Minneapolis Ward 4 City Council Candidates’ Stances on Transit, Biking, Walking, and Rolling
Pictured from left to right: Phillipe M. Cunningham, LaTrisha Vetaw
Move Minnesota and Our Streets Minneapolis have teamed up on a questionnaire for 2021 Minneapolis city council candidates to learn about their ideas and vision for the future of transportation in Minneapolis.
Access to quality transit, biking, walking, and rolling play an essential role in tackling climate change and ensuring equitable access to the opportunities and services the people of Minneapolis need to live healthy and fulfilling lives.
This questionnaire is for candidate and voter information only. Participating organizations will not be making endorsements in any Minneapolis city elections in 2021. This questionnaire was sent to all candidates, but those not listed have chosen not to respond.
All candidate responses are listed in alphabetical order last name basis.
What is your primary mode of transportation? How often do you ride transit?
Phillipe M. Cunningham:
C Line, 32, and Lowry Ave and Dowling bike lanes
My primary mode of transit is my car or scooter. I use transit to go downtown, to the airport, and for other instances when it is much more convenient to use transit instead of a car.
Rethinking I-94 & Environmental Justice: Climate change and pollution disproportionately affect Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Children in North Minneapolis—particularly those closest to I-94 in the 55411 & 55412 zip codes are hospitalized at rates as high as 4x compared to children in other parts of Minneapolis. During the last Minneapolis freeway reconstruction project, the city withdrew municipal consent for the I-35W reconstruction until the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Metropolitan Council redesigned I-35W with highway Bus Rapid Transit, resulting in the Orange Line I-35W. Currently, the Minnesota Department of Transportation is exploring reconstruction efforts for I-94 going North out of the city; what role, if any, do you see the city playing in rethinking our freeways and addressing environmental injustice and pollution from freeways? Are there specific transportation or transit efforts you would pursue to achieve this?
Phillipe M. Cunningham:
The City of Minneapolis MUST play a role in rethinking our freeways and addressing environmental injustice and pollution from freeways! This is why I have been pushing so aggressively on the 252/94 project that will impact North Minneapolis, more specifically Ward 4 since the proposed expansion is only in the Ward 4 area. If the City, Met Council, and MNDOT can figure out a I-35W redesign, they can figure out a way to rethink I-94 in the 252/94 project. Many of us – elected officials and community members alike – have been fighting for public transit options to be included in this project. Municipal consent is a powerful tool the City has to push for needed change in these major projects. It is effective as was demonstrated with the I-35W reconstruction.
Additionally, I strongly believe in building out Bus Rapid Transit and Light Rail lines throughout North Minneapolis to connect our neighborhoods, as well as connect our community to the rest of the city and suburbs. By increasing interconnected, multimodal mobility within neighborhoods, that will alleviate dependence on freeways and combustible-engine single occupancy vehicles.
Before my mother relocated me and my siblings to the Northside, we lived outside of
Chicago in what was called “the toxic donut.” Pollution from the nearby factories has
impacted the health of almost every single family I grew up with, including my own. I am
a proud survivor of an extremely rare type of cancer that was caused by living near toxic
waste and pollution, so this matter is personal to me. The city has a responsibility to
rethink our freeways and pollution, because they perpetuate generations of
institutionalized racism and inequality. Addressing climate change through a racial
equity lens involves directly addressing climate injustice in our city. This means
partnering with community organizations and members, like Move Minnesota, since they
have already been doing great work to combat environmental injustice.
Minneapolis Transportation Action Plan: State and city studies show that we will need to reduce how much people drive (“vehicle miles traveled”) to reach established emissions-reduction goals. Transportation is the #1 source of climate change pollution in Minnesota. The Minneapolis Transportation Action Plan has highlighted changing “mode split” (the shifting of car trips to transit, biking, or walking) as a critical strategy in reaching and measuring VMT reduction and in achieving overall emission reduction goals. The city now has an ambitious “mode split goal” to shift 60% of car trips to biking, walking, and transit by 2030. Despite an increase in bike and pedestrian infrastructure investments, data from the previous decade shows that VMT numbers dropped only 2% between 2007-2016. What specific transit, biking, and walking policies and investments should the city make, if any, to achieve Transportation Action Plan mode split goals? What new or accelerated interventions, if any, do you see as appropriate for reaching VMT goals by 2050?
Phillipe M. Cunningham:
There is urgency to put the necessary policies and investments in place to hit the VMT/mode split goal. There are concrete interventions (pun intended) and also “softer” changes that need to happen to shift our cultural norms away from using cars to creating new transit users. Oftentimes, using modes of transportation besides single-occupancy vehicles is only seen as an inconvenience, particularly the additional time it takes to get to a particular location. This is why it is important for the various jurisdictions to collaborate and find ways to enhance expediency of transit lines. Further, I would like to see a public awareness campaign about the benefits of multimodal transportation. There are lots of positives to highlight, and everyday community members could be incentivized to explore other methods of travel by seeing these benefits. Lastly, building walkable communities that have the necessary amenities, goods, and services within our neighborhoods will inherently cut down on the VMT because people will be able to walk, roll, or bike to whatever they need.
As a city council member, I will continue to support bus rapid transit like Minneapolis’s D Line initiative and expanding the light rail. I’d like to see the Blue Line extension come down Lowry Ave. I will partner with community organizations, like Move Minnesota, to make public transportation more affordable, accessible, and efficient. I am not an expert in this field, but I will commit to working with and accepting counsel from the experts.
Bottineau/Blue Line Extension: This LRT project was deemed unworkable on its currently planned route on BNSF right-of-way. However, there is still substantial interest in a Bottineau project because transportation connects people to social activity, economic opportunity, educational institutions, healthy food, and critical health services. North Minneapolis has been historically underserved by transit compared to other parts of the city; however, there are also community concerns from North Minneapolis residents of displacement and gentrification surrounding the Blue Line extension project and transit-oriented development.
What policies or programs, if any, should the city implement to ensure the success of major transit investments for both current and future communities along the line?
Phillipe M. Cunningham:
I strongly support the LRT expansion to be installed on Lowry Ave N, which I fought alongside Ward 4 residents to get designated as a Cultural District. That designation and its accompanying ordinance put into place several policies and investments focused on investing in areas of historic disinvestment while also preventing displacement of current residents and businesses. Lowry Ave N is in desperate need of focused investments to build out mixed-use buildings that offer affordable housing opportunities and storefronts for Northsider-owned small businesses.
Additionally, community engagement processes are critical to the success of a project. This is not only true for successful implementation, but also for community buy-in and ownership of the process and end product. Engineering can be very prescriptive and lack a human-centered perspective to these types of projects. Community engagement and direct involvement helps to counteract this tendency. I appreciate the level of engagement that has been done thus far for the Blue Line extension. Lessons learned from this should be turned into policy and institutionalized as a cross-jurisdictional expected practice. Lastly, programs should be created that incentivize residents in the surrounding areas to become new transit users. Multimodal transit can be seen as burdensome and only the inconveniences known. Programs highlighting the benefits of transit use are critical for the success of transit investments.
I support the Blue Line extension on Lowry Avenue through Ward 4. I believe it
represents a historic opportunity to reinvest in our community and serve those who rely
on quick public transportation the most. This light rail will allow people in North
Minneapolis to get to work, shopping, and recreation in downtown and throughout the
Twin Cities much more quickly and easily. I understand the community’s concerns
regarding gentrification. That’s why we must focus on two policies: increasing
homeownership and preserving existing affordable housing. Minneapolis has already
made great strides for affordable housing. I support the city’s affordable housing trust
fund, which incentivizes developers to create subsidized housing in new developments. I
believe if we carefully develop business corridors in Ward 4 through transit, we will all
reap the benefits.
Hennepin Avenue: The City of Minneapolis is currently considering several design options for the stretch of Hennepin Avenue that runs between Lake Street and Franklin Avenue. The currently proposed design options for Hennepin Avenue include bus lanes, two-way traffic, and loading and parking zones; one option includes bike infrastructure, and the other design includes street greening.
On streets like Hennepin Avenue—which are key commercial corridors, have dense housing nearby, and have limited space to work with—what approach, if any, should the city take in balancing current and long-term needs for our transportation networks?
Phillipe M. Cunningham:
The City has a Complete Streets Policy for the exact reason of balancing the current and long-term needs of our transportation networks. We ran into a similar problem in 2015 when the City Council debated and ultimately passed a road design for the C Line on Penn Avenue North. Street greening was the priority. Now, that street is unsafe for pedestrians, bicyclists, and the transit users because the infrastructure built did not center the needs of the right of way’s users. We have a significant sidewalk gap, and it is one of the most dangerous roads to use in Ward 4 now. We need to implement the Complete Street Policy in all of our road reconstruction projects to find the necessary balance.
I believe the city must take a balanced approach to dense retail corridors such as Hennepin Avenue. We have seen mistakes the city council has made in the past. When the city decided to eliminate two lanes of traffic between Lake and 31st streets, the loss of parking decimated businesses on what was once an economically thriving corridor. We must make our city more livable for those who don’t drive cars, but we also must keep the needs of businesses and residents in mind. I have always been a pragmatic leader and will continue to work with community organizations and consult experts over these matters.
Bus Priority: Transit operations cross multiple jurisdictions of government. Metro Transit manages bus operations and service schedules. The city of Minneapolis and Hennepin County have authority over most of the streets Metro Transit Buses run through; and, the city also has control of the stoplights within city limits.
What improvements, if any, should the city be pursuing to improve speed and reliability for Minneapolis transit riders? How do you see the city, Metro Transit, and Hennepin County collaborating to improve bus service?
Phillipe M. Cunningham:
Given the fairly dangerous design of Penn Avenue North, I have advocated for improvements around stoplight timing to help prevent drivers and other buses from speeding into oncoming traffic to get around a stopped C Line bus before a light changes. Overall, however, I think the C Line is a fantastic example of what phenomenal transit can look like in practice. It is electric, predictable, and fast. I started using it while my car was out of commission, and ended up selling it because I no longer needed it! To have a cohesive multijurisdictional approach to improving bus services to be more reflective of the C Line, it is necessary to institutionalize a central committee where all of the different partners come together to focus on this specific issue. This committee can explore the data, find the opportunities for improvement, and develop policies to achieve those improvements.
The city should continue to expand upon already existing transit lines and continue to
make no- or low-carbon transportation more accessible. Not only do we need more funding
to continue to improve Minneapolis’ transit system, but we also need to listen to the
community and respond to their specific needs.
Parking Policy: The City of Minneapolis recently eliminated parking minimums; however, the city approved both a multi-thousand Allina parking ramp and proposed a parking plan for the Roof Depot site with spots for nearly every employee or visitor to travel by car, which is not in alignment with the city’s mode shift goals as cited in the TAP.
What role do you think the city should play, if any, in reducing parking to meet mode shift goals?
Phillipe M. Cunningham:
In reading a 2021 research article on built environments’ impact on behaviors, it showed that determinants of transportation behavior included the amount of available parking near someone’s home, as well as public transit accessibility and nearby bicycle infrastructure (Millard-Ball, West, Rezaei, & Desai, 2021). While the data showed the impact on behaviors due to infrastructure around someone’s home, there has not been data that shows changes in behaviors due to infrastructure around someone’s workplace. Of course, this could very well happen, but a serious concern I have is that people who own vehicles will just drive around their workplace trying to find somewhere to park for however long it takes, thus increasing emissions in the surrounding neighborhoods. Parking ramps can be converted to different uses based on the adaptations in transportation needs (i.e. electric vehicle charging stations). Based on the available research, focusing on increasing access to reliable public transit and safe bicycle infrastructure would likely have a larger impact in changing transportation behaviors.
Improving public transportation and decreasing our reliability on automobiles is a top
priority for me. I don’t believe that we need to reduce parking to achieve these goals. Many
businesses in my ward rely on parking availability to maintain revenue flow. I have always
been a proponent of bike lanes. I pioneered the NiceRide programs in North Minneapolis.
Minneapolis should move forward in a way that increases transit usage while keeping in
mind interests of small business owners.
Traffic Enforcement: A recent article in the Star Tribune found that 78% of police searches that started as stops for moving or equipment violations from June 2019 through May 2020 were of Black or East African drivers. Also, in 2016, Our Streets Minneapolis published a report that suggests black bicyclists face greater threats of police violence than white bicyclists, especially for small infractions like failure to use a light or riding on the sidewalk.
What role should the city play, if any, in changing or maintaining how minor traffic violations are enforced? or maintaining how minor traffic violations are enforced?
Phillipe M. Cunningham:
While this question focuses on minor traffic violations, what we have not talked enough about is major traffic violations. What is erased in the aforementioned statistics is the amount of children, particularly Black children, hit by aggressive drivers. The amount of property damage in predominantly Black neighborhoods is not captured. Aggressive driving is absolutely out of control in North Minneapolis, and the subsequent harm disproportionately impacts BIPOC residents. Traffic enforcement needs to happen as one strategy in our toolbox to reestablish our collective responsibility for driving what amounts to a deadly weapon for those who are walking, rolling, biking, and using transit. This is an incredibly complex issue, but it is not insurmountable. The City of Minneapolis should be lobbying at the State Legislature to change state statute that requires only sworn police officers to enforce certain types of moving violations. This will give us the flexibility to prototype and implement unarmed traffic enforcement; thereby, reducing potential negative interactions between police and community.
I believe in enforcing traffic regulations, however, I do acknowledge that police stops due to
traffic violations can lead to threats of police violence. I think there is room for both traffic
regulation and protection of black and brown bodies from police violence. Rather than
stopping cars for minor infractions like expired tags, we should focus on keeping drivers
accountable. Speed limits in neighborhoods need to be enforced so our children can play
outside safely. Stop signs need to be enforced so our family members and friends can get to
work safely. Again, I am glad to meet with community organizations and members to
ensure that the city council is directly addressing their needs and concerns.
Snow Removal: Sidewalks that are inadequately shoveled create both risks and barriers for pedestrians and transit riders. We also know that the risks and barriers aren’t experienced equally– with Minneapolis senior citizens and community members with disabilities being the most impacted by neglected sidewalks in the wintertime.
What changes, if any, would you advocate for in how our city addresses snow and ice removal from sidewalks during winter?
Phillipe M. Cunningham:
In North Minneapolis, we deal with a lot of negligent landlords of single-family homes who do not prioritize not only basic maintenance for the quality of housing of the tenants, but also taking responsibility for their property’s impact on the broader community. An example of this is failing to shovel the sidewalks. Citations and subsequent fines are just a part of doing business for them. This is an issue that we have to intentionally disrupt and solve. I would like to see a policy and/or practice put into place that after a certain number of citations, someone will come out and shovel the sidewalk and charge the cost to the property owner. Either they will take responsibility for it or they will adjust and consider that a part of the cost of doing business instead. We also need to create a more systematic response for people with disabilities and community elders who need assistance with this physically grueling task.
Snow and ice removal from sidewalks during the winter should be made more of a priority.
Sidewalks are how my neighbors’ kids get to school, seniors get out in the community,
people and animals get exercise, and how a lot of people get to work or other commitments.
People should not be forced to walk in the streets due to unplowed sidewalks where winter
driving is already hazardous. When I am a city council member, I will make sure that the
city council does a better job of addressing snow removal, because it is something that
impacts every single Minneapolitan.
Bike, Walk, Roll: What actions, if any, will you take to make Minneapolis better for biking, walking, and rolling by the end of your term, if you are elected?
Phillipe M. Cunningham:
I will continue to advocate for full implementation of the Complete Streets Policy (and its update to consider the evolving transportation realities). Additionally, it is my goal to someday cut a ribbon on a Northside drivers education center that will serve as a one-stop shop for responsible car ownership and use. It can offer low- to no-cost driver’s education and classes to community members on how to share the streets with bicyclists and pedestrians. It can serve as a diversion opportunity for people with moving violations to learn how to drive responsibly. There are a lot of needs around road safety in Ward 4, and creating a driver’s education center can help to change the environment and culture around how to safely use our streets and share them with other right of way users.
One of the largest reasons people I have spoken to are hesitant about biking, walking,
and rolling is their fear of safety while sharing the road with cars. There should be bike
lanes with ample width on more roads in Minneapolis as well as traffic enforcement to
ensure that vehicles are safely sharing the road with bikers. These are the major ways
the city can step in to make people feel safer biking in the streets and walking on the
Thank you to the candidates for their responses to the questionnaire.
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