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:

Monday, September 30, 2013

More Study Needed on Minnehaha Avenue

For months, we have had a public conversation about the type of bicycle facility that should be installed on Minnehaha Avenue.  This is part of a broader community conversation about how public agencies can change our streets to make them safer and more welcoming for bicyclists and pedestrians.  In turn, this is part of a much broader set of discussions about how we can increase public health, reduce our impact on climate change, and reinvigorate our commercial corridors.

Unfortunately, Hennepin County has decided to reject a physically protected cycletrack option for Minnehaha Avenue and to instead pursue a more traditional on-street painted bike lane option.

Few people I have spoken to supported the cycletrack layout that Hennepin County presented to the public, because it had several major problems:
  • It required the loss of approximately fifty additional trees
  • It required the loss of approximately fifty additional parking spaces
  • It did not include any of the national best practices for designing safe cycletrack intersections.

My staff or I attended every one of the public meetings on Minnehaha this summer and fall, both those organized by the County and those organized by the Longfellow Community Council.  From our observations, these three design problems generated nearly all of the negative comments regarding the cycletrack design.

These design problems are not inherent to a cycletrack layout.  They were created by particular design decisions made by Hennepin County staff.  The Minneapolis Bicycle Advisory Committee pointed out these design problems and suggested several possible solutions to each back in June of 2013.  Hennepin County brought national experts on cycletrack design into Minneapolis for a presentation in April, and these experts shared many ideas for making cycletrack intersections safe.

Despite these timely comments, Hennepin County has never generated a cycletrack layout that incorporates intersection safety best practices (ironically, I have heard that some of these best practices have been incorporated into the bike lane layout) and minimizes tree and parking loss.

It is impossible to make a rational comparison between a well-designed bike lane and a badly-designed cycletrack.  We simply do not yet know if a well-designed cycletrack on Minnehaha would increase safety and ridership while winning broad public support, because such a cycletrack layout has not been generated or presented.

It has been clear from the beginning of this design process that Hennepin County Public Works staff was opposed to the concept of a cycletrack on Minnehaha.  This position has remained unaltered despite:

Hennepin County’s decision to proceed with bike lanes rather than a cycletrack on Minnehaha is unsurprising, but it is not based on national best practices, academic research, the stated opinions of bicyclists who participate in our bicycle advisory committees, or the preponderance of contacts from stakeholders on Minnehaha.  More importantly, it does not reflect an “apples-to-apples” comparison between the best possible bike lanes and the best possible cycletrack.

This decision will have very long-term impacts.  Minnehaha will likely not be reconstructed again for fifty years or more.  This is our opportunity to make a major improvement for bicycling infrastructure in Longfellow.  Before Hennepin County misses that opportunity, it should at least strive to create the best possible cycletrack layout, to give all stakeholders a chance to do an honest assessment between the options.  Creating such a layout will likely require a delay to this project, but it is important to get this fifty-year project right, because we won’t likely get another chance.

Because Hennepin County Public Works staff has been clear that they do not support a cycletrack for Minnehaha since the beginning of the process, it would be helpful at this point to bring in outside experts on cycletracks to redesign the cycletrack layout and present that design to the public.  Either of the firms Hennepin County brought to Minneapolis in April would do this work well.

Because I know that both options have not been fully and honestly explored, I am not prepared to vote to give municipal consent to the Minnehaha layout being finalized by Hennepin County staff.  I will be urging my colleagues on the Minneapolis City Council to join me in voting against granting municipal consent, so that we can see a better cycletrack option before making a decision with such long-term impacts.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

New Poll "Proves" that Minneapolis Residents Love Pesticides!

A new poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling, purports to show that the people of Minneapolis love pesticides and want the City and Park Board to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars injecting said pesticides into ash trees, rather than removing and replacing them.

Guess who paid for the poll?  Arborjet, the manufacturers of one of the pesticides in question.

If that's not reason enough to take these results with a shaker full of salt, here are some of the not-at-all loaded questions respondents were asked:

  • "Do you believe the city should remove 40,000 otherwise healthy ash trees before Emerald Ash Borer kills them, or do you think an environmentally-sound ash-protection option should be pursued?"
  • "If you knew residential and city ash trees could be confidently protected with a small amount of insecticide sealed inside the tree using trunk injection, would you support or oppose that option?"
  • "Would you expect city leaders to adopt an environmentally-sound method to protect the city’s ash trees, to help reduce energy consumption, preserve property values, protect neighborhood character, and save taxpayers money?"
  • "Would you be more or less likely to support a city official who supported a plan to preserve the city’s ash trees while also preserving property values, neighborhood character, and saving taxpayers money?"
They might as well have asked whether Minneapolis residents are supportive of motherhood, clean air, and healthy children.

There's a reason, when a political candidate's campaign releases an "internal" poll that they have paid for, that those polls are treated as suspect and less serious than a poll by a neutral party.  The answers you get depend on the questions you ask.  In that spirit, here are some alternative wordings that may have produced slightly different results:
  • Would you support seeing public agencies spend hundreds of thousands of dollars per year for the next decade or more keeping public ash trees on artificial life support, dependent on a toxic chemical called emamectin benzoate, or would you prefer that public agencies enact short-term taxes to re-leaf our city?
  • Would you support or oppose the government introducing large amounts of a new pesticide into the urban environment?
  • If you learned that bees and other pollinators likely eat ash pollen, and that according to research, "all of the systemic insecticides used to control EAB will impact other species of insects that feed on treated ash trees," likely exacerbating Colony Collapse Disorder, would it make you more or less supportive of widespread introduction of these pesticides into the urban environment?
  • If you learned that an EPA study of emamectin benzoate "identified potential risks to terrestrial invertebrates that forage on treated trees" and that "potential risks to birds, mammals, and terrestrial invertebrates also presumably exceed levels of concern, and potential risks to aquatic invertebrates could not be precluded," would you support spending taxpayer dollars on introducing more of this chemical into the urban environment?
  • Should government wait until the Emerald Ash Borer infestation becomes a crisis, with thousands of standing dead trees in Minneapolis that are at risk of falling on houses, cars and people, to begin removing ash trees, or should government proactively address the issue by planting new replacement trees now?
Unfortunately, I don't have the financial wherewithal to put this theory to the test, because I don't stand to make a lot of money off of selling pollinator-killing pesticides to the people of Minneapolis.

Instead, I'll just counsel you, my constituents and everyone else to ignore this self-serving, manipulatively-worded poll.

Closing the Locks

This is good news: Congress is poised to close the Saint Anthony lock.  This will effectively stop the spread of invasive carp species to the rest of the Mississippi and related watersheds north of Minneapolis.  It will also save taxpayer money, because this lock now sees much less use than comparable facilities.

I realize that there will be some impact on industry, and some of that impact will be in Minneapolis.  But the job and other economic losses from the lock closure - 72 jobs, according to one report - are nothing compared to the economic impacts of the invasive carp taking over the waterways north of our city.  And this closure may also aid the efforts of North and Northeast Minneapolis to redevelop the riverfront, which will create different kinds of jobs and housing opportunities.

A note on the risks posed to waterways in northern Minnesota: they're not "exaggerated," no matter what the Army Corps of Engineers says.  While there are dams north of Minneapolis, none stand as good a chance as the Saint Anthony dam to stop the invasive carp.  And the idea that it's acceptable to allow this invasive species to destroy northern Minnesota waterways because the BWCA and "other popular northern Minnesota waters are not connected" to the Mississippi is absolutely crazy.  Here are the watersheds that would be contaminated if we fail to stop the invasion at the Saint Anthony lock:

  • The northern Mississippi, obviously
  • Leech Lake River
  • Pine River
  • Crow Wing River
  • Redeye River
  • Long Prairie River
  • Sauk River
  • Crow River, north and south forks
  • Rum River
These watersheds include Lake Mille Lacs, among many others, and something like fourteen state parks.

I do not believe that his is an exaggerated risk.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Turnout Projections for this Fall

The Star Tribune is out with a blog post that asserts that Minneapolis elections officials "project 75 percent voter turnout."

I am concerned that there may have been some miscommunication because I don't think that's not quite right.  As the Council's Elections chair, I have been in many conversations with our Elections staff about this fall, and I can say with certainty that the Elections department has not made a prediction for voter turnout.  Rather, staff have set the staffing levels for precincts based on a 75% turnout, because it's far better to have too many election judges on election day than too few.  They based that decision on the factors cited by Elections Director Wachlarowicz in the article: the open mayor's race, past trends, etc.  But this is intended to be a conservative, high-water-mark estimate that will ensure that we don't create problems for voters this November.

My concern is that this misleading headline - "Minneapolis election officials predict 75% turnout" - will be used to justify criticisms of this fall's election when and if the turnout is lower than 75%.

And, of course, all indications are that turnout will likely be less than 75%.  In addition to the turnout numbers cited by Eric Roper for past municipal elections (46% in 1997, 45% in 1993), it's important to note that many state and federal elections haven't reached 75% voter turnout in Minneapolis.  The 2010 election saw 56% turnout, the 2006 election saw 66% turnout, and even the 2004 presidential election saw "only" 70% turnout.

The City's decision to staff for a 75% election is a good one.  It reduces the chances that voters will face delays and other election-day problems.  But it's not a prediction or projection of turnout.