An Open Letter to Minneapolis 2040 Planners and Politicians:
Donald Trump crossed the ocean to London, England this past summer only to land in a sea of local outrage and demonstrations, including signs and a comically small Baby Trump protest blimp. I’m glad to see people exercising their free speech rights but Trump’s visit clouded the fact that something truly incredible was happening in London and getting no coverage.
Around that same time we had the deadline for comments on the Minneapolis 2040 comprehensive plan which had its own orange-haired feature attraction in the form of city-wide upzoning. Upzoning also drew most of the coverage, obscuring many interesting developments and one policy in particular that if done right would put us on par with London.
I’m talking about the 20 mile per hour speed limit.
London certainly has its own housing crisis but it took steps to downzone its speed limit in accord with Sweden’s internationally recognized Vision Zero street safety project. The new law is set to take effect in London in 2020. Many cities across Europe, including Paris, have adopted, or are on the verge of adopting, the same standard.
We too have a policy called Vision Zero in the most recent draft of our 2040 plan, but ours makes no mention of a 20 mph limit. While the 2040 plan’s Vision Zero policy does have a goal of zero traffic fatalities, unlike the upzoning portion of the 2040 plan it lacks teeth, specifics, and adherence to the one policy that undergirds the international standard of Vision Zero.
I don’t know why that specific enumerated speed is missing from our Vision Zero but I have an idea of who to blame: Baby Trump.
Some might look at Baby Trump as a metaphor for the rich single-family homeowners of SW Minneapolis and the dark forces behind Minneapolis for Everyone attempting to freeze those with less money out of their enclaves, while retaining the right to tear down a house of any size and build a McBarn to maximum zoning limits for their single families.
Some might see that gassy baby as white Uptown millennials with curated credit scores monitored in real time looking to become first time plexlords further down in SW Minneapolis, while being cheered on in this internecine SW turf war by the dark forces behind Neighbors for More Neighbors and upvoted online via the dark forces behind WedgeLive.
I see Baby Trump as representing upzoning itself and that annoying baby boy is distracting us from all the other peoples, problems, and areas of Minneapolis. Of course upzoning, rezoning, ending the apartment ban, ending exclusionary zoning, whatever you want to call it, is worth fulsome debate on its own merits but I think it’s served as a distraction nonetheless, moving the discussion away from many many other notable inclusions in the 2040 plan. Just one example is the policy advocating healthy pre-k development in underserved communities. Like that pre-k policy and others in 2040, our Vision Zero is short on specifics and long on laudable goals.
Now, even though neither our Vision Zero nor Sweden’s Vision Zero has a specific method for achieving its stated goal of zero fatalities, it does build the body of its vision on the frame of a 20 mile per hour speed limit. Why? Essentially, that is the fastest speed at which death or serious injury from a car hitting a pedestrian is much less probable than not. It’s that simple. And the empirical evidence shows that that speed limit works in practice and is already saving lives while not causing undue burden on drivers, cyclists or pedestrians. Quite the contrary, it’s saving their lives.
For Vision Zero, almost more than any other policy in 2040, it verges on political negligence not to include specific language mandating a 20 mph speed limit. While the city cannot arbitrarily change city speed limits without state approval, I suspect that the specter of two major fights, one on upzoning and one on downzoning, was too much for our planners and politicians to cope with.
But if it is to live up to its titular standard, our policy version of Vision Zero must state in writing the goal of a 20 mph speed limit across the city of Minneapolis to be implemented as soon as possible or the policy title should be changed. Frankly, Vision Zero should be wholly abandoned in the final version of Minneapolis 2040 in favor of the other varied policies already in the plan because without a full-throated Vision Zero it doesn’t mean anything more than a bogarted trade name for goals that our other transportation safety policies have already covered in past plans and rehash in 2040.
Finally, please remember that:
You, our Minneapolis politicians and long range planners, were detailed and broad of scope in your language when you upzoned every square foot of land in this city with a pen stroke. You can use that same authority and specificity to downzone every square foot of our city streets to 20 miles per hour!