Second Ward, Minneapolis

This is the public policy forum of Minneapolis Second Ward (Green) City Council Member Cam Gordon and his staff. We use this space to talk about some of what Cam’s working on, explain his positions, and share a little of what life in City Hall is like. Please feel free to comment on posts, within certain ground rules. See our disclaimer, including ground rules, here:

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Single and Dual Stream Recycling

The Council's Transportation and Public Works committee has received a very interesting report on single-stream and dual-stream recycling systems.  In a single-stream system, residents place all recyclables in the same container.  In a dual-stream system, residents place all containers (glass, aluminum and plastic) in one container, and all fibers (paper, newspaper, cardboard) in another.  Some key takeaways:
  • If we transition to single or dual sort, we are not likely to see any significant decrease in the revenue we make from recycled material, but are likely to see an increase in the recycling rate and the efficiency of our recycling service.
  • Many, if not most, other major cities in the US have switched from the multi-sort systems that most cities adopted in the 1980s to single- or dual-stream collection.
  • Customers of single and dual stream systems like them.
  • It is possible to switch to a dual or single stream system without increasing costs.
The committee directed Public Works staff to return with a recommendation on a new recycling program that best balances the values of cost effectiveness, convenience for customers, and reducing total environmental impact.  I look forward to this important discussion, which I hope will lead to an increase in the diversion of recyclable materials from the waste stream.

This is important, because our recycling rate is actually trending down, and has reached an embarrassingly low 17%.  Many other cities, including Saint Paul, are up in the 20s and 30s.  Hennepin County's goal for Minneapolis is for us to reach a 35% recycling rate.  In January, the Council will be considering a new solid waste and recycling Sustainability Indicator target to recover 67% of all recyclable materials from the residential waste stream by 2014 (this includes not only standard recyclables but organic waste and construction waste recovery as well).  We clearly have a lot of progress to make, and changing to a single or dual stream system could be part of the solution.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Cyclist Killed on West River Parkway

There's been another tragic crash that has resulted in the death of a bicyclist in Ward 2.  Last Saturday, 61-year old Thomas Malloy was biking to worship in Saint Paul.  He was attempting to cross West River Parkway from the bike trail to the ramp up to the East Franklin bridge when he was hit by a truck driven by Wesley Gubbin. 

According to what I've read in the media and heard from staff, Mr. Gubbin was driving north in the southbound lane, in order to pass vehicles that stopped - presumably conscientious folks taking the time to let Mr. Malloy cross the street.  Mr. Gubbin then drove away.

I am pleased to hear that Mr. Gubbin - likely spurred on by the fact that the police had a good description of his truck - has turned himself in.  It makes sense that he's been charged with criminal vehicular homicide, and he faces serious consequences for his reckless behavior.

In my opinion, this is not an infrastructure problem, but a problem of driver behavior.  When we choose to drive, we need to recognize that we have the power to end someone's life, and act with care. 

It's especially disturbing to me that this accident occurred on West River Parkway, because it links to complaints I've heard for years about driver behavior on the parkways.  The parkways are not speedways - they have a 25 mph speed limit for a reason.  They are facilities with parallel car, bicycle and pedestrian routes, and drivers need to be prepared to stop to allow pedestrians and bicyclists to cross.  When traffic stops in front of you on a parkway, please try to keep in mind that this is normal, not some sort of obstruction to veer around.  If you're in such a hurry that you can't comply with the 25 mph limit or wait for other road users to cross the road, please choose a different route.

Lastly, I want to thank the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition for working with Mr. Malloy's family on a memorial ride, tentatively planned for Sunday, November 29th, at 3pm.

Friday, November 04, 2011

More Socially Responsible Spending

This morning the council took a step towards spending tax payer dollars in a more socially reponsible and just manner.  

Following up on recommendations from the Disparity Study conducted last year, the Council has agreed to put in place our first-ever goal for the percentage of minority- and woman–owned businesses city government will purchase products and services from.  The goal is 25%.  This means that each department will review, track and report on its purchasing practices and that Civil Rights staff will assist them in finding certified minority or woman owned companies available to provide the products and services they need.  There are a wide variety of private businesses we use for goods and services including food and beverages, legal services, equipment repair, printing services and more.  Also, for the first time, goals will be placed on grant recipients who may be nonprofit service providers to also purchase goods and services from minority and woman owned businesses.  

According to the staff report, in 2010 some $95 million was spend to purchase such goods and services and could have been opened up to all small businesses. At a 25% inclusion goal, almost $24 million could have gone to woman- and minority owned businesses. Unfortunately, in 2010 we weren't even keeping track of this. In 2012 we will be.

I am a longtime supporter of this initiative and see it as an important step towards spending our public dollars in a more socially responsible way and being a leader in addressing the racial and gender inequities that we know exist in our city and region.

Farmers Market Ordinance - the Good Parts

Despite the unfortunate destruction of one of the critical pieces of the farmers market community's recommended ordinance changes by the Council this morning, there's a lot of other good stuff in this ordinance.

Most importantly, our ordinances will no longer be neutral on whether or not the food at farmers markets is local.  During the growing season, 60% of vendors at farmers markets will have to be agricultural producers, bringing foods like tomatoes and green peppers, or meat, eggs, and cheese to market.  Distributors will still be allowed, but they have to be part of the other 40%, and will not be allowed to sell foods that are available locally and in season.  (It's important to note that these changes don't apply to the Municipal market, which is governed by a different ordinance than the other farmers markets in town.)

The Mini Markets that were created in 2007 have been given legal standing (they weren't part of our ordinances before).  They've also been given more flexibility in choosing vendors; up until now, they've only been allowed to have agricultural producers, and those people have only been allowed to sell plant-based foods (like tomatoes and peppers).  Now they'll be able to have up to one distributor of foods like bananas, and one home processor, selling foods like jams, jellies, pickles or bread.

The ordinance creates a new license type called a "Produce and Craft Market."  These are allowed to be indoors or outdoors, and have much more flexibility in selecting their vendors.  Up to 70% of these markets can be crafters, artists, and others bringing products they've made to market.  Only 10% of these markets can be food distributors, though, to preserve the local connection, and no vendors may resell non-food items (sunglasses, knick knacks).

Farmers Markets will be allowed to have up to 6 indoor markets per year as part of their normal license, even if those markets occur on another site.  So, for instance, a market that takes place in the summer on a church parking lot will be able - for free - to have one winter market for every month of the off-season in a park building five blocks away.  All they need to do is write the location as part of their license application.

There are also a number of important clarifications in the ordinance, including a much cleaner list of definitions.

My thank sincere goes to all the staff and market managers who helped work on ths project and especially to my Aide, Robin Garwood for all his skill and energy helping to put this package together.

Managers or representatives of these markets were consulted, and supportive:

Mill City
West Broadway
Nicollet Mall
Midtown Global Market
The Farmers Market Annex

These folks also deserve special thanks


David Nicholson, Madeline Kastler, Aaron Reser

Tim Jenkins, Curt Fernandez, Katie Lampi, Steve Poor, Dan Huff, Linda Roberts, Joel Fussy and Jackie Hanson


Farmers Market Ordinance

The farmers market ordinance that my office has been working on for a year passed the Council this morning.  I will be writing another post about all of the good that I believe it will do, and thanking those involved in drafting it.

However, one major provision that the farmers market community asked for was deleted by the Council.  This was a requirement that Farmers Markets and Produce and Craft Markets be nonprofits, or the projects of nonprofits.  This was not an idea generated by City staff, but by the farmers market community itself.  They were looking to make clear to everyone that farmers markets are organizations established for the common good, and that this is an essential part of the identity of farmers markets. I beleive that this is summer we all know and appreicate about farmers markets today and that it is something most Minneapolitans value and would like to see continued.

The fact is that all large-scale farmers markets in Minneapolis, but one, are nonprofits (the one for-profit would have been grandfathered in as an adjunct to the Municipal market, which only exisits because it is across the street from it).  All markets were engaged in the process of drafting this ordinance.  All supported it.  Unfortunately, none of that mattered to the majority of my colleagues.

The motion to kill the nonprofit requirement was brought forward by Council Member Gary Schiff.  Those who voted in favor of striking the nonprofit requirement, against the expressed wishes of the farmers market community: Schiff, Colvin Roy, Goodman, Hofstede, Johnson, Quincy, Reich, Samuels, and Tuthill.

Those who voted to keep the requirement, in keeping with the community’s wishes: Gordon, Glidden, Hodges, Lilligren.

I’d like to share a little of the dismal process that brought us to this unfortunate outcome:
  • Despite the fact that our office shared the farmers market ordinance with Council Member Schiff’s office in early September, we were not informed that he planned to bring this amendment forward before this morning. A request by City staff and our office to brief CM Schiff was declined – he was the only CM to decline such an invitation.
  • In direct contravention of the adopted rules of the Council, Council Member Schiff's motion was presented verbally, not in writing.
  • Council Member Schiff's understanding of the ordinance was so limited that his motion to delete the nonprofit requirement included only the Farmers Market license type, leaving the requirement in place for the Produce and Craft Market license type.  This error had to be caught and corrected by others.
  • As of yesterday, Council Member Schiff and his office had not been in contact on this issue with the Midtown Farmers Market, the largest and oldest market in his ward.
  • Council Members Tuthill and Goodman expressed their support for the ordinance, including the nonprofit requirement, between the date of the industry meeting and the public hearing. They then voted against this key provision.
  • Council Members Samuels, Goodman and Hofstede voted in favor of the ordinance with the nonprofit requirement included in committee last week, then voted against the provision this morning.
We narrowly dodged having another motion from CM Schiff take another integral piece out of the ordinance as drafted by the farmers market community.  He moved to delete the entire section that requires farmers markets to be outdoors.  This would also have deleted the 6 indoor days per year – and, with them, the capacity to have those events on a different site, for free, as part of the standard farmers market license. This change would have undone one of the requests my office heard most clearly from farmers market folks over the last year: the desire to have your indoor, winter markets at a different site from outdoor. Again, because CM Schiff did not talk to me, my office, or members of the farmers market community before making this motion, we were unable to make this clear to him.
Fortunately, we won this vote, on a narrower-than-preferable 8-5 vote. Those who voted with the farmers market community: Gordon, Glidden, Hodges, Hofstede, Lilligren, Reich, Quincy, Samuels. Those who voted against the farmers market community: Schiff, Colvin Roy, Goodman, Johnson.

I fully expect that Council Member Schiff will use the events of this morning to attempt to paint himself as the best ally of the farmers market community.  I hope that this post helps set the record straight.

Bicycles as Traffic

This morning, the Council voted to include bicycles in the definition of traffic. 

In itself, this change is neither positive nor negative.  Bicycles were already defined in both State statute and City ordinance as vehicles, and vehicles are part of the definition of traffic.

From the state law (which Minneapolis adopts by reference):

Subdivision 1.Traffic laws apply.Every person operating a bicycle shall have all of the rights and duties applicable to the driver of any other vehicle by this chapter, except in respect to those provisions in this chapter relating expressly to bicycles and in respect to those provisions of this chapter which by their nature cannot reasonably be applied to bicycles.  [emphasis added]
And from the City ordinance before this change was made:
Traffic: Pedestrians, ridden or herded animals, vehicles and other conveyances either singly or together, while using any street or highway for purposes of travel.  [emphasis added]

I voted for this change, because it's clear that the process of adopting it has achieved some good results.  Here's the history.  Shaun Murphy, who coordinates the City's Non-Motorized Transportation Pilot program, worked with our Traffic Control department to address ongoing concerns about taxi drivers and others stopping and standing in bike lanes.  The initial reaction from the Traffic Control was that a bike lane isn't necessarily a traffic lane, because bicyclists aren't explicitly defined as traffic.

As the existing text of the relevant laws proves, this was essentially nonsense.  Bicycles are defined as vehicles.  Vehicles are part of the definition of traffic.  Bicycles are traffic, and have been for decades.

When this was presented to the Bicycle Advisory Committee (after the public hearing, interestingly), it was clear that Traffic Control had moved off of their original position before the ordinance was changed.  Basically, the ordinance change served as a catalyst, not a cause.

One other interesting note: the fee for private construction closing bike lanes has been, for reasons I can't fathom, been lower than the fee for standard traffic lanes.  It seems that might change now - again, not as a direct result of this change, because bicycles have always been traffic, but because of the conversations it's started.

My office has gotten a number of contacts from the bicycling community about this change, but folks mostly seem confused.  We've gotten questions like: is this a good thing or a bad thing?  Two members of the BAC, including my appointee Bob Hain, attended the public hearing not to speak on the issue but learn whether this change will have any impact.  Neither of the local organizations whose take on bicycling issues I trust - the BAC and the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition - took any position on this.

So, on balance: this change doesn't create any problems, and the process to approve it has helped solve some.  But, in itself, it's almost a non-change and falls short of being a major step forward for bicyclists in Minneapolis.