Voter Guide – Saint Paul Mayoral Candidate Dai Thao

We were pleased to receive responses to our Saint Paul mayoral questionnaire from Dai Thao on the eve of the city convention.

1. How do you get around in Saint Paul?

Driving, walking, light rail, and biking.

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 challenge is tied to its lack of living wage jobs. St. Paul export many of its workers outside of the metro because we don’t have the living wage jobs here. Because of this, many are forced to rely on cars to get to their jobs in the suburbs and west metro. Our current system isn’t user friendly to those who don’t work a traditional 9-5 job, those with children, those who work multiple jobs or alternate shifts have a hard time relying on public transportation.

We must engage all stakeholders to identify the solutions and as mayor, I’m committed to bringing together diverse stakeholders across the metro to address our transportation issues including increasing living wage jobs, creating better working environments for families, increasing transit connectivity.

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 find a way to shift the mindset from the idea that roads belongs to cars to the mentality that we all share the road and it needs to be a safe space for everyone. The road belongs to everyone, and we need to make it work for all of us. We need policies that will explore and promote multi-modal transit options for all developments as the city continues to undergo change.

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

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

I believe the City is trying, but I think it could do better. In addition to the current public hearing and survey process, I would like to see community members and organizations hired to engage residents and others who use our streets daily to gather input.

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?

Again, I think hiring people from underrepresented communities would go a long way in engaging those that don’t have a voice. Having meetings out in the community, at various times and locations convenient for people who work long or weekend hours is important as well.

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

Increase living wage jobs and access to jobs, create family-friendly policies, and support the implementation of the bike plan and pedestrian plan.

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?

I do support the City’s Bike plan. As shown on my recent vote for the traffic circles on Idaho, I listened to the biking community, and will continue to do so when making decisions about the Bike Plan. It is important we stick with the original vision of the plan, and not let costs deter us from improving both bike and pedestrian safety in the city.

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?

I think the City and County needs to do a better job of aligning their policies. It can best partner together by reviewing federal and local plans, develop policies, and coordinate efforts that would go a long way toward better serving St. Paul and all of Ramsey County. The cost of services and construction projects isn’t decreasing, so working well in conjunction with Ramsey County during early stages and on future planning is important.

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

The city can promote and support biking by prioritizing the implementation of the bike plan and by partnering with local organizations that reach out to the community about biking.

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

I think the City could look more at opportunities for “Daylighting”, which consists of removing the last parking space before an intersection, which allows for more visibility for pedestrians. Too often I see the most vulnerable, elderly and young children, having to leave the curb to look beyond the cars to see if it’s safe to cross. Creating bump outs in more locations, which reduces the amount of road pedestrians need to cross, has been done in places across the city, with success.

8. 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?

Local governments have a lot of control over the quantity and type of housing, through zoning. Higher housing costs have pushed low-income renters farther from work, but inclusionary zoning, in which the City requires a certain number of units a new development be made affordable to people with certain incomes. Another option may be that developers could choose between building affordable housing, or paying a fee, to help spur them to building affordable units.

9. 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?

The City needs to focus its TIF dollars in areas that are underserved. Generally, it should be used on public infrastructure to make our city more livable. When using TIF we need to be mindful to not use it in such a way that it causes lower income residents to be pushed out of an area. TIF can be used to benefit transit corridors, as the infrastructure is typically costly. We don’t want to miss an opportunity for long term investments in our transportation system due to lack of financing.

10. 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?

For many families without cars, our public transportation system is critical to employment opportunities, schooling and families. Affordable transportation is key to people having the ability to move out of poverty. As we are exploring TOD development throughout the city, we need to reconsider the parking requirements so that we can have more tools and leverage to shape and achieve economic access and equity for all.

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.