A bike helmet, turned upside down with plants growing out of it.

Rethinking “Rethinking I-94”

This post was written by the streets.mn Climate Emergency Committee.

In 2016, MNDOT started a project it calls “Rethinking I-94.” (Previously discussed in this post by Climate Committee member Pat Thompson). This project is now in its second phase, which includes public engagement to conclude this year.

At the end of 2020, a coalition of community organizations sent a letter to Margaret Anderson Kelliher—Commissioner of MNDOT—and to the Federal Highway Administration, offering feedback and input. The letter highlighted the harm the construction of I-94 did to communities it passes through, and calls for a “greener, quieter, healthier corridor.” The groups offer proposals for moving the project towards that goal such as centering access for cleaner, more sustainable transportation modes and for prioritizing reducing vehicle miles traveled.

The Streets.mn Climate Emergency Committee considered signing on as a supporter to this letter. Had we done so, we would be in welcome company with groups like Fresh Energy, the Sierra Club, Our Streets Minneapolis, and the Midtown Greenway Coalition—groups we quite often agree with.

But the streets.mn Climate Committee ultimately declined to sign this letter because we felt it doesn’t go far enough.

Despite its name, MNDOT’s project does not allow for “rethinking I-94,” it can only recapitulate I-94. And the community organizations’ letter, while we agree with its goals, does not push for the magnitude of change necessary. The urgency of our climate crisis requires more ambitious plans, and even the proposals by the community organizations will not manifest an I-94 corridor that has been sufficiently reconsidered.

A google map overhead view of the  gorgon's nest of car lanes that are known as "the 35W-I94 interchange south of downtown in Minneapolis".

Rethink this. Challenge mode: the result DOESN’T look more or less indistinguishable from what you started with.

The creation of I-94 did radical harm to the communities it bulldozed and divided, and that harm continues today. The magnitude of change likely even if MNDOT adopts the community organizations’ proposals comes nowhere close to the magnitude of that harm. Addressing the climate impacts of I-94 cannot be successfully accomplished without accounting for the carbon externality costs of the corridor. Addressing the impacts of the corridor on the surrounding communities by merely “reconnecting” them is inadequate.

It is critical that we recognize the mismatch of the time horizons at play here. The consequences of the choices made now will last for decades beyond the short term mindset embedded in MNDOT’s concept of what it means to “rethink I-94.” Truly rethinking I-94 can’t be accomplished without a plan to sunset the I-94 we live with today.

So, while the Climate Committee supports the goals and motivation behind the letter from the community organizations, we felt it necessary to abstain from joining as a signatory. MNDOT’s project is channeling community participation toward something that is less “rethinking” than it is “rebranding” the same old ideas that created the harm that needs to be remedied. MNDOT’s process doesn’t provide a pathway to a responsible destination regarding land use and the climate effects of transportation policy.

A future-oriented transportation department would lead the community to imagine winding up somewhere other than where we are: wasteful and harmful car-centric land use. (Keep an eye out for an upcoming post from streets.mn Climate Committee member Fred Kreider about the massive amount of urban land consumed by the I-94 corridor. For now, here is a sneak preview.)

In light of streets.mn’s core values, MNDOT’s own components of livability, and applying the Climate Committee’s climate-crisis lens, we expect a plan for the future with a much clearer vision for and commitment to that future. Rethinking I-94 must account for climate science, must challenge the assumptions implicit in I-94’s existence, and must be no less radical than I-94’s original creation. Anything less is just a new façade on the status quo.

If you’re interested in the work of the Streets.mn Climate Committee, or want to get involved, let us know here.


This post was authored by the following Climate Emergency Committee members:

The logo for streets dot mn but it's a flower. Climate @ streets dot mn.

Pine Salica

About Pine Salica

Pine lives in Minneapolis and works in Saint Paul. Pine hasn't owned a car for over a dozen years, and can count on one hand the number of times they've operated one in the last 12 months. Housing is a human right, car storage is not. Member of the Climate Committee.

Christa M

About Christa M

Attorney. I do law stuff, ride bikes, and paint murals. Member of Hourcar & Nice Ride, and customer of Freewheel Bike and The Hub Bike Co-op.

Fred Kreider

About Fred Kreider

Fred is a car-free, smartphone-free Millennial who lives in a 120-year-old NOAH duplex in Downtown Longfellow. A connoisseur of the built environment, they find it unacceptable for transportation to be deadly and believe housing is a right, not an investment. A member of the Streets.MN Climate Committee.

About Fran Di Caprio

Fran Di Caprio is a St. Paul resident and architectural designer, working on his masters of architecture at the University of Minnesota. He enjoys catching up on his reading while riding on transit.

Jenny Werness

About Jenny Werness

Pronouns: she/her/hers

Jenny (she/her) is a carfree, bicycling, tree-loving St. Paul resident, with a Ph.D. in organic chemistry. She believes that our rapidly changing climate should be of utmost concern to all of us. Board of Directors of streets.mn, 2019-2024; Executive Committee - Content Manager.

About Kyle Constalie

Kyle Constalie lives in St. Paul, MN and tries to use his bare hands to calm the river surface.

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