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Minneapolis Ward 7 City Council Candidates’ Stances on Transit, Biking, Walking, and Rolling

From left to right: Joanna Diaz, Nick Kor

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?  

Joanna Diaz:

Selected the “daily” option,

My current mode of transport is either biking, walking, or taking the bus. Cedar Lake trail
had been my favorite biking route (prior to construction) due to all the cool wildlife one
could see while out biking. I use multiple bus route throughout Minneapolis depending
on where I need to go; some of them include bus routes 17, 597, etc.

Nick Kor:

Selected the “sometimes” 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?   

Joanna Diaz:

As an asthma sufferer I can totally empathize with these children and parents as I also live in between two major highway systems (I-94 and 394) and I have had bad asthma symptoms in the hot, smoggy days in the summer; however, as a Hispanic person I don’t believe climate change and pollution actively seeks me out. I have inherited an asthma condition which is exacerbated by the fact that I was exposed to 2 nd hand cigarette smoke as a child and now I get triggered by pollution and cold air. Climate change and pollution are happening in the environment, and we do have some control over it, and it is our responsibility to curb it. Pollution affects everyone in the Minneapolis that is why on the DOT billboards it advises that people that are sensitive to pollution to stay inside. Per the CDC guidelines on asthma,, genetic, environmental, and occupational factors have been linked to developing asthma. Environment factors also include mold, dust mites, secondhand tobacco smoke, etc. Minneapolis has done a great job with reducing emissions and using electric buses and light rail. We also need be conscientious of the people that will be affected in the redesign of the I-94 corridor North. Consideration of the METRO Orange line would need to take into effect the labor shortages that the metro is currently suffering from to see if it would be sustainable and cost effective to do so.

Nick Kor:

Minneapolis residents are some of the most affected by the negative externalities of I-94 and I-35W. Ward 7 feels the presence of one of the busiest stretches of I-94 often, with constant violent crashes, noise pollution, and carbon emissions. The communities of North Minneapolis have been even harder hit, with higher asthma rates and other health issues more commonly found in this community. It is time we change our attitudes around how we get around our cities and for that reason, I will not support any redesign of I-94 that does not 1) put the community first and 2) adequately prioritize other modes of transportation besides cars. The reconstruction of I-35 that is completely focused on expanding personal vehicle lanes is unacceptable, and our redesign of 94 must not have the same fate. The city must act as the lead on community engagement because city government is the closest to the people. Input from the people who live around the corridor in question will be the most vital to making a street that works for everyone. We also must hold MNDOT accountable with their community engagement. The city also has experts in transportation planning and engineering on payroll as well as invaluable data available to the public. The city should serve as a resource for information as well during the high planning process

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?

Joanna Diaz:

It is not that surprising that the VMT numbers only dropped by 2% between 2007- 2016. Unfortunately, due to our extreme weather conditions, -40 in the winter and 90+ in the summer, a lot of people still need to use other modes of transportation like personal vehicles. No one wants to wait for a late bus in a negative wind chill. We need to have realistic expectations for the VMT based on data. Example: Due to COVID, how much ridership was lost? Why was it lost (work from home options, limited number of people allowed on the bus, etc)?

It also doesn’t help that there is a labor shortage of bus drivers for Metro Transit which makes transit time worse and less cost effective for people trying to get to home and work.

Nick Kor:

Our transportation system is the largest source of carbon emissions in Minnesota. We
need to lead in transforming how people get around so as to not rely on gas-powered
cars. That means, making alternative forms of getting around: walking, rolling, or riding
the norm and designing our city to support this. I support community-based efforts to
redesign our streets, including with the Hennepin Avenue redesign effort underway, to
prioritize making our streets safer for everyone.

In addition, I will work to:
1) Increase transit oriented, equitable development that encourages non-car forms of
getting around
2) Use traffic mitigation strategies to promote transit alternatives, reduce carbon
emissions, and stop vehicle deaths. These include creating more protected bike lanes,
expanding sidewalks, and instituting road diets.
3) Push the city of Minneapolis, with its legislative agenda, to support long term
dedicated funding for public transit and pedestrian infrastructure at the Legislature
through things like a 1¢ sales tax in the metro area.

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?

Joanna Diaz:

I agree that North Minneapolis needs transit options to help the community access
critical health services, grocery stores, and educational institutions. However, I
don’t know if the LRT project is a great idea considering we already have a housing
shortage and there is possibility of displacing residents to build it.
We need the community of North Minneapolis to weigh in on what they would like
for their community and then we could figure out how to go about it in the most
cost-effective way.

Nick Kor:

Successful transit developments that do not result in displacement should always include community input from the very inception of the planning process. Investor prospecting will begin well before ground is broken and the only way to combat this is to listen to the communities that would be affected by any potential displacement. This is where rent stabilization, Tenant Opportunity to Purchase rights, and community ownership of land through land trusts and other community models come in.

Our campaign believes strongly that investment in an area of our city must include dollars going directly into the communities so that development will be community led. This also includes the contracting process for a large transit development including community owned businesses and businesses of color based in the community where development is occurring. Finally, the Blue Line Extension must include ample stops in the North Minneapolis community and the leadership on these logistics should be community-based organizations and stakeholders.

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?

Joanna Diaz:

Personally, I would never bike on Hennepin Ave even if there was a bike lane
option. There are too many drivers that speed on Hennepin, blow through stop
lights, etc. I do not feel that this is a safe option for cyclists.

They have already created a bus lane in the on-street parking section during the
weekday rush hour; however, it also displaces the residents that have housing in the
area and people that want to eat at a lot of the restaurants.

There has got to be a balance to redesigning Hennepin that takes into consideration
the people that live there and the business in the area as not all business have a
dedicated parking spaces

Nick Kor:

First, I wanted to voice my support for Option 1 for the redesign of Hennepin Avenue. I see bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit riders as assets to business corridors, especially in a city known for great bicycle infrastructure. Generally, I believe that our major corridors should have easy access to transit as well as dedicated bus lanes with red paint.

For major corridors, we should have easy access to transit, dedicated bus lanes, as well as buses having traffic control device technology to create more efficient and accessible bussing. We also need wider curb cutouts to prioritize pedestrian crossing as well as larger sidewalks. We also must have traffic calming measures and use separated bicycle infrastructure wherever possible.

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? 

Joanna Diaz:

I think in general the city of Minneapolis, Metro Transit and Hennepin have done a
decent job of providing bus service in the metro; however, due to the bus driver
shortages the wait for the bus can be sometimes hours. I know one Sunday
afternoon; it took me 2 hours and 15 minutes to get home when a normal bus ride is
only 30-40 minutes. If they aren’t already offering incentives for new drivers, they
should be and they should be giving bonuses to the current drivers. Maybe they
should also be considering a referral bonus program as well.

Nick Kor:

Buses are how most people in Minneapolis who use transit get around, so the reliability of buses is critical to our city’s mobility. For that reason, we must give buses their own rights of way as often as possible. This includes eliminating instances where buses merge into personal vehicle traffic, which drastically slows down service. I also advocate for bump outs around traffic stops so buses can approach and depart from their stops with ease as well as off-vehicle payment methods whenever possible. Cities such as Denver give buses priority at traffic devices and we should explore this as well. Finally, we must make our transit system more user friendly and the service quality high by developing easier to follow route systems, collecting data for future transportation route planning, and increasing services in areas with high transit demand.

The city plays a crucial role in both community engagement and street design regarding transportation. While the city does not necessarily lead the planning of bus lanes, our city engineers and planners do take charge on planning many of the pedestrian routes to get to buses as well as the general design of most city streets. We as a city must facilitate engagement between Hennepin County and Metro Transit to get an on the ground, community focused approach to planning.

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?

Joanna Diaz:

Parking has always been atrocious in Minneapolis, and I am glad they eliminated
the parking minimums but in the long run it is probably cheaper to pay for a
parking spot in the ramp than to pay for on street parking. You also must think in
the light of the recent COVID out break that not everyone is going to take public
transportation due to the amount of exposure. We have extreme weather events like
major snowstorms and heat so not everyone is going to want to wait for public
transit. I don’t think it is wrong to provide parking for people, but we should also be
encouraging and incentivizing them to take public transportation or bike or walk.
At the end of the day, it is a personal choice based on a person’s resources and
where they live.

Nick Kor:

The city should absolutely play a role in reducing parking minimums. While the city recently made strides in eliminating our antiquated parking policy, we still have so much farther to go to further incentivize commutes using other forms of transportation. First, we must understand that most of our workforce travels in single occupancy vehicles throughout the Twin Cities. We must address why. By having more efficient transit and pedestrian infrastructure, engineering, and planning, we will be able to move away from a car focused city. To do this, we must engage communities to learn about their needs for transportation infrastructure, not just rely on the recommendations of engineers and planners.

While we work to create a transit and walk/bike/roll system that promotes these forms of transportation, we can then also work on disincentivizing parking and congestion. Ideas such as congestion tax and changing for parking city wide are often mentioned. These are avenues we should explore but also recognize the regressive nature of fees such as this and ensure that there are alternatives that are less cost intensive.

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?

Joanna Diaz:

Honestly, we don’t have enough police officers to respond to emergency calls now,
so I don’t think it is practical for them to be policing minor infractions. As a cyclist
I do understand the need for a light on a bike because it allows a cyclist to be visible
and not be hit by a car. We need to have community information out there so
motorists and cyclists understand the need to ride safely in the community in which
they live.

Nick Kor:

We must eliminate pretextual stops and approach minor traffic violations with nonviolent
responders. Pretextual stops, like most aspects of our current police only approach to
public safety, disproportionately harm communities of color. Minor traffic violations must
also be reexamined. We must address whether certain traffic violations should still be
considered violations to begin with. If traffic violations result in a dangerous situation,
then an armed responder can address this problem with care. This will be possible if we
were to transition to a system of public safety that is focused on care, not criminalization
by passing Question 2 this November and using community input to build a robust
system through council.

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?

Joanna Diaz:

We need to create a program that incentivizes kids/teens to help their community (elderly
or disabled, businesses) with shoveling the sidewalks while giving them an option for
community service credit for school or paying them a wage for doing it.

Nick Kor:

I support a municipal snow removal service. A service such as this would not only help
increase safety, it would also create new high paying government jobs, make
transit/walking/rolling much more appealing, and alleviate the burden of snow removal
from elderly and homeowners with disabilities. I would also incentivize the hiring of city
residents for these positions.

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?

Joanna Diaz:

Did not send a response

Nick Kor:

Our bicyclists, pedestrians, and rollers must be prioritized by the city because they have been left out of our city’s transportation priorities for decades. Often left out of this conversation are people with disabilities. Our city can be doing so much more to assure accessibility on our city sidewalks and walkways. We must fully fund our Department of Civil Rights at the city, which could be a key protector of the rights of residents with disabilities with the correct resources. In this department, we should install an Office of Disability Justice as well as a citywide universal design plan. Next, we must reconstruct our streets with the appropriate complete street design elements. We should absolutely treat our streets as completely different entities catering to different populations block by block. There should not be a one size fits all approach, but there should be a common framework that prioritizes separation between modes, sidewalks that are wide and maintained enough for residents with mobility devices and upgraded curb ramps with bump outs that ensure the accessibility and visibility of walkers, bikers, and rollers.

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

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