Vote Guide – Saint Paul Mayoral Candidate Melvin Carter

Melvin Carter is the latest of the Saint Paul mayoral candidates to return our joint questionnaire that was developed in partnership with the Saint Paul Bicycle Coalition and Transit for Livable Communities. We are still looking forward to responses from candidates Pat Harris, Tom Goldstein, and Tim Holden.

1. How do you get around in Saint Paul?

I live on the Green Line, just a few blocks away from the Western Station, making it easy and convenient to take the train when running errands. Most often, I use my bike for transportation to work and meetings. My kids have become really excited about biking, so we also take family bike rides and explore the paths and trails in the city.

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

I think our greatest challenge will be implementing the big changes that can make our streets safe for both cars and people. There is plenty of space in Saint Paul to create protected bike lanes so that bikes and cars can safely share roads. West 7th Street is a great example – there’s a lot of wasted space on the road that could be used to create a protected bike lane without taking space away from cars.

Although there can be hurdles to implementing these changes, we can test projects with pilot programs. If we’re not sure how a protected trail might work along Ayd Mill road, let’s do a temporary pilot and see the results. If we aren’t quite ready to complete the downtown loop in its full, integrated form, let’s put some bollards up and make our community more connected and safe. Instead of imagining what a 4 to 3 lane conversion looks like, we can receive concrete feedback from residents who have experienced the benefits of these projects.
These temporary test solutions give residents a chance to explore new options and provide feedback in a real-world setting.

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? 

If you go to a community meeting about a street project in any neighborhood across the city, you hear the same top priority: safety. That’s because everyone – no matter what mode of transportation you use – has to walk or use the sidewalk to get around. More than anything, people should be able to experience our city while feeling safe. That means having streets designed for cars, bikes, and pedestrians. These aren’t competing issues – there’s plenty of space in Saint Paul roads to create protected bike lanes while leaving room for cars.

Giving people multiple transportation options helps our streets flow more easily with fewer cars contributing to the city’s traffic. We need to be intentional about designing our streets so they’re safer and more accessible for both cars and bikers. As Mayor, street safety would be a top priority.

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

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

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?

I think the city does a great job of gathering information from the community about transportation projects. As Mayor, I would focus on pushing these conversations into action. We need to continue using thoughtful ways to get information from all channels, and work to improve putting this input into action.

The Ford Plant is a great example – we’ve been talking about the Ford Plant project for ten years but still haven’t made those ideas a reality. We need to expand the feedback loop further by making it more creative and accessible. Let’s partner with non-profits and community organizations with expertise and connections to people living in apartment buildings and multifamily housing. Let’s use public settings like bus stops as an opportunity to gather feedback from residents and people who regularly use public transportation and would benefit most from transportation projects. We shouldn’t be afraid to broaden our scope while at the same time acknowledging that not everything we try (and not everything we currently do) is perfect.

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

Transit development is one of the issues that propelled me to run for Mayor. Much like railroads did in the past, transit will shape where private investment goes in Saint Paul and the East Metro. It signals to private investors where they should be placing their resources. Because of this, it’s important to advocate for better transit service to lower income neighborhoods like the East Side. We need to finish Riverview Corridor and other lines in planning. We can transform Union Corridor into a hub for transportation – like Penn Station in New York.  As Mayor, I want to partner with the county, the Saint Paul Area Chamber of Commerce, East Metro Strong, and many others to create a robust coalition for transit in Ramsey County. At the same time, I’d partner with city and county officials in Washington and Dakota Counties to make sure our region fights at or above its weight. We need to create a long-term framework to best utilize transportation funds while making sure the projects we’ve already proposed are implemented successfully.

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?

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

I absolutely support the city’s Bicycle Plan. We need more safe routes that connect our neighborhoods together: plain and simple. We should use low cost improvements so that cost isn’t a barrier or prohibiting factor to realizing the implementation. We should rethink our strategy so it isn’t so capital intensive – paint lanes in, restripe streets, and other less expensive methods before building out bike lanes. The city needs some time to get used to bikes, by painting lanes first, this gives them time to adjust while saving on cost until we’re able to invest in physical bike lanes. As we establish and make progress on a bike plan with limited cost, many of our partners, including Ramsey county, will move with us.

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? 

This is a public safety issue. We need to improve pedestrian safety in the city by educating drivers, engineering safer streets, and enforcing the law that pedestrians have the right of way. The Stop for Me campaign has done a great job of showing the effectiveness of creating awareness around pedestrian safety.

Our new pedestrian advocate on staff has already begun the process of putting some of this work into motion. Partnering with Saint Paul Schools to create safe routes to schools throughout the community is a fantastic first step; empowering our staff to make design changes that truly improve safety is another. We cannot claim to be a livable city when simply walking down the street can be deadly.

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? 

Saint Paul needs more housing. When vacancy rates are this low, housing isn’t affordable for anyone regardless of your income level.

Simplifying and improving our zoning is one of the most important steps we can take to improve housing options throughout our community. We need to intentionally reshape our zoning codes to encourage safe housing options for current and future residents. As Mayor, I’d push to proactively create affordable housing options to accommodate the new families and residents that will contribute to our growing city.

We already have major thoroughfares throughout our neighborhoods built to accommodate new housing options. As this market rate housing is developed, we must integrate affordable housing options alongside it. Developers can be given credits for affordable units. We need to add both market rate and affordable units to show that new families and workers of all income levels are welcome in our community.

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 use of TIF is appropriate to: revitalize a blighted area or property, create and preserve affordable housing, and provide living wage construction and permanent jobs to Saint Paul residents. As Mayor, I’ll support using TIF only as a source of last resort for critical projects that serve these goals and cannot be completed without public involvement. I will make sure that accountability measures are written into our development contracts that tie awarded funds to a developer’s performance.

People want to invest in St. Paul because there’s opportunity, good schools, and a great community. We don’t have to break open the bank every time a developer considers investing in our city. Transit will be one of the primary tools to attract private investors to areas of St. Paul and the East Metro. One of my main motivators for running for office has been to increase the quality of transit service in lower income neighborhoods. We need to show developers that they should be investing in areas like the East Side.

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?

Through our city’s transit, infrastructure, and land use policy, we send important signals to the private sector about where to invest their money. When we fail to invest in low income communities, we are contributing to structural racism and exacerbating the problem. Transit and the following investment in the community brings jobs to the neighborhood while simultaneously connecting those residents to jobs all over the region without the added financial burden of a car and the accompanying expenses. When fighting for transportation, we need to focus on two key components: bringing jobs and economic opportunity to our neighborhood, and giving neighbors the means to reach that opportunity. Succeeding in this pursuit means greater access to opportunities; failing to do this means isolating low income communities without options for meaningful work.

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.