Voter Guide – Betsy Hodges

Our latest mayoral candidate to submit their answers to the Voter Guide is Betsy Hodges.

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 if elected?

The region is growing – and Minneapolis must grow with it.

We have two choices to accommodate growth: 1. random growth around existing infrastructure (mostly highways) which means more congestion, more pollution, more delays, more development pressure in areas without frequent transit service and more disparities of tax base and city services, or 2.  We can grow smart and accommodate more growth near transit lines.

If we pick the second path, we can do much more than avoid problems.  Minneapolis and its citizens can build a more sustainable and affordable city.  For mass transit to be most successful, we need mass.  We need density – and Minneapolis is ahead of the curve in the region in understanding the implications of this basic reality.

Obviously the region must pass a metro-wide sales tax dedicated to transit. As Mayor of Minneapolis, the home of the biggest transit destinations, I will be in an unique position to advance this.

But more than money is needed to build the City we want.  We aren’t just moving people from A to B without regard to land use.  We need multiple tools to achieve multiple goals.  As Mayor, I will be advocating for “all of the above.”

Here are some important distinctions between transit investments that I will use to guide my work as Mayor:

A. Some transit investments (like bus improvements) can be made quickly because they require less upfront capital and/or less engineering. While these cheaper options are not the best tools to promote job growth, economic development and sustainable densification, they can improve service more quickly, increasing both ridership and access to existing jobs.

B. Some transit modes (like LRT) are already operating successfully in this region, so they already have regional momentum.  Other modes (like real Bus Rapid Transit or Modern Streetcars), have not yet been implemented in this region, so they need more of a push.  The lesson of Hiawatha LRT is that one successful project changes the whole debate.  As soon as Hiawatha was built and succeeded, the Central, Southwest and Bottineau LRT projects had much greater public momentum – and became harder for opponents to stop. This is because both policy-makers and voters always want to replicate success.  So, for example, it is important that we build at least one real Interstate BRT line on 35W South of downtown, because that will change the debate and push forward subsequent BRT projects on 35W North of downtown and on I-94.

C. Finally and most importantly, some transit modes benefit Minneapolis residents more than others.   While it is important to be a “good regional player,”  and advocate for transit generally, Minneapolis leaders must advocate for our people and for our urban transit corridors which have extraordinary untapped potential.

As a generalization, transit modes that are “LRT and shorter” are more beneficial to Minneapolis residents than “Longer than LRT” modes, like Commuter Rail, Intercity Passenger Rail and even Interstate BRT. The “Shorter than LRT” spectrum of tools includes a.) improvements to regular bus service like increased frequency and better security, b.) full “arterial bus rapid transit” which should include a whole set of improvements that improve not just frequency, but also speed and ridership amenities like better bus shelters and real time signage, and finally c) Modern Streetcars, which provides all of those benefits plus reliable accessibility for people with mobility challenges, and creating jobs and economic development.   Unlike buses, which have little to no impact on development, rail investments are uniquely good at attracting new housing and job opportunities.  Developers and job creators do not develop next to bus lines that could disappear tomorrow.  They want certainty – the certainty provided by LRT or Modern Streetcars.  Other cities have shown that they can dramatically increase sustainable development when the public makes a permanent investment they can count on.

This last point about economic development represents a critical difference between how Minneapolis leaders view urban transit investments as compared to the narrower view held by regional planners until very recently.  During the Pawlenty administration many saw urban transit, at best, as an efficient way to move people through Minneapolis from point A to point B.  In Minneapolis we view transit investment as an effective and essential tool for sustainable development: a tool to grow jobs, housing and economic development in Minneapolis and along revitalized urban corridors.

Applying these distinctions between modes, I would identify the following specific projects that I would push as Mayor:

A. State-of-the-Art Bus Improvements in the Core.  Last year, as a condition of agreeing to support the County’s preferred alignment of the Bottineau LRT project, the City secured a commitment from the County and Metro Transit to prioritize both the #5 (Emerson/Fremont Aves N) and #19 (Penn Ave N) bus routes for the best possible “arterial bus rapid transit.”  (Previous to our advocacy, Metro Transit had already been prioritizing the #5 bus route South of downtown on Chicago Ave, but not these North Minneapolis corridors.)   I am very proud of the role I played in securing this commitment.  These investments, together with improved East/West circulation to key destinations, would dramatically improve transit speed and service quality in North Minneapolis.

B. West Broadway Alternatives Analysis. As part of that same Bottineau package agreement, the City also advocated for and secured an three-agency agreement between the City, County and Met Council to jointly fund an alternative analysis on West Broadway.  That work is now proceeding and must not be delayed.  This is a key step toward expanding a Modern Streetcar to North Minneapolis.  North Minneapolis needs and deserves more than “a fast ride somewhere else” to find jobs and economic opportunity elsewhere.  We must make transit investments that not only improve service to other locations, but also promote economic activity locally.

C. Nicollet/Central Streetcars. Consistent with Distinction #2 above, some transit modes need the advocacy of the Mayor more than others because they have not yet been built in this region.  Many other cities are successfully using Modern Streetcars both as transportation and a development tool.  Unlike another candidate for Mayor who has opposed streetcars on Nicollet as “cute” and “touristy” and presented a false choice between transit and green space for pedestrians, I recognize Modern Streetcars as a practical transportation alternative to LRT, on corridors where LRT is too big or too expensive.  We must have the vision to recognize that in order to bring Streetcars to underserved corridors like Broadway, Central Ave NE and Nicollet Ave S, they must also run through downtown to bring riders to job destinations.  Our analysis clearly shows that Nicollet Mall is by far the best place to do that.  To suggest that Nicollet is somehow harmed by that fails to recognize that the moment people get off transit vehicles, they are pedestrians.  Pedestrian-only streets have failed in many American cities because people need to have a way to get to those streets other than driving.  In my vision of Minneapolis, transit improvements, pedestrian improvements and green space are seamlessly and sustainably interwoven.

D. 35W BRT Station at Lake Street. Again consistent with Distinction #2 above, we must build a high quality BRT station at Lake Street.  Not having a center-line station at this key location is delaying the implementation of BRT on 35W and delaying access to job opportunities in the southern suburbs.  Fortunately, we have a bipartisan, urban and suburban coalition to support this project and BRT generally and the project is being engineered now. I am proud of my role in that and for opposing any freeway expansion except for BRT.  If not for City action to insist on the best, the station at Lake Street would have been small and inadequate.

E. Southwest and Bottineau LRT.  Even though these projects are widely supported, I will continue as Mayor to advocate for both until completion.  But since both require 50% federal funding through New Starts, I will also continue to push for the alternatives listed above because we must broaden our set of transit modes and because we must make service improvements sooner.  I will also insist that we be good stewards of our transit dollars.  We must not set the precedent that project costs be dictated by an unwillingness to negotiate with private sector railroads.

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?

To have a transportation system that works for all users, to build complete streets that are welcoming to all, we must prioritize those who have been historically overlooked.  That means pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users. 

The sad reality of post-WWII street design is this:  those users with the smallest impact on the community – both environmental impact and use of public right of way – were most often the least accommodated (or even considered) by planners and engineers.  The simplistic assumption was that more cars would need more space, and that space for others must be sacrificed.  Worse, the assumption was that as the cars drove faster, engineers should change street design to accommodate those speeds, which encouraged even faster driving.  This was a downward cycle, which made us all less safe and our communities less vibrant and less livable.  Some came to believe that the purpose of streets in Minneapolis was simply to move people out of Minneapolis – as quickly as possible.  And Minneapolis was not alone.  The nationwide result of this failed philosophy has been congestion, pollution, weakened neighborhoods and diminished health.

In my vision of Minneapolis, our streets are for all residents of Minneapolis regardless of the mode of travel they choose.  Our neighborhood commercial corridors should not be are raceways out of town, but vital destinations – in and of themselves.

In order to achieve this vision, we must recognize that we are starting from a deficit.  This is because a.) much of our existing infrastructure still reflects the dominant thinking of the car-centric post WWII era, and b.) many planners, engineers and policy-makers are still influenced by car-centric training and institutional culture, and c.)  there continue to be huge disadvantages for transit, biking and pedestrian infrastructure funding streams compared to highway funds.

I am pleased with the progress I have seen in the Minneapolis Public Works department, but we have further to go.  Policy-makers must be willing to push our own engineers and also have the City push other larger jurisdictions toward a multi-modal and sustainable future.

In my answer to question #1 above, I described my plan for transit.  Let me now do the same for my plan for bicycling.

Minneapolis has gone a long way in building off-street, protected bikeways around our lakes and along our creeks and the Mississippi and by converted rails to trails.  But we are running out of such opportunities.  We must keep expanding the system and that means re-thinking and re-designing our streets.

This means building “protected bikeways,” which will mean different things in different parts of Minneapolis.  The vision described at is one I support in order to achieve the effects of the Midtown Greenway in other parts of the City.  But we also need true cycle tracks, particularly in downtown Minneapolis.

I am proud of the City for having experimented with different bike treatments using Janette Sadik-Khan’s “It’s just paint!” philosophy.  Now is time to take what we have learned and make permanent investments.

But we need to do more:

a.)    The City should invest more, particularly in on-street trails and basic maintenance. I am proud to have worked with Mayor Rybak to increase maintenance dollars, first as part of the Infrastructure Acceleration Program (IAP) and then again as part the current expansion of the base capital budget.  But, as we have striped more on-street trails, that increases the need for more re-striping, both for lanes and at crosswalks. At this time of year after the spring thaw, anyone can see the affect of winter snow and plowing on striping.  We will take a good step forward in the budget we will approve this fall.

b.)    Capital for all types of bike infrastructure is also important.  For a time, we spent less city dollars as a percentage of the total spent on bike capital because of the large infusion of capital dollars available from the Non-Motorized Pilot Project (a.k.a. “the Oberstar money”).  Also at that time, we barely had staff capacity to design and build the projects funded by those dollars.  I am pleased to have promoted and defended the hiring the Bike Coordinator position.  Today, with better staff capacity, and with Oberstar dollars largely spent, we must increase capital for bike infrastructure.

You can count on me to advance biking in Minneapolis because I already have:

Building Bike Trails and Paths – As Chair of the Ways & Means/Budget Committee, I am proud to have worked hand-in-glove with Mayor Rybak and his office to deliver capital investments for bicycling projects, including finding additional dollars for key investments like the Dinkytown Greenway, the Hiawatha Trail Extension, the tunnel under the new 35W bridge, and the Cedar Lake Trail.  I shepherded them through the budget process because when you see the benefits of these projects – for the environment, for public health, for the livability and tax base of our city – they are some of the best investments we have ever made.

Nice Ride – In the wake of its success, many have forgotten that Nice Ride was very controversial when first proposed.  Opponents, including opponents on the City Council said it was just for “tourists”, “suburbanites” or “the wealthy.”

I was the lead advocate on the City Council for Nice Ride from the very beginning and made it happen over the objections of other Council Members.

Non-Motorized Pilot Project – While these projects were built with Federal dollars, they still needed Council approval. More importantly, they required policy-makers to push engineers outside of their comfort zone.  I continue to do that today.

Bike Coordinator and Bicycle Advisory Committee – I was an early and vocal advocate for establishing the Bicycle Coordinator position in Public Works and also of the Reorganization of the Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC) to empower bicycle advocates and improve the outcomes for cyclists in Minneapolis.

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, what are the obstacles to realizing these plans and how would you address them?

I am proud to have worked with Mayor Rybak to turn plans into reality.   The successful MARQ2 project is a good example.   The critics said we were wasting our time.  They said, “why are you planning a project you don’t yet have the money to build?”  And we said “because you can’t secure the money if you don’t know what you want.”  But we were right.  We planned MARQ2 just in time to win a competitive Federal grant and brought $34 million back to Minneapolis.  Now both Marquette an 2nd have double wide transit lanes which has more than tripled the transit capacity of those streets.  Ridership on MARQ2 is as high as Hiawatha LRT.  Those trips are faster and more reliable because buses can now pass one another.  Most importantly, Downtown is now ready for BRT on 35W.

So why doesn’t that happen more often?  The obstacle to getting more projects built is directly related to the destructive myths that perpetuate inaction.  These myths include:

A. “We can build our way of congestion.”  Both financially and physically, this is impossible. And yet this myth endures.

B. “When we build new lane miles, we are simply accommodating existing demand.”  We have sixty years of experience that shows this is false.  Adding new lanes without transit choices always induces more driving.  We need to insist on providing commuters with choices, like the City did on 35W.

C.  “Transportation planning doesn’t have to address land use.  We just need to get people from A to B.”  This has been proven false both with roads and with transit.  New highway miles exacerbate urban sprawl.  And you can’t have the most successful mass transit without mass.

As Mayor, I will both challenge the myths that hold us back, and advance my positive alternative.

4. As mayor, how would you respond to concerns about development impacts around the city? Is there a recent controversial project (land use or transportation) somewhere in the city that you would have handled differently had you been in the mayor’s office?

In addition, if you have any comments or opinions on the recent designs or development process for the Minnesota Vikings football stadium or the Star Tribune blocks, or your vision for that area, please provide that here.

As I indicated in my answer to the first question, one of the consequences of failing to accommodate more growth near transit is that you get more development pressure in areas without frequent transit service.  If we want to reduce development pressure in places where density doesn’t make sense, we need to build mass transit where density is supported.  When density is controversial, what people resist most strongly is not more neighbors, it’s more cars.

This is one of many reasons I support the Nicollet Central Modern Streetcar project.  And I would challenge those who oppose it to explain how they intend to accommodate growth in Minneapolis.  The simple fact is that we are running out of LRT lines that can come to downtown Minneapolis.   Central is opening next year, followed by Southwest and Bottineau, which could be completed in a mere seven years.  Then we will be done with LRT for a long time because LRT only fits on a few corridors with enough ridership and available right of way.

But the region won’t stop growing in seven years, so we need alternatives.  Modern Streetcars, which are simply a smaller form of LRT that can operate in mixed traffic, would allow us to get the economic development benefits of LRT at 1/3 the cost of LRT.  I love buses, but they have shown little ability to grow their own ridership over time.

Finally, it is unnecessarily expensive to have less than 400,000 people share the cost of running a city built for 500,000.  We need more jobs and more housing along our transit corridors – and the improved tax base that comes with it.  That will not only build a more environmentally sustainable city, but a more financially sustainable city as well.

5. Where is your favorite place to walk (in or outside of Minneapolis)?

From a transit stop to anywhere I am going to run an errand; from my bike to my front door; anywhere on the Grand Rounds.

Sam Newberg

About Sam Newberg

Sam Newberg, a.k.a. Joe Urban, is an urbanist, real estate consultant and writer. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and two kids, and his website is