The second in our line of responses for the Streets.mn Voter Guide for city council candidates comes from Meg Tuthill, (incumbent) from Ward 10, which includes the Uptown area of southwest Minneapolis.
1. What do you believe is the most significant land use and/or transportation issue facing Minneapolis in the next 5 years and how do you hope to address it in office?
The reopening of Nicollet Avenue at Lake Street and building a transit station at Lake Street and 35W with a strong connection to the Midtown Greenway.
Reopening Nicollet Avenue is one of the most important issues in the 10th Ward and Minneapolis. The reopening of Nicollet will restore a major commercial corridor and create a major redevelopment opportunity involving retail, office, housing and structured parking in a dense development. I am on the committee working to get Nicollet reopened. I supported funding to support this project’s predevelopment costs in the City’s 2013 budget. The City has defined a project area and goals for the project. The City has set guidelines for the developer working to gain site control. The City has established a Working Group with neighborhood and business association representation. Having all voices at the table is extremely important as this project moves forward.
The 35W Transit Access Project is also a significant piece of our transportation infrastructure. The transit station on 35W expects to serve 90-100 buses on 35W during peak rush hours and a reverse flow of 25 peak hour buses. These connections are very important to our residents commuting to jobs downtown or at job centers in the suburbs and to suburban riders commuting to jobs in Minneapolis. Connections to buses on Lake Street and to the Midtown Greenway will allow riders to easily connect to other modes of transportation from the 35W transit station.
In addition, the Midtown Greenway and Lake Street Alternatives Analysis currently underway by Metro Transit is examining possible streetcar on the Greenway and streetcar or enhanced bus on Lake Street.
Additionally I want to work on making sure the city continues to grow its multi-modal transportation options – light rail, enhanced bus, modern streetcars, buses, bicycles, pedestrian and cars citywide. We need to plan these improvements so we are maximizing the connections between transportation modes. A recent study indicated that during the recent recession real estate in the Twin Cities located within a half mile of transit performed 48 per cent better in value than residential housing located further away. Our transit options in high density areas will continue to make living in the city very attractive for renters and home owners.
2. How do you think the needs of pedestrians, cyclists, transit users and drivers can be met most effectively? Would you prioritize one or more of these modes over others?
We need to increase safety for all modes of transportation. To improve pedestrian safety, I worked to have the City’s first Leading Pedestrian Interval (LPI) implemented in Uptown. The LPI gives pedestrians a “walk” signal four seconds before vehicle traffic gets a green light. This pedestrian safety improvement allows pedestrians to become established in the crosswalk and become more visible to vehicle drivers before drivers get the green light. The LPI needs to be implemented citywide.
For bicyclists, the City needs to increase the amount of safety on street bike lanes. As Council Member, I have received numerous comments that the on street bike lane markings are too confusing. The City needs to standardize these markings to make them less confusing for everyone, especially our out of town visitors.
Bus shelters and bus stops need to be shoveled when it snows. Transit users need to have safe bus shelters in inclement weather. I think bus shelters should be heated and positioned with the opening so the wind and rain do not blow in.
Various transportation modes need to coordinate schedules so connections can be easily made.
We can meet everyone’s needs most effectively by creating livable, walkable communities that encourage biking and walking with great mass transit options.
As far as prioritizing one mode over the other, Transportation planning used to focus almost solely on vehicle transportation at every level, city, state and federal. Thinking has shifted to a multi-modal approach, but I think we still have catching up to do on bicycle, pedestrian and mass transit infrastructure.
When my husband and I operated our family business, we walked or biked to work. Now, I usually take the bus to City Hall. I love the fact that I can catch up on work or read on the bus while going to work. Plus I can socialize and meet my neighbors and constituents on the bus. On the City level, we should encourage more use of transit, bicycles and walking in an effort to give folks choices other than cars. This will help the city meet our targeted CO2 cuts of 30 per cent by 2025.
But we are also a destination location – many folks from the suburbs travel downtown to enjoy its entertainment amenities and to our Lakes to exercise or relax and enjoy – so we will need to continue to accommodate cars. What will be important is to ensure these transportation modes work together seamlessly – so a suburban visitor could travel to Minneapolis by car, park and then grab a Nice Ride bike and do the Grand Rounds.
3. Minneapolis has many plans for land use, transit, road and cycling infrastructure improvements in plans like Access Minneapolis, the Bicycle Master Plan and the city’s comprehensive plan. How do you think the city should fund these improvements in the future? Other than funding, are there other obstacles to realizing these plans and how would you address them?
Transit and road funding is composed of a complex mix of funds. Federal and state grants and contributions help fund transit and infrastructure projects in Minneapolis. We also access state and federal funds on a matching basis and work with Hennepin County on many projects. Gas taxes help pay for road construction and improvements. The city uses property taxes to support bond payments that pay for the capital costs of road repair and bike and pedestrian improvements.
Minneapolis residents are assessed for street improvements in front of their homes
Our Public Works department has become quite adept at putting these funding sources together to fund hard (construction) costs and soft (landscaping) costs.
Funds for these projects are tightening up and it will be difficult to tax citizens for these projects. We must prioritize communities, like the North side, that are currently under-served by transit options, and bicycle and pedestrian projects. Good transportation options are needed to make sure residents can get to jobs.
I led the charge to abolish the $400 a month car allowance for Council Members (without requiring receipts to be submitted). I believed this type of car allowance encourages driving. The City needs to encourage the use of transit, biking and walking, not driving.
4. As a council person, how would you respond to concerns about development impacts in your ward? Outside of your ward? Is there a recent controversial project (land use or transportation) that you would have handled differently?
When there is a project in Ward 10 that is controversial, I make sure that developers take the project to the impacted neighbors and neighborhoods early in the process so they can respond and hopefully offer suggestions to improve those projects. This is particularly important because development on major streets in our area affects two and sometimes three neighborhoods.
I work to educate myself about development projects outside of my ward because I feel the city should try to ensure that every new project is the best we can get in terms of amenities, design, meeting our comprehensive plan, and increasing our tax base. I feel passionately that when we work towards better design on a development, that project sets a precedent with higher standards for future projects.
Trader Joe’s is a recent controversial project in my ward.
The developer went to the neighborhood for three months. Notices are sent by the City to property owners, so I requested the neighborhood association flyer the nearby blocks. Often renters are not informed by their landlord of projects that will impact them. This allows the renter to give input at meetings or by sending me an email.
Support for and opposition to the project was split, but ultimately the neighborhood voted down the project. It would have been a single-story, single-use building with a surface parking lot occupying over half the block. The project also required a rezoning. The zoning on this corridor had been reviewed about two years earlier as part of the Greenway Rezoning Study. Conditions had not changed enough in two years to warrant a rezoning.
This project would have eliminated a multi-use (both commercial and rental) building that had better design. The project would have put in about 75 parking spaces. Between employees and customers, neighbors were concerned about parking spillover into the neighborhood. The developers also wanted variances for the project, but they weren’t willing to improve the design as requested by the neighborhood.
In addition, the City provided Trader Joe’s with other locations in the City in three other wards in an effort to accommodate them. They were not interested.
5. Where is your favorite place to walk (in or outside of Minneapolis)?
In Minneapolis you just can’t beat the Chain of Lakes. Neighborhood garden tours are a close second. My favorite suburban destination to walk is the Arboretum in Chanhassen.