Streets.mn Voter Guide – Meg Tuthill, Ward 10

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.

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3 Responses to Streets.mn Voter Guide – Meg Tuthill, Ward 10

  1. Matt April 2, 2013 at 9:10 am #

    So it seems Meg Tuthill believes that residents of Ward 10 are more entitled to subsidized street parking than patrons of [potential] Ward 10 businesses?

    It’s so weird that one of her concerns about TJs was that it would add 75 parking spots in place of the current non-parking land use. And she echos “neighborhood concerns” that parking would still spill over onto residential streets. The reason why there were 75 parking spots is because we have minimum parking requirements, precisely because neighbors are concerned about protecting their on street parking. The end result of this cycle is that we prohibit natural market-driven growth and density, which is dangerous to our city.

    • SR April 2, 2013 at 10:15 pm #

      Trader Joe’s was a bad project, plain a simple. ‘Natural growth and density’ are not a one story big box. Building no parking for the only TJs in the city of Mpls would not have worked, that’s ridiculous.

  2. Julia April 5, 2013 at 5:01 pm #

    Ms. Tuthill, I realize that people often have more to say about the negative than the positive (so I appreciate you calling out some of the positive changes you have made, like the LPI), but I have some concerns about specific neighborhood issues.

    Firstly, the storefront at 25 1/5 & Hennepin has been empty for years, creating a dead zone space and inviting vandalism. Why did you oppose the establishment of a micro-brewery there? My understanding is that it had to do with the proximity of Jefferson, but the school’s entrances are on the far side of a large block and Hennepin is a substantial barrier on its own. I have yet to talk to a resident who saw any problem with the micro-brewery, though several have questioned the health impacts of idling cars and trucks on the children playing during recess at Jefferson.

    I also understand that you worked to decrease the possible density of liquor stores in Minneapolis. I have to say that this appeared to me to be possibly cronyism, given that it just allowed the Kowalski’s liquor store to squeak in across from the former Tuthill’s store, but will prevent others (including one proposed a block or two south down Hennepin). But my larger concern is that as we progress as a city, we will grow in density and it seems like backwards-thinking to be actively attempting to decrease density of establishments.

    I am concerned about the number of parking tickets given in and around Ward 10. These tickets don’t often seem to be about safety and the brunt of them is borne disproportionately by renters who don’t have other options for parking. In particular, I have had friends ticketed for blocking sidewalks in the middle of winter, which is ludicrous when there is no sidewalk showing because property owners have failed to clear a path for walkers. I myself don’t drive and many of my friends who live in the neighborhood who do drive do so very infrequently. What do you propose doing to make sure that parking tickets locally are not a tax that falls disproportionately on renters?

    I also have a broad concern about renters and renters’ rights. I’m wondering what steps you have taken to protect your constituents who don’t own homes. In particular, I have concerns about affordable housing and the negative effects of gentrification on displacing members of our community.

    You mention that bus stops/shelters need to be shoveled in the winter. I strongly agree, but that is little help when property owners consistently fail to clear their sidewalks in a timely manner (or, worse, clear only their own driveway) or allow bushes to grow into the walking path. The southeast corner of Hennepin and Franklin is a particularly bad location; the stop is heavily used, there is no boulevard to buffer pedestrians and transit users from splashing cars and exhaust, the sidewalk is narrow and interrupted by poles for signs, the bushes are often overgrown and crowding the space even further. Many property owners are repeat offenders through the winter and I have talked to multiple elderly residents whose health is directly compromised and whose social connections decrease because the city allows the sidewalks to remain treacherous. I have attempted to use the 311 smartphone feature to report some of these, but the system requires that I do so using my GPS information, thus forcing me to stand in front of the offending property with bare hands in the middle of winter–it doesn’t feel like a very comfortable, easy, or safely anonymous way of tracking this. Often the sidewalks of city parks around the neighborhood are also poorly shoveled; it appears that the city hires a truck of some sort, which doesn’t actually shovel down to the sidewalk (it rides up a bit, perhaps an inch) and serves instead to compact the snow, sometimes making it icier.

    I also agree that the city as a whole needs to focus on increasing equity and improving the city not just for the squeaky wheels, but for all neighborhoods. Our racial and economic segregation is an embarrassment. I’m wondering what you’ve done or are doing in order to make sure that affordable and section 8 housing isn’t clustered and is available in all neighborhoods, to call out media for continued negativity towards North Minneapolis, to make sure all neighborhoods receive amenities (I’ve noticed very little street landscaping on the Northside), and to address some of the problems that exacerbate this, like racial profiling and the selection of the most unpleasant locations downtown for transit stops for the 19 and 5 especially compared to suburban lines (including selectively enforcing laws against leaning on buildings!).

    Lastly, I’m concerned about your focus on suburban visitors. While I realize that part of being an urban area is that we support and are a destination for suburban residents, I feel that much of our recent city history has been driven by a misguided focus on the suburbs and their residents (including strange attempts to emulate the suburbs), rather than working to improve the city for the people who make up the city already. I’m thinking of the focus on parking around Uptown, the development of Block E, the Riverside development in the 1980s, the K-mart on Nicollet, fancier busses for suburban destinations, highways that have cut apart our neighborhoods, etc.

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