Here’s part five in our series of Voter Guides for the open seat in Hennepin County’s 3rd District.
1. As a Hennepin County Commissioner, what would be your top transportation or land use priority?
Smart growth. Our region is growing and we must be strategic about planning and managing that growth. My vision for a healthy, sustainable community includes a focus on density, transit, and pedestrian-oriented development.
In order to do this, we need to continue coordinated planning among key local and regional stakeholders as well as ensure resident-driven engagement. It’s a balancing act to manage the needs, desires and expectations of current residents and constituents, with those of future residents – the ones that will live here in 20, 30, 40 years. Because every decision we make has consequences for future generations.
We know that if we do nothing, we get sprawl, which is not sustainable, not environmentally responsible, and doesn’t support the vision of how our next generation wants to live. Doing nothing also means that we are unable to leverage development and investment opportunities. The Hiawatha line is an example of not being proactive – the LRT line was built with little attention to the development patterns along the corridor, and development has correspondingly lagged. In contrast, the Hennepin County Southwest LRT Community Works Committee on which I serve has been doing intensive planning for the past two years to identify development opportunities and any barriers to development for the SWLRT station areas. We are creating a menu of tools that cities and Hennepin County can use to foster this development. For example, after participating in a Urban Land Institute forum on Form-Based Codes, I helped the city secure grant funding to explore how such zoning could facilitate more walkable, accessible, lively communities in our SWLRT station areas. Form-Based Codes are just one tool within the arsenal. We are also exploring financing strategies that each municipality could use, and those that might be applicable to the entire transit corridor.
Balanced transit options will contribute to our region’s success. A modern LRT system is essential, of course, but not every neighborhood or city is situated to accommodate LRT. So we need to support other transportation strategies as well, to focus on how the whole region can be connected. This includes streetcars, Bus Rapid Transit, well-designed roads that accommodate bikes and pedestrians, and investments in infrastructure like bridges and highways.
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?
Hennepin County’s diversity is its strength. My goal is to restrain sprawl, and maintain these different uses. Our policies must reflect priorities to retain farmland, while concentrating development along transit nodes and hubs.
The county needs to work in concert with the Met Council in managing growth, by ensuring that we limit sprawl. Tools include enforcing limits on expansion of sanitary sewer and water systems, road development, and other core regional infrastructure. We are already seeing the suburbs recreating the same walkable, dense development patterns that have worked well for the city core for generations. Even in Maple Grove, walkable living/shopping/entertainment areas are being created using similar ideas for density, sustainability, and walkability that guide our more dense urban cores.
This smart growth will be beneficial to both the urban core as well as our rich natural resources.
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?
Complete Streets policies need to be backed up by clear direction to staff and partner cities, by budgets that reflect these priorities and invest in their implementation, and by monitoring outcomes with objective, transparent and accountable metrics. Without focusing on implementation and outcomes, our streets will not actually reflect these policies. I experienced this gap firsthand, when I reviewed the county’s plans for bridge redesign on Minnetonka Boulevard over Highway 100. Working closely with the local bike community, we realized that while a bike lane and sidewalk were on the design plans, they were far too narrow to comfortably and safely accommodate the volume of walkers and bikers that we want to see in the future. Based on our careful revision of the proposed plans, I led the City Council to authorize $60,000 in additional funding to widen the bike lane and pedestrian sidewalk on the bridge.
There are numerous roads in District 3 that badly need re-design improvements – all of which have challenges to implementing. However, one project that has the potential to have a wide impact, is to re-open Nicollet Avenue at Lake Street. Closing Nicollet Avenue was one of the most obvious blunders of past planners. It has created physical barriers and investment barriers for residents and developers alike. The opportunities for housing, growing local businesses, linking the Midtown Greenway to Lake Street, and creating a transit hub that works with the BRT on 35W, all could bring a reawakening of this area. It’s also a disparities issue – the local business investments along “Eat Street” end abruptly at 28th street because of this disjointed street scape. This has limited job growth and housing opportunities in the area. Nicollet was designed to be in a key north-south connector corridor in our city, and these changes will restore and improve its ability to do this. This also aligns with plans for the re-introduction of street cars to Nicollet Avenue. Because Nicollet Avenue may not be able to accommodate all the multi-modal needs outlined in our Complete Streets policies, it will be critical that the county closely coordinates and plans with the city on how the adjacent streets support this broader vision of Nicollet.
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?
Whichever streets are chosen for re-design efforts, how we undertake the design is critical to the final outcome in terms of responding to neighborhood residents and users, and having buy-in to the final plans. The process must include early, in-depth, and robust engagement of street users and residents. The Complete Streets policy framework, and recent road improvements provide clear direction for outcomes needed on pedestrian safety, bicycle needs, and circulation. And it’s important that density is concentrated in areas where we focus on reducing the need for automobiles, while access and circulation for our single-family neighborhoods throughout the city and region are also addressed. We’ve seen some good examples of this with the Lyndale re-design efforts from Lake Street south, but need to expand that planning from Lake Street north to downtown as well.
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?
A regional transit system is a critical platform for jobs, growth and the ability for the region to combat economic disparity for all our stakeholders. Our residents need to be better connected to jobs and our business community needs a modern regional transit system to compete globally. As a representative on Hennepin County’s SW LRT Community Works Committee, I am helping guide the community’s vision and plans for land use and development that is already beginning to appear around SW LRT station areas. I bring a experienced, collaborative leadership approach, and a passionate commitment, to creating a transit system that will create opportunities for all of our residents.
One of the challenges of the SWLRT project is the lack of confidence in the process itself. With a background in neighborhood organizing, and a lifetime spent creating opportunities for people to have a voice in issues that impact their lives, I know that ensuring transparency, accountability and authentic community engagement will be critical to the ongoing success of this project, and to restoring confidence in future projects.
I’ve been on the front lines advocating for SW LRT because I understand its importance as a platform for jobs, growth and the ability for the region to expand economic equity for all residents. I will utilize my expertise in development and as a local government leader to ensure that we maximize the investment potential along the corridor.
While I initially voted to re-route freight trains out of the Kenilworth corridor and north through St. Louis Park, I have methodically reviewed all the options for dealing with freight, and the data and research by the Met Council has demonstrated to me that these proposed freight re-routes are not viable options, either because of the grades and curves or the considerable costs and community impacts.
I am committed to creating SW LRT as a critical component of building a regional transit system. With a commitment to getting this project done, I am confident that we can find solutions that can accommodate all these uses and that work for our community and the region.
6. Tell us about a formative experience you’ve had using transit, cycling, or as a pedestrian.
Growing up in South Minneapolis on 51st and Park, all of my family members were regular users of public transit and I rode the bus and biked constantly. My mother worked downtown in the Minneapolis City Hall, and my father was a police officer out of Minneapolis’s Fifth Precinct. For several years, we did not have a car and so walking and taking the bus for groceries, work and school were our go-to modes of transit. I would often bike or take the bus downtown to meet my mother for lunch during summers when school was out. My desire to build sustainable communities and have more transit options for our communities is certainly formed by these experiences growing up.
As an adult, I’ve been fortunate to live in Washington, DC and Moscow, Russia, both of which have excellent public transit systems. For nearly a decade I did not own a car and was able to live and work and go to school on foot, on bike or on transit. Moving back to the Twin Cities with two young children necessitated purchasing a car. I look forward to creating a community where cars no longer feel like a necessary feature in a busy life.