The Privilege of the Minneapolis Comprehensive Plan

The image from the “Complete Neighborhoods” (Goal #9) chapter of the 2040 Draft Plan.

My name is Carol Becker and I drive an automobile.  I feel like I am coming out of the closet by saying this. I don’t drive a car because I especially like driving.  I drive because I don’t have a choice.

The proposed Comprehensive Plan does not support a balanced transportation system where the needs of all travelers are considered. It doesn’t talk about the need to help people move quickly and easily around the City. It doesn’t talk about helping people get to jobs or parents getting their kids to school.  Instead, it diminishes the ability of many people to live in the City. It supports narrowing streets, reducing lanes and slowing traffic. It reduces parking lots. It allows buildings to be built without parking.  It proposes jacking up parking meter rates to discourage people from driving.  It proposes replacing single family homes with fourplexes, substantially increasing street parking.  It makes it less likely you can park next to your house or park at your destination. It literally says the needs of drivers come last.

Who is harmed by this? Me. And people like me.

I don’t have the privilege of taking a lesser paying job I can bike or walk to it.  I have known what it is to be hungry and not know where you will sleep.  My dad entered retirement with no savings and my mom works at Kmart at age 78.  I have a child. I have a partner whose company has been on shaky ground.  Finding the best paying job that I can means being able to drive.  I often work 12-hour days, 8 hours at one job and 4 hours at another.  Two-thirds of Minneapolis residents are like me, having to rely on a car to get to work.

I have an eleven-year-old daughter. 20% of Minneapolis residents are children under the age of 18.  Another 10%-15% of residents are parents.  It is almost impossible to survive as a parent without a car. Not only do you have to get a cranky six-year-old to school in the middle of winter, you have to get them to their grandparents, to soccer, to camps, to their friends, to the doctor.  And being a parent, I don’t have the luxury of extra time to walk or bike.  This plan makes it harder to be a parent and harder to be a child in our city.

I am 54 years old.  I have arthritis and will probably have to have my left knee replaced.  Depending on whether I have a flare-up, I often limp. I have other medical issues. About 10% of the folks under age 65 have disabilities that affect their mobility.  And about a third of the City is over the age of 45, that point when waking up in the morning starts to hurt. Most of these people need a car to live.

I have three sets of grandparents to take care of, two in the suburbs.  One moved out to Richfield after a giant tower was built in her neighborhood with no parking. My mother-in-law died in January and before that, my partner was visiting her almost every day. She could only do that with a car. About 10% of population in Minneapolis is over the age of 65 and most need a car to live independently.

I am also female.  I am judged by my clothes, how my hair looks, how clean I am and what my shoes look like.  I don’t have the privilege of many young men who can walk in to work wet, dirty, smelly and with bad hair.  About half of the City is women.  And about a third of the City is persons of color, who are also judged by their appearance.  Most of these people need cars.

Minneapolis was built primarily in three eras. First, roughly from 1895 to 1905.  These parts of town, primarily clustered around downtown, have large Victorians on larger lots.  They were designed to be walkable because at the time, there wasn’t mechanized transportation available to them.  The second era, in the 1920’s, was the era of bungalows on smaller lots with Model T garages in the back.  These neighborhoods were not built to be particularly walkable and have few walkable jobs or businesses.  The third era was the 1950’s and after.  Like the 1920’s bungalow housing, it also has little in the way of walkable jobs or businesses.  I, like the majority of Minneapolis residents, have little in the way of jobs or businesses within a walkable or even winter bikable distance.

Don’t we need to do something about climate change?  Ford and GM announced in October that they will be converting most of their fleet over to electric cars in the next five years.  Car emissions are going to drop, not because we declare war on driving in Minneapolis, but because the marketplace is changing.

We need to stop pretending that everyone is young, childless, physically able, male, white and privileged enough to give up job opportunities. We need to work to reduce travel time so people can be with their families. We need to ensure that people can park near their homes and at the end of their trips.  We need policies that make people’s lives easier, not harder.  We need a balanced transportation system that works for everyone.

About Carol Becker

Carol Becker is a professor at Hamline University. She is a member of the Board of Estimate and Taxation for the City of Minneapolis.