After a friend first told me about the Minneapolis Pedestrian Advisory Committee (PAC) a few years ago, it took another two or three gentle suggestions before I was willing to seriously consider applying. Despite being car-free by choice and a Minneapolitan for my entire adult life, I saw myself as neither a pedestrian nor someone that the city was interested in hearing from. But she was convinced that the city needed my voice and that eventually convinced me too. And after being rejected in my first application, the next year when I applied again, I was selected.
Briefly, the PAC has three meetings a month, one full committee meeting and two sub-committees. The full committee includes recaps of subcommittee meetings, presentations, passing resolutions, and broad discussion around walkability. In the Infrastructure and Engineering subcommittee, engineers and planners bring specific projects at various stages of design to be get feedback from walking experts (that’s us!) and we often provide them with resolutions that are attached to the project as it goes in front of City Council. The Planning and Policies subcommittee deals with broader conversations, like city policies that shape walkability, from winter snow clearance to walking’s place in the Comprehensive Plan, or opportunities to broad community engagement or encourage more diversity in who applies to be on the PAC (say, by writing this article) or volunteering with Open Streets.
I took to the PAC like a child to walking. Anyone who depends on walking in Minneapolis knows the city at a scale and texture that is invisible to those who drive or bike or even walk only for pleasure. The PAC was the first time I’d been around so many people who were familiar with experiencing the city at that pace and from that perspective. And I realized the measure of responsibility and power in my role; as I learned more about how the city functions, I started walking differently, and more. Where before I’d choose to bus across a particularly unpleasant mess of highway underpasses or ditch low-density side streets for the bustle of community corridors, I now sometimes choose to walk where I didn’t want to, when I didn’t want to.
The PAC gives me a chance to use, hone, and share the expertise I’ve accrued simply by walking for transportation. We have robust conversations about walkability and human scale cities. I’m learning vocabulary and frameworks that help me explain concepts that I’ve known for years, but didn’t have the means to talk about. And all of this happens in an environment of passionate people fully committed to making our city better: more equitable, more sustainable, more accessible.
The pace of change in any large and complex system can feel incredibly slow, particularly after another one of our community members is killed by a driver on streets that are designed for dangerous speeds. But by the same token, these meetings, week after week, month after month, are vital to shift the physical and and policy structures of our city to be more humane and more human.
We’ve programmed cars-over-people into our city in ten thousand different procedures and policies and regulations and it takes relentless persistence to shift that. Last year, with the work of many PAC members and others, the city passed an incredible Complete Streets policy that starts to rebalance streets in favor of the people and communities they connect.
One of the starkest changes that I’ve seen illustrating the difference the PAC can make was during an I&E meeting, as we all pored over a design print-out of a long stretch of street. Our Public Works department had conceptually embraced building bump-outs at all corners where feasible but this plan had none. One PAC member asked why they were missing. It wasn’t intentional, but an oversight, the kind of thing that happens when the jumble of state aid and county roads and city priorities and bike lanes and federal funding and decades of habits drowns out the little asterisk of “add in a new thing for walking!” The next time that street came in front of us, it was beautifully bumpy with bump-outs. And the street after that. And the one after that.
The PAC doesn’t just help shape individual streets or push for walkability in long-range planning, but we’re fundamental to these conversations, in sitting at the table, inviting others to join us (we have representatives from agencies across the region) and sharing our collective experiences.
None of us know the city in the same way–our race and gender and class and disability influence where we feel safe or at ease–when we move at 3MPH. Part of being on the PAC is making our own stories part of the context of the conversations and working to expand it. Part of it is bringing our reflections on walking in the city–whether we work in a related field or have never set foot in a classroom. And part of it is tapping into our shared experiences and history, our millennia of being bipedal.
Volunteer position for the City of Minneapolis Pedestrian Advisory Committee
You, as someone who lives in Minneapolis!
15 voting members appointed by City Council (no direct Ward representation)
1-2 city staff support from Public Works
Assorted non-voting representatives from agencies/departments including: CPED, City Council, Hennepin County, MPHA, MPS, etc.
Time commitment: 2-5 hours/month, weekday early evenings, plus additional volunteer opportunities. Two year appointment.
Deadline: May 12, 2017
Application: www.tiny.cc/iwalkmpls (due May 12, 2017)
Tips: The committee aims to represent the diversity and breadth of walking in Minneapolis, including the city’s geographic, racial, and age diversity! If you are a person of color and/or indigenous/Native, from North or Northeast Minneapolis, under 25 or over 50, or have other experiences to share, please highlight these in your application! The demographic information requested in the application is not shared with the staff who review application so it needs to be restated within the application.
City Hall, downtown Minneapolis.
If you have any additional questions, please feel free to reach out and ask! Please share widely!