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Minneapolis Ward 5 City Council Candidates’ Stances on Transit, Biking, Walking, and Rolling

From left to right: Jeremiah Ellison, Suleiman Isse

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.

The Responses

Question 1:

What is your primary mode of transportation? How often do you ride transit?  

Jeremiah Ellison:

Selected the “sometimes” option,

When I was riding transit, I rode the 19 as my commute. I was also a frequent rider on the C Line and the 5.

Suleiman Isse:

Selected the “rarely: once or twice a year A.K.A state fair or event rider” option

Question 2:

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?   

Jeremiah Ellison:

As the current Ward 5 council member, I’m all too aware of the health disparities between North Minneapolis and the rest of the city. The city, county and state, all have a history of using transportation projects to destroy and damage BIPOC communities. The damage doesn’t just stop with tearing down homes to build freeways, it’s still happening today because of things like air pollution, traffic fatalities, and the impacts of climate change. Poor air quality is one of those disparities that isn’t immediately apparent to a lot of folks. During my first term, I worked to get the Northern Metals shredder closed ahead of schedule for exactly this reason.

I know that my constituents travel by all modes to get to their jobs. Driving is usually a lot faster than the bus, and with so many demands on peoples’ time, a couple minutes travel time (or more) can make a huge difference. Plus, I know first hand that the bus isn’t always reliable. If we’re going to reduce the impact of the freeways on our neighborhood, people need other options to get around. We need significantly better investments in transit for those who already use it and to get people to switch from driving. The C-Line has been a great addition to our Ward, and I’m looking forward to the D-Line opening soon. I think that there is a lot of potential with the new proposed routes for the Bottineau Blue Line LRT project. The previous route bypassed all the commercial areas and potential job centers in North.

In general, I think the city has a big role to play righting these historic wrongs. We need to work on increasing housing density and diversifying land uses in our ward. When people have more opportunities closer to home, they automatically have more transportation choices. We need to work closely with MnDOT and the Met Council to make sure that people have options in how they get around and that we are doing everything we can to support that.

Specifically, I’ve been an active participant in the Highway 252/I-94 project. CM Reich and I co-authored a resolution expressing the City’s priorities for the project, which you can find here. As a result, we were able to get the environmental process transitioned from an EA (environmental assessment) to an EIS (environmental impact statement) which allowed the City to more firmly assert our goals for improved transit and reduced VMT in the I-94 corridor. I also put forward an amendment to the City’s comments on the EIS to better represent our opposition to additional lanes on I-94. The amended comment letter is here.

Suleiman Isse:

As the article mentions, this issue doesn’t just encompass health solutions but mainly plays into affordable housing, environmental control, and proper education. But environmental pollution does play a crucial role as well, so I’ll address that first. The current highway structure could be approved to minimize the pollution emitted when near housing by looking into whether raising or tunneling the roads will cause any difference in air quality. Of course this will not get rid of the pollution as it will have to go somewhere. Moving towards Minneapolis’ goal of less vehicle private commuting will definitely help this, but that will take time and the community’s cooperation. Hinging asthma carriers’ health in these marginalized communities would not be as beneficial as some of the other solutions that would do good in helping faster. The other solutions mainly start with educating our children who have asthma. This could be done by receiving city funding to open more camps, making all free for the public. A policy could also be passed stating that all medical professionals must push for parents to send their children there once they come in for a check up. The issue then comes of a failed healthcare system for Black, Indigenous, and People of Color as gaps in coverage is normal for people of this background. This also will need to be addressed in terms of reevaluating the restrictions of healthcare. This could lead into either the authorization of asthma visits for individuals lacking coverage or the creation of a better healthcare coverage service for these communities. Next comes the issue of housing. Most of these families cannot afford housing due to a lack of income. This touches on two areas. A lack of affordable housing (and also a lack of options for people of color in home ownership) and a lack of livable wages. I’ll only address what needs to be addressed to resolve this issue for time sake, as both topics are large and require a thorough explanation for their probable solutions. In order to allow home ownership for marginalized communities lease restrictions need to be changed. A lease that offers families to approach with more than one person on the lease (ex. the partners as cosigner’s and possible roommates as leasers) will open the door to individuals who might not make enough alone, but combined with others they can pay off the home. With this set up families can then live in better housing and be able to renovate to their needs to avert allergies, and could also choose better towns away from roadways to fit their needs. Other small changes can be made to help as well, such as improving upon the policy for landlord management for asthma cases and so on and so forth, but tackling housing, education, and roadway structure will prove to better Black, Indigenous, and People of Color’s health the most.

Question 3:

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?

Jeremiah Ellison:

I’m glad we’ve set such an ambitious goal. As mentioned in the previous response, I’ve used that goal in discussions about freeway expansion projects to advocate for taking a different approach to transportation to and through our city. I’ve mentioned transit investments, already, and I do believe that’s a critical piece. The C Line and D Line are good upgrades to our busiest bus routes. I think things like more frequent and reliable bus service can do a lot for our community. A lot of these types of projects are regional, which is why we have to work with our partners to make them happen. I’d also like to see more street lights and better sidewalks for folks traveling to and from transit stops.

With so many zero-car households, my guess is that Ward 5 residents aren’t the biggest contributors to city-wide VMT. We’re all in this together, of course, but if we’re serious about this goal people who have choices about how they travel are going to have to make different choices. People driving through our Ward and our city are going to need to change how they travel, and that takes regional solutions.

Suleiman Isse:

As a starting point, increasing the availability of rentable scooter and biking access points will prove to encourage the public with subtle reminders. Posting educational ads at these locations as well as airing them to convince the public of the environmental impact their community has will also help in normalizing the transition. The issue comes with most people who commute by vehicle have vehicles, so we need to convince them that using said transportation is less efficient. This could play into the betterment of public transport times as well as estimating out money saved by commuting via bus. Educating the public who are used to commuting by vehicle on how to use all other options will also be necessary, whether that be via ads or instructional signs near the areas of transport. Also creating more ATMs and bus pass machines would also prove beneficial. Or a simple explanation of where to go online to receive a bus pass, and working with public transit to simplify the website set up to make finding routing and bus pricing options easier for the public would also be crucial. Currently most public members who are on the fence about driving a vehicle still opt for one due to the confusion in riding the bus and the lack of knowledge on where to find information. Working to extreme public transit lines and routes would also boost the public’s usage of the lines. –Addressed in a later question is my stance on the North’s solution to public lines extending out to them. Although, overall improving availability per neighborhood to ensure everyone was within walking distance of healthy food vendors and basic commodities would greatly impact the amount of long distance trips requiring a vehicle residents would need to make. This is just some of what could be done to benefit the city towards its goal for low vehicle transit for 2050.

Question 4:

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?

Jeremiah Ellison:

Transit is an essential part of our future as a sustainable city, and I’m excited for the opportunities that the LRT project might bring. And, because we’re not building enough housing in Minneapolis, or in the Twin Cities, displacement is a real concern for a lot of northsiders even without a major investment like this.

This is one of the reasons that so many of the policies I have authored and passed are housing policies meant to prevent displacement and gentrification in our city. For example, the Renter Protections ordinance that passed in 2019, which caps security deposits at a maximum of one month’s rent and removes unnecessary tenant screening barriers. Or the Renters First Housing Policy that also passed in 2019, which affirms the City’s commitment to advancing renter protections and developing new tools to support affordability and stability in rental housing. In 2021 I co-authored the Pre-eviction Filing Notice ordinance, which requires landlords to give tenants notice that they intend to file an eviction. Lastly, I advocated for instituting the Emergency Stabilization pilot program, an unprecedented use of City property to help stabilize households facing imminent displacement.

As for anti-displacement policies currently in the works, I am co-authoring a Tenant Opportunity to Purchase ordinance, which would give tenants the first right to buy their homes when the owner wants to sell. I am also co-author of the Rent Stabilization charter amendment, which would allow the City Council to pursue a future rent stabilization ordinance, with the goal of protecting our neighbors from unlimited price gouging and preventing evictions. Lastly, I’m co-authoring the Right to Counsel ordinance, which would enact a right to legal services for low-income renters when facing eviction.

We also know that displacement affects businesses as well. That’s why I established the Commercial Property Development Fund, to help local, Black- and POC-owned businesses buy the buildings they rent in the communities they live in and serve.

I’ve also met with the Harrison neighborhood several times. When the Blue Line Extension along Olson Memorial Highway looked like it was going to happen, property values started to go up. That’s not inherently bad, but the City doesn’t have a good mechanism to stop property owners from evicting tenants and pursuing more profitable options with their property.

The setback on this project and potential new alignment actually allows us to be more deliberate this time around. I’ve pushed to include anti-displacement measures in the new project from the beginning. I’m optimistic that we can work with the Met Council to bring the benefits of LRT to North Minneapolis and make sure that our current residents get to enjoy those benefits.

Suleiman Isse:

Since previous plans have failed due to BNSF’s ownership over the railways needed to access the north, I propose we find another way of negotiating with them. From BNSF’s standpoint over the years they repeatedly showed disinterest in sharing 8 miles with public transit. If we negotiated for less space and created only the railways necessary outside of what they won’t let us use we could still access the north. Currently the city is saying they’re open to negotiating with other railway lines who would like to work with them. But no major progress had been made towards engaging with any of them. We’ve mainly just been fighting BNSF, who has proven to be unmoving and unwilling on our current option. If no other line has stepped forward yet, and seeing in the manner at which BNSF operates, it would be better to plan for initializing funding for an ulterior plan of only using part of other railways if possible, leading off to public transport tracks only as deemed necessary. Going back and forth arguing over the same stance lacks luster. Although, I can see the meaning behind trying to make an efficient budget and to utilize what’s already been created, with such a case like this with residents in the most needed areas being isolated, that’s not the top priority. Plans need to start moving and sacrifices need to be made in order to get this done to match the public’s needs.

Question 5:

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?

Jeremiah Ellison:

Hennepin Avenue isn’t in my Ward, but I agree with the intention of the project to create a more multi-modal corridor. To me this seems like an excellent opportunity for Minneapolis to work towards the goals in our Transportation Action Plan. Bus lanes are an inexpensive way to help keep things on schedule, and I’m in favor of anything that improves transit reliability. I’m sure that Wards 7 and 10 have the same issue with pass-through traffic that we do in Ward 5.

Suleiman Isse:

If possible, I think with the city’s plan to move towards more bikers the combination of the bus
lane into a portion of the bike lane would be optimal spatially. If the initial plans for the bike
infrastructure contain places to direct biking that’s even better and safer. If space allows street
greening that will be greatly beneficial to moving towards an eco-friendly way of irrigation.
Which will become necessary in the years to come as the city will have to come up with more
solutions to combat climate change. In the city’s ongoing strive to build a city where vehicle
transportation is less, I would maybe also re-access the parking arrangements to make sure there is only what is absolutely needed to maintain a firm business. As extra lot space not being used could prove to be a good commodity in area tight places like Hennepin Ave. That would be my approach to try to optimize the streets area with the city and residents needs in mind.

Question 6

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? 

Jeremiah Ellison:

Things like bus priority and transit lanes are an easy way to improve bus service without a lot of capital investment. We’ve been doing this kind of thing sort of piecemeal, and it would be great if we could do more to support our busiest routes all at once. It can be very frustrating to sit on a crowded bus stuck in traffic, especially in areas like downtown. This is an area where a process like we undertook for the Renters First Housing Policy could be beneficial. In development of that policy, we worked with City departments to view their work through a renter-centric lens in order to minimize the impact of their actions on renter housing stability. I’d be supportive of anyone looking to undertake a similar effort with the Public Works Department as it relates to supporting transit in our city.

Suleiman Isse:

With the city stating their current control over most of the prominent streets for routing, I’d
exercise the usage by keeping tags on the transit routes. With knowing where and when the bus changes, lights can be modified to change faster as a bus is approaching. The city, Metro Transit, and Hennepin County can collaborate on this matter by communicating together to make this solution happen.

Question 7

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?

Jeremiah Ellison:

Eliminating parking minimums was a huge step towards reducing the cost of building housing and it’s something that we should be really proud of as a city. Renters and condo owners shouldn’t have to pay for the cost of building parking that they don’t need. However, the policy doesn’t force developers not to build parking spaces.

Suleiman Isse:

This is wrong of the city to do as it goes against the city’s goals. However, I can see the meaning behind granting parking to employees of Allina. Allina employees are needed more than ever, especially this year with COVID-19. Most healthcare workers are currently faced with possibly working irregular hours and being called in for crucial medical cases. With this in mind, for oncall or employees who already have long work days it would be out of line to tell them to take another form of transportation to work. Reliability needs to be thought about as how the medical professional gets into work isn’t something thought of. It’s a necessary requirement to be on time when needed and to beat any traffic when possible. Also coming from their work of working with tons of ill patients, some maybe with COVID, and telling them to go on public transport afterwards is hazardous for other riders. For time-important occupations like this I’d say restricting parking to a little over the necessary employees mark with a little additional parking for visitors with ailments would be a good starting point. For non-time-compressed jobs I’d recommend limiting parking to match customer usage alone and encourage employees to transport in, or otherwise find parking elsewhere. There are a lot of parking lots with excessive parking for their customer size that actually use vehicles. This is unnecessary and uses up a lot of extra space for nothing. Going forward limits should be placed on lots as deemed crucial, taking into account the employees and public’s needs.

Question 8

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?

Jeremiah Ellison:

As someone who has been advocating for and working to reform policing in our city since before I was in office, I’m obviously familiar with the disparities in traffic enforcement. The deaths of Daunte Wright and Philando Castile and countless others show how easily traffic stops can escalate to the worst possible outcome. 

At the same time, I know that traffic safety has become an even bigger concern in Ward 5 in the last few years – my constituents are concerned about drivers speeding and ignoring stop signs on their streets. People want to see traffic laws respected, and enforcement is probably part of that picture.

In 2019, the Council considered asking MPD to stop making certain types of traffic stops, which you can read about here. Ironically, the argument for keeping those types of stops with the MPD was not about enforcing traffic laws – it was about having a pretext to search people’s vehicles.  

This is an area where I’m hopeful that, should the Public Safety amendment be passed, we can shift things like speeding tickets and minor infractions to unarmed personnel. I want my neighbors to feel safe traveling around the city, regardless of their chosen mode.

Suleiman Isse:

In terms of police prejudice against Black or East African commuters I think with the state of how the police have dealt with and processed their community members’ needs that police are in great need of reform. Retraining by the city and reevaluating each officer mentally is a good starting point. There is no reason why a Black of East African individual should be called out more than that of any other resident. The law is the law and there should be no greater bias behind enforcing it, or the lack of enforcing it in some cases to align with internal false ideologies. The majority of police have proved themselves unnecessary for these cases since this is such a persistent ongoing issue that has caused part of the public to not have anyone to turn to when safety is threatened. Even the public who can call on the police see this discrimination and refuse to stand idle. The police have responded to this by standing idle and having poor response times to many crimes in Minneapolis. Therefore leaving Minneapolis in need of the police again for these serious offences. With all this in mind, I do not support the police being involved in small incidents like enforcing commuting laws. The amount of discriminatory-based cases of police brutality is so overwhelming that the majority of the public has voiced that any form of changing the police to let them resolve small conflicts would be a step in the wrong direction. Instead I think a better solution would be to train regular community members into traffic laws to enforce safety concerns. These members would also be trained in de-escalation, basic self defense, and whatever else is deemed necessary for traffic enforcement. This grouping of trained individuals will have nothing to do with the police and police will no longer have any involvement with smaller cases for the public’s safety. To make this happen the city will have to pass various policies and regulations restricting police involvement. As well as having a strict system of consequences and, in some cases, permanently firing of officers who disobey said restrictions. All training of new individuals will also have to be supported by the city to oversee the conductivity of.

Question 9

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?

Jeremiah Ellison:

I agree that snow removal is a huge problem. As a community, we need to be more efficient about how we do snow removal. In residential areas, it’s a lot to ask of our residents to take on this time-sensitive maintenance activity in addition to everything they’re already doing in a day. Absentee landlords and vacant lots add to the issue because it can take a while for a sidewalk reported through 311 to get cleared by the city. I’d love to see something organized by block or neighborhood to clear everything at once.

Suleiman Isse:

Enforcing can only be done so much with the general public. For businesses a high fine can be brought down and postings could be made outside businesses with yearly issues of neglectance to display contact numbers for help in suing for affected customers. For small businesses a lower fine should be brought about, as to not affect profit drastically, but if repeat offence is made the same sign could be posted. The main issue lies in private owned houses through neighborhoods. The public is already in a crisis financially, with homelessness and affordable housing already being prominent issues of concern. Issuing more fees for icy roadways is a push in the wrong direction for those individuals as icy walkways aren’t the first thing on their mind. I believe if the city brought about a way of communicating to the public, by sending out a census of sorts or something, and by using their own data to figure out who in the general public cannot salt their walkways for whatever reason and who can consistently then a route could be created for the city of where to pay special attention per neighborhood. A committee, or the workers who salt the roads, could then be made to help ensure all roads are salted for the elderly and disabled citizens.

Question 10

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?

Jeremiah Ellison:
This next term is only a two-year term, but I plan to continue the work that I’m doing working with our partners on big regional projects like Highway 252/I-94, Blue Line Extension, and implementing the Transportation Action Plan. Like I said, I’m hopeful that if the Public Safety Amendment passes, we’ll have a lot more freedom to address inequitable traffic enforcement, which will have a huge impact on how people in my ward get around.

Suleiman Isse:

Like I’ve stated previously, someone needs to work with the city to restrict parking in a thoughtful manner, while also taking note of individual community members’ complex needs, to deliver a concrete solution that will help shape the city for easier street transportation. To get to this goal a lot of other topics need to be addressed, like public safety, homelessness, and affordable housing just to name some. A competent leader who knows how to listen to the community and make long lasting plans would be a great fit, and I hope to fill that role to serve my city.

Thank you to the candidates for their responses to the questionnaire.

Early voting is already underway in Minnesota. For more information on how to check your voter registration, absentee voting, and early voting please visit the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website.