Last Thursday a Hennepin Avenue layout resolution was passed by the City Council’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee. This will go before the City Council for a (potentially) final vote this Thursday, August 4th at 9:30 AM. Some are referring to this as a compromise, but that’s not what this resolution represents.
A summary of key points and questions:
- The Transportation Action Plan is already adopted city policy. Recommitting to existing policy and goals (25% of trips by transit by 2030, reduction of greenhouse gas emissions of 80% by 2050, annual reduction in vehicle miles traveled of 1.8%) is not a compromise.
- 4-6 hours of bus lanes were the minimum that the Frey administration was already planning. Six hours of bus lanes is not a compromise.
- A commitment to transparency when it comes to data and decision-making metrics is a bare minimum expectation of good government. It’s not a compromise.
- We believe it should be clarified whether the “6 hour minimum” means for the full length of the corridor. We know the Frey administration was planning for no PM hours on the northbound side of Hennepin below 25th Street.
- We don’t understand the purpose of the arbitrary 24-month post-construction time restriction: “the transition to all-day or 24-hour operations will not begin for at least 24 months after completion of construction…” We’re concerned this may be ambiguous enough (“transition… will not begin”) to be interpreted to mean that the hours on opening day will remain the same for 24 months, regardless of evidence showing a need for more hours.
We’re glad to see Mayor Frey recommitting to already adopted city policies and goals in this resolution. But it’s not the first time he’s made this commitment: he signed the Transportation Action Plan into law in December 2020. We have little confidence that restating his commitment leads to a different result years from now.
Bus lane hours are still inadequate based on the city’s own data, which shows a high to moderate risk to transit service by converting the bus lane to parking for 18 hours per day. This assessment was withheld from the public, possibly because the data didn’t align with the Frey administration’s preferred outcome.
We know that when she was appointed several months ago, Mayor Frey’s Public Works Director, Margaret Anderson Kelliher, immediately began in her new role by discarding the work of the city’s professional staff, who’d spent the last year-and-a-half making a case for why full-time bus lanes are essential to the success of a $60 million transit upgrade (language that is still accessible on the city’s project website). After the shift in department leadership, there was no evidence-based argument for why the staff recommendation was wrong, or why a new direction was necessary – only gaslighting about how the plan had not actually changed.
We understand why, in the negotiations that produced this agreement, Mayor Frey was asked to sign his name to a promise of data transparency and metrics to be used for future decisions about expanded hours. But we have little confidence that this won’t lead to more data manipulation and denial if the Public Works department continues to be led by Margaret Anderson Kelliher.
This resolution is not a compromise. These are just new promises on top of broken promises – a vague pledge that next time we will live up to our commitments on sustainable, affordable, and equitable transportation.
Note the painful irony that on the same committee agenda where this agreement was announced – relegating bus lanes to parking for 18 hours per day on Hennepin Avenue South – there was a layout approval for a different stretch of Hennepin serving the same E-Line bus rapid transit line. The County’s layout for Hennepin and First Avenues NE was approved with full-time bus lanes.
Our disappointment in this outcome is not to discount the efforts of council members Aisha Chughtai and Andrew Johnson who negotiated the resolution. We believe it really was difficult work getting the Mayor to concede he would live up to his word and conduct his administration in a transparent fashion. Instead, we’re disappointed in the five member minority of the City Council who allowed Mayor Frey’s veto to be the final word.