Our sixth response to the Streets.mn Voter Guide is from Lisa Bender, candidate in 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?
We need to build a regional transit network and redevelop our downtown and transit corridors with buildings that bring vitality to our urban neighborhoods. I will draw on my experience and training in city and regional planning to be a leader on the Minneapolis City Council to ensure we can implement a great transit network lined with buildings that fill the holes in our urban landscape. We simply need more leadership from our Ward 10 City Council member on these issues. We need someone who can hit the ground running and provide leadership to bring together the complex group of local and regional stakeholders to redevelop suburban-style mistakes (that are still happening today!) and get a balanced, efficient transportation network completed.
For transit, I will be a strong champion to implement plans underway in Ward 10, on Nicollet Avenue and in the Midtown Greeway/Lake Street corridor, and for advancing Hennepin Avenue to get planning underway there. I strongly support the regional sales tax proposed at the state legislature as one funding source for our transit system, and will work with city and regional partners to aggressively pursue state and federal funding sources to implement our transit network.
Redeveloping downtown and along our transit corridors requires us to do a better job as a City of making it easier to attract the kind of development that we want (and avoiding wasting too much time discussing development projects that we don’t want). We need better standards that require and incentivize good urban design. Right now, it is the same process to build a huge high rise downtown as it is to do a small infill project – that is ridiculous, and we have to change it to get the best design and development possible in our neighborhoods. We also have to find a way to stop developing suburban-style commercial buildings in one of the most walkable neighborhoods in the City.
I support utilizing neighborhood urban design plans as a way to start to build a vision for how our neighborhoods develop over time. The City Council will begin the process of updating the Comprehensive Plan for growth over the next 30 years, and starting with these questions of design priorities will help focus that conversation on how to get the most out of growth and change in the future.
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?
The best transportation systems work for all modes. In Minneapolis, we have prioritized driving over transit, walking and bicycling for a long time, so we have some catching up to do to balance our transportation system. We urgently need to develop a regional transit system that connects people to jobs – that should be our region’s highest transportation priority. Locally, I would make it a focus of my tenure on the City Council to develop a safer, more accessible walking and bicycling network.
We need more leadership from the Ward 10 City Council member on this issue because this is one of the areas of our city with the highest demand and potential for walking and bicycling, but we have a long way to go to really invite people of all ages and abilities to walk and bicycle for short trips. We’re still only serving a small portion of our population with our existing network – we owe it to the people who are dependent upon walking, bicycling and transit to make it more safe and efficient and we will see huge benefits from inviting more people to choose these transportation modes.
There is overwhelming public support, in Minneapolis and in towns across our state, to make it safer and easier to walk and bicycle. We just need more political leadership to show people that we can make this happen. Chicago, for example, has built 30 miles of protected bike lanes in just 18 months – this is our city’s goal over the next seven years. These projects don’t cost very much, but they have a huge impact on our economic vitality, the success of our small businesses, and the health of our population. We need to do more to grab the opportunities we have to implement improvements today.
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?
The biggest obstacle to realizing these plans is lack of political leadership, and I’m running for City Council to provide that leadership. City Councilmembers literally sign off on street designs in their wards for smaller city streets, and larger projects are approved by the full City Council. Too often, misperceptions about the needs of car users mean that important bicycle and pedestrian improvements are left off. City Council members often lead conversations about development, and we need someone who can be a more effective negotiator between neighborhoods and developers to get the best results out of our development projects instead of simply stopping development or allowing it to continue with bad design.
For transit, the first step is having our plans ready for sources of federal and state funding. Minneapolis missed the boat on federal TIGER grants a few years ago because we weren’t ready to build a transit network. I support the proposed regional transit tax for transit, bicycling and walking – we need to build a regional transit system and we are 10-15 years behind most regions in doing it.
For our bicycle and pedestrian network, the biggest obstacle to realizing these plans is opposition from our local elected leaders. We are missing opportunity after opportunity to improve bicycling and walking in our city on projects where safer pedestrian crossings and much safer bicycle facilities don’t have to cost a cent because the road is already being reconstructed. I will provide the support and leadership we need to get these projects right.
For development, we need a City Council member who can hit the ground running to get our development review process working better. We need a system that is easier to navigate for smaller, local developers. We need to be clearer about our community’s priorities and we need a City Council member who can negotiate with multiple parties, who can bring people together, to get the results we want.
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?
Ward 10 is growing and changing, and we need a City Council member who not only understands these issues but who has the skills to bring people together to get the best results out of development possible. We are missing so many opportunities to really define our community, to make it continue to be a unique and interesting place within the City.
Recently, there was a proposal for a new multi-family housing project on 24th and Colfax, about a block from where I live. The first proposal was an innovative net zero energy building, which would be a model for environmental sustainability and the first of its kind in Minneapolis. Neighbors objected to the proposal, partly because of the proposed height, but partly because folks did not want to see the buildings torn down in the first place.
I strongly support preservation of historic buildings, and feel we need real tools to preserve and protect historic properties in Minneapolis. Our City has a terrible track record of this, and one just needs to look at the empty surface parking lots downtown to be reminded of its importance.
However, the two buildings at 24th and Colfax have little left of the original buildings, they have been converted into boarding houses and significantly altered the interior and exterior so that there is basically nothing left, aside from the form of the building, of the original homes. These buildings are going to be redeveloped, and now they are going to be the same kind of expensive apartments we’ve seen all across our Ward.
I would have, and will, work more respectfully and closely with the community and developers to support the kind of innovation, support for affordable housing and environmental responsibility in the original proposal.
People are, and should be passionate, about changes to our community. But we need a City Council member who won’t just walk away from these difficult conversations, who will stay in them and negotiate for the best possible results for our community.
5. Where is your favorite place to walk (in or outside of Minneapolis)?
I’ve spent hours walking around Ward 10 over the past months while door knocking and have fallen in love with east Whittier. I love exploring cities on foot. The best place I’ve walked outside of Minneapolis is the souks of old town Damascus, one of the oldest cities in the world. I love most walking in places that draw you in, that keep you wondering what is around the next corner – that is the kind of City I want to help build and that’s why I’m running to serve on the Minneapolis City Council.
As a non-driver who primarily walks and uses busses, but who would like to bike more, I find there to be very different barriers to ease of access/safety when comparing walking and biking.
One of the biggest barriers to biking is a lack of safe bicycle parking. I live in a small apartment with little excess space to keep a bike in my unit; while the building allows bikes to be stored in the basement, carrying a bike up and down stairs is physically very difficult for me; locking a bike to a sign post leaves it exposed to the elements, is a limited solution (not many bikes will fit and it can impede foot traffic), and leaves it at risk of being stolen. What kind of solutions would you bring to the table to help renters?
I also worry about both my safety as a bicyclist and my ability to cover costs should I be hit by a car while biking. I was hit as a tween while biking home from the Uptown library on the sidewalk with my eight year old brother (I wasn’t injured, but my bike was ruined and the driver drove off). I’ve witnessed car-bike accidents and had friends who have been hit while biking. In every case, the fault was with the driver who was trying to enter a major street and was looking only in one direction and only for cars; the bicyclists had the right of way and were biking where they were supposed to on dedicated bike lanes, following the rules of the road (my crash at age twelve was the exception, as I am not sure what the legality is for minors biking on the sidewalk). How do you propose dealing with this systemic problem of drivers who are blind to cyclists and pedestrians? (I’ve been in many near-accidents as a pedestrian, but my slower speed seems to help both their ability to see me approaching and my reaction time.)
I also would like to know how you will help expand cycling access. My 94 year old aunt still bikes frequently, but she now uses a recumbent as she feels less likely to fall closer to the ground (I worry about her being less visible); specialty bikes that might meet specific needs like hers are often far more expensive and more likely to be stolen. NiceRide has become more equitable in the placement of their sites, but their bikes are still too heavy and too tall for many potential riders. How will you work to make sure that biking is not only an option for the young and able-bodied? What will you do to help encourage biking *as transit* for older people, those with health limitations, families with young children, etc.? Where will wheelchairs fit into this, motorized or otherwise? Many bike paths/routes (like the Greenway and Bryant (as a bike street)) move cyclists away from commercial corridors, thus treating cyclists like second class citizens and decreasing their overall visibility as vehicles drivers need to be aware of.
I have a (silly, I hope!) worry that with a focus on cycling improvements, attention will be funneled away from pedestrian improvements, especially given how car-centric we are and how little time/money we are willing to allocate to other transit. As beneficial as cycling is, it requires a minimum level of fitness; our sidewalks, however, are supposed to be navigable by those with limited mobility, low vision, or other needs. I’m an able-bodied young woman who sometimes walks eight miles doing my errands in a day, and in the winter, I have often found walking Minneapolis quite challenging. While most of our property owners do a good job shoveling, there are still many who shirk their responsibility. Often there is no path shoveled through the snowbanks created by the plows. Other property owners shovel their driveway but not their sidewalk. Some hire trucks to do it, but these often serve to compact the snow rather than remove it and depending on the kind of snow, can be worse for walkers than not shoveling. Some throw salt down instead of shoveling, thus making things worse with a slushy and slippery mess that ends up in our rivers. In the summer, especially in Wards 7 and 10, some property owners fail to keep the sidewalk clear of sprinkler spray while others allows hedges (including invasive buckthorn) to overtake sidewalk clearance space. Many place their trash and recycling bins on the sidewalks rather than (heaven forbid!) on their driveway entrances or on the boulevards, thus blocking the path. How will you balance addressing lack of compliance with current laws and obstacles on current sidewalks with working to improve infrastructure and design in new projects/during repairs?
In other areas, like North Minneapolis, the lower density housing combines with a lack of mixed use/commercial destinations to discourage walking (as does the neglect by banks of sidewalks of foreclosed homes). What will you do to help encourage walking and cycling transit around the city, including in neighborhoods that have different barriers and strengths than Ward 10?