Voter Guide – Saint Paul Mayoral Candidate Pat Harris

Pat Harris 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 Tom Goldstein and Tim Holden.

1. How do you get around in Saint Paul?

With four children ranging in ages from 10 to 5, my wife Laura and I are a multi-modal family. Indeed, we travel in our automobile, but we also extensively utilize light rail, bus, and other ride-sharing options. Importantly, however, we are mostly pedestrians. One of the things we love about Saint Paul is its walkability to just about everything our family needs and enjoys – groceries, our library, youth athletics, restaurants and more.

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

Creating a transportation system that meets the needs of our future. Saint Paul is a core of our region and we need to work with our regional partners on top-quality transit and a transportation network that works for all. We need to focus on creating a city where we drive less, which is important for our aging population as well as attracting young workers. As Mayor, I would not only work with our regional partners on transit, but I would invest heavily in making our City the most walkable City in America – investing in pedestrian friendly public works projects, requiring pedestrian friendly development, and ensuring that ALL neighborhoods have walkable access to the necessities and enjoyments of our urban area.

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? 

Saint Paul needs to plan streets with our most vulnerable users foremost in the design. All too often road manuals were about moving cars efficiently, which has created neighborhoods with streets of fast moving vehicles that are not only dangerous for residents, but detrimental for business as well. As Mayor, I will focus on complete street models that are safe for citizens and that promote positive business development in our neighborhoods. I also believe that the pedestrian voice should be officially heard loud and clear in City Hall. As a Saint Paul City Council Member, I authored and passed what is believed to the nation’s only ordinance allowing the opportunity to appeal crosswalk times directly to the City Council.

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?

There is definitely room for improvement in our public input process. The traditional “open house” format does not allow for all voices to be heard. I have watched people eager to share their enthusiasm shy away from the microphone as the majority opinion in the room roils into an angry tone of “us against them.” We need to be more open at the front end of the process to set direction rather than simply asking for approval at the end of a process.

In addition, we need to use technology, specifically platforms that work with cell phones and tablets in order to reach more diverse and younger communities.

Finally, we need to ensure that we are reaching out to all of our communities – specifically engaging youth, seniors, individuals from communities of color, and those with low incomes – through direct and trackable engagement. We cannot simply indicate that we have reached out, we need to make direct connections, even if that requires door-to-door canvassing.

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

It is imperative for our community to be equitable. We need to complete the triangle to connect the East Metro to MSP International Airport. The connection needs to be in the context of West 7th Street and should have access to the Ford site development. While the neighborhood is right to be skeptical of a green line-sized transit corridor on the street, there are solutions where we can find agreement and implement this extremely important connection. The Gold Line and Rush Line are outgrowths of that system that can also connect the East Side to the rest of the system as well as to job centers across the metro. It will be a priority of my administration to see that this line is completed.

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?

Yes. There needs to be a reset on our discussions of the future of our transportation network in Saint Paul. We are all in this together and we all want a successful City and a transportation system that supports that. Right of way is a valuable resource in a developed city and it should be treated as such. Bicyclists are important and necessary elements of any transportation and we should work diligently to enhance their access. Regarding the County, as a former Aide to two Ramsey County Commissioners, I have deep knowledge of the County’s transportation process and infrastructure and I am uniquely positioned to be an effective voice with Ramsey County.

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? 

As indicated above, I strongly believe that our most vulnerable users need to be considered first in traffic engineering decisions. For many years, the only thing that was measured by public works was how cars move through our City. This is changing as we move to make more complete streets in Saint Paul. Transportation decisions cannot be an “us versus them.” They need to build a consensus that values safety for all users of our system. We need to measure how our streets contribute to our vitality as a city, not solely how many cars we move through at high speed.

As a City Council Member, I was leader in pedestrian safety in Saint Paul and I am committed to street design, amenities, and outreach to ensure that pedestrians are the #1 priority in how we manage our transportation system in Saint Paul.

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? 

In my career as a City Council Member, as a private sector finance professional, and as a nonprofit Board leader, I have successfully championed affordable housing projects across Saint Paul and the metro area. I have not only voted for them, I have been a leader in identifying needs and bringing key partners to the table to make projects happen. Many of these efforts were accomplished in difficult economic times.

I have also served on the Boards of the Family Housing Fund, Catholic Charities, and many others that work to move projects forward in the area of affordable housing.

In addition, I have successfully advocated for policies that subject City projects to a percentage of units at rent levels affordable to families and individual below median income levels. I also plan to work closely with the nonprofit community to promote enhanced opportunities for affordable homeownership.

The City has multiple tools to attract and support affordable housing. I will protect and enhance these funding sources and continue to provide leadership on new projects.

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? 

TIF is an essential tool for the City in order to realize the maximum public good within certain developments. The legal tests must be applied on a stringent basis and the City needs to be diligent to ensure that TIF is not being used as a factor solely for the private ROI. Affordable housing, pollution remediation, and innovative bike/walk opportunities are just a handful of examples where TIF can be used to maximize the public good of projects within our communities.

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?

Transportation has an integral role in improving equity in our community. Access to jobs, education, health care, and so much more is imperative if our community is truly to provide opportunity for all. A full, truly multi-modal transportation network and land use policies that require access to transit and bike/walk are tantamount if our changing community is to move forward. Saint Paul and the entire State of Minnesota needs to be bold and immediate in making this happen. The Ford site is one example of where we can make an immediate difference with land use policies. New transit opportunities, pedestrian safety measures, bike/walk street design, and development policies that requite accessibility must be advocated for, funded, and implemented.

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.