You may be thinking that it’s a little early to post our Streets.mn Voter Guides for the 2014 election. Ordinarily, you would be correct: It is January. However, the February 4th DFL caucuses are fast approaching, and five candidates are actively seeking the DFL endorsement in the race to represent Hennepin County’s 3rd District on the county commission. There is also an upcoming special election due to the incumbent’s early resignation. The 3rd District includes St. Louis Park, Southwest Minneapolis, and parts of Downtown Minneapolis. We will, of course, contact other candidates closer to the general election as they file to run.
Candidates have been encouraged to check back in with this post to answer questions, if they arise, in the comments section.
1.) As a Hennepin County Commissioner, what would be your top transportation or land use priority?
My top transportation priority will be to vigorously implement the Hennepin County Complete Streets policy. That means placing more emphasis on pedestrians, bicycles and transit than Hennepin County ever has before, as part of an “all of the above” transportation policy to increase health, decrease pollution, and strengthen our commercial corridors. Here are some ways we’ll know that the Complete Streets policy is being implemented to its full effect:
- We build out a network of physically-protected bikeways that are safe and comfortable for bicyclists from eight to eighty
- Every road project, even a simple resurfacing, is seen as an opportunity to improve the pedestrian and bicycling environment
- Road projects are evaluated in large part based on the County’s goals to get more people walking, biking, and taking transit
- We welcome new enhanced bus and/or streetcar lines, and standard bus service is improved throughout Hennepin County
- We successfully build a Southwest Light Rail line that does not diminish the Kenilworth Trail, and enhances the communities it passes through
2.) Hennepin County includes rolling farmland near the Crow River and fifty story skyscrapers near the Mississippi River. What strategies would you use to reconcile the competing needs of these very different constituencies and their representatives on the county commission?
I do not see the needs of these constituencies as being in competition. I believe that all residents of Hennepin County want to live in communities where our public spaces are for people first and cars second. We all – from the Elliot neighborhood in St. Louis Park to the Elliot Park neighborhood near downtown Minneapolis – want to live in walkable, bikeable neighborhoods where transit is a good option for most trips. We want our commercial corridors and nodes to be successful and vibrant. We want good housing options for people of all ages, abilities and incomes. We want good paying, accessible jobs for people of all educational backgrounds.
I think we focus too often on what divides us. Downtown Minneapolis needs the surrounding neighborhoods, both those in Minneapolis and those in the suburbs, and all of the cities in Hennepin County benefit from a thriving Minneapolis center. We can build transit – very much including the Southwest Light Rail – that enhances all of the communities it serves and passes through.
I have experience bringing together people with different ideas and goals for everyone’s shared benefit. As Executive Director of the Longfellow Community Council, I oversaw a Community Benefits Agreement between the neighborhood and a private developer that drove positive change for the Hiawatha Corridor. I am the only person in this race who has worked for policymakers in both Hennepin County and the City of Minneapolis, and I know how to balance the needs of sometimes competing interests. We are all in this together. I not only know that, I live it.
The ways in which we meet our shared needs may vary from community to community. In some places a protected bike lane will be ideal, and in others an off-street trail will be a better solution. Some communities will benefit more from upgraded standard bus service, while others will get more use from light rail or express buses. As Hennepin County Commissioner, I will listen to each community and help find the best local solution that fits into our shared vision for a better County.
3.) In 2009, Hennepin County adopted a Complete Streets Policy, and today they’re moving forward with a Washington Avenue reconstruction that accommodates all modes of transportation. In your opinion, what road or street in District 3 would be a candidate for this kind of consideration? How would you make it happen?
As I said in response to question #1, implementing the Complete Streets policy is my top transportation priority. I think that this policy is best implemented by considering how to best accommodate and encourage pedestrians and bicyclists as part of every Hennepin County road project. But in addition to this, we need to carefully consider where the County can partner with the City to build out a network of innovative protected bikeways like what the County is planning to build on Washington Avenue. The City has adopted a goal to build 30 new miles of protected bikeways by 2020; the County should formally adopt that goal as well, and help the City meet it.
There are currently two exciting planning processes underway that will help determine what streets should be included in the protected bikeway network. The County is updating its Bike Master Plan, and the City has started work on a protected bikeway network plan. These processes need to work well together, to ensure that we have a final plan that the City, County, and community all strongly support. While I have some ideas of my own about streets that I believe would benefit from protected bikeways – 36th St W (where a protected bikeway will be built this year), 46th St W and the Nicollet Mall all come to mind – I want to empower the community, through these plans, to help choose the most appropriate routes.
As far as a candidate county road in District 3, I would like to examine how we could bring a Complete Streets approach to France Avenue (also known as County Road 17 south of Excelsior Boulevard). I think it’s long overdue to be a more bicycle and pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare for commuters, families and residents of all ages. As County Commissioner, I will spearhead a collaborative process to involve residents, businesses, bicycling and pedestrian advocates, planners, colleagues from Districts 5 and 6, city officials and staff from Minneapolis, St. Louis Park, Edina and Bloomington. I think the community engagement process Hennepin County used on Washington Avenue showed promise and would incorporate some of the strategies used.
Again, I am no stranger to this work. As a board member of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition, I helped frame, advocate for and successfully pass the City’s protected bikeways goal. As County Commissioner, I will work tirelessly to achieve it.
4.) Hennepin County has jurisdiction over many major thoroughfares in Minneapolis including Lake Street, Lyndale Avenue, and Minnehaha Avenue. What would you do to balance regional mobility with local quality of life?
I fought successfully for a more pedestrian-friendly East Lake Street and supported a protected bikeway on Minnehaha Avenue. I think it is entirely possible to build streets that work well for all transportation users – and in fact, I don’t think you can build a system that is truly good for any one mode but poor for all others. Every driver is a pedestrian after she parks. When more people choose to take transit and bike, every driver benefits from the reduction in traffic congestion.
In many cases, “balance” between modes is not the best way to understand the needs of each transportation mode. As the Executive Director of the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition said many times about Minnehaha, the bike community was not asking for more space, but for better space. In fact, a protected bikeway on Minnehaha would have devoted less space to bikes, while shortening crossing distances for pedestrians, but would have improved the corridor immensely for bicyclists. Similarly, a well-designed enhanced bus route will dramatically improve transit riders’ experience without negatively impacting any other road user.
When there are conflicts between automobile “throughput” and neighborhood livability, I choose livability. I believe that what matters most is how vibrant a community is, not how quickly someone can drive through it.
5.) What, specifically, is your stance on the current Southwest Corridor colocation vs. relocation debate? Or do you support reconsidering the process that selected the Kenilworth corridor, or do you support another plan?
I have a few fundamental beliefs that guide my response to this very complicated project. First, as I said above, my “all of the above” transportation vision includes light rail to connect downtown Minneapolis to the surrounding communities. Our region has fallen behind other regions in terms of transit, and I believe we must catch up to remain competitive.
Second, I believe that the Kenilworth Trail is too precious a resource to lose, and under no circumstances will I support an outcome that will remove the trail. It is used by three thousand bicyclists per day, on average, and is a jewel in our County’s biking network.
Third, I believe that the needs of the public should outweigh the needs of one politically powerful industry, and that communities should not have to suffer in order for one private railroad to receive a better facility than it has ever had.
Fourth, I believe that we must find a solution that limits the impacts on our lakes and our communities, that minimizes the loss of houses and public space.
I am open to solutions that are consistent with these four goals. I think that there are ways to do LRT right in the Kenilworth corridor under both relocation and co-location scenarios. We need to carefully evaluate the results of independent analyses underway that are due at the end of January.
6.) Tell us about a formative experience you’ve had using transit, cycling, or as a pedestrian.
I am a lifelong transit user. My family didn’t own a car growing up, and we relied on Metro Transit and rides from friends and family to get where we needed to go and back home. It wasn’t exactly a conventional primary means of transportation for a Minneapolis kid in the 1970’s and 80’s, but I loved it.
My strongest memories riding the bus as a kid are of taking the Route 18 to weekly shopping trips for groceries at Lake and Nicollet, trips down Nicollet Avenue to the old downtown Central Library (where we were allowed to get as many books as we could carry back home on the bus), and trips on the Route 17 to evening school events at Jefferson Elementary, most memorably for class concerts where we would have my cello in tow. In high school, the 21A (yes, the route which one of our state’s cultural treasures, Kevin Kling, wrote an entire play about!) was my go-to route to and from South High School.
Growing up riding transit gave me independence to get around Minneapolis and the metro, enabled me to take in the character and personality of neighborhoods and communities along a given route, and meet fellow riders from all walks of life. I remember more than once friends or co-workers expressing disbelief that it was possible to live in Minneapolis without a car. I never felt that way. I’m proud to have been a “new urbanist” before the phrase was even around. And one of my goals I set at my recent 40th birthday was to be car-free again before I enter my next decade, hopefully within the next few years.