cecchini May 8, 2015 at 2:39 pm #

          I agree that small towns are where there’s probably the best bang for the buck in cycling infra. In many towns, a N/S and E/W bike spine would be all you’d need. Yes, many people in rural areas have one member of the family working 20 miles away. But browsing some random town census data, I’ve found that 30-50% of town residents usually work somewhere in town. If outstate existence is supposed to be hardy, etc, then we can’t just assume everyone can hop in their car for every little short trip.

          I just really struggle with the metro area argument. Spend 40-60 years building places that require cars, then be surprised that driving is all people will do? Don’t toll highways and then be helpless to keep people from an insane Maple Grove to Lakeville commute (while, presumably, the other working family member drives to their job somewhere close, I hope at least). Where’s the incentive to bike to work (even 3 miles away) without substantive land use regulation changes, pricing mechanisms, etc? Without saying “no” to the extra $2bn in funding that will help widen the county roads that get too congested once a 3rd ring suburb hits 30k population?

          I guess I’m not saying that flat out starving the beast will make people magically open their wallets for transit investments. The money will have to come from somewhere. I just feel that even maintaining what we have + $2bn in more road expansions will wash out the transit we do build. How many jobs will leave Hopkins and North Minneapolis once we expand 94 to 3 lanes each way or build a 3rd lane on 35W down to Elko? What will the regional transit/bike share be in 10 years?

        • jeffk May 9, 2015 at 10:45 pm #

          The added road funds that will no doubt add countless a acres of sprawl to the Northfields will do more harm than the pittance spent on bike facilities will do good. A solid small town is intrinsically bikable. A town of 10k with modest, calm streets and no sprawl doesn’t need fancy bike facilities at all. By agreeing to Move.mn, you’re basically cutting the small town open and then offering a band aid.

    • Ethan Fawley May 10, 2015 at 5:23 pm #

      Sorry if you felt my post implied that walk/bike is only a metro issue. I certainly feel that bike/walk has huge potential in towns and cities of all sizes–in metro and out. I’ve talked with cities across the state who really want that investment and would benefit.

  2. Matt Steele May 8, 2015 at 12:12 pm #

    While it is true that the House GOP plan is hopefully worse than the Dibble/Dayton plan, both are fatally flawed. “But the simple reality is that the vast majority of Minnesotans drive for nearly all of their trips and want improved roads.” Yeah, and they don’t even pay half of the cost of that lifestyle. And the reason why that’s the case is because we’ve socially engineered that reality into existence. And we want to double down on that failure with more funding?

    It would be far better to torpedo any additional funding for roads, and force some tough decisions to be made. We can (and, in theory, should) fund bike/walk improvements locally if it is a priority of ours. This can happen, today. Look how far we’ve come in Minneapolis. Ideally, we could also fund transit locally (see the post about Hennepin/Ramsey transit tax earlier this week, though that would require a political shift).

    All we have to do is ensure that there is absolutely no chance of more road funding. In the long view, that’s infinitely more progressive and transformative than building BRT to farm fields in Lake Elmo and building more park and rides in Chaska. Also, at this point, scuttling road funding is a much easier task than rationalizing the current two bills in conference. Doing nothing is by far the most attractive and progressive option.

    I look forward to this whole thing being past us so I can financially support the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition once again. But right now I cannot even indirectly consider supporting MoveMN and the horrible dystopian future it would double down on.

    • John Bailey May 8, 2015 at 3:34 pm #

      Are you really holding back your membership to the bike coalition because they’re one of the many members of the coalition? Regardless of all the other bang-up work they are doing, this coalition membership is the deal-breaker? This seems like the textbook example of what Freud meant by the “narcissism of small differences.” I certainly understand, and am quite friendly to, the critiques of Move MN from your perspective. But your reaction just seems a bit much.

      Or perhaps Monty Python had it best https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gb_qHP7VaZE

  3. Joe Scott
    Joe May 8, 2015 at 2:39 pm #

    “…the vast majority of people drive for nearly every trip (which won’t change no matter what for decades)”

    This is one of the most cynical (and sinister) things I’ve ever seen written here. It’s exactly the kind of attitude that needs to be ignored for progress to occur.

    Think about the last 20 years. Then decide if you want to trust someone who thinks they know what the world will look like 20 years from now.

    • Scott Shaffer
      Scott Shaffer May 8, 2015 at 3:58 pm #

      If you can’t come to grips with the way the world is right now (78% of Minnesotans drive alone to work), or the way it’s been in the past (74% of Minnesotans drove alone to work in 1990), there’s no way you can change how the world will be in the future.

      Ethan’s doing good work to expand transportation options for people in Minnesota, and if Move MN loses, it will be a shame.

    • Ethan Fawley May 10, 2015 at 6:09 pm #

      I’m a huge believer in the power and potential of biking, walking, and transit. I am not a cynic. And I struggle to see what is cynical (definition: “1.
      distrusting or disparaging the motives of others; like or characteristic of a cynic.”) about this statement.

      I am being realistic. I do not believe that people choose to drive because they have bad motives.

      I work everyday to support more people biking (and care a lot about growing walking and biking too). But if we ignore the fundamental realities of our entire structure, how are we supposed to make progress?

  4. Guest May 8, 2015 at 3:24 pm #

    The problem with your argument here is that it presumes the funding problem is one of amount. If you fundamentally disagree with how the pie gets divvied up, why should you care whether the pie gets bigger?

    Sure, the bike/ped funding may increase. But in my experience, funding is a very secondary concern in getting quality infrastructure built. If we had enough will, we could repurpose hundreds of lane miles of overbuilt arterials at relatively little cost.

    This speaks to the other concern, which is that MoveMN is simply a ploy to placate supporters of “alternative” transportation with modest funding in order to continue the building binge of the last half century. A road diet, median refuge, and raised crosswalks are harder to justify politically when there are millions of dollars available to build that pedestrian overpass and leave the autos alone.

    • Guest May 8, 2015 at 3:29 pm #

      And as you correctly point out, Southwest LRT has shown that even transit money can’t be expected to work in favor of good infrastructure spending.

    • David Greene May 8, 2015 at 11:44 pm #

      There are constitutional and statutory rules at multiple levels of government, not to mention political realizites that prevent the sort of reallocation you’re talking about. Moeny can’t just be moved around willy-nilly. You’ve got to change the system before you can move around funds and you’ve got to change the rules before you can change the system.

      Multiple decades got us here and Ethan is right that we’re going to need multiple decades (probably more) to get out of it. In the meantime, we need to make some progress. People said Hiawatha was a bad first start for LRT but it was only because of the success of Hiawatha that Central happened with relative ease. As we build our transit system (even slowly), it’s that many more peopel that can experience it and that’s a political base from which to make change.

      • Guest May 11, 2015 at 12:24 pm #

        I agree completely that it will take multiple decades to fully change course. But enlarging the transportation funding pot without demanding some more fundamental move towards that change seems rather foolish to me.

        If we were talking about raising money for roads *accompanied by* some real reform, such as curtailing expansion projects, boosting maintenance, and forcing new projects to reckon with the full lifecycle cost of building, maintaining, and rebuilding, you’d have my ear. This bill does not do that.

        A funding crisis is exactly the right time to be making these changes, but instead we’re expected to paper over the institutional problems and just hand over more cash?

    • Ethan Fawley May 10, 2015 at 6:24 pm #

      I discuss this in the post. We have been moving around some funding, but the reality is that there is a political limit to how far you can get with that. We are making progress, but there are many people who still think–as the Republican House bill shows–that less, not more, funding should go to transit/walk/bike compared to roads. We can work to evolve that, but we can’t ignore it.

  5. Jim Erkel May 8, 2015 at 10:06 pm #

    I agree with many of the criticisms of the way we plan and fund transportation that show up in streets.mn such as Nathaniel Hood’s post, ‘The Infrastructure Debate in a Nutshell.’ Hood says he would vote to close the 10th Street Bridge and add a low-impact bike/ped connection between the two banks of the University. That’s great but he doesn’t have an election certificate and his solution isn’t one that can be crowdsourced.

    My problem is that Hood and others can’t show me hard vote counts in the legislature supporting any of the solutions they proffer. I’d be happy to help push for reform of project selection that would take it out of the hands of self-interested locals and put it in a central place with objective criteria that heavily weigh it in favor of fix-it-first. At the moment, though, it is a certain loser in the legislature. I’d also be very interested in working to change how transportation is funded but it inevitably comes down to big bloody fights about protecting one’s spot at the public trough in the form of existing statutory and constitutional dedications.

    That kind of effort means a legislative campaign lasting many sessions and ultimately a ballot campaign that will require substantial dough to hit the supermajority vote requirement needed to ratify a constitutional amendment. I don’t see Hood or others doing more than throwing stink bombs into the public discussion of planning and funding for transportation. Is anybody pulling together a coalition, cultivating legislative champions, hunting down the funding that will be needed to support all of the work? Or, are are they simply complaining?

    • Matt Steele May 8, 2015 at 10:38 pm #

      What funding is needed, exactly? We’d be saving piles of money over the status quo (building new roads, subsidizing new sprawl, destroying our environment).

      • David Greene May 8, 2015 at 11:40 pm #

        Funding to run a multi-year political campaign. Jim and Ethan have serious experience in doing such things. I don’t think most streets.mn readers and authors understand just how much work and money goes into legislative campaigns.

        As Jim says, it is very easy to complain. It’s a much different thing to get something done. The streets.mn community largely falls into the category of, “do this because it’s the technically right thing” and that sort of message goes NOWHERE in the political world.

      • Katie Hatt May 8, 2015 at 11:46 pm #

        Matt, I curiously cannot find your tweets directed at me earlier today in response to my repost of Mayor Don Ness’s editorial in the Duluth News-Tribune (Mayor’s View: For Inspiration, lLook No Further Than Oberstar: http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/opinion/local-view/3738620-mayors-view-inspiration-look-no-further-oberstar).

        If I recall correctly, your first response was something along the lines that “he [Oberstar] biked, but his legacy is one of pain for his district and MN…” If I’ve got that substantively wrong, please share with all of us a screen shot. My response to you is still posted on my Twitter account. Besides your disrespectful tone to a late Congressman from our home state — who I fundamentally believe to be one of the greatest legislators on the issue of infrastructure investment in general, and bicycling specifically, in our country’s history — you are just plain wrong. As just one example, he steered over $21 million to this region within the last decade specifically to increase biking and walking mode share in MInneapolis and surrounding communities.

        And I too, like an earlier commenter, am astounded that you are withholding financial support from the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition simply because they are a member of MoveMN. I am writing them another check tonight and encourage you to do the same. I am now going to watch some Monty Python and wish everyone a good weekend.

        • David Greene May 9, 2015 at 12:30 am #

          My browser won’t allow me to read the article and I didn’t see Matt’s tweets but in some ways I also believe Oberstar is held up just a little too much as “one of the greatest legislators on the issue of infrastructure investment in general, and bicycling specifically, in our country’s history.” He did a lot of good things but no one’s perfect. He had a real blind spot for equity, for example, partially because it was a “new” thing in mainstream politics toward the end of his career and partially because almost all of the country is so ingrained in the status quo and its history that it’s hard for anyone to imagine something different.

          I’ll admit I was not terribly impressed by his last proposal which basically boiled down to “streamline the process to get stuff done more quickly.” Good in the abstract but not necessarily good when the things you’re doing aren’t always leading to great outcomes. I had littlle motivation to fight for a federal transportation package that didn’t at least attempt to change the rules in a way that would move toward the better balance of solutions that we need. I’m not asking for cutting all road funding but the current federal system is SO skewed toward highways that we really need to change that balance even just a little bit before I’ll get excited about a federal transportation bill. What’s the difference between a continuing resolution using the current rules and increased funding under the same rules?

          I generally support Move MN and wish I could spend more time at the capitol, but family obbligations make that impossible. Dibble seems pretty solid in his position so I can’t see a bill passing without significant transit funding. So I am at a bit of a loss as to how to help move the legislation.

        • Matt Steele May 9, 2015 at 3:38 pm #

          My tweets were obviously not convincing you, but maybe they’ll convince others here. Oberstar was a sprawl practitioner that built hundreds of millions of added financial liabilities for unproductive auto-oriented infrastructure in his district and around the state. Hardly a progressive legacy.

          People need to stop apologizing for the status quo that is killing us.

    • Guest May 11, 2015 at 12:33 pm #

      To paraphrase Chuck Marohn, it’s not our job to find solutions. That’s what we elect legislators for.

      I don’t mean to minimize the hard work that Mr Fawley and others do to advance the cause. But I disagree with the notion that one shouldn’t criticize the failings of the current system without offering a viable alternative.

      And to be fair, I’ve seen a lot of sensible, workable solutions to move the needle incrementally toward better infrastructure spending on this website.

  6. Jim Erkel May 8, 2015 at 11:05 pm #

    We would save lots of dough but whose dough is it? As an example, look again at the maps MCEA prepared to show the subsidization of local roads in Greater Minnesota. (They can be found at http://streets.mn/2015/01/14/map-of-the-day-state-highway-taxes-vs-state-highway-spending/.) The subsidization results from almost 60 years of constitutional and statutory dedications and allocations. In other words, Minnesota continues to party like it is 1956. The counties in Greater Minnesota see all of that funding as their entitlement. In their view, you would be stealing from them, not saving money in some general sense. So, we return to the question of how best to proceed in such political and fiscal conditions?

  7. Joshua Houdek May 9, 2015 at 7:15 am #

    Spending some quality time in the trenches at our State Capitol leads to a healthy (yet sometimes distasteful) dose of political reality:

    “If you want more transit lines, better bus service, greatly expanded bike routes, and more pedestrian improvements, the REALITY is that a multi-modal state transportation bill that includes significant funding for roads is the only way that is going to happen.” [caps added]

    • Matt Steele May 9, 2015 at 3:42 pm #

      The reality is that existing subsidized and socially engineered auto-orientation is parasitic, and a parasitic organism attempts to survive even to the point of killing its host.

  8. James Warden
    James Warden May 9, 2015 at 9:57 am #

    The compromises on the table would be more palatable if Move MN hadn’t made such a crappy first offer.

    We know charging for the amount of use leads to more economically rational decisions. We know the gas tax has declining purchasing power as cars become more fuel efficient or abandon fuel altogether. We know the proposal that is on the table barely covers maintenance of the existing system, never mind continued expansion.

    Yet Move MN’s first proposal out of the gates did nothing to address these issues. Move MN put forward a status quo plan that essentially kicks the can down the road – and it rejected anything more ambitious before the session even started.

    When I talked with Margaret Donahoe in November about a proposal from the U’s David Levinson, she brushed off public-private partnerships, tolls and other measures as not worth considering.

    “I worry that governance is an issue that can get people sidetracked. The bottom line is that there isn’t enough money,” she said. (http://finance-commerce.com/2014/11/u-of-m-prof-want-better-roads-disband-mndot/)

    The problem with that thinking is that focusing exclusively on immediate financial problems ignores the long-term planning that allows you to avoid those problems altogether.

    Move MN’s proposal was the opening bid for the debate happening today. By offering such an unimaginative proposal, it effectively hamstrung any chance for a broader debate on our transportation system. So not only are we facing a “compromise” that ignores the harsh realities we’ve created for ourselves and overlooks potential solutions; we’ve seen those ideas left out of the debate altogether. It’s no wonder people are so critical of Move MN.

    It didn’t have to be this way. Move MN had a chance to be innovative and put its remarkable muscle behind a true revamp of the existing system. It could’ve pushed for congestion pricing. It could’ve advocated for more tolling. It could’ve put forward a compromise that increases usage fees like the gas tax while decreasing fees unrelated to use.

    It had any number of options to choose from. We have some truly great transportation minds here in Minnesota. Move MN could’ve taken their ideas and ran with them. Sure, many proposals wouldn’t go anywhere. Perhaps none of the ideas would be adopted and we’d still end up where we are today. But at least someone would have seeded the ground for a more-comprehensive discussion later.

    As it stands now, that discussion is nowhere on the horizon. We as taxpayers will have to confront these same issues again in a few more years, just as we’re confronting the same issues that prompted the last gas tax hike. So you’ll forgive me if I don’t celebrate Move MN. If they want to be leaders, than they should start showing some real leadership instead of taking the path of least political resistance.

    Personally, I’d be happy to torpedo the whole bill. I’m actually not opposed to roads as long as people are willing to pay for them. But the math on this is simple: If you build more roads when you don’t have enough money to maintain the existing system, you are hurting the state instead of helping it. Move MN and its ilk can shout about need all day. They can point out that most people drive. But there is no getting around that basic fact. It’s not just OK to oppose proposals that ignore that reality; it’s the responsible position to take as a taxpayer.

    I’m OK with the effect that has on other transportation options. Cities are more than capable of providing bike and ped infrastructure – and I’d argue they are the ones who actually should be providing it. I also like the odds of a Hennepin/Ramsey-specific tax for transit, which could lead to a more rational system. We’re already seeing rumblings from other CTIB counties that they want their share of the pie. If we continue with the current system, pressure is only going to mount for lines that are more about politics than transportation.

    Regardless, it’s wildly inaccurate to portray Move MN as an organization doing the best it can in the current political climate. Move MN is a large reason why the political climate is the way it is.

    • Jim Erkel May 9, 2015 at 11:38 am #

      You really don’t understand how it works, do you?

      You criticize Move MN for starting with a proposal that wasn’t innovative enough. In fact, it didn’t start there. It started with an assessment of what was needed and, just as importantly, what could be passed. It was based on discussions with transportation experts and the legislators who would be voting on a solution. Most of the legislators weren’t interested in innovations or re-vamping of the system. At best, Move MN could work at the margins of innovation if it wanted to navigate through the political maze.

      You can complain that Move MN is innovative enough. I accept that as fair criticism. However, it isn’t fair to suggest they were not smart enough to come up with the innovations you want. In any event, having carped about Move MN and its limitations, you now have the burden of proof to show what you have done to work the legislature and build support for the innovations you want. In other words, what is your hard vote in the House and Senate? If you don’t have one, you don’t have jack.

      • James Warden
        James Warden May 9, 2015 at 12:45 pm #

        1) The idea that you have to “work the legislature and build support for the innovations you want” before being able to complain is an insidious, undemocratic belief. All people have the right to complain. Period. Lobbyists and groups like Move MN are paid to “work the legislature.” Everyday people are not. Besides, there are many ways to advocate for your cause. You can write blogs, post comments, demonstrate, attend legislative town halls, write letters to your legislator, etc. This is all a vital part of the democratic process and not something you can just write off. The fact that you need paid lobbyists to force change is a bug, not a feature. It’s a clear sign of how broken our system is when the ideas on Streets.mn and Strong Towns are only debated online, not in the legislature’s public arena. Besides, you know nothing about me or what I’ve done.

        2) I understand well how this works. A final bill will inevitably be a compromise. I fully acknowledge that innovative change is unlikely to happen this year, and I said in my earlier comment that this is a possibility. I never said Move MN wasn’t smart either. My critique was a tactical one: By pushing for the safe choice today, Move MN has effectively set aside debate about a long-term solution for the foreseeable future. It’s definitely not coming up again if there is any revenue increase, however unsustainable that revenue increase is. If Move MN would have aimed higher, we likely would be in the same position we are in today. But other alternatives would have been more in the public eye. More reporters would have written about alternatives. More legislators would have been required to address those alternatives. More people would have learned about alternatives. Thus, once-radical ideas enter mainstream debate. Move MN has the power to drive conversation, and it’s beyond fair to critique the kind of conversation they chose to start.

        • Sean Hayford Oleary
          Sean Hayford Oleary May 9, 2015 at 1:25 pm #

          The idea that you have to “work the legislature and build support for the innovations you want” before being able to complain is an insidious, undemocratic belief. All people have the right to complain.

          Agreed on this point. I think in a dialogue like this, people should listen to the pragmatists preaching compromise. However, you’re allowed to want better without having a specific, infallible plan for how to get to better.

          When a motorist complains about how unsafe an old freeway interchange is, we don’t usually demand they become civil engineers and design a better one before they have the right to complain.

          • Jim Erkel May 9, 2015 at 1:31 pm #

            Complain all you want. I prefer creating some forward momentum.

            • Jim Erkel May 9, 2015 at 7:51 pm #

              Despite the condescension dripping from your post, I’m not paid to be a lobbyist. I’m an environmental lawyer with 25 years of experience and I’m paid to protect Minnesota’s environment and defend its basic environmental laws. I work for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy and I direct MCEA’s Land Use and Transportation Program. Like you, I have invested thousands of hours to enrich communities in Minnesota. The issues I care about mean that I work at all levels of government and all branches of government. I have a lobbyist registration so I can talk to legislators. It is hardly the only thing I do, though.

            • Ethan Fawley May 10, 2015 at 6:58 pm #

              I’m sure glad we have super smart paid people like Jim to fight for the environment and equity! Jim certainly could make more money doing many other things, but he has chosen to devote his life to fighting sprawl, fighting for smart investments, and working to change systems. He deserves praise for his work.

              • Matt Steele May 11, 2015 at 9:33 am #

                Wait, so he’s lobbying against MoveMN then?

                • Guest May 11, 2015 at 10:53 am #

                  Is it enjoyable to be so vitriolic and obtuse? Or is it the thrill of burning bridges left and right? Frankly, it’s embarrassing for the movement.

                • Jim Erkel May 11, 2015 at 11:02 am #

                  Hah! I always enjoy great snark.

                  I’m fighting to fund the Metropolitan Council’s longstanding plan to build out a transitway network and substantially expand the capacity of the region’s bus system. Since your ‘best’ solution doesn’t exist, I’m running with the best ‘second best’ option I can find.

                  • Matt Steele May 11, 2015 at 11:06 am #

                    Jim, it seems that while we likely share many values, we disagree on many issues. I respect that you publish your opinions here under your name, whereas others do not. I think we’re much closer to a tipping point that will necessitate radical reorganization of our land use and mobility (among other things) and so I’m planning with that in mind. Others plan in a much more limited set of political constraints which they see to be pragmatic. Honestly, I don’t understand how this agenda pushes forward equity or protection of our environment. But at least you’re fighting against even worse proposals (“Roads and Bridges Act”).

                    • Jim Erkel May 11, 2015 at 1:23 pm #

                      I agree that, like objects in a car’s side mirror, our positions may be closer than they appear. It would be great to talk through how best to move forward on equity and environmental protection after the session ends. I did want you to know that I have advocated that somebody in the conference committee from the Senate side offer up an amendment to change the title of the House’s bill from ‘The Roads and Bridges Act of 2015’ to the much more accurate ‘The Roads and Bridges Act of 1915.’ So far, no takers!

                    • David Greene May 11, 2015 at 3:40 pm #

                      *There’s* that Erkel humor I love!

                    • Matt Steele
                      Matt Steele May 11, 2015 at 3:59 pm #

                      Hah! Well done. I’d sponsor that amendment if I were in the committee.

  9. Janne Flisrand
    Janne May 9, 2015 at 3:48 pm #

    I’m pleased that someone who supports MoveMN wholeheartedly has come to a space with so much smarts and debate on transportation funding.

    On the other hand, I’m disappointed that you paint all of streets.mn 125+ writers as opposed to MoveMN. No question there are a couple of very loud opponents who post here, but asserting “the narrative that Move MN is bad increased in streets.mn circles” and then going on to define those who buy into that narrative in a way that includes anyone who isn’t at the Capitol for every rally. Sadly, this inaccurate framing distracts from what could be a smart debate by inviting name calling and accusations.

    I’ve been trying to recruit MoveMN supporters to join the discussion here for months, and you are the first person who has shared your thoughts. Thank you for that. I hope others will also share THEIR reasons for supporting it here.

    • Ethan Fawley May 10, 2015 at 5:44 pm #

      No name calling was remotely intended. It is a fact that the narrative MoveMN is bad increased in streets.mn circles–a fact that you noted to me early in the session. Nothing in my intro was intended to imply that everyone on streets.mn opposed MoveMN. Sorry if it came across that way. This post was inspired by your request–thank you! (and I had hoped to post earlier). And, yes, I hope others will post their perspective too!

      • Matt Steele May 11, 2015 at 9:35 am #

        It’s interesting that Ethan perceived MoveMN=bad to be the dominant narrative here on StreetsMN (though I’d say it looks like we’re making progress).

        I’ve always thought that it’s a contrarian view that is definitely in the minority here, and that the vast majority of Streets writers and commenters are pro-MoveMN.

        • Adam Froehlig
          Adam Froehlig May 11, 2015 at 12:19 pm #

          I think what Ethan’s getting at, and I’ve noticed it too, is that the more vocal members of Streets.MN have come out against MoveMN. It is certainly skewing the perception.

  10. jeffk May 9, 2015 at 10:52 pm #

    “Why would a legislator from Greater Minnesota vote for a bill that raises taxes in the metro (where their constituents go and spend money from time to time) to support projects that are only in the metro? ”

    Why would they not? Are we supposed to accept that this is remotely acceptable behavior from a legislator, interfering with a region’s desire to tax itself because they don’t get any handout in exchange for their vote?

    • David Greene May 10, 2015 at 12:03 am #

      It’s the way it works, whether you like it or not. Everything is a negotiation and this year, on transportation, even more so as it will be part of the “big deal.”

      It’s the difference between tilting at perfect windmills or moving the ball forward.

      It’s the difference between understanding one’s own wants and understanding the concept of mutual self-interest.

      It’s the difference between ceding your power and wielding it.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam Miller May 11, 2015 at 10:00 am #

      Who is “we?”

      I suspect that the electorate in greater Minnesota has no problem with their elected officials (1) using things the metro wants as leverage to get things they want, and (2) righteously standing for small government against all this wasteful, non-car spending.

  11. Matt Steele May 11, 2015 at 9:36 am #

    We need fewer people playing the game and more people changing the game.

  12. Doug Trumm
    Doug Trumm May 11, 2015 at 12:26 pm #

    I’m not sure disinvestment leads to a multimodal awakening in the Minnesotan electorate. Maybe we’d serve the goal of delaying sprawl infrastructure for a few years, but there is no guarantee we wouldn’t see a backlash and push folks toward the GOP’s roads and bridges only keep it simpleton agenda in longer term.

    • Monte Castleman
      Monte Castleman May 11, 2015 at 12:49 pm #

      This I’d agree with. Even if urbanists think that “sprawl” is bad and freeway expansion is bad, there’s plenty of voters that like living in “sprawl” and driving on free-flowing freeways. Trying to impose idealistic urbanism on the entire metro is not going to go over too well. At some point of course we’ll need to fix the funding mechanism. At this time tolling isn’t ready for “prime time” (unless you like to pay $67 to drive a rental car from Miami to Key West) and non-gasoline cars aren’t more than novelties, but at some point I know things have to change.

      • Peter Bajurny May 11, 2015 at 12:59 pm #

        Add “at what price” to all of those statements. Yes in a vacuum, a choice between congestion or no congestion would be an easy one, but these choices aren’t made in a vacuum.

  13. Scott Merth May 11, 2015 at 1:03 pm #

    When I read about transportation funding (and urbanism in general), the largest question rolling around in my head relates to the end game. In the end, what infrastructure will be best (for most) and how do we get there? In a sense, it forces one to balance the pragmatism needed now with the long term goals of what a place should ideally be.

    Based on MoveMN’s website, the article, and the comments following, it seems there are serious concerns that this legislation would push the state decidedly away from a truly multi-modal system and towards increased sprawl. After all you state “if you want more transit lines, better bus service, greatly expanded bike routes, and more pedestrian improvements, the reality is that a multi-modal state transportation bill that includes significant funding for roads is the only way that is going to happen.”

    Say the “significant funding” for roads passes and these roads are indeed built. What happens when future funding proposals come up? Logic follows that the people using these newly installed systems will become dependent on them, furthering the feedback loop of increasing road-based transportation funding. Where’s the end game and how can we achieve the goals stated on urbanist blogs like streets.mn when all ‘politically viable’ transportation funding options increase sprawl faster than sensible options?

    Aside: Thankfully there is some funding for so called ‘alternatives’ in the MoveMN proposal, but I do think the movement takes at least a half step back when only a pittance is offered. For instance, can the small amount of funding for sustainable transportation be used in a way that can overcome the perception created when (under the House bill) Metro Transit funding is reduced and a mere $500k is allocated for walking/biking for the entire state?

    This MoveMN proposal may be pragmatic, but it feels like it’s heading in the wrong direction.

  14. Keith Morris May 11, 2015 at 6:19 pm #

    When motorists have to wait 20 or more minutes standing out in the cold rain, snow, or negative temps before getting in their car and on the road like bus and train users do, then I might maybe shed a tear. Til then, kill all funding for road expansions and new roads. They’ve been having their cakes and eating them too and now we’re supposed to be satiated by a mere crumb?

    I really think that we need to bring our pro-bike know-how to the small towns all over the state. Look at just about any should-be walkable and bikeable town’s center and all you’ll see are empty sidewalks and cars: no bike in sight. This even when the vast majority of people are within a five minute bike ride: these people are driving cars instead and that’s rather ridiculous.

    You’ll even have downtowns where a commercial block only goes on for one block north, south, east, and west, yet none of those are closed off from cars even though downtown only goes out for one measly block. That’s really bizarre to even fathom.

    In the meantime, city residents are still hit the hardest since way more than half of each city is outside of walking distance from all the jobs in our downtowns and without a car it’s a long wait for a bus or a long bike ride, sometimes in treacherous weather.

  15. Khal Spencer May 14, 2015 at 11:56 am #

    The author of the piece admits that the present way we design and fund this sort of infrastructure is not sustainable, but fatalistically accepts a “status quo” scenerio. My problem with this philosophy is that if we know it is not sustainable, further marching down that road is akin to going farther out on the ice to go fishing when you know the ice is too thin to walk. When the ice eventually breaks, you are too far from shore to survive. And yes, I grew up on the Great Lakes and used to ice fish.

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