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?
Yes, I do support creating additional test projects on 4 lane county roads as long as it ensures pedestrian, bike and vehicle safety and traffic reduction. I’d like to thank Commissioner Jim McDonough and decision makers who came up with the policy to analyze pedestrian safety in Ramsey County. It is a commendable method to build community engagement in policy making. From what I understand, the test project allowed for residents to try out the proposed methods for a specific timeframe and provide feedback on user experience and perception. Having a way in which folks have hands-on experience and understanding the policy change is key for gathering input. If this test project was done with rendering or conceptual explanation, it would be nearly impossible for residents to understand how the proposed improvement ideas would work. These methods that lack engagement typically generate unnecessary negative and uninformed biases. Furthermore, I fully support the community engagement method implemented to ensure residents can actively participate in the input process. This is how co-governance should work; where our experts are the service users and elected officials learn from our experts. We are experts from our lived experiences as Ramsey County residents; residents should have the ability to share our perspective and feedback. It’s imperative that these modes of transportation (bicyclists, pedestrians and motorists) coexist so that we can live as a healthy community, increase walkability, address climate change and have the ability to feel safe when getting to point A to point B.
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 and land use policy can address historical imbalances by creating and promoting equitable systems for renters and public transportation users. Rental properties tend to have environmental hazards such as led contamination, indoor smoking and not dealing with pests such as mice and cockroaches. Substandard conditions in rental housing can cause chronic illnesses such as stress, depression and asthma. As county commissioner, I will designate resources and efforts to enforcing environmental health policies to ensure renters have access to clean and quality housing. Everyone deserves access to safe and clean housing. There are other efforts that can thwart absent landlords, such as working with cities to pull their rental licenses and establishing and maintaining existing penalties.
The county’s top transportation priority should be to ensure all residents have access to reliable and efficient transportation. Many residents within the county cannot afford a vehicle and must utilize public transportation or a bicycle. Our constituents rely on public transportation (buses and light rail) to get them to their jobs, doctor’s appointments and schools. The infrastructure for public transportation is inaccessible and efficient for some constituents, especially for renters; Black, Indigenous, and People of color and for residents who live in poverty. To take the bus from Frogtown, North End of Payne Phalen to downtown Saint Paul, it may take up to 30 minutes on the bus as opposed to 10 minutes driving. I will prioritize funding Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and look at how we can increase bus stop frequency to improve efficiency. There are four key pieces that I would work to include in any future transportation plan:
- Maximized accessibility to riders with physical and mental disabilities.
- Ensure businesses are accessible to patrons (and advertise businesses are open) while major transportation construction occurs. The tenant who rents a building my family owns struggled to keep up with business during the green line light rail construction. Although the business was accessible to patrons, many customers refused to visit.
- Adequate bikeways and corridors to these bikeways are needed to ensure safety for people walking and biking.
- This transportation plan must include a health equity component. We should be asking this question when making policy: how is our policy encouraging healthy communities by reducing the exposure to poor air quality, reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and the ability to exercise?
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 believe that the current mechanisms for collecting feedback have resulted in quality improvements and brought greater attention to necessary changes, but with that being said, I believe a large portion of the population’s transit users are left out when collecting feedback. In order to increase participation to the feedback process, it’s important to make those forums readily and easily available, whether that’s in the form of online submission forms, paper forms, community dialogues, canvassing and interviewing community members, or translated and interpreted materials in braille and other languages. These public input initiatives need to be more widely advertised and brought to the attention of transit users, pedestrians, motorists and residents with disabilities.
Gathering feedback among young people, people of color, and people with low incomes is extremely necessary when designing transportation projects, as they make up a large percentage of transit riders. Historically, Black, Indigenous, People of Color, young constituents and people with low income have been left out of the conversation. As a young woman of color who has lived through severe poverty, I have been left out of the conversation. I am running to build this space for people who look like, is/was a Ramsey County recipient, was an avid transit rider and have lived through the same experiences as me. The people most impacted by county services should be the people who co-govern the county board. In order to involve more young people, people of color, and people with low incomes, I believe it’s important to go to those spaces and engage in meaningful conversation about their feedback and elect officials with these lived experiences.
For any policy development process, commissioners and other elected officials must think outside of their own perspectives so that the policy is inclusive and beneficial to everyone. Creating policy with the lens of “intersectionality” is vital as residents who are Black, Indigenous, People of color; residents with disabilities, bicyclists, motorists, pedestrians all have different perspectives. When individuals have multiple identities (i.e. a woman of color, someone who has lived in poverty and a public transit rider), these perspectives are unique and require our elected officials to glean from their knowledge as experts. As your commissioner, I will demonstrate and implement that philosophy to engage and gather public input from a diverse range of perspectives and lived experiences.
Housing costs are rapidly increasing in the metro area for both renters and home owners. What policies can Ramsey county implement to keep housing affordable for residents of all walks of life?
There are multiple layers why our residents cannot afford housing: increasing prices, housing shortages, poverty, chemical dependency, and stagnant wages contribute to the problem. As a way to break the cycle of poverty, we need to look at short-term and long-term solutions to address immediate needs and broader systemic issues. We should start by implementing $15/hour wages for all Ramsey County residents. Through a recent report from the Citizen’s League, we know that $15/hour is not enough break the cycle of poverty, it’s actually closer to $19/hour. This first step will create a pathway to residents receiving a livable wage and begin to help address homelessness and unstable housing. Other policies must include examining solutions with a lens of equitable development and acknowledging potential impacts of gentrification and finding ways to diversify our neighborhoods instead of concentrating wealth and poverty. As we consider investing in infrastructure, let’s work to ensure it honors our diversity and community members with roots in neighborhoods instead of displacement.
There are a number of important bicycle connections in Ramsey County that lack adequate infrastructure. Which of these will you commit to supporting as a commissioner: Will you commit to improving bicycle facilities on westbound Marshall Avenue between Cretin Avenue and the Lake Street Bridge? Will you commit to meet with Hennepin County officials including Peter McLaughlin to discuss extending the Midtown Greenway into Saint Paul? Will you commit to helping Saint Paul financially or in other ways to implement the “Capital City Bikeway (and spurs)” in downtown?
Yes, I will commit to build more corridors and access points to bike paths, trails and public transit stops. It would be amazing to have a “greenway” similar to the Minneapolis model and ideally connect to their existing trail, supporting the many Ramsey County residents (including myself) that work, play in Hennepin County and vice versa. Prioritizing infrastructure investment that ensure safer routes for bicyclists and pedestrians will help address my key platform piece of building healthy communities. These changes will ensure a reduction in our exposure to poor air quality, a reduction on our reliance on fossil fuels and increase our access to exercise as an integral part of our daily lives. These simple policy changes will help grow healthy communities, disrupt climate change, break the cycle of poverty and will ensure that our communities thrive rather than survive.
Will you commit to implementing the Saint Paul Bikeways Plan on all county roads/streets in Saint Paul where bike facilities are planned?
Similar to my answer in question 5, yes, I will commit to implementing the Saint Paul Bikeways Plan on all county roads and streets. Prior to this work will include a comprehensive community engagement and public input effort to ensure diverse perspectives are heard similar to the approaches I mentioned previously. I support the establishment and improvement of multi-modal options and safer streets for pedestrians, bicyclists, wheelchair users, strollers, etc.
The Rush Line running from downtown St Paul to White Bear Lake is slated to begin construction in the next 6 years. Given that Ramsey County is invested heavily in this project how do you envision the county balancing maintenance of the beloved Bruce Vento Trail and facilitating needed reliable public transportation for a corridor set to grow extensively in the next 20 years?
The County Board is responsible for distributing an over $700 million budget for various programs including bridges, roads, solid waste management, the county jail, and health and human services. There are competing interests and financial needs across all these valuable county services.
A deep dive into the budget and the past spending is needed to evaluate which programs and services have been neglected the last twenty years. I will be doing a comprehensive analysis to see what funds can be diverted to increase accessibility, create equitable systems and break the cycle of poverty. It will be a delicate balance to ensure the programs our constituents need the most will be prioritized. Collaboration with municipalities, state and federal resources can be employed to work towards prioritize funding for the Bruce Vento Trail and other public transportation projects that support accessibility. It’s imperative to work in partnership with these entities to prevent working in silos, avoid the need to reinvent the wheel and utilize taxpayer dollars responsibly. I will be working to building these relationships so that we all work to provide programs that support all constituents.
How do you see buses, LRT, and streetcars in our overall transportation system?
Access to buses, LRT, and streetcars are essential for Ramsey county. The county’s top transportation priority should be to ensure all residents have access to reliable and efficient transportation. Our constituents rely on public transportation (buses and light rail) to get them to their jobs, doctor’s appointment, schools. The infrastructure for public transportation is inaccessible and efficient for some constituents. I was dependent on transit from infancy until I got a car four years ago. As Ramsey County Commissioner, I’ll advocate for better transit service, including bus stop improvements and bus routes with higher frequency, and bus rapid transit that will better connect our neighborhoods to our employment centers and county service offices. I would prioritize cost and operationally efficient modes of transportation such as Bus Rapid Transit over Light Rail Transit and streetcars. Doing so will spread the funding to other avenues that will support building healthy communities, address disparities and break the cycle of poverty.