MN GOP Beware: Biking and Pedestrian Improvements Have Broad Appeal

rura_bikingMinnesota Republicans captured control of the Minnesota House of Representatives in part by fueling urban versus rural resentment: “Those metro-centric DFLers give everything to Minneapolis and St. Paul.” The truth is, turnout trends associated with non-presidential year elections were a much bigger reason why the DFL lost control of the Minnesota House. But this “core cities versus the rest of us” theme was definitely a big part of the Minnesota GOP’s 2014 campaign, and a lot of analysts are convinced that is why Republicans won. For instance, MinnPost’s excellent reporter Briana Bierschbach noted:

“…Republicans had a potent message, too, and it was a simple one: Rural Democrats had left their constituents behind by voting with their Minneapolis and St. Paul leadership.”

Exhibit A in the Republicans’ rural victimization case was funding for pedestrian and bike infrastructure, something Republicans often characterize as “metrocentric.” In other words, they maintain it isn’t of interest to suburban, exurban or rural citizens. For instance, GOP gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson tried to appeal to non-urban votes with this riff:

“We have spent billions of dollars on trains, trollies, bike paths, and sidewalks, but not nearly enough on the basic infrastructure most Minnesotans use every day: our roads and bridges.”

Beyond the campaign trail, that theme also has sometimes been a battle cry during Met Council transportation planning discussions. Finance and Commerce reports that:

“The suburban counties argue that the Met Council’s transportation investment plan emphasizes urban transit, bike and pedestrian options at the expense of highways, which they say could cause further congestion and safety issues.”

However, a survey released today calls the Republicans’ assumption into question. The poll found majority support in every region of the state for additional funding for pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. The random sample of 1,000 Minnesotans sponsored by the Minnesotans for Healthy Kids Coalition found that the strongest support was in St. Paul and Minneapolis (71% support). However, there was roughly the same high level of support in the suburbs, which are key political battlegrounds because that’s where population is growing most rapidly:

  • Western metro suburbs: 69% support.
  • East metro suburbs: 70% support.

Even in rural areas, a strong majority support funding bike and pedestrian infrastructure improvements:

  • Central Minnesota: 64% support.
  • Southern Minnesota:  57% support.
  • Northern Minnesota: 56% support.

In other words, if a politician mentions the DFL’s support of bike and pedestrian infrastructure funding in rural Minnesota they’re more likely to help the DFLer than hurt them.

The moral of the story is that the appeal of pedestrian and biking infrastructure improvements is hardly limited to the hipsters and fitness freaks in the core cities. Politicians who campaign or govern based on that false assumption may have a rude awakening.

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25 Responses to MN GOP Beware: Biking and Pedestrian Improvements Have Broad Appeal

  1. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke November 18, 2014 at 11:34 am #

    There seems to be a real effort to debunk transit and (to my mind) common sense regional planning on the part of someone high up in the local GOP. (Center for the American Experiment?)

    Party leaders seem to be doubling down on sprawl, and I think it’s to all of our detriment.

    • Matt Steele November 18, 2014 at 11:51 am #

      At least people are finally figuring out the economics of sprawl — how financially disastrous it is, and how it actually defies many conservative principles. So, it may not appeal to their car-dependent base, but the pro-sprawl stance directly contradicts their supposed conservative principles in many ways.

      Things will change fast as we’re forced to confront the financial reality of the sprawlscape.

  2. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell November 18, 2014 at 12:42 pm #

    As I wrote in my very first post on here I do not find posts such as this at all constructive, accurate, or helpful. There are many Republicans who are very pro-transit, pro-bike, pro-walking, and pro-disabled just as there are many Democrats who put considerable effort in to fighting transit, bicycling and walking.

    I think taking a specific candidate or pol to task for something they’ve said or done or taking a party to task for something in it’s platform is valid and helpful. Painting everybody with such a broad and inaccurate brush as you have is needlessly polarizing.

    We should all be working together to make our communities better not creating divisiveness where it doesn’t and needn’t exist.

    • Matt Steele November 18, 2014 at 1:35 pm #

      Given how the GOP is framing their electoral victories as an urban vs rural fight (the Strib has an excellent article about this today regarding GOP committee picks) I’d say it’s very important. And I say that as someone who is fiercely independent when it comes to transportation issues.

    • Matt Brillhart November 18, 2014 at 2:15 pm #

      Walker, you seem to be taking this personally. “Republicans” in the context of this post is taken to mean those elected to serve in the MN Legislature (and Jeff Johnson, I suppose). You’re right – not all Republicans oppose multimodal transportation. But the ones elected to office sure as hell oppose funding it.

      Right or wrong, there is an established party platform (for both the GOP and DFL) and by and large, our elected representatives are expected to follow it. What does the GOP party platform say about funding multimodal transportation?

      • Walker Angell
        Walker Angell November 18, 2014 at 6:46 pm #

        Not personal at all. I’ve directed similar comments at the rhetoric of Republicans, Libertarians, Greens, and others when I think them unnecessarily divisive.

        If Joe wants to criticize specific people for things they’ve said or votes they’ve taken I’ll likely join him. Or debate him on the merits if I disagree. If he wants to criticize a party platform for what it does or does not include I’m there as well.

        What I dislike are broad brushed diatribes that can alienate a large number of people. And for no good reason. We are supposed to be furthering the conversation about transportation, land use, and urban planning, not turning half of the population of MN off to the conversation (or off to one side of it before they even think about it).

        • Joe Loveland November 19, 2014 at 8:42 am #

          Re: “If Joe wants to criticize specific people for things they’ve said… I’ll likely join him.”

          I quoted Jeff Johnson — the MN GOP’s 2014 standard bearer, the most visible state-level GOPer, the selection of the Party caucus-going activists, the choice of 80% of rank and file Republicans (Strib poll) — criticizing the Democratic Governor’s level of bike/ped infrastructure investment as excessive.

          You didn’t exactly join me in criticizing him.

          As I said, I’m not saying every Republican is wrong on this issue, and every Democrats is right. But I am saying that during in this campaign season top Republicans like Mr. Johnson used bike/ped infrastructure spending as an example of metrocentric spending by DFL metrocrats. It was part of a larger “urban v. us” the rest of us” campaign theme that Ms. Bierschbacher noted. If you want to criticize something as “divisive,” that might be a better target for you than me.

          My hope in posting this is to prompt critics like Johnson, and anyone else, to beware of the conventional wisdom that Greater MN citizens only want road and bridge funding to the exclusion of bike/ped infrastructure investments. That’s constructive, not divisive.

          • Walker Angell
            Walker Angell November 20, 2014 at 9:55 am #

            I likely agree with you on Jeff’s comment but I don’t know enough about funding allocations and needs between metro and out-state to say anything conclusive. If he had made this comment about metro funding allocations I’d have strongly disagreed with him. Similar to my disagreement with Democrat Barb Yarrusso over her road spending.

            Are the two un-cited quotes in your first paragraph from Jeff? If not, who?

            There is a vast difference in divisiveness in political campaigns and here on streets.mn. As I’ve said numerous times, the issues we discuss here are not partisan nor do we want to make them partisan (my personal opinion, not official streets.mn policy). You are creating divisiveness where it is not needed nor beneficial and in doing so you are making many people who could be valuable allies in to non-supporters at best and rabid enemies at worst.

            I think Monte said it well (below) that these are extremely minor issues for most and will be trumped by other issues they deem more important. People like to identify with and belong to groups. If their group (Republicans) is being attacked with a broad brush like this they’ll circle the wagons and dig in their heels. Even if it means changing their opinion on something they consider fairly minor.

            FWIW, I think your other posts are great and I largely or completely agree with you on them. My disagreement here is with this post and not you.

    • Nathanael November 23, 2014 at 5:25 am #

      Well, there aren’t, though; you’ve just said something false. There are a *few* Republicans running for legislature, governor, Congress, etc. who are very pro-transit, pro-bike, pro-walking, and pro-disabled. Very few. (Rick Snyder comes to mind.) There certainly aren’t many, and there are a whole lot who are against all of those things. (Walker, Scott, Kasich, and Christie come to mind instantly.) There are probably more *grassroots* Republicans who are pro-transit, pro-walking, etc., but that doesn’t matter — what matters is what the elected officials support.

      With the elected Democrats, by contrast, the majority seem to be pro-transit, pro-bike, pro-walking, and pro-disabled, while a large minority is “cars uber alles”.

      It would be nice if the views of the elected officials from both parties were similar, but they aren’t. The two parties are not equivalent. It is partisan to some extent.

  3. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell November 18, 2014 at 1:05 pm #

    Can you please provide references for the two quotes in your first paragraph.

    You make a leap from geography (suburban counties) to political affiliation (Republicans). Many metro suburbs are actually strongly Democrat. Can you support your implying that suburban counties are all Republican?

    You say “However, a survey released today calls the Republicans’ assumption into question.” What assumption is that? Can you support attributing this assumption to ‘Republicans’?

    • Matt Steele November 18, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

      Inside the beltway burbs lean DFL, outside lean GOP. These maps are from 2012, but still relevant since the only metro DFL-GOP flip was one seat in Burnsville.

      http://elections.left.mn/maps/house (embedded google map of districts)
      http://www.gis.leg.mn/metadata/example/elec12.png (large image at precinct level)

      • Matt Brillhart November 18, 2014 at 2:10 pm #

        2014 interactive from MPR: http://apps.mprnews.org/election2014/sthouse/

      • Michael November 19, 2014 at 8:37 am #

        Wow I have never seen this map before. It is incredible how clearly political affiliation breaks down along the 494-694 beltway.

      • Nathanael November 23, 2014 at 5:39 am #

        Very interesting. Also shows the usual national pattern, where practically *every* city votes Democratic, even those as small as Bemidji or Thief River Falls. (I guess Fergus Falls and Detroit Lakes are exceptions, but they’re still less Republican than the surrounding areas. Even the smallest cities are less Republican than the counties around them.) And the Native American reservations always vote Democratic, of course (probably due to constant bigoted rhetoric from Republicans — it’s not like either party has treated them well).

        Minnesota is unusual, however, in the large white rural DFL vote (presumably the legacy of the Farmer Party).

        Anyway, the national Republican Party has basically campaigned on an anti-urban platform for decades, not even *trying* to compete in cities.

        http://www.theamericanconservative.com/republicans-wont-compete-in-cities/

        It’s a fundamentally self-destructive thing for the Republican party leaders to do, honestly bordering on the bizarre, and I do hope it changes. Maybe it’ll change if younger people get into power in the Republican Party:

        http://usa.streetsblog.org/2014/06/16/will-young-republicans-change-the-narrative-about-conservatives-and-cities/

        But I’m not expecting that to happen, unfortunately, since the trend is for the Republican Party to skew older and older, and the old party bosses have actually been changing party rules to prevent the “young punks” from winning primaries. Sigh.

        Someday soon, there’s going to be a conservative party which supports cities, supports walking, supports public transportation… I’m just not sure the Republican Party leadership will *allow* the Republicans to be that party.

        We’ve had changes in the party system before. One such historical change in Minnesota involved the Farmer and Labor parties… which for quite a while existed because neither Democrats nor Republicans were addressing their issues. (The merger with the Democrats only happened after the Democrats changed.)

  4. Nick Magrino
    Nick Magrino November 18, 2014 at 5:16 pm #

    http://www.heart.org/idc/groups/heart-public/@wcm/@mwa/documents/downloadable/ucm_469947.pdf

    I’m not a poli sci major, but I would think that a page of questions about how fat kids are these days followed by a question about “safe pedestrian and bicycle” infrastructure isn’t particularly objective polling.

    Anyone trying to divine anything meaningful out of this survey is grasping at straws.

  5. Joe Loveland November 18, 2014 at 5:45 pm #

    I haven’t heard of Republican legislators championing investment in bike and pedestrian infrastructure improvements. If they are out there, they don’t need to heed my call to review and consider these findings in their political calculations.

    And for those Democrats who oppose such investments, I would also suggest, with equal vigor, that they become aware of these findings and consider them in their political calculations.

    My larger point is that a majority of Minnesotans from all regions and parties support such investments, and leaders from all regions and parties should take note of that in their political calculations.

    I’d like this issue to be bi-partisan too. These finding show that a majority of Minnesotans would like that as well.

  6. Monte Castleman
    Monte Castleman November 18, 2014 at 7:36 pm #

    It took me a while to figure out how to phrase my thoughts, but I’ll now go ahead. In politics there are big issues and there are small issues to people. Maybe the majority of people support trains and bicycle trails, but that’s not a big election issue like abortion, taxes, gun rights, foreign policy, gay rights, healthcare reform, even if the Republicans ran their mouths about it being. Maybe people here would vote bases on who supports more bicycle trails, but birds of a feather flock together, and I wouldn’t extrapolate rabid support here for the majority of others that answer a survey question about being in favor being similarly passionate about it. I’m a political nonparticipant, but most of my friends are Republicans, and saying we need more bicycle trails is not something they talk about compared to all the other hot button issues.

    • Eric November 19, 2014 at 11:50 am #

      Okay–but then why DO Republican leaders run their mouths about it?!

      • Monte Castleman
        Monte Castleman November 19, 2014 at 7:02 pm #

        I’m getting way into speculation, but suburban Republicans want more highway expansion, something that the party can’t deliver simultaneously with their platform of low taxes, so bicycle trials and trains make a convenient scapegoat while ignoring the overall funding picture.

  7. Nathanael November 23, 2014 at 5:19 am #

    There’s definitely a deliberate anti-pedestrian, anti-train, anti-bus, anti-streetcar wing of the Republican Party, and it has control of the national party at the moment. Gubernatorial examples include governors Walker (Wisconsin), Kasich (Ohio), and Scott (Florida). It’s even more common in legislative candidates.

    I don’t know who is pushing this “nothing but cars” agenda or making the Republican candidates “kiss their ring”; it might be the Koch Brothers. I wish grassroots Republicans luck at breaking this trend, but I don’t expect them to have much luck.

  8. Julie Kosbab November 25, 2014 at 9:52 am #

    I’ve had some pretty good discussion with a DFL member of the Transportation Finance Committee. Her big concern is that yes, many of the state’s roads have 40-year old surfaces and definitely need resurfacing — the MN65 stretch from I694 to Anoka County 10 that was done last summer is a good example. But she’d like to see the resurfacing plans include accommodation for modern transport infrastructure, not just the cars-cars-cars! approach of 1960.

    At this point, I’m mostly opposed to most “let’s build something new!” given that we are neither funding maintenance nor caring for what is in use adequately. Maybe it’s the parent of young children in me: If you can’t care for what you have, why should we be buying posh new stuff?

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