As a co-founder and communication lead with Hennepin for People I’d like to invite you all to our Rally & Ride event on May 17th, 6 PM at the Uptown Transit Station. I’d also like to share some of what I’ve learned about local transportation politics through my involvement in this multi-year process.
Part of my motivation for creating Hennepin for People is I want to safely get around where I live. I’ve had close calls crossing Hennepin Avenue. I’ve been on a slow bus. I’ve had unsafe experiences biking other streets (I wouldn’t dare ride the current Hennepin). As a woman of color I know who gets harmed most with poor street design: people of color, working class families, and elders. I also know who gets a seat at the table when these decisions are made, who is catered to with our public engagement, who counts and who doesn’t.
We have designed a system of engagement that demands so much of everyone’s time and wonder why the majority of people who show up – on both sides of a given debate – are disproportionately white. They have the luxury of time to show up for these issues, and I’m glad for those who do – because someone has to.
We’ve been intentional in our outreach efforts with Hennepin for People. Our canvassing across the project area, on the street, has been energizing. The street level perspective is different from what you’ll get at a public meeting. We’ve spoken with pedestrians about their hopes for shorter, safer, and less chaotic crossings. We’ve talked to transit riders and learned they’re excited about full-time bus lanes. We’ve spoken with drivers (yes, even people who drive cars spend some of their time out walking the neighborhood) who appreciate the predictability of dedicated left turn lanes.
Along with our other volunteers, I’ve put in a shameful amount of unpaid labor to engage my neighbors over the last year, building the case that the city needs to follow the transportation, equity, and climate policies and plans they’ve already adopted. My message to the city council is: we’ve put in the work, we need you to act. These are common sense changes aimed at one result: Everyone gets space, everyone’s needs are considered, everyone gets where they’re going.
The problem with traditional public engagement has been exacerbated by a decision one year ago to delay action on approving the new layout for Hennepin Avenue. I went to the first open house back in 2018. If you had told me in 2022 we’d still be waiting for certainty about Hennepin, I’d think that was the wildest thing I ever heard. But here we are. I’ve been deeply frustrated by the amount of time my neighbors and I have had to dedicate to get the city to follow their own adopted policies.
The internal politics, driven by one city council member in particular, has dictated: if she can’t get her way, we get delay. Then in January of this year, a recommendation from the city’s professional public works staff included full-time bus lanes, a protected bikeway, pedestrian improvements, medians and left turn lanes. A street for people! We were told this was the “inform” stage of the process. The implication being that this recommendation was the finished product of the engagement process and the next step was to put it before the city council. Since that recommendation, the Mayor has appointed a new Public Works director, closely aligned with the council member who’d like to derail this layout. This has renewed my concern that the recommended layout for this street, driven by professional analysis and the city’s existing policies, will be modified at the last minute – days before a committee hearing – to serve the preferences of one council member.
We are concerned the bus lanes are at risk of not happening or being phased in. I wish I could be more specific. But a problem I’m noticing with this process is that it’s impossible for me to comment with any specificity regarding last-minute changes that won’t be revealed until days before a public hearing. So I will speculate. What guarantee is there that a bus lane phase-in will ever happen? The street is going to be closed for a major reconstruction project. Immediately upon reopening is the best time to adjust to a new layout.
This is where I live, there isn’t another part of the city like it. It is a transit rich area with access to so many destinations, amenities, and daily needs. It’s why I choose to live here. Transit riders need priority, reliable service and less delay. Their time has value too. More than just parking, we should be considering all of the below when factoring the costs and benefits of this new layout:
- We know that during peak times, bus riders are 49% of the people in vehicles on this stretch of Hennepin Avenue. This is a dense, vibrant corridor with a large population of transit users. Full-time bus lanes serve to reinforce the existing, unique strengths of this neighborhood.
- We know 51% of bus riders on local routes are people of color. We also know bus riders are more likely to be low income or working class.
- We know transit is a lifeline for disabled riders. According to a US DOT survey, the reason most often cited by disabled individuals who have difficulty getting the transportation they need: “no or limited public transportation.”
- We know the state of Minnesota is investing $60 million to upgrade this corridor to bus rapid transit. It would be a shame for that investment to fall short of the name “rapid” when it opens in 2025.
- We know the city’s climate goals are to significantly reduce car trips. The best way to do that is to give people a viable alternative.
- We know the city’s 2040 Plan has called for more housing to serve a growing population. We’re not adding more street miles to fit more cars within city limits. We want that growing population to choose transit as much as possible.
Show up for transit riders and a street for people. We get what we fight for! Join us!
Save Our Hennepin Bus Lanes — Rally and Bus Ride
Tuesday, May 17th at 6 PM
Uptown Transit Station (Facebook event link)