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The 2024 Urbanist Legislative Agenda

Building on the momentum from last year’s historic Minnesota State legislative session, several organizations are bringing ambitious transportation and land use proposals to the table this year.

Links

Attributions

Our theme song is Tanz den Dobberstein, and our interstitial song is Puck’s Blues. Both tracks used by permission of their creator, Erik Brandt. Find out more about his band The Urban Hillbilly Quartet on their website.

This episode was hosted, edited, and transcribed by Ian R Buck. We’re always looking to feature new voices on the show, so if you have ideas for future episodes, drop us a line at podcast@streets.mn.

Transcript

Ian: [00:00:02] Welcome to the Streets.mn Podcast, the show where we highlight how transportation and land use can make our communities better places. Coming to you from beautiful Seward, Minneapolis, Minnesota. I am your host, Ian R Buck. The Minnesota State legislative session is upon us and exciting things are afoot. Building on the momentum from last year’s historic session, many urbanist organizations are working on legislation to push forward for this year. In this episode, we’ll hear about housing and land use in the first half and then jump into transportation in the second half. Let’s dive right in.

Ian: [00:00:43] So here we are going to chat with a couple of volunteers with Neighbors for More Neighbors. Katie Jones and Evan Roberts. Neighbors for More Neighbors is an organization that traditionally has been doing a lot of advocacy work around abundant housing in Minneapolis and has been targeting, you know, city level policy stuff. And this year, actually, well, last summer, neighbors for more neighbors started hosting these summer camps to get the group of volunteers who’s used to working with Neighbors for More Neighbors thinking about state level policy. And that got me really excited. So I’m curious to hear what what Neighbors for More Neighbors is up to, what the priorities are going to be. And I hear that there’s a broader coalition that we’re working with as well. So Katie and Evan. Take it away. Tell us about what you got.

Katie: [00:01:43] I’ll let Evan say more about the summer camp programming. But I recently joined more in October and been really involved in the coalition building piece. And just knowing that neighbors, former neighbors, we’ve just been pushing for more housing. And with the, um, the 2040 issue happening in Minneapolis, you know, I was really motivated to want to also work at the state level. And, um, having gone through one legislative session, I felt like that was some experience that I could help bring to this to the coalition, or to Neighbors for More Neighbors, and help to build a coalition around this.

Evan: [00:02:21] Yeah. So just to build on what Katie said, I mean, as you noted in our in the introduction, um, Neighbors for More Neighbors has been was founded and has sort of been working in Minneapolis to support, uh, the 2040 reforms and to, um, sort of push the city to do a good job, uh, of those. And so there was a lot of energy and action and good work happening at the city level. And so that was an appropriate place, uh, to focus, um, the move into sort of state work came about for a sort of several, um, several reasons. Um, one was sort of a specific frustration that we, we found when we were, uh, engaged with the city, uh, in early 2023, um, on, uh, the sort of their built form standards, uh, in, uh, mixed use areas. And it was specifically around, like, how much of a setback, how far from the adjacent properties from the street did, um, you know, 4 to 6 story buildings have to be, uh, and if you dig into into that, uh, it turns out that the reason that they have to be a long way from their neighbors and a long way from the street, in a lot of cases, uh, is the sort of concern with, um, with shadows and sort of visual, uh, visual impact.

Evan: [00:03:42] Um, why is that? Well, it’s because in America, we, um, anything that’s four stories or bigger, you have to have, um, two sets of staircases that are accessible. Long and the short of it is that this leads to the kinds of buildings we’re familiar with, which is like anything that’s four stories or over is a pretty bulky building. And I think a lot of people have seen these around town, these sort of six stories, um, seven stories, but also anything that’s sort of four, four stories. Um, and so it’s pretty, pretty bulky. Uh, and the city rules are really responding to that. Now, why do we have this, uh, why do we have this rule, uh, about, um, uh, double staircase? Uh, it turns out that it’s a building code requirement. It’s only in the United States and Canada. Uh, and so if you want to do something about this, this local issue, like how far back does a building have to be from its neighbors? Uh, you have to deal with something at the state level. So we were sort of motivated from that to sort of address address that issue. Uh, the other sort of piece of, uh, moving into, into state work, uh, is a lot of the people who are involved in neighbors for more neighbors, uh, we care about, uh, homes for everybody, and not just in Minneapolis.

Evan: [00:04:51] And it’s become, uh, pretty clear over the last few years. Uh, Minneapolis 2040 was a really sort of pioneering, uh, change in zoning policy, uh, within the United States with the, uh, allowing triplexes around the, around the city. But over the last few years, there’s a lot of ways in which it’s been eclipsed by work in other states. Um, and so increasingly that has been done at the state level. Uh, just sort of the dynamic of how the sort of the politics works might be a little better, uh, to, to deal with, uh, where you can think of, like, everyone in the state deserves, deserves a good home. Uh, and you’re not dealing with these sort of picayune issues of of particular neighborhoods. Uh, and, you know, my neighborhood, you can talk about it as a housing issue, as an issue related to climate. Sayings about sort of giving options to families for building different types of housing. And so for, just for, for the sort of very specific reason there’s building code issue. Uh, but also sort of broader strategic political reasons. Um, sort of pushed us to learn more about how to work at the state level. Um, and then to sort of now to start to start doing it with other organizations.

Ian: [00:06:06] Nice. Okay. So so what I’m hearing so far is, uh, um, single single access staircases. Uh, for the building code up, zoning, like, statewide as a kind of a general goal. Is there are there specific, like, benchmarks that we’re going for in there?

Katie: [00:06:24] Yeah, we’ve got, um, what we’re calling missing middle is kind of our bill package. Um, and you know, we have like the the specifics are, are being worked out even though we’re not even in legislative session right now. Um, you know, we’d like for it to, to go up to, you know, as many units as possible. Um, and I think we’re learning along the way, um, which legislators are comfortable with certain numbers? Um, but yeah, generally the goal would be up zoning statewide for a missing middle bill.

Ian: [00:06:57] Right, right. And I guess when we say statewide, it is worth noting, I think that we’re just talking about within municipalities, like in, in unincorporated land that’s just like under the jurisdiction of a county. Uh, we wouldn’t be targeting that, right?

Evan: [00:07:14] Yeah. And I mean, most of the I mean, the sort of the housing crunch is mostly in the metro area. That’s where most of the state’s population lives. And then it’s in cities. Um, uh, you know, the sort of greater Minnesota cities. Rochester has a particular housing issue related to, uh, migration and work around Mayo. Uh, the sort of seasonal housing pressures, uh, up in the sort of Northern Lakes District. Duluth has its own particular issues, but, uh, you know, it’s sort of dealing with things which are in, in townships and cities, municipalities, uh, gets you a lot of the way to, to dealing with a lot of the housing issues around the state. Yeah. Yeah.

Ian: [00:07:54] So we brought up like 2040, uh, a couple of times, mostly, mostly like historically that this is where Neighbors for More Neighbors, like, came from. But 2040 is in a weird place right now. Uh, you know, with the lawsuits going on around that, uh, environmental reviews, etc., do we have any goals about, like, establishing, you know, precedence at the state level that that, like, comprehensive plans do not have to go through environmental reviews?

Evan: [00:08:27] Uh, that is in some ways a we’re treating that as a separate issue. Um, the, uh, environmental groups have sort of different perspectives, uh, on, on this. And so one of the, the sort of the key things is that this the lawsuit came about under the state of Minnesota Environmental Rights Act. I think I’ve got the terminology there. Right. Uh, and so that gives every Minnesotan a right to sort of a sue about environmental issues. Um, you know, is comprehensive planning like something that is eligible under under that that’s the sort of the key key question. Is it like, you know, building a specific project or is it a distinct piece of policy, uh, policy making? Uh, and so the environmental groups have, uh, you know, used those tools of litigating under under that legislation for a long time to stop, you know, genuinely bad, uh, genuinely bad things. And so, yeah, there’s a, you know, genuine and real degree of attachment to that as a, as a tool. I think we’re seeing sort of the dangers of seeing policy making as something that you can litigate. Uh, and so trying to set that, uh, that aside, uh, you know, Minneapolis 2040 wasn’t perfect, but it was developed in a sort of a very democratic, inclusive way with a significant amount of public engagement. Staff, elected officials, etc. weighed up a lot of different competing things. Or you could have a single judge respond to a lawsuit. Uh, it seems that policy is best done, in these sort of messy democratic way of having a lot of different people weigh in, rather than giving people who didn’t win that, uh, the opportunity to deal with a single judge and their predilections, uh, and sort of particular viewpoints.

Ian: [00:10:15] Yeah.

Evan: [00:10:16] Yeah. So there is, uh, that that legislation is being, being, uh, being developed, um, sort of by those, by, by and the environmental groups are weighing in on that.

Ian: [00:10:25] Okay. But that’s not something that Neighbors for More Neighbors is directly pursuing.

Katie: [00:10:30] It is one of our legislative priorities, but we’re working in coalition.

Ian: [00:10:35] Gotcha. Nice. So yeah, let’s talk about those coalitions. It sounds like we’ve got a couple of different groups that are working at different angles. Tell me about some of the other orgs that we’re working with.

Katie: [00:10:46] Yeah. So we initially were talking with groups like Sierra Club and Move Minnesota. And since have also included ISAIAH, Minnesota Housing Partnership, SEIU, Sustain Saint Paul. I think I’ve gotten everyone there. So yeah, we’ve got a pretty big coalition and honestly a pretty diverse coalition in terms of like what the foci are. You know, some more transportation focused organizations, environmental organizations, union, you know, more housing focused. And I think what’s been really clear when, you know, we’ve, you know, had some values discussions is really just like the focus needing to be, um, that there is insufficient housing. And that’s a problem when it comes to just human dignity, equity. You know, having people living in dignified housing is better for the environment than, than, than not. And so, um, and in living closer together, um, and in, in more urban areas is also a good thing for preserving our farmland, preserving our conserving, um, our natural lands. So all of those things have been kind of coalescing.. I’ll also mention just, homes for workers is also a really important thing. And making sure that homes are affordable, all of these things, it’s been very clear that, you know, our groups are very aligned on those.

Katie: [00:12:06] And so, um, really wanting to work together on, on a number of pieces of legislation, um, that you’ve brought up so far, you know, point access blocks, missing middle, but also a few things around parking reform, allowing multifamily housing and commercial zones, uh, transit oriented development. So we’ve got a handful of ideas that I think have traction. One, because, you know, the legislature got a lot done last year. Yeah. And they kind of ticked all the boxes. And so now they have room and appetite for this issue that like has kind of been bubbling up. And I think partially 2040 has been adding to that discussion. But also just housing affordability has been a major thing. But the other interesting piece is that, you know, this isn’t a budget year at the legislature, it’s not a year to go get go get a bunch of funding. It’s a year more for policy. And so I think this is another good reason why talking about land use reform, um, is, is really pertinent. Um, in 2024.

Ian: [00:13:10] Is anybody is anybody pursuing land value taxes?

Evan: [00:13:14] Common Grounds is uh, is pursuing that, um, the Neighbors for More Neighbors, members were sort of interested in supporting that. It is a, you know, somewhat, um, specialist area. You could pass a lot of really useful land use reform, uh, statewide, you know, plexus, uh, heavy, uh, you know, greater density around light rail and bus rapid transit. Uh, and the land value tax could be, you know, totally, totally you could totally separate from that. But I but I do think that it’s important to understand, you know, why Neighbors for More Neighbors members were really enthusiastic about it. Um, is that if you’re going to sort of do this, general upzoning; You know, the increasing the amount of what you can do on a piece of land, it raises the economic effect is it raises the value of, of land. Uh, and so, um, uh, you can allow the public to sort of capture some of that back, uh, by having a land value tax. Um, you know, this is, um, it sort of ties, ties things together in a, in a really nice way by giving some public benefit to these policies.

Evan: [00:14:25] But, you know, you don’t have to do it. I think that, um, you know, I see this sort of the theoretical arguments for it, but I it’s not going to sort of say save the world. Uh, but it’s another useful tool for, for cities, cities to have. And so, yeah, they’re pursuing that. I think the, um, the notion is that maybe, the bill that their Common Grounds is proposing is that Minneapolis and Saint Paul would be able to do a pilot typically, I think in other jurisdictions, what has happened is you don’t move from, uh, your sort of your current system to a full on land value tax. You introduce a sort of a split rate, where initially some of the levy is based on the land value. And maybe over time, you sort of gradually, uh, move towards a full land value rating. But you know that those are all sort of details to, to be, to be worked out. And I think that’s probably what they mean by, by a pilot.

Ian: [00:15:28] Gotcha. Nice. The summer camps that Neighbors for More Neighbors hosted last summer, there were two goals to them. Right there was the developing what our what our legislative agenda was going to be. And that was a conversation that carried forward. Um, but then there was also like developing the skills that the team was going to need in order to interface with the statewide legislative system, because that was, you know, not not everybody, not all of the volunteers have experience with talking with our legislators and, you know, building that kind of coalition. So how how can people like, plug into the efforts that Neighbors for More Neighbors in the broader coalition is is doing? Like what what are what are the asks that you guys have for listeners?

Evan: [00:16:16] So we’ve got a very active task force. We’re looking for volunteers. Uh, any, you know, any amount of time that people would want to contribute and do a little volunteering to help out is, is really, really welcome. You know, no matter how small or large the amount of time people have, there’s a group of about a dozen or more, uh, we meet regularly to coordinate other people who can’t make that meeting. And then, of course, we’ve got this wider, wider coalition. As the legislative session ramps up, there’s going to be a sort of a, you know, greater call on everyone’s time in a lot, of lot of different areas to do, you know, to do research, to answer legislators questions, to attend committee hearings, um, and interface with other, other groups in outside of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, uh, as well. That’s one of the things which is going to be particularly important, uh, is sort of activating the networks that people have across Minnesota so that legislators in suburban districts and greater Minnesota as well know that this is a really important issue and can call their, you know, call their legislator and tell them to support the support the good bills that are in development.

Ian: [00:17:28] Anything else that people need to know about before we sign off?

Evan: [00:17:34] Yeah, We haven’t even touched on the fact that, uh, Minnesota will lose a congressional seat if we don’t keep our population growth up. And so allowing people to move here and actually have a home, uh, is, is good. And I think, you know, that’s something we could, uh, pay, pay more attention to.

Katie: [00:17:52] I like how you’re already looking towards like, 2031, when it would be the case. Um, but I think that’s a really important, important point. I’ll also just say, like, for anyone who’s just, like, interested in this topic, you know, we’re we’re a volunteer group. Um, some folks are kind of just new to the space, and they just sit in on the call and, you know, after attending for a couple of months, then they’ll raise their hand to sign up for a task. But I think it’s also just a really important session for us to build capacity as people who care about all the values that I mentioned before, to learn how to engage and how the sausage gets made so that, you know, this is just step one of our land use reform. You know, we can hope that we’ll get everything passed, but we also know that there, um, anything that gets passed will probably not be perfect. And there will be things still left on the table. And so making sure that we’re continuing to build that capacity is going to be really important. So yeah, really welcome anyone who’s interested to come join us.

Ian: [00:18:52] And also we like we want to make sure that we’re not that we’re not leaving more on the table this year than we have to, because who knows what the next election cycle is going to bring. You know, these these are the two like last year and this year are the two years where we’re guaranteed we know that we have a DFL trifecta and we can, you know, really get get a lot of stuff going through. Who knows how how long it’ll be before the next one comes around?

Katie: [00:19:21] And that’s another reason to make sure you go door knock on this fall. So we keep the DFL trifecta out to suburbs to door knock and it matters.

Ian: [00:19:31] Yep, yep. All right. Katie, Evan, thanks for coming on.

Evan: [00:19:37] Yeah. Thank you.

Katie: [00:19:38] Thanks for having us.

Ian: [00:19:46] Before we hear about transportation, let’s take a little break in the Parklet. Listener Meredith recently emailed us with a recommendation for another podcast episode that the Streets.mn community might be interested in. It’s from a show out of Vermont called Rumble Strip. They don’t always cover transportation topics, but this particular episode is about the approach to road maintenance in Vermont. Two things that struck me when I was listening to the episode. One, Vermonters spend a lot of time thinking and worrying about “the mud season,” and two, I am completely obsessed with the Vermont accent now. If you enjoyed our episode about pothole maintenance, I think you’ll enjoy this one a lot as well. If you have recommendations for the rest of the Streets.mn audience, write in to [podcast@streets.mn]. Streets.mn is a community blog and podcast and relies on contributions from audience members like you. If you can make a one time or recurring donation, you can find more information about doing so at [https://streets.mn/donate]. And with that, let’s get back to the 2024 legislative agenda.

Ian: [00:21:03] To talk about some more transportation focused stuff now, we are going to chat with Cindy Winters, who is chair of the advocacy committee at the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota. She prefers to call herself the Boat Rocker, which is hardcore. I love it. Very metal.

Katie: [00:21:24] It’s the fun part.

Ian: [00:21:25] Yeah, well, you have to have fun, you know, in, in, uh, in this realm. Otherwise you’re going to go a little bit [inhales through teeth to indicate he is grimacing]. So Cindy, let’s, uh, let’s chat about so. So BikeMN, we had a lot of wins just last year. And if listeners want to go and, uh, learn more about those, they can, uh, listen to our 2023 legislative wrap up episode from last summer. So what have we got coming up here this year? Why don’t you give us, like, a quick list and then we’ll, like, dive deeper into each one of those items.

Cindy: [00:22:02] Okay, so this is all still very fluid. We’re still working on this, but these are the topics that we want to introduce at the legislature. So we’re looking at decriminalizing jaywalking. We want to strengthen the The Complete Streets policy, really addressing the state aid standards that occur at the local level that prevent some of the best practices for active transportation being implemented. We’re strengthening the e-bike language. We’d like to introduce 15 miles an hour speed zones in schools. All schools. We want to we want to add bicycle and walking safety standards to the driver’s education standard. We had talked about eliminating right on red. We can talk about that a little bit more. We have a it may not be a legislative introduction but done through another means.

Ian: [00:23:05] Okay.

Cindy: [00:23:06] And then I also want to make sure that we talk about the Day on the Hill. Absolutely. Coming up.

Ian: [00:23:11] Yes okay. Okay. So so diving into some of those things um I think let’s, let’s do school speed limits first because that was something that we, I vaguely remember from last year.

Cindy: [00:23:25] Right. The, the thought was that we were going to try and give county government counties the ability to lower speed limits in 20, I think believe 19 the cities, city owned streets were able to lower their speed limits. And then we wanted to dress counties. That was taken out of the bill last year. Okay. And so we’re specifically looking at school zones. We’d like to do a 15 mile an hour speed limit within school zones of all schools.

Ian: [00:23:55] Um, kind of like and that’s regardless of whether that’s a city, county or I don’t know, are we going all the way up to state highways?

Cindy: [00:24:08] We would really like to. We’ll see. We’ll see what happens. You know, it’s all a process. It’s it’s who’s at the table. And compromises are always made right. Sometimes compromises are good because you end up with a better bill. And sometimes you have to take what you can get.

Ian: [00:24:25] Yeah, yeah. And I mean, in this case, it’s like we have, we have so many places where things like a US highway 61 is, you know, a designated like US highway, but really it’s Arcade Street and it goes straight through the east side of Saint Paul and like it goes right by a bunch of schools, right. Which is like. Yeah. And and and really like, we have to do some soul searching there about like, okay, like what is a highway at this point. Right. Like right, right.

Cindy: [00:24:56] And what’s the function of a highway? And does it need to function as a highway within city limits? It should function as a in my opinion, function as a highway outside of city limits and should be a residential street within city limits. And allow residents to be able to use that space the way they see fit. Like, can cross

Ian: [00:25:19] Yeah. And I mean anywhere that like pedestrians are legally allowed it should be safe especially especially when it’s near a school like. Yeah right. Yeah. Yeah.

Cindy: [00:25:31] And every safe Routes to school surveyed parent survey that I’ve read. One of the top reasons that parents don’t let their kids walk to school is the speed of traffic.

Ian: [00:25:42] Mhm. Yeah.

Cindy: [00:25:43] And we know that as speeds increase the survivability rate for children decreases. And it’s only going to get worse with our larger heavier vehicles.

Ian: [00:25:56] Mhm. Yeah. Yeah. Um and that’s a, that’s a whole other like legislative prong.

Cindy: [00:26:03] Yeah. And that’s probably needs to come from the feds.

Ian: [00:26:09] Yeah. In terms of yeah, safety features in cars, usually the states don’t do that.

Cindy: [00:26:17] Yeah. They’re less likely to do that. Let’s put it that way.

Ian: [00:26:22] Yeah. Yep. Yeah. Um, okay. Speaking of, uh, speaking of pedestrians, speaking of walking, uh, tell me about jaywalking.

Cindy: [00:26:29] So we want to decriminalize it. It’s it’s a it’s an equity issue. And right now, if you are jaywalking, you can be ticketed. And it’s it’s a considered a petty misdemeanor and you can be fined for it. And in some places across the country, it has been used as a pretextual stop to look for other offenses. And so individuals, low income, unhoused people of color have historically been targeted with jaywalking. And we want to we just want to decriminalize it and not make it a reason to be stopped.

Ian: [00:27:10] Yeah. Yeah, yeah. And and it it seems to me like very in line with like, last year we decriminalized fare evasion on like, Metro Transit. Right, right. Um, and that was, you know, because those were. Yeah. So now it’s an “administrative citation.” Um, so what’s what’s the like if, if we succeed with the jaywalking, uh, legislature there, like what? What would it become? What would be the consequences of jaywalking? Or so you.

Cindy: [00:27:43] Wouldn’t get a ticket. Um, you still, as a pedestrian, have to be smart about crossing the street. You can’t intentionally walk in front of a vehicle. Um, so it would pretty much…

Ian: [00:27:57] Like, the right of way priority doesn’t change, right? If you’re crossing in a crosswalk, you have as a pedestrian, you have right of way. But if you’re crossing mid-block, you do not.

Cindy: [00:28:08] Right? Correct.

Ian: [00:28:10] Yeah. And that and that would mostly like that would come into play not because like a police person is stopping you, but because like if you get hit then like, you know, in the courts liability.

Cindy: [00:28:25] Correct, yes. Because it’s on the books. It’s, it’s that’s something that’s really, really hard to take off because of how it kind of set up our system to support it behind the issue. Um, does that make sense?

Ian: [00:28:39] Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Um, and yeah, it’s always fun to, to find out about these like, little quirks of, like, oh, because of the, like, the way that this law was set up or the venue that it went through it, you know?

Cindy: [00:28:57] Yeah. There’s unintended consequences that make it more difficult to change. Yeah. And there’s a lot of those in transportation.

Ian: [00:29:05] Yep, yep. Kind of like, uh, parking minimums. Right. Which is another like, uh, parallel. But, uh, we talked about that during the land use portion of the episode. Uh, correct. Yeah.

Cindy: [00:29:20] And that’s something that BikeMN, we’re supporting all of those initiatives as well. So we’re supporting those that are being put forth for to increase transit and parking minimums, increase density around transit. All of those, those land use policies that ultimately affect how our streets are used or could be used for active transportation.

Ian: [00:29:45] Mhm mhm. All right. How about right turns on red. [sarcastic] Cindy, why are those a problem? That’s just totally normal thing that everybody gets to do, right?

Cindy: [00:29:56] Right. And there was really no science behind actually implementing it. But trying to get it off the books is, is challenging because people really like their right on red. And it wouldn’t be a problem-

Ian: [00:30:08] We should probably give like the the quick Reader’s Digest version of like why the law exists. Um, so this dates back to the oil crisis of the 1970s, right. And, um, the, the thinking, the way that the law was presented and pitched was, oh, you’re spending so much time idling at red lights, you’re wasting all this gas. Gas is too expensive. Let’s let people turn right.

Cindy: [00:30:37] Right, yes. If it’s if it’s free to go, if there’s no one coming, then just then you can turn right and you’re no longer idling. You’re no longer wasting gas. Mhm. That was the thought. But it never panned out. That’s not actually the case. And the way cars are built today when you’re stopped you’re not burning gas.

Ian: [00:30:57] Right, right. Yeah. They turn their engines off. Yeah. Yeah. Or if you’re in an electric. Like it’s just not using any energy whatsoever, right.

Cindy: [00:31:06] Yeah. And it’s, it’s, it’s dangerous for the pedestrians because if you just stand at a corner and watch cars, they don’t even really come to a full stop a lot of times anymore. Or when they do, they’re not looking for the pedestrian at all. And if you’ve got the crosswalk and the person turning right has the red, chances are they may not see you. And with the larger cars that we already talked about, there’s bigger blind spots. So they might not even see you standing at the corner when you when you have the right of way and you can take the turn. So yeah, we, we would like to eliminate right on red. The thought is that in the smaller communities that there would be some pushback. So we’re it’s been recommended to us that we take that to the Traffic Safety Council that was created in last year’s legislation.

Ian: [00:31:58] Okay. The one that that BikeMN has a seat at the table. Correct? Okay. Yes.

Cindy: [00:32:04] Because that’s a very that’s a bipartisan council. And if that could be a recommendation from that council to the commissioner, we would have a better chance of it being adopted.

Ian: [00:32:15] Right. Yeah. And like that’s the infuriating thing about like right turns on red. Is that like in a perfect world, that law shouldn’t be a problem, right? Like it it doesn’t actually make any dangerous activities legal. But but as we know from our, you know, systems thinking, training, the the result of a system, right. The outcome of a system is the the the function of the system. So no matter what your intention was like, hey, yeah, you’ve you’ve passed this law that is resulting in like people are encouraged when they are in a car and they want to turn red, like they are just going to look to their left to see where is the danger that’s coming towards me. And people don’t look to the right to see how am I creating danger for other people, right?

Cindy: [00:33:09] Yeah. And there was a study done in Canada where they put cameras in the car to watch the drivers eye movements, to see where they were looking when they came to a light. And they all the majority looked to the left, and they don’t look to the right to see who or what they may be turning into. Right?

Ian: [00:33:30] Yeah. And it’s especially like it’s it’s especially dangerous in places like the Bruce Vento Trail through the east side of Saint Paul, where it is a trail on a two way trail on one side of a street. And that street is mostly T-junctions with other streets. And so all of the, the streets that are approaching it, you know, at the T-junction, like there’s bicyclists going both directions at, you know. Like when, when that was my daily commute. Like I’m cooking. Right, right. Because I’m on a trail I like, I have nothing to worry about except for when you come to somebody else has a red light and they’re not looking for you. And I’ve gotten right, right hooked multiple times there.

Cindy: [00:34:17] Yeah. Very, very dangerous. Yeah.

Ian: [00:34:20] And even like, you know, I’m sure people will make the argument that like, well, well anytime that there’s heavy pedestrian traffic or it’s going to be like, you know, dangerous like, like a two way path, like just, just put up a sign that says, no, right on red. Right. But nobody sees those signs.

Cindy: [00:34:36] Right. And yeah, and there’s just such a lack of consistency across the system as a whole, um, that it’s another I know we’re supposed to pay attention to traffic signals, but it becomes another distraction within the car. And we talk about distracted driving all the time.

Ian: [00:34:54] Yeah, there’s there’s too many signs out there to be reading while you’re, like, in a moving vehicle already, right? Uh, yeah.

Cindy: [00:35:04] And absolutely. Especially if you’re in an area that you’re not familiar with.

Ian: [00:35:09] Right. Mhm.

Cindy: [00:35:10] Yeah. So it would be nice if it was consistent across the board. Yeah.

Ian: [00:35:14] Yeah. If the default is you can’t do this thing and nobody expects to be able to do that thing right then. Like every once in a while if you, if you, you know, you’re out in the middle of nowhere and there’s no pedestrian traffic. And like the, the engineers who built the road put in a slip lane for you, then like, oh, it’s a pleasant surprise, right? Right.

Cindy: [00:35:33] Exactly.

Ian: [00:35:34] Yes. Yeah. Uh, how about driver’s ed standards?

Cindy: [00:35:40] So, um, there are not any particular standards on on walking and biking safety, and it’s kind of all over the board. And we would like to create specific standards on what topic is covered. Really very similar to what we did for when we included walking and biking standards within the schools as. Part of their bus safety. We want to incorporate that within driver’s education as well.

Ian: [00:36:08] So our when you say along the same lines as what we give them in the schools, I imagine that you don’t literally mean like, oh, we’re going to give them the same lessons as we give to the elementary school students.

Cindy: [00:36:20] But you know, specific topics. And, um, we don’t want to add to the amount of time that driver’s education takes because I think it’s a 30 hours. But how can you incorporate more bicycle and walking education within driver’s education? Because if if you get it during driver’s ed, you’re more like it’s more of a lifetime skill that you develop and create more respect for walkers and bikers. But if you don’t get it in driver’s ed and because there’s not specific standards around it, some driver’s education provides it and some don’t, right?

Ian: [00:36:54] Yeah. One one specific little thing that I really hope that more people can be taught is, uh, just like the simple trick of like, oh, if you’re on the driver’s side of the car and you’re going to open your door, use your right arm to open the door instead of your left arm, because that turns your body so that you’re, like, naturally looking to see if there’s anybody, specifically any cyclists in the bike lane, you know.

Cindy: [00:37:19] Correct. Yes, yes. Isn’t that called the Dutch..?

Ian: [00:37:23] Something like that. Yeah. Yeah.

Cindy: [00:37:26] I can’t remember the full turn, but it comes from the Dutch.

Cindy: [00:37:30] Which is I wish I would remember that when I’m driving, but I don’t, I don’t, I come from a one car family, so I bike most of the way most of the time, and I don’t usually park on the street and parking in the parking lot. So.

Ian: [00:37:43] Yeah, but it’s yeah, it’s this it’s a similar kind of thing where it’s like, oh, like nobody expects there to be a cyclist passing by when you’re in a parked car, the same way that nobody expects there to be a pedestrian to their right when they’re about to make a right turn. Right. You know? Right.

Cindy: [00:38:00] And I think if we’re successful as active transportation advocates, we’re going to start seeing more and more. So then that there’s more expectation, there’s more people biking and walking. So it so you become to expect it, right. Yeah. And you look for it more-

Ian: [00:38:18] You need that virtuous cycle right.

Cindy: [00:38:20] Yes. Absolutely. And that’s why we’re here.

Ian: [00:38:25] Let’s see uh, state aid standards.

Cindy: [00:38:29] Um, I’m not familiar with all the state aid standards. I know that there are some that just make it more difficult on in small and urbanized areas to make changes to the street for active transportation purposes, like the width of the lanes. Yeah.

Ian: [00:38:45] And let’s let’s talk about that like that mechanism for a moment. Because state aid is something that, like most people never, ever have to think about. Right?

Cindy: [00:38:53] And they don’t know which roads are state aid. Right.

Ian: [00:38:56] So, so, so what this is, is it’s, it’s any time that like a city or a county has a street or a road that they like, they want the state to kick in some funds to help.

Cindy: [00:39:11] Yes. Yeah.

Ian: [00:39:12] To help with upkeep, to help with whatever, you know, maintenance of the road. Um, then the state, like Minnesota, has a definition of like, you must build this road to meet these standards. And they are more stringent than if you did not ask for that money.

Cindy: [00:39:30] And yeah, this the city doesn’t have the flexibility that they do on the roads that they own.

Ian: [00:39:39] And so and so yeah. So like like what things are problematic about like what aspects of those standards are we looking to loosen.

Cindy: [00:39:48] So that I can’t really tell you because I haven’t been involved in those conversations. I just know that it has come up. And I know when I was working in the small rural community that I worked in, we wanted to to decrease lane width because we know that narrower lanes slow traffic, because you can create more friction along the street. So people naturally just drive slower. Right. And if it’s a state aid road, you you cannot do that. You have to stay at a certain standard, which tend to be larger than the minimum that the MUTCD guidelines.

Ian: [00:40:27] And the MUTCD is inherited from-

Cindy: [00:40:30] The Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

Ian: [00:40:33] That comes from the federal level.

Cindy: [00:40:35] Correct. Yeah.

Ian: [00:40:36] Okay. So those. Yeah. And you said that we’re approaching that from these complete streets policy side.

Cindy: [00:40:42] Correct. So we’re trying to strengthen the complete streets policy so that, you know, in the in the current language, I believe the word “shall” is used a lot and what does “shall” mean? Sure. So we’re trying to strengthen it to say you “must” incorporate the Complete Streets guidelines and the Complete Streets policy was updated recently and it it’s better than what it was and and but not all districts apply it the same across the board.

Ian: [00:41:18] And so when when we say “policy,” does that mean that that like it’s not a law that the legislature passed is it. Is it like MnDOT staff put to put forth this policy and it got adopted by some entity like..?

Cindy: [00:41:32] Well, you know, I don’t know the history of it because I did not live in Minnesota at the time and it’s been around for quite a while. I think it came about in Tim Pawlenty’s administration. Okay. So it’s been around for a long time, and I’m not sure if it if MnDOT put forth the policy or if it did come from…

Ian: [00:41:51] So at this point right now, who are we approaching in order to change the complete streets policy.

Cindy: [00:41:58] So we’re doing it through the legislation okay.

Ian: [00:42:01] Um, cool. Yeah. Because I mean, they yeah, they get to override anything that any, uh, departments do, right?

Cindy: [00:42:08] Yep, that’s their purview.

Ian: [00:42:10] Cool. And then let’s see what else we had. Oh, uh, e-bike classifications.

Cindy: [00:42:16] Yeah. There’s, um, you know, there’s, there’s some missed concepts and misinformation around e-bikes. And there are some what I’ll call renegade e-bikes out there where people override some of the mechanics of a, of an e-bike so that they actually kind of turn them into mopeds, right, so that they go faster or.

Ian: [00:42:39] Just like straight up conversion kits where they take like an acoustic bike and put some motors on it and then like, you know, who even knows what what that thing is capable of.

Cindy: [00:42:50] Right. And there we had heard that there may have been potentially a bill put forth to call all e-bikes a motor vehicle, and then that would require a license. And it’s like, so then now you’re taking away a very valuable form of transportation for a variety of individuals.

Cindy: [00:43:16] And so we just we want to strengthen the language around what is and is not considered an e-bike so that we don’t fall into that trap of, okay, now, now it’s a motor vehicle. And now we all have to have a license to ride.

Ian: [00:43:33] That would be the worst outcome.

Cindy: [00:43:35] Yeah. Absolutely. Yes.

Ian: [00:43:36] Because like, yeah, I mean, there’s there’s a lot of people out there who like, for one reason or another, they cannot legally get a driver’s license. And so, you know, biking is an essential, uh, avenue for them to be able to get around in their community.

Cindy: [00:43:54] Right. And e-bikes, you can go farther on an e-bike than you could on an acoustic bike. Older adults like e-bikes because they tend to ride more often and they ride farther. And when we think about cargo bikes, e-bikes and shifting how we deliver things, cargo bikes are becoming a huge piece of our infrastructure, which helps to take some of their our gas burning vehicles off the road. Which is a good thing!

Ian: [00:44:28] Can you can you get specific about what the classifications are that we’re trying to put into place here?

Cindy: [00:44:34] So we want to add a classification that describes what a power cycle is. So it’s more it fits. It goes more along the line of what a moped is. So it. It separates the classifications from an e-bike, from a motorized bike.

Ian: [00:44:54] And is that so? Is that based on like maximum speed, or is that based on like pedal assist or versus throttle or like? Yeah.

Cindy: [00:45:03] So the current classification for e-bikes is there’s three different classes. Class one is an e-bike that are pedal assist only and they don’t have a throttle, and they have a maximum assisted speed up to 20 miles an hour. And then the motor cuts out. Um, a class two e-bike has a maximum speed of 20 miles an hour, but they they are throttle assisted and a class three e-bike are pedal assist only with no throttle. And they have a maximum speed of 28 miles an hour. So you could potentially have like a class three bike that has a throttle on it that gets you up to 28 miles an hour. Well, that’s going to that’s going to have not be considered a class three because it has a throttle. So now it’s a different it’s a class of its own is what we’re proposing.

Ian: [00:45:52] And so and so currently okay. We don’t have a classification for that currently.

Cindy: [00:45:56] No we do not okay. And that’s where some of the the miscommunication and misconcept comes in. We’re also, because there’s the online sales of the kits and things like that. There’s some misinformation around advertising for those. And we’re trying and we would like to we’re trying to um, prevent that from happening as well.

Ian: [00:46:21] Um what are those classifications currently used for? Like are there certain trails where they are not allowed or like what’s. Yeah. What effect do they have?

Cindy: [00:46:34] Right now, Whenever, wherever a bike, an acoustic bike is allowed e-bikes are allowed unless posted. And it’s up to the owner of the trail to determine what’s allowed on the trail and what’s not. Some trails have speed limits on them. Um, most trails are like what, ten miles an hour, which you can go more than ten miles an hour easily on an acoustic bike.

Ian: [00:46:58] Absolutely. Yeah. And that and I mean, frankly, that rule is unenforceable if somebody is on an acoustic bike because, like, I don’t have a speedometer on my acoustic bike.

Cindy: [00:47:15] Yeah, exactly.

Ian: [00:47:16] Like you cannot argue that I was knowingly going faster than the speed limit because like, I don’t yeah.

Cindy: [00:47:23] I don’t know how fast I’m going.

Ian: [00:47:26] Like scooters where you’re just standing on a platform and you’ve got the handlebars at the top of the stick, right, like a Lime scooter or Spin or whatever. Like, are those because those have a throttle, they don’t have pedal assist, but they max out at probably 20 miles an hour.

Cindy: [00:47:42] I don’t know that there’s actually a classification to them, because they can be managed through their software. So whoever owns the well, I guess I’m talking about the the scooter share programs, right? Whoever owns it can can geofence them and can set their speeds. So you can’t override them. But the personally owned ones, I honestly I don’t know that much about the personal scooters and their limitations. And I’m sure, you know, you could override any of their functions.

Ian: [00:48:20] But but that’s the case with e-bikes as well, right. Like, you know, if, if I am good enough with software, like, yeah, I could change anything. Uh, but but yeah. So I’m just trying to figure out, like, whether or not electric scooters are just like a, completely like, do they fall completely separate laws or are they at the state level allowed everywhere that a an acoustic bike is? And my instinct says they probably are? Yeah.

Cindy: [00:48:51] I think it depends on the community, okay. Just because they tend to get left in just really odd places.

Ian: [00:48:59] Oh sure. Yeah.

Cindy: [00:49:01] Like here in Mankato, they’re allowed in a certain area within campus, and that’s the only part of the city that they’ll function in as far as, like the bike as the scooter share program.

Ian: [00:49:12] That’s a separate issue though than like than the safety considerations of like, oh, are we going to allow them to be operated in, uh, you know, should they use a bike lane or should they use the sidewalk? Right. Is it, you know. Yeah. Right.

Cindy: [00:49:28] And I don’t think we’ve – I think we will end up facing that in the future as to become more popular. Right now, there isn’t that many, at least in my area, that the city has decided, oh, we really need to look at this as a whole and how you’re going to manage.

Ian: [00:49:49] The other, the other aspect that we might have to grapple with in the future is like classifying them based off of their mass. Because, you know, if if a person who’s on like one of those like one wheel platforms, right, you know, right. If they run into me at 20 miles an hour. Okay. Well, that’s actually an even softer landing than like somebody hitting me on a bike at 20 miles an hour. But yes, if if somebody is on like a moped and they’re going 20 miles an hour, then that’s a whole different story. Like that is a larger machine and that hurts more.

Cindy: [00:50:25] Exactly. And I’m sure those are issues that we will end up addressing down the road.

Ian: [00:50:31] But for now, for this year we’re we’re focusing on just the, the the e-bikes that have pedal assist and also have throttles and can go up to 28 miles an hour. Correct. Which currently are in limbo right?

Cindy: [00:50:48] I mean, there’s just some thoughts that they just shouldn’t be allowed. And and I’m just that’s that’s such a short sighted view. Right? When they are such a valuable tool and they e-bikes are selling so much faster and at a rate that outpaces electric vehicles. Mhm.

Ian: [00:51:09] Totally. And and I mean you know I can go 28 miles an hour on an acoustic bike like. Right.

Cindy: [00:51:14] Absolutely I could not but yeah.

Ian: [00:51:19] So, so the question becomes like oh am I, am I too much of a danger to society to be allowed to do that. And how do you prevent that. And yeah.

Cindy: [00:51:29] Yeah, you gonna start taking me off the trails now too?

Ian: [00:51:31] Right? All right. Yeah. Cindy, any other stuff that we haven’t talked about yet that that’s everything that was on my notes.

Cindy: [00:51:40] Other than our day on the Hill, our Summit is scheduled for March. Thursday, March the 14th at the Christ Lutheran Church on University Avenue in Saint Paul. We will. In the morning we’ll have a set of speakers, and then in the afternoon we will make appointments for you to go talk to your local rep to help support the laws and changes that we are proposing to improve walking and biking for everyone in Minnesota. And we really, really want need people from out state, Minnesota, from greater Minnesota to attend. And if you can’t attend, if you would at least write a letter and send it, address it to your representative, but send it to BikeMN, and then we’ll hand deliver those to your representative so that you still have a voice on that day. Because it’s so important to hear from people across the entire state.

Ian: [00:52:39] We want to get so many letters that it’s like the scene from Miracle on 34th Street, right?

Cindy: [00:52:46] Wouldn’t that be awesome?

Ian: [00:52:48] Yeah. Uh, and lunch is provided during the summit day, right? Yeah.

Cindy: [00:52:53] Correct. Yes. And we’re still planning our after session activities, and we’re not quite sure what yet to be determined.

Ian: [00:53:01] Oh, and that, I mean, that is the other great thing is like getting to sit and chat and, you know, like collaborate with other bike advocates from across the state.

Cindy: [00:53:13] Yeah. And during the times when you’re not visiting your rep in the afternoon, we will have some roundtable discussions and opportunities to network across the state as well.

Ian: [00:53:23] Awesome. Cindy, thank you so much for coming on the show.

Cindy: [00:53:27] Oh, you’re very welcome. Thanks for having me. This has been fun.

Ian: [00:53:31] It’s an exciting legislative, uh, season for us this year.

Cindy: [00:53:35] Exactly. And let’s just keep the streak going, okay? Yeah.

Ian: [00:53:40] All right. Talk to you later.

Cindy: [00:53:42] Okay. Thank you.

Ian: [00:53:48] Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Streets.mn Podcast. The show is released under a Creative Commons Attribution non-commercial Non-derivative license, so feel free to republish the episode as long as you’re not altering it and you are not profiting from it. The music in this episode is by Erik Brandt and the Urban Hillbilly Quartet. This episode was hosted, edited and transcribed by me, Ian R Buck. We’re always looking to feature new voices on the Streets.mn Podcast, so if you have ideas for future episodes, drop us a line at [podcast@streets.mn]. Find other listeners and discuss this episode on your favorite social media platform using #StreetsMNPodcast. Until next time. Take care.

About Ian R Buck

Pronouns: he/him

Podcaster and teacher. Ian gets around via bike and public transportation. "You don't need a parachute to skydive; you just need a parachute to skydive twice!"