microphone with an out of focus background containing the Streets.mn logo

Legislative Session Wrap-up 2024

This was our second year with a DFL trifecta, let’s check in with a few transportation and land use advocacy organizations to find out what we accomplished and what is on the horizon for next year!

Episode chapters

00:00 | Intro
00:53 | Sustain St Paul & Neighbors for More Neighbors
23:16 | Sierra Club
Blog post
25:12 | Our Streets
Blog post
29:55 | BikeMN
42:25 | Outro


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 [email protected].


[00:00:00] Ian: And I also noticed that there’s, there’s a bit of variety in how much history each of these acts has. Right? You know, like a land value tax is something that I know our friend from Bloomington has been bringing up, you know? Steve Elkins. Yes. Yeah.

[00:00:15] Evan: Yeah. I I thought you were gonna say like, there’s a history there.

It’s Henry George was talking about it in the 19th century.

[00:00:22] Ian: Okay. That’s true too. Yes.[ laughter]

[theme music] 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’m your host Ian R Buck. Another legislative session has come and gone in Minnesota and it’s time to recap what we accomplished and how things went.

Let’s start first by talking housing.

[00:00:53] Zak: Uh, my name is Zach Yudhishthu. I use he/him pronouns, and I am currently the Pro Housing Advocacy Coordinator at Sustain St. Paul.

[00:01:02] Evan: Uh, and I’m Evan Roberts and I’m a volunteer with Neighbors For More Neighbors, and I was, um, on the State Policy Task Force, performing a wide variety of roles, over the last legislative session.

[00:01:14] Ian: Yeah, so this was a pretty exciting legislative session for me because I got to watch these organizations that traditionally. Were focused on their own respective cities. Sustain St. Paul and s former Neighbors was in Minneapolis, shifting focus to, you know, doing statewide, advocacy and trying to, change the narrative and get some leg legislation passed at the state level.

So, um, yeah. Let’s do a quick like, kind of recap on what, and you guys were working pretty closely together, right? Yeah. Um, so. Yeah. What were our like major goals for this, this session?

[00:01:55] Evan: Uh, we had quite a range of major goals. And so just sort of speaking from Neighbors, For More Neighbors’ perspective. Um, about a year ago, we decided like, yeah, we’re gonna, take on some state stuff in the 2024 legislative session.

Uh, over last summer, summer 2023, we did what we called state policy summer camp, where we organized, uh. Every two weeks last fall, we polled our members. I mean, we had a meeting and um, and we came up with, um, six, sort of key areas that we wanted to, to work on, which is obviously quite, quite ambitious.

Uh, one of those was the comprehensive plan, clarity, which is like, sort of around the Minneapolis 2040 lawsuit. Uh, a couple of bills about allowing, um. Uh, this is second and third. A couple of bills about allowing more types of housing. One was missing middle. Uh, so that’s just sort of duplexes through six plexes approximately.

Another one was transit oriented development, which was essentially like, could we have state legislation for. You know, high taller, six or more stories closer to, light rail and, high frequency bus transit, land value tax, um, single stair reform. Um, and, those, were the sort of the key, things that we, we’re advocating for, at the capital, over the, over the session.

Yeah. So yeah, a range of, a, a wide range of priorities.

[00:03:34] Ian: And some of those are kind of like, you know, the, the 2040 comprehensive plan is kind of an existential issue for Minneapolis in particular, but has implications for all other cities in, in the state. Um, Zach, what were some of the priorities coming from the St. Paul side?

[00:03:50] Zak: Yeah, we were pretty aligned with Neighbors for More Neighbors on that set of issues, similar things. And I think what put those issues at the forefront for us was it’s a mix of things. That St. Paul has already done. So, for example, getting rid of parking minimums. We’ve done that and we’ve legalized, four units or more on all of our residential lots.

And, so things that we’ve already done and that we would like to see spread throughout the rest of Minnesota. And then a couple of things that we can’t do locally and that we needed state action on. So the comprehensive clarity bill and, um, initiating a building code change to allow for single staircase buildings are required state action. In a way that would enable better policy making at a local level. So that’s why we were targeting this, kind of swath of policy stuff.

[00:04:38] Evan: Yeah. Yeah. The tax one as well is one where, um, the state has to enable. Has to pass the sort of enabling legislation to give cities the option to do a land value, tax.

And whether, whether they do is then, up to them. It’s a little bit like you sort of sales taxes. Um, cities are, you know, given the option to do sales taxes, but they’re levy them at different rates. Um, and, and so yeah. So again, that was one where this was kind of, interesting overlap of, um. You can’t do anything without the state starting, starting things.

Uh, on the zoning side of things, like what you can do where, the state gave away in a, you know, very meaningful sense, like, lots of its authority to cities about a century ago. Uh, and has essentially exercised very little oversight, over them. So we were dealing with sort of very different situations, um, with the, with the different issues and the kind of the terrain on which we were discussing these things, you know, varied a lot, across those issues.

[00:05:41] Ian: And I also noticed that there’s, there’s a bit of variety in how much history each of these acts has. Right. You know, like a land value tax is something that I know our friend from Bloomington has been bringing up, you know.

Year after Steve Elkins. Yes. Yeah.

[00:05:56] Evan: Yeah. I I thought you were gonna say like, there’s a history there. It’s Henry George was talking about it in the 19th century.

[00:06:03] Ian: Okay. That’s true too.

Yes. Um, but like, but I, I have this kind of vague understanding that like, oh, hardly any bills ever passed the first year that they are introduced at the state.

You know, there’s like, there’s usually at least a couple of rounds of like people wrapping their heads around what this thing is and, you know, bringing it back to their constituents and then coming back. To this table with an actual, you know, like, willingness to bargain on it, right?

[00:06:29] Evan: Yeah, and I think, I mean my sense, of the, some of that dynamic relates to some sort of bigger beyond housing, issues in the way that our state politics are done, that we’ve got this pretty short legislative session for a state, which is, you know, pretty active in a wide range of activities.

And yeah, people just don’t have a lot of time to get acquainted with a topic. I think as we’re sort of like recapping what, what happened, the people who were on the housing committees and sort of had a long time to get familiar with the bill became pretty supportive. Uh, and I, and, and that was a really encouraging dynamic.

For people sort of not on the housing committees, and therefore sort of less acquainted with the issue. They didn’t have as much time, with it. And so I think that was part of the dynamic. Um, this is something that I think happens to a lot of bills, in a part-time, part of the year legislature like ours, is that there’s just not enough time to have that sort of full process, um, of discussion, um, across a wide range of topics.

[00:07:40] Ian: Yeah. And the part-time versus full-time legislature is, that’s a, that’s a different conversation, but we are seeing some of the effects of it here, I’m sure. Okay. So I feel like we’ve been kind of been talking around the topic.

What are the things that we actually got passed and which things, were tabled for next year? Like, what, what are we, what are we dealing with here in the aftermath of the, legislative session?

[00:08:04] Evan: Zak, do you wanna talk about one of ’em and I’ll talk about the other?

[00:08:07] Zak: Sure. I’ll take, the single stair reform ’cause um, yeah.

So that one is basically initiating a rewrite of the state building code to allow buildings that are taller than three stories to only have one staircase in them and the, the status quo in Minnesota and a lot of other states in the United States is that taller than three buildings, you’ve gotta have two staircases and it takes up a lot of, a lot of your floor space.

It’s really difficult to create buildings and already built out areas to put a new denser building and it’s place. Um, it can lead to really inefficient use of floor space in a building. There’s all kinds of challenges with it, and it’s also. Not aligned with a lot of other countries and how they build and find ways to build buildings very safely, still keeping fire safety in mind, having better fire safety outcomes than the US.

And so, um, a couple states, California and Oregon have done, I believe, have done similar things. Initiating a study of the building code to move, move the wheels and figure out how to safely implement, um. A policy where there can be taller buildings with only a single staircase. So that was one of our big couple of wins in this housing and land use space this session.

[00:09:19] Ian: Okay. So what’s, what’s the timeline that we’re looking at for this study that’s gonna be conducted?

[00:09:24] Evan: Uh, December, 2025, I think is the deadline for the six story, sort of study or what we’re the, sort of the broader study. There is a process which is I think, gonna get underway where you can apply for a kind of, a smaller change to the state building regulations, um, which would go up to allow up to four stories with a single staircase. Uh, and that could be done a little because it’s not as much of a change. Uh, it could be done in a more expedited fashion.

Um, so the, comprehensive plan, clarity or defense, um, is a very. Well, it’s, it’s a sort of, the, the details are very Minnesota specific.

Uh, the big picture, is I think, echoed in, in other states, um, in the sort of way in which planning and environmental laws have interacted. So, essentially, I mean, and this has been discussed as a kind of Minneapolis 2040. There’s the lawsuit, the, the heart of the issue is this, the, Metropolitan Land Planning Act, essentially direct cities in the metro area to plan for growth.

Uh, the mid council says like. We expect this many people are gonna be coming into the metro area. Um, there we expect like they’re gonna be living in these areas and cities have to plan. Uh, this is a kind of hidden, dirty secret, like cities are getting denser and cities have to plan for that. Minneapolis did that in a particular way, um, of allowing, some in some quite sizable increases in sort of potential development capacity, across the city.

There’s ways in which it’s sort of been overstated. The, um, you know, the number of units they calculate is different than the amount of actual floor space. Uh, that’s a little smaller. Um. On the other hand, there’s this Minnesota Environmental Rights Act, and that allows any citizen to sort of take a private lawsuit, against, um, sort of state or private action if there’s gonna be an environmental, impact.

Uh, and so the, the contention, in, in that was. That comprehensive plans were litigable under, under MERA, the judge at the district court level accepted that, they’ve been going back and forth, what the comprehen – and so this is, gets to sort of a tension between two laws that the legislature has passed and, and interestingly enough laws that were passed around the same time in the 1970s, the comprehensive plan, clarity, bill, really just amends, Mira to say that planning for growth as you’re, for population growth, as you’re required to do essentially by this Metropolitan Land Planning Act, does not constitute action that you know is, is subject to action under the Minnesota Environmental Rights Act.

What it means. Getting back to the big, to the big picture, is that cities in the metro area can continue to plan for population growth. Uh, say like, okay, we’re expecting 5,000 people to move into Lakeville or Hugo or wherever, St. Louis Park, any city in the seven county metro, and not be sued for the act of essentially saying like, you can put more housing in, in a particular place.

And so that gives a lot of. Um, a lot of certainty to cities. Uh, obviously Minneapolis has been sort of the most under the gun, with this, but I think it probably has had this effect on and, and other cities.

[00:13:02] Ian: Do cities outside of the Metro ever do similar processes? Like, like did Duluth and Rochester do long range planning of, of this sort?

[00:13:11] Evan: Yeah. They, they also need to do, comp plans, but the metro, because of the. Multiple jurisdictions and the sort of the greater overlap of the housing, transportation, all of the, all of the stuff that happens when you’re functionally, you know, a city of 3 million rather than 187 different municipalities.

Um, yeah, it’s just much less of an issue, in, in Rochester, in Duluth. Um, I mean, the housing market in Rochester spills outta Rochester, but it spills out in, in a bit of a different way, right. Into those sort of adjoining townships. Um, so yeah, they’ve got their own issues, um, which they’re dealing with, but it’s not, it’s not covered by this, by this bill.

[00:13:56] Ian: Oh, okay. The, the bill addresses, obviously, I. Like anything going forward, does it also just like cut off the current litigation that’s happening?

[00:14:07] Evan: Uh, it does, but it does it in a way which, um, you know, left a little, a little room for plausible deniability on, on both sides. It said that, um, any, I mean, no, the letter of the law was like not like.

Any lawsuit at the moment. It, it didn’t say anything about the sort of the current actions. It did say that this applied to the most recent comprehensive plans submitted. Okay. Uh, and that was the 2020 round, of comprehensive plans. And so, yes. Um. The, the litigants, um, do not seem to have recognized the, you know, the letter of the, the law that it says it applies to the, the last round of comp plans.

Um, and I think they’re, you know, maybe they want something spelled out, even further. Sure. You know, there are legal fees for, I mean. There are legal fees for someone to collect. So there is in some incentive for some people in this whole situation to encourage the plaintiffs to keep on taking action, and maybe have a, have a judge rule that when it says the last round of comp plans like that, actually the one where we’ve just been talking about.

[00:15:22] Ian: So it sounds like the, the tail is wagging the dog.

[00:15:26] Evan: Yeah. I think there’s a little bit of that going on.

[00:15:28] Ian: All right, so, so we got a study for, single stair. We got the 2040 comprehensive plan clarification. Um, did we get any other wins?

[00:15:41] Evan: Uh, I think a big one, was not, not on the list –


[00:15:44] Ian: Saw, I saw some shaking head from Zak and, and an, an enthusiastic Yes from Evan. Yeah,

[00:15:49] Evan: I think those are, you know, those are good wins combined. Uh, they do allow sort of cities to keep on doing good things. Um, and I think it’s a good process with single stair, you know, it kind of diffuses some of the, the opposition. A lot of other stuff got to, committee hearings. Uh, the one, the only one that didn’t even get an an introduction was the sort of transit oriented development, which is your sort of towers near light rail.

Uh, to, to paraphrase. Uh, but everything else, I think we were pleased with, the hearings, that the bills got, the conversation, that was advanced. Um, and yeah, it was disappointing the outcome.

[00:16:28] Zak: Ian, you mentioned earlier like a couple of these policies have been around, have. Been in some form proposed repeatedly the past few years, but I would say that this year was a really meaningful break from some of those past attempts in terms of the degree to which these issues both advanced through committees, but more generally got airtime media coverage, like these land use policies, just a lot of the big ones didn’t pass, but they made progress, in meaningful ways that haven’t happened as much before, so. We’d call that a win, even though it’s not a direct policy win.

[00:17:06] Ian: Yeah.

[00:17:06] Evan: Yeah. I think the, the, the, they also did not get too sucked into like a partisan framework. We picked up sort of good, Democratic and Republican support, and I think that’s promising for future sessions.

The coalition developed good relationships, um, with the, with the committee chairs, um, in both the House and the Senate, and so I think that. That was a really positive development that sort of bodes well for continuing to talk about this going forward.

[00:17:38] Ian: Speaking of the coalition, right, the like, especially the, the, statewide upzoning bill. You know, I, I saw that being framed in the context of like, we have a very broad coalition, right? There’s a lot of different groups coming from a lot of different backgrounds that were all supporting this bill. And so that was one that I was very surprised that it didn’t, that it didn’t make it to the finish line.

Uh, given that the, like from what I was seeing, the only opponents to, it was like the League of Minnesota Cities.

[00:18:10] Evan: Yeah. And there’s also like the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, which is kind of like a, um, you know, for the small towns.

[00:18:18] Ian: Mm-Hmm.

[00:18:19] Evan: Uh, there’s a, so yeah, there’s a couple of local government organizations.

Um, yeah, I mean, they’re pretty powerful at the capital. Um, I think there’s some sort of interesting dynamics, um, politically in terms of like where our legislators come from.

[00:18:36] Zak: That’s more than just League of Minnesota City’s own really effective lobbyist group, but also they do represent a lot of local elected leaders like mayors and council members in various cities.

And that’s a really powerful force with talking. But you know, the state representatives that represent people in those jurisdictions, the, if there is really strong opposition coming from, mayors or planners in different cities and towns, that is potentially a really powerful force in a. Potentially difficult one to pass bills against.

[00:19:12] Ian: Right.

[00:19:12] Evan: It is sort of interesting, I think to compare, like to other policy areas. Uh, where like in education for example, we have a lot of local control. I. Local school boards, um, local schools, but at a state level, the state sets like standards for like, you know, how long the school year is and what we expect children to have learned, by the time, you know, in very precise ways.

You know, with housing we’ve done, you know, something quite different, which is like, here you’ve got this general ground of authority, and you can do what you like with it. So there’s, yeah, there’s a sort of very, yeah. People are used to that. Uh, whether it’s the right sort of thing is an, is an interesting question.

Uh, but it’s certainly like, you know, the fact that it’s like people are used to to, to cities having this, this power and it being decided at that level.

[00:20:06] Ian: So what are our plans for next year? What are we are, are we going to bring everything back to the table that we didn’t get this year? Or are we making any changes?

Um. I, I know not everybody’s like settled on what we’re gonna be doing next year, but like, what do we anticipate?

[00:20:25] Evan: I think early days. Uh, but I think we are talking, um, the, the, you know, initial conversation amongst a lot of the coalition partners, is that there was good solid momentum. Um, I think one of the important things, um, is that sort of polling, done by, by Neighbors, for More Neighbors, but also has been done by a range of organizations.

Pew had, pew had a poll out. Last year, Zillow polls on these issues like housing reform along the lines that was proposed, is broadly popular. Um, and the, the sort of, the challenge is like the people who sort of, you know, think like, oh yeah, it’d be great for a fourplex to be allowed. Um. You are not always thinking like, oh, I of your future self.

Uh, and so it’s sort of hard to articulate, whereas the people who are advocating, like, I wanna, you know, me as League of Minnesota Cities, it’s easier to articulate opposition.

[00:21:26] Zak: Yeah. I, I think there will be some conversations like, are there ways to get more suburban legislators on board? Are there ways to.

Reduce the amount of opposition that local policy makers are whispering in their state representatives ears. Um, you know, a lot of states have tried to pass these kinds of bills and there’s a lot of different ways for states to do statewide land use reform. There’s a million details in which it can vary.

And so I think at a high level, the goals are gonna be pretty similar. Finding ways to get more housing. Built in, different areas and preventing places from saying no to housing at such in such systematic ways. But a lot of the policy details could vary, I think, for a future attempt.

[00:22:14] Ian: If any of the listeners are interested in getting involved in this, when would be a good time to, to join Sustain St. Paul or Neighbors for More Neighbors?

[00:22:25] Evan: Uh, anytime is a good time. Um, you know, this is probably a little bit of a fallow period right now in terms of the state work. Um, but, um, you know, get involved, get to know the wonderful people, in both organizations or either organization. Um, and yeah, we’ll, um, you know, we’ll find a role for anybody who wants to volunteer and, and, and work on this.

[00:22:49] Zak: Yeah, I’ll say maybe. It’s not the most active time to start getting right to work on state policy, but it’s a great time to join for summer socials and meet people and organizations so that you are ready to plug in when the state session kicks back up again.

[00:23:05] Ian: Zak, Evan, thanks for coming on. Okay,

[00:23:08] Zak: Again, thank you.

[00:23:16] Ian: Now, unfortunately, I wasn’t able to record directly with every single organization that I wanted to get on this episode. The end of the school year kind of snuck up on me there, but thankfully, blogs exist and organizations publish their own thoughts. Uh, and so I can read off some of those resources for you here on the episode.

So first we’re going to take a look at what the Sierra Club had to say. First I wanna start with a quote here from Peter Wagenius, who is the Sierra Club North Star Chapter’s Legislative and Political Director. Let’s see how good of a Peter impression I can do. "Elections have consequences and there’s no greater proof than the accomplishments of this biennium between last year’s victories, the 100% bill, the omnibus transportation bill, and the omnibus environment, and an energy bill. The progress we have made in 2024 on land use, reform, and clean energy, I have never been more hopeful that we could finally do our part in Minnesota to address the climate crisis." Alright. Sorry Peter. I don’t think that’s actually what you sound like. Anyway, so in addition to supporting a lot of the housing, reforms that we were just talking about, um, Sierra Club also was focused on some energy related stuff.

So we have building decarbonization. Um, the networked geothermal pilot explores climate friendly heating and cooling solutions, offering opportunities to reduce carbon footprints and enhance energy efficiency. Clean energy permitting. So to accelerate the transition to clean energy, we need to speed up permitting of clean energy technologies, like solar panels, wind turbines, and the electrical transmission grid, and some zero waste stuff.

So the Packaging Waste and Cost reduction Act was passed, and will establish producer responsibility for packaging to reduce it upstream. We also have a couple of notes here on the climate impact of Highways, which segues me into, Our Streets’ Legislative summary. Uh, so Our Streets formerly known as Our Streets Minneapolis, um, they published a post with a lot of stuff that they were working on.

Our Streets lists the cumulative impacts for transportation bill, which did not, pass this year, but they’re going to be coming back to it in the future years. The Community Preferred Alternative Act, which would, um, give local communities more control over, what MnDOT can, can do, what, what kinds of, what, what highway projects look like in their communities. Um, this one. Also, is still listed as in progress.

Strengthening greenhouse gas protections for major highway projects. This one passed. So in 2023, we had a law that required MnDOT to reduce greenhouse gas emissions on new highway projects. But, um, the way the law was written, it only applied to highway expansion projects.

And so now in 2024, we have closed that loophole Now. Uh, that those greenhouse gas emissions reduction, rules apply to all highway projects. Reforming speed limit implementations. This one was about, aligning MnDOT’s practices with, the newly published, Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which, um.

Has has a lot of good new stuff about, guidelines, about street design and speed limit implementations. Another in progress item is defining highway purposes to include all modes of transportation. So, this is related to the earlier item that I mentioned where we have, um, you know, as part of our greenhouse gas emissions mitigations, MnDOT is being required to, allocate funds towards.

Towards walking, biking, transit related stuff, right? Those can be parts of their, their mitigation projects. But, um, the way that the state constitution is currently written, a lot of the money that MnDOT has access to has to go towards Trunk Highway purposes. And so this, um, this bill would, clarify that, that trunk Highway purposes includes any mitigation efforts that they have to go to, right, including allocating funds towards a walking, biking, and transit.

Asphalt art pilot program. Um, so if you’ve ever seen, like a crosswalk area or like an intersection that has a bunch of art painted on it, um, those kinds of things are currently not, really allowed in, in Minnesota in most contexts. And so this, this bill, um, which is still in progress, they’re gonna be looking to add, more authors to it next year, um, is, uh. To allow that kind of thing to happen.

Studying a regional bike share program is also in progress. This would be really cool, um, because here in the Twin Cities, we, you know, have a very disjointed system where each municipalities kind of, it’s up to them to, allow contracts with private companies like Lime or Veo or, or whoever else.

Um, and, having one unified bike share system, would be pretty awesome. And vehicle weight regulation. Um, this one’s also in progress, so, um, this would be collecting fees on dangerously heavy or oversized vehicles, and using the revenue to increase funding for existing pedestrian safety and safe routes to schools programs.

That’s everything that Our Streets has, written on their blog post. Um, let’s shift our focus now to some bike related stuff. Um, I got to catch up with Michael Wojcik, executive Director of the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota. Um, we. Did get to chat while we were at a brewery. So apologies for all of the background noise in this next section.

Um, but we’ve got a lot of good information coming your way.

Remind us briefly, like what was Bicycle Alliance in Minnesota going for this year?

[00:29:59] Michael: We had one bill that had a number of different items, um, incorporated in it. There were really three areas that we were pushing to accomplish. The first was, um, updating driver education standards about the responsibility of a driver around a vulnerable road user.

Now, you might think there’d be something in there already about that. Nope, there wasn’t. And, um, this is basically, um, gonna ensure that as people are getting driver education, they understand what their responsibilities are around vulnerable road users. You know, bicyclists, pedestrians, those who roll scooters.

But also on motorcycles, which as it turns out, due to a federal definition, is not a vulnerable road user. And, um, so it, and it turns out, including them in our state definition would’ve created a lot of chaos. So if you actually look at our bill it al it always says, um. Uh, "around a vulnerable road user or a motorcyclist."

That’s great. So, yeah. Yeah. So the things you learn. The, the, the second part of the three is, um, there’s a lot of, um, evolving technology around e-bikes. Um, and I. One of the issues is if we don’t come up with good regulation, we’re gonna get bad regulation. Right? And, we did a number of things to clarify what is and is not an e-bike, and make sure that, um, we have a best in the nation kind of, understanding of, um, e-bike legislation.

And then the last is, um, the last few years, the state has done a number of things to, um, quantify complete streets and institute that at a, um, MnDOT level. But a missing piece was that, um. A lot of times these complete street discussions, and I’m sure your listeners know that Complete Streets is really accounting for the needs of all the users as you design a roadway.

Yeah. Well, what was happening is the, design speeds were being set, the, infrastructure was being designed, and then after all of that was done, they figured out how they could accommodate other uses. And you can imagine the outcomes weren’t very good, right. And now it’s, um, all points of the design process.

Complete streets have to be considered, including when the initial design speeds for projects are set, and that’s gonna mean a lot of lives saved.

[00:32:04] Ian: Okay? Yeah. So what happened? What did we, what did we accomplish? Well, um,

[00:32:08] Michael: well, first and foremost, I can say my first, session being involved with the legislature quite like this.

It was interesting. Okay. In the most Minnesotan way possible, uh. But, um, this session was truly chaotic. I mean, especially at the end, you know, it’s gonna be a challenge when, you know, one party is in control, but there’s a one vote majority. Mm-Hmm. That’s a tough place to start out with. And then,

[00:32:31] Ian: I mean, that’s the same situation we were in last year though, and like last year it was just boom, boom, boom.

Like, things were getting done.

[00:32:37] Michael: And, you know, I thought a lot about what was different about this year, and I would say there are really two things that were different about this year. One, some of these folks are heading into an election cycle. Okay. Which they weren’t last year. Okay. And you know, the second thing is when, one of the majority party gets, charged with felony charges.

Yeah. Um, you know, there’s obviously, there’s been no, criminal proceedings or anything yet. So in theory, you’re innocent, still proven guilty, but that doesn’t mean you’re not gonna have a bunch of ridiculous filibustering going on. Sure. And I think that was the difference this year.

[00:33:11] Ian: Okay. Okay. Yeah. I, but, and, and that didn’t happen until like, well into the legislative session.

Yeah, yeah.

[00:33:19] Michael: It was, um, you know, maybe three or four weeks to go into the session when it happened. But the reality is the wheels fell off. Right. It was, it was chaos in, I guess that’s,

[00:33:26] Ian: that’s kind of the crucial time. ’cause you know, over the course of the session there’s a lot of hearings and procedures and, you know, for like.

Changing what exactly the bill says as we get, you know, approached like an actual vote. And so a lot of that was still in process when we kind of got derailed.

[00:33:46] Michael: And that was one of the challenges I think everyone faces, especially your first time going through this. Fortunately, I have Dorian, the founding executive director of BikeMN, who’s a tremendous mentor and willing to help out the whole way.

[00:33:58] Ian: But, oh, you still let him come around?

[00:34:00] Michael: Um, we haven’t changed the locks yet, but, um, no, I actually think that, um, he’s more likely to block my phone number than me locking him out. So, um, Dorian was a friend long before I took this position, and he encouraged me to apply for it even though I was, um, grossly underqualified.

Um, in hindsight, going back and reading that job description, everyone in the world was grossly underqualified, so I just fit right in. Yeah. But, um, you know, he helped with the legislative piece quite a bit ’cause he had some experience with this. And, um, what you don’t realize on the outside coming in is just the language that you use in your bill determines what committees you’re gonna go to.

And when you have a very tight schedule like you had this year, the reason so many organizations struggled and their bills didn’t make it to the finish line is because. They had to get to committees where they just couldn’t get a hearing. Mm-hmm. And we were able to make it to all of our committees. We were approved.

Um, we got into the transportation Omnibus bill in both the House and the Senate. We made it through the conference committee. We actually had to change the language and the House and the Senate to meet certain rules, obligations. And, um, certain concerns that might have existed in that particular chamber.

But in the end, we had a good compromise out of the conference committee and it did pass and become law. So we were successful this year.

[00:35:17] Ian: Okay. So all, all three parts that you Yes. Plant names. We got ’em.

[00:35:20] Michael: Um, for, for better or for worse, I probably setting myself up for future disappointment. But yeah, first time out.

Everything we hope to accomplish in our bills we were able to do this year.

[00:35:30] Ian: Nice. Alright. It would be nice to let you breathe for a moment, but I want to ask, you know, what, what are we thinking about for future years?

[00:35:40] Michael: Yeah, I, I do think, um, there are a lot of, um, exciting items coming up and, um, you know, I, I’ve mentioned in other conversations with you that I care a lot about local advocacy as well.

Mm-Hmm. And to the extent that we can do local advocacy, I think that’s important. We also, again, we are a organization that loves to partner. And we’re not only looking out for our success, we want to see, you know, organizations like, um, Our Streets, Move Minnesota, Neighbors For More Neighbors. We wanna see all these organizations being successful as well.

And they had some great bills this year that didn’t make it to the finish line. Yeah. Um, as an organization that wants people to be able to bike, walk, and roll safely. The li- it’s important that we give them a place where they can live, that they can bike, walk and roll safely. No kidding. And there, there were some great land use, um, reforms that didn’t make it to the finish line this year.

And I really think that that is coming. I think that some of the organizations that tried to stop that progress this year, you know, the different Cities Organizations, coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, League of Minnesota Cities, they need to step up because they see the freight train is coming.

There were some pretty diverse Democrats and Republicans that were passionate about creating more housing options and reducing parking bureaucracy. Yeah, that doesn’t happen. I mean, you had groups like ours and Our Streets working with the, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. Yeah, yeah. Everyone understands housing is a huge issue.

The laws that we have in place, particularly through local governments, are ridiculous, and they’re preventing progress. Now, Minneapolis and St. Paul are far ahead of others, but. Statewide, this is a huge issue. It needs reform, and that’s gotta be for our organization and every organization that cares about these issues, that is a huge issue going forward.


[00:37:25] Ian: Do we have any appetite for tackling? Uh, right turns on red. That’s, that’s always my pet, you know, project.

[00:37:31] Michael: You know, and that’s, you know, that’s interesting too, because I’ve always been a greater Minnesota person. Mm-Hmm. I’ve lived in greater Minnesota most of my life, and I, I think that. It is going to be something that’s gonna face a lot of opposition unless we make it context sensitive.

Mm-Hmm. And the reason for that is if you live in a big city with a lot of, um, heavy traffic making left turns, um, where there are people who are biking, walking, rolling, that is something that should be addressed. Now, if I go up to Aitkin County in Northern Minnesota. And there’s one stoplight in the entire county and, um, that stoplight maybe sees five bicyclists a year.

Mm-Hmm. Telling people that they can’t turn right on red. There is just gonna create a lot of opposition from the legislators up there. So if I were dictator for a day, I’m fine with let cars wait no right. Turn on red. Mm-Hmm. Um, I also wanna see us be able to, get this to the finish line. Right? So maybe there’s some compromise language and though you didn’t exactly ask it, we did pass the Idaho stop last year.

The, stop sign as yield. We do need to get to the point too where we can treat, stoplights in the same way. And that’s another, um, battle that we’re gonna have to fight over time.

[00:38:42] Ian: And we’re already partway there, you know, there. Yeah, there’s the law that, you know, a cyclist, if you’re waiting at a stoplight and you have a reasonable suspicion that you know, you Yeah.

That you, you have to like, wait for an entire cycle or something, but who knows how long that is? You know, so like, yeah. Yeah.

[00:39:00] Michael: Well, and I like to say I’m a very suspicious person in those circumstances. Yeah.

[00:39:03] Ian: [laughter] Right. I think part of the key for, for laws like that is. Making sure that like it is at the discretion of the vulnerable mode user to determine, you know, what is the best course of action, which is, you know, part of the language that was adopted for, you know, I think this is last year.

Yeah. Uh, with the, with the Bill Dooley, Bicycle Safety Act. Yeah.

[00:39:29] Michael: Yeah. It’s, um, and I do a key part of that is we used to have language, like the, um, cyclist has to ride as far to the right as, as possible or practicable. Yeah. And really now as, as far to the right, as they feel safe because sometimes the right place for a cyclist is to take the center of the lane and make sure no car can pass because it’s not safe to do so.

[00:39:49] Ian: Right. Yeah, exactly. What, what was, what was your favorite moment of this legislative session? Did, were there any like standout, like things that, that stick in your memory?

[00:40:00] Michael: I was really proud of Minneapolis on being able to move forward on the, um. The, video speed enforcement, um, oh, right. Uh, and that was, um, there was a lot of opposition to that.

It ended up being, I think, reduced to just like, um, Minneapolis and Mendota Heights ’cause they happened to have a police officer that came and spoke. But, um, it’s, the reality is, is it’s, it is probably one of the simplest things when you have poorly designed infrastructure, which we have all over the state, it’s probably one of the easiest interventions.

That make a meaningful difference. Mm-Hmm. Now it also irritates a lot of people because if you’re speeding or running red lights, you’re gonna get nailed for it.

[00:40:41] Ian: Oh no! Oh yeah. There are consequences for your actions, you know?

[00:40:45] Michael: Uh, yeah. It’s, it’s, it’s gonna be a new experience for some folks. For sure.

Yeah. But, um, you know, but there are some concerns and I know our partner organization of ours, Our Streets is afraid about, um, you know, disproportionate policing with that. Sure. And I do think there’s some good language in there to make sure that the deployment of this technology is done in such a way that is, um.

You know, racially and economically equitable. I think that, um, getting that camel’s nose under the tent is a, um, is, is a good way of starting the process. I think this is something that’s gonna become statewide in my previous life, when I was on a city council here in Rochester, yeah. We tried for decades to be able to let cities lower speed limits.

Mm-Hmm. And we could never get it done. So what we finally did is we applied that cities of the first class, those who a hundred thousand or more are Duluth because Duluth is special. Um, they, they could, they could do this.

[00:41:38] Ian: Hang on, you sound salty about this. That’s, that Duluth gets special treatment.

[00:41:43] Michael: Duluth, well, I’ll say that a little, little, little bit salty because they definitely get special treatment from the legislature, but also a little jealous for sure. And Duluth is just amazing. We love them and we’ve got a new chapter starting out there. But, um. You know, they, once, once the cities of the first class were able to set their own speed limits, then everyone else is like, Hey, wait a minute, why can’t our town do that?

Why is it just the big cities? We wanna be able to do that too. And yeah. You know, one or two years later, everyone can set their own speed limits and we’re all lot safer for us.

[00:42:13] Ian: Nice. Yeah.

Well, Michael, thanks for coming on the show.

[00:42:18] Michael: Yeah, I, I love to talk. Right. Thanks for having me, Ian it’s, great to be here.

[00:42:24] Ian: Thanks for joining us for this episode of the Streets.mn Podcast. The show is released under a creative common attribution, non-commercial non derivative license. So feel free to republish the episode as long as you are not altering it and you’re not profiting from it. The music in this episode is by Eric Brandt and the Urban Hill Hillbilly Quartet.

This episode was hosted and edited 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 [[email protected]] 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]. Find other listeners and discuss this episode on your favorite social media platform using the hashtag #StreetsMNPodcast. Until next time, take care.

About Ian R Buck

Pronouns: he/him

Ian is a podcaster and teacher. He grew up in Saint Paul, and currently lives in Minneapolis. Ian gets around via bike and public transportation, and wants to make it possible for more people to do so as well! "You don't need a parachute to skydive; you just need a parachute to skydive twice!"

Articles Near This Location