The fourth response for the Streets.mn Voter Guide is from Andrew Johnson, candidate in Ward 12, which includes south Minneapolis on either side of Hiawatha Avenue.
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 Green Line Extension. Scheduled to open in 5 years, this light rail line is a necessity in our expanding transit portfolio. I will work with our partners at the Met Council, the county, and the state to ensure a smooth implementation, including support for our local businesses throughout construction. As a council, we also must work ahead of this project to facilitate development along the corridor that promotes density, walkability, and job creation. It wasn’t until the last few years that major projects started popping up along the Hiawatha line, more than 7 years after it initially opened. We should be more prepared with our zoning codes and plans to address the needs of the community and encourage development.
Beyond this, it’s important to look ahead to the Blue Line Extension. It will bring vital infrastructure to North Minneapolis and help spur economic activity in neighborhoods that sorely need it.
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?
Our society has put automobiles on a pedestal for more than a half century. Thankfully, that mentality is changing. Complete Street projects provide a more balanced approach that promotes walking and biking, calms traffic, improves safety, and increases economic activity. It can best be described as improved livability. I fully support these design principles, and I believe we have a long way to go before we reach a balance and equality between these modes of transit. That’s why my primary focus is on building protected bikeways, reintroducing streetcars, and promoting walkability and good urban design in every project I work and vote on.
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?
Community engagement and outreach can be lacking when it comes to planning. When the Central Corridor plans were released, they largely ignored populated and low income neighborhoods. This resulted in the formation of the “Stops for Us” coalition which fought for more stops to serve residents who most needed mass transit and the economic opportunities it brings. Residents shouldn’t need to organize a movement to be heard and included. While the Central Corridor is a massive project with massive visibility, it’s the everyday small area plans across the city with far less visibility that need more participation and partnership. This isn’t an easy thing to do. It will require using new mediums to reach a wider audience, working beyond traditional committee and public meeting structures to be more inclusive, and doing a better job following these plans as a council. I view planning as the proactive approach which rewards developers and residents alike, rather than reacting to each project that comes our way with a protracted process that often times makes it a major pain to get things accomplished in Minneapolis.
I will work to fully fund and implement these improvements, and I can draw on a number of existing funding sources to do so. Additionally, increasing density via development and increasing economic activity by cutting red tape for small businesses are two ways to drive additional tax revenue for funding projects. And improving government efficiency is a way to free up existing expenses for other uses.
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?
My number one priority would be to engage the neighborhood organization and residents immediately in the process. As President of Longfellow Community Council, I have seen the difference between council members who are engaged and strong partners, and those who are not. This is one of the reasons I am running for the Ward 12 seat. An engaged council member can help empower active residents to draw in businesses and developments that they would like to see, help secure deals that otherwise would fall through, and get out in front of concerns before they become issues.
There are two projects I would have handled differently. One is funding for the new Vikings Stadium. Residents were denied their right to vote on funding as entitled under the city charter. The current cost to Minneapolis is projected to be over $890 million, which in part is due to doubling property tax exemptions around the site (which reduces revenue for schools, parks, and infrastructure). It also saddles downtown with the highest taxes of any downtown area in the nation, a fact that will cause irreparable economic harm and slow growth for at least three decades to come. I strongly believe we could have kept the Vikings downtown without any city funding, and instead used city money to implement infrastructure improvements and other important projects.
Another project that was poorly handled was the retiming of traffic lights on Highway 55. Twenty-nine thousand cars travel the road each day, and based on a $30,000 per capita income and an average delay of 5 minutes, lost productivity easily totals over $110 million. That doesn’t include multiple passengers in each car, people waiting to cross Highway 55, diversion of traffic to Minnehaha Avenue over time, environmental impact, or social impact. In this case, the fix cost just over $1 million and took almost a decade to implement. It should have been worked on immediately and implemented within a year or two of the line being open.
5. Where is your favorite place to walk (in or outside of Minneapolis)?
On pavement: I love walking around the downtown farmers market. The air is full of energy, the peoplewatching is great, everyone is happy to be there, and, of course, the produce is amazing!
Off pavement: Minnehaha off-leash area hands (or paws) down! It’s arguably the most beautiful nature trail in the city. The fact that my dog is free to come with me on walks through the woods, along the river, across prairie, and even visit a hidden waterfall? Wow.