For years, Streets.MN has published questionnaires for candidates for local office in the Twin Cities so that our many interested readers can make better informed decisions when they participate in local political races. This year we are focusing on the Ramsey County Board’s District 3, representing Falcon Heights and Saint Paul neighborhoods of Payne/Phalen, North End/South Como, Como Park, Frogtown and Hamline-Midway.
These questions were compiled with support and input from Dana DeMaster, Eric Saathoff, Ethan Osten, Rebecca Reinke, Andy Singer, Tom Basgen, Bill Lindeke, Zachary Wefel, & Hunter Goetzman. They were sent to all three of the declared candidates for the office – Janice Rettman, Trista MatasCastillo, and Jennifer Nguyen Moore – and replies will be published when they are received.
Last year, Maryland Avenue between Payne Avenue and Johnson Parkway temporarily changed striping from 4 lanes into 3 lanes in order to test for improvements in safety. The project has been expanded to collect more robust data. Do you support making this conversion permanent? Do you support further test projects on other 4-lane county roads such as Lexington Parkway or Larpenteur Ave?
I am a strong supporter of Ramsey County’s recently passed All-Abilities Transportation Network policy, which reorients our transportation planning around access and safety for people of all ages and abilities. Although Maryland Avenue is mostly residential and runs through the heart of our neighborhoods, it has been treated for many years as a thoroughfare, which has created a problem in our neighborhoods for everyone. The narrow four-lane configuration was not comfortable for people on foot, on bikes, or in cars. The change has not only made crossing safer for pedestrians, but it has also moved cars further from one another and slowed the top speeds, reducing the number and severity of crashes. The trade off is that some trips may take longer during rush hour, but this is something we need to accept in a thriving city that respects the dignity and safety of people using different modes of transportation. I fully support being creative in finding ways to solve our street safety problems and look forward to working with our Public Works department to that end.
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?
County roads such as Dale Street, Rice Street, Como Avenue, and Maryland Avenue are some of the most prominent and important public spaces in our neighborhoods, but Ramsey County has historically failed to make the investments necessary to make these streets welcoming and successful for residents and businesses. These commercial streets were built around public transportation–streetcars first, later buses–but too often our decision-making processes have prioritized the speed and flow of commuter traffic over the health of these areas and their residents, even to the point of demolishing rows of businesses to accommodate wider roads. Public transportation is the only way some families are able to get to school or work, but our buses are slow, crowded, and far too often feel uncomfortable or unsafe. Recently, Ramsey County increased its sales tax to fund transit from a quarter-cent to a half-cent, and this was the right decision to make. The Gold Line, the Rush Line, and the Riverview Corridor projects all travel through poor neighborhoods that will benefit from more frequent and convenient service. But we need to do more to improve transit service throughout our neighborhoods and our County, including pursuing bus rapid transit (like the A Line) on corridors such as Rice Street and Dale Street. When public transit becomes more convenient than driving/parking cars we will know we are on the right track.
While collecting feedback on the Maryland Avenue test, Ramsey County tried out some different ways to gain feedback, including an online mapping tool for residents to use. One of the more innovative ideas, however, was using an orange truck with free popsicles. The truck stopped in places where people from the neighborhood actually went, gave an incentive for them to participate, and provided information in English, Hmong, and Spanish. Feedback was even collected from children at the library and at playgrounds. This provided the opportunity to hear from a much wider variety of people than would normally use an online mapping tool or attend a daytime public hearing or quiet open house. We need to have more mechanisms like this that go into the community, rather than waiting for those who have the time, ability, and intensity to come to us.
Our region has one of the lowest vacancy rates in the entire country. And while many critical pieces of the housing puzzle are controlled at the city level (zoning, permitting, etc), addressing our housing crisis will absolutely be one of my top priorities. First, I want to be a true partner with our state and local officials. As I mentioned above, there’s plenty of aspects housing that we don’t directly control. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have an impact. For too long our district has fallen behind because our leadership refused to build bridges with other officials. I will work tirelessly to ensure our local officials – at the county AND city level – are working toward the same goal: housing that is affordable and attainable for everyone. As commissioner, I will push for more housing along our major corridors like Rice, Dale, and Snelling. These main corridors are not only transit connected, they are increasingly home to a wide array of locally owned businesses that could use the support of more residents and foot traffic. As we add more housing and jobs, we need to ensure there are transportation options that connect them. Lower housing costs won’t have anywhere near the impact if that housing isn’t connected to the places people need to go.Additionally, we need to think about design when it comes to creating affordable housing and ensuring we have connected neighborhoods. Mixed use buildings which include housing, multi-generational housing which takes cultural communities into the design, and the energy efficiency of either net-zero or net-positive and low-maintenance are all essential in creating sustainable affordable housing.
As our region and our society shifts away from a model that assumes universal car ownership, it is important that we provide ways to get around that are safe, convenient, and attractive for everyone. Making sure that our neighborhoods are walkable and bikeable is key to fostering their economic vitality, especially since District 3 has some of the youngest neighborhoods in the state of Minnesota. Although none of the projects listed are in District 3, I will work with my colleagues to support these regionally-significant efforts. I will also continue efforts to improve connections in District 3, including completing the Trout Brook Regional Trail, the Gateway State Trail, and the Grand Round trail on County-owned portions of Como Avenue.
The Saint Paul Bike Plan was a major step forward in prioritizing safety for people using bikes in our city. I am committed to working with our Public Works department and the City of Saint Paul to find the best solution for each Ramsey County street indicated in the plan, and I am open to considering other streets that are not in the plan. Ramsey County should take the lead on creative solutions like we did with Maryland Avenue, and we need to be serious about the new All Abilities Transportation Network. We need to recognize that our neighborhoods cannot thrive unless we all thrive, including people on bikes.
I love riding on the Bruce Vento Trail, and it is a gem for the East Side of St. Paul. Rapid transit and bikeways are both important alternative ways for people to get around, especially for families who can’t afford one or more cars. What I expect to see is that the Bruce Vento Trail remains a safe and comfortable bikeway for families at or above the quality it is now. Although it will run alongside the Rush Line busway, I believe there will be enough room to accommodate everyone. This corridor can be a win-win for mobility in Ramsey County, but only if we develop it in a way that is sensitive to the needs of everyone who uses it.
Public Transportation needs to improve in Ramsey County, and I am committed to pursuing that. Today, our system includes regular buses, the Snelling Avenue bus rapid transit line, the Green Line LRT, and we will hopefully see our first streetcar return on West 7th St. I am not an expert on each vehicle type or all of their benefits and limitations, but I do know that we need to be judicious with our transportation dollars. Improving our bus system could be low hanging fruit, but we also need to consider the economic development and ridership potential of streetcars and LRT. I am open to seeing how each mode works for a given corridor.