Voter Guide – Saint Paul Mayoral Candidate Elizabeth Dickinson

The first Saint Paul mayoral candidate to submit a response to our questionnaire is Elizabeth Dickinson

1. How do you get around in Saint Paul?

I get around by walking, biking, driving a Prius, and by using light rail and bus.

2. In your opinion, what is Saint Paul’s greatest transportation challenge? How would you plan to address it while in office?

St. Paul’s greatest transportation challenges include extending transit (bus and rail) into under-served areas, continuing to work towards accomplishing the goals set by the City’s bike plan, and continuing to support ‘Safe Routes to School’.  Finally, since many busy, less safe roads are Ramsey County owned, the city needs to put more pressure on the County to create better, safer roads, including Randolph, Cleveland, Rice, Larpenteur and more.

3. Our city streets have limited space to accommodate competing users, including people walking, people biking, people riding transit, people driving, parked cars, and delivery trucks. How do you feel these competing needs should be balanced?

We need to respect and accommodate the people who use all modes of transportation, and extend transit.  I believe we are in transition times.  Over the next decades I believe the primacy of the single family vehicle will be undercut by the advance of driverless cars and better transit options, and by the interests of people who wish to live closer to their work and the city’s cultural and recreational amenities.  This means we need to be thinking decades ahead and incorporate forward thinking, not assuming the future will be like our past.  For instance, if we build parking ramps, we should integrate design elements that allow the lot to be redeveloped (eliminate slopes) so the shell of the building could be reused if the need for parking is reduced.

4. Do the current mechanisms for collecting feedback on transportation projects work?

Collecting feedback, particularly from underserved populations, including from low income people, the young, and people of color is important and we need to do a better job of reaching people so their voices are not drowned out.

           a. If yes, why? If not, how would you change the process?

We need to make in more inclusive, by reaching out directly to underserved populations.  (See next answer…)

           b.How would you involve more people who don’t normally participate in transportation conversations–such as  young people, people of color, and people with low incomes?

We need to go to the people, and schedule meetings at times friendly to working people.  We should provide daycare/babysitting and vary the community settings, so meetings rotate from libraries to community centers to coffee shops, etc.

5. What are your priorities for transit development in Saint Paul and the East Metro?

The city needs more Bus Rapid Transit (like the A Line). I’d like to see more service linking White Bear Ave. to the Maplewood Mall, where many people on the East Side have jobs.

The Riverview Corridor is important to W. 7th area. Ultimately we need to delay final decisions until the transportation study for the area is finished.  Initially I think LRT would be great where W. 7th opens up, but I understand the concerns of the neighborhood about the narrowness of parts of W. 7th   making it hard to start an LRT line immediately through the neighborhood, so I would consider a combination of street cars in the dense downtown and neighborhoods leading to LRT where it opens up.

However, I’m also personally happy to consider/compromise to get a good dedicated bus lane in lieu of street cars/LRT.  LRT agreements take a really long time and BRT offers flexibility and is sensitive to neighborhood concerns and addresses transit need now.

6. Do you support implementation of the city’s Bicycle Plan?

           a. If yes, what are the obstacles to realizing the Plan and how would you address them? If not, why not?

Yes, I support the bike plan.  I believe many of the objections to bike lanes occur in neighborhoods because it feels to some neighbors that the city doesn’t listen respectfully to resident and business concerns (you hear this often from residents who ‘tuned in late’ to the process).

There aren’t easy answers to this-while there are a few terminally grumpy people for whom no solution short of abandoning the bike plan for their street would suffice, there are others who want bike lanes but are challenged by the lack of parking.  Adopting more of a coaching attitude to the process could help.  Questions such as “What is the best way for everyone to get what they need?” are a starting point.

            b. Ramsey County is responsible for many major streets. How can the City best partner with the County regarding  safety and access for people bicycling?

The city needs to partner with Ramsey County on safety and access and pressure Ramsey County if goals aren’t met.  In worst-case scenarios, the city can withhold municipal consent if concerns aren’t addressed.  However delays come with a financial cost, and the risk of Ramsey County moving on to other county priorities.

c. What more, if anything, should the City do to improve conditions for bicycling?

The city can build out the bike plan, and incorporate aspects of a ‘road diet’ for added safety (see expanded answer below).

7. In 2016, drivers in Saint Paul struck 188 pedestrians. More than 50 have been hit so far in 2017. What, if anything, is needed to improve pedestrian safety in the city?

We need to emphasize the 3 E’s of safety: engineering, education, and enforcement.  We improve safety by engineering and designing better roads, educating drivers, and enforcing regulations against distracted drivers.

Specific ‘road diet’ techniques we could incorporate include: bump-outs, reducing lanes, expanding/widening boulevards, adding turn lanes in wider roads, etc.

7. Saint Paul’s population has increased to more than 300,000 for the first time since the 1970s. At the same time, rental vacancy rates are below 2 percent and both the rental and ownership market costs are growing at a faster pace than incomes, increasing the percentage of households who pay more than 40 percent of their income for housing. What city policies have the most impact on housing supply and cost? What can Saint Paul do to ensure safe housing at all income levels?

I support the $15 Now campaign’s efforts to raise the minimum wage over 4-6 years.  There is no single housing or transit program that would do more to address inequity than that and allow people more easily to afford housing (and I support most other attempts to increase affordable housing and transit…)

And while there are no single silver bullet to impact housing supply and cost, here are other strategies/policies I support:

Accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and inclusionary zoning:  Allowing what are sometimes known as ‘granny flats’, SFH renovations into duplexes, or garage-over units can provide affordable rental housing options for young or elderly singles.  We could provide design templates so ADUs are in line with neighborhood standards.  These can provide rental income to help pay down an owner’s mortgage while allowing future flexibility to use the space later as a home office, lodging for teenagers, or elderly family members.

Streamlined permitting.  Any housing development project meeting true “affordability” could be automatically entitled to expedited review by the city, even to the point of delaying decisions on other development proposals technically ahead in the queue.

Supplying smaller apartments and tiny houses suitable both for those starting out and older people wanting to downsize.  This increases density, cuts costs for buyers, and puts more affordable housing within reach.  If we eliminate minimum sizes for homes and rely on standard building codes to ensure safe housing, we can expand housing opportunities.

Reduce parking minimums to lower costs.

Enforce and expand the 20% requirement for affordable housing in all new development. Give density bonuses for added housing units.

Sell un-used city land to non-profit affordable housing developers at low (or no cost). The city owns land around the city (parking lots, abandoned properties, etc.). We could give the land away to people willing to build low-income housing.

Continue relationships and support through public housing grants with programs like ‘Pride in Living’.

Partner with unions (who use investment/pension funds to develop housing above Lunds) in a TIF-free relationship

Pursue relationships with large foundations to develop/attract additional funding sources for affordable housing.

Create a program matching willing seniors in single family homes with homeless youth to reduce the property tax burden on seniors so they can stay in their homes, and providing homeless youth with a safe, affordable play to stay, possibly reducing their rent in return for simple services. Both parties would need to be screened and no matches would occur without a contract, covering rent and possible services provided (shoveling, mowing, etc.)

8. Under what conditions or in what circumstances is use of Tax Increment Financing (TIF) appropriate? What tools or approaches would you use to attract development, particularly in transit corridors?

Tax increment financing should be subject to the rigorous but/for standard so more precious resources can be diverted for the common public good (like investing in expanded hours at rec centers and libraries in underserved communities) and not to boost the ROI of wealthy developers for luxury condos or stadiums, nor to burden the city with debt-servicing for TIF.  I don’t support giving out TIF like aspirin.  TIF should be reserved in a time-limited way for projects that demonstrate clear need, and social value/common good benefits, like green building practices, public parks and affordable housing.

9. How can transportation and/or land use policy address historic imbalances in investments and improve equity? What specific land use or transportation policies, if any, will you pursue to achieve this?

Transportation was used to destroy and divide communities in the past like the I-94 and Rondo neighborhood. Today, it should connect people and restore communities.  I support the Rondo land bridge or Freeway Cap (part of the Re-Thinking 94 Project), which is owed to the Rondo neighborhood for spiritual and practical reasons, including healing, reconciliation, and economic opportunity through highway spending.

This questionnaire was done in partnership with Transit for Livable Communities and the Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition

Dana DeMaster

About Dana DeMaster

Dana DeMaster, MPP, is a program evaluator and researcher for human services programs who lives and bikes in Saint Paul. When she’s not analyzing data, she can be found rabble-rousing for neighborhood bike improvements in Saint Paul, playing Legos with her two children, or sewing practical things. You can find some of her other writing on the Grease Rag and Wrench blog.