OK. I admit it. It’s premature to project the results of yesterday’s election. There are still a bunch of races that are “too close to call”, and could be swung by the 2nd and 3rd choice votes. (This is particularly true for Wards 9, 13, and 5… in that order.)
But a question came up on Twitter (from the estimable David Levinson) about how our newly elected politicians feel about the city’s streetcar plan. It’s a great question, because streetcars are one of the most divisive urban transportation issues you’re likely to find.
At the mayoral level, the answer is pretty clear. Betsy Hodges was the strongest supporter of the current Minneapolis Nicollet/Central streetcar plan. Even Mark Andrew, who was a hefty streetcar booster, expressed some doubts about the current proposal. But Hodges, probably because her pro-streetcar vote is on the record, was one of the only candidates who flat out supported the current proposal. (She was the only streetcar supporter at our Mayoral forum, for example)
But everyone knows that mayor is a mere figurehead, and that the real power lies in the city council. So the real question we need to ask: How do the leading city council candidates feel about the streetcar project?
City Council Streetcar Tea Leaves
it’s worth pointing out that, In my interviews with city council candidates, many of the candidates expressed reluctance to take strong positions on issues before they were fully informed. I’d bet strong money that the streetcar proposal is one of those issues, and that there might be some flexibility about these positions.
That said, I’ve gone through some of the literature and interviews for the incoming candidates. Here’s what I found (in order of strongest streetcar support):
Andrew Johnson : Strong Support. Johnson seems gung ho.
Yes. I also believe we need to reintroduce streetcars into our transit portfolio. They are electric, quieter, can carry more people, are more accessible, and will result in drivers exercising more caution. Most importantly, streetcars are permanent infrastructure that sends a positive signal to homeowners and developers which will result in greater economic prosperity and property values.
Jacob Frey: Strong Support. Frey also seemed very excited about the streetcar proposal, which is particularly important because his ward includes Central Avenue and much of Downtown.
Frey countered that streetcars “are a great idea” and that they trigger investment. He said the city needs density, and took a veiled dig at Hofstede, who recently voted against an apartment and retail project in Dinkytown that the City Council described as a referendum on density throughout the city. “We need someone who will stand up and say, ‘Well look, additional people will be a good thing.’ They can’t say it would be a good thing but vote against it every single time the question comes up,” he said.
Linea Palmisano: Qualified Support. Palmisano doesn’t seem to endorse the current proposal, but seems to support streetcars in general, particularly for areas in need of economic revitalization.
The second area of improvement is to focus on parts of the city with far less transit alternatives. I will work to make sure there is increased LRT, bus and bike access for residents there. Folks need transit to access jobs and that should be a priority – particularly in North Minneapolis. A streetcar system, paired with efficient buses, could benefit North Minneapolis neighborhoods.
Blong Yang: Undecided? The most I could find about Blong Yang and streetcars was a question on Facebook, asking his supporters what they thought. Suffice it to say that the streetcar was not a big issue on the North Side.
Update: Just got this word from a Northside blogger @northxnorthside:
@BillLindeke he’s not a huge supporter, but is open to good dialogue about what a comprehensive northside transit system looks like.
Abdi Warsame: Unknown? I can’t find anything from Warsame about the streetcar proposal either.
Lisa Bender: Seems cautious. Bender is a strong supporter of transit, but in my discussion with her, I got the impression that she prioritized more cost-effective transit improvements (e.g. bus improvements or bike infrastructure.
“We should wait and see the data and look at the transit benefits and then do a real thorough cost-benefit analysis and see which one is a better investment for our community.”
Alondra Cano: Seems cautious. Cano probably has the most skeptical quote about streetcars that I could find (outside of the barnburning mayoral flameouts).
“I will engage with regional and state entities, such as the Metropolitan Council, Hennepin County, and State Legislature, to ensure that the street car plan is viable and makes traffic more efficient, not cumbersome.”