Twin Cities Boulevard Update, July 2022
It is difficult to hold officials accountable at an accountability forum if they do not attend.
Despite the lack of representation from the mayors of Minneapolis or St. Paul or the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT), Our Streets Minneapolis staff presented a concise version of their vision to about 40 people at their accountability forum. of Twin Cities Boulevard on July 19, including a few elected officials or their collaborators.
Transportation Policy Coordinator Alex Burns laid out the basics of the MnDOT’s Rethinking I-94 project, which spans 7.5 miles between downtown Twin Cities. “The highway is at the end of its useful life, so it’s time to do a collective vision and buy-in from the community,” he said. This is a unique opportunity to reinvent and right past and present wrongs. “Anything done in the corridor will affect eight neighborhoods in both cities and have five to six decades of impact.”
- One in 20 Minneapolis residents have lost their home to I-94, I-35, or Highway 55 (24,000 people total).
- Six thousand people were moved to Saint Paul.
- Eighty percent of black residents in Minneapolis lived in areas where highways were laid out.
- Eighty percent of St. Paul’s black population lived in Rondo.
- These communities have been specifically targeted.
What is less remembered is that the harm is continuous. The impact has never ceased: the maps show it. “Highways are rivers of pollution in the communities they pass through,” Burns said – levels are 2.5 times worse than those deemed safe by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Ninety-four percent of the I-94 corridor area is of environmental justice concern. Asthma hospitalization rates in the Project Corridor are more than nine times the state average.
- At the same time, households in the I-94 corridor are less likely to have cars – carlessness is four times higher than in the region as a whole and twice as high in both cities.
- Highways were promised as an economic boon, but median income declines near the corridor. Redesigning I-94 must invest in nearby communities.
- And then there are the climatic effects. Reducing car driving requires big investments in infrastructure to decarbonize transport.
The vision of the boulevard
In its simplest form, Twin Cities Boulevard would be:
- Replace the I-94 trench with a multimodal boulevard, reconnecting all neighborhoods.
- Restore housing and commercial spaces. There is the width of a football field: the vision of the boulevard is based on the cession of the land to land trusts, keeping the public lands public.
- Implement policies to prevent displacement and advance restorative justice. Our Streets experience with Bring Back Sixth, in collaboration with the Harrison Neighborhood Association, is an example of this kind of work.
Examples of freeway removal are posted on the Twin Cities Boulevard website. Rochester, NY is new. Larger and better known examples are the Embarcadero in San Francisco and the Cheonggye Expressway in Seoul.
Three community members expressed their support for the boulevard’s vision.
Catherine Reid Day, volunteer door knocker. Catherine grew up in Des Moines and remembers the freeway crossing, taking away many houses and preventing her from easily accessing her high school. While going door-to-door with Our Streets in Union Park, she met a man on Marshall Avenue who talked about the businesses he could walk to that were wiped out by I-94.
Abdulrahman Wakogeneral manager of Union Park District Council. Although the UPDC endorsed the vision for the boulevard, he said he spoke as a resident who had lived near I-94 for four years, with only railroad tracks separating it from the freeway. He agreed it’s a river of poison. “I-94 dilutes the community and takes away the health of the community,” he said. Recently camping in the Grand Marais and BWCA, he saw how calm it is, how balmy the air. Then coming home made him realize how polluted the air in the house is and how hard it is to get along. “Why didn’t I know that where I live is not conducive to a healthy lifestyle? Because I am assimilated to it. What happens with this highway will affect future generations, he said – “the choices we make must be the best for the future, both for the climate and for health. We have to make different choices to get the future we say we want. We have to realize the contradiction of rebuilding while saying you want something different in the future. We must have the courage and the strength to make new choices.
Zak Yudhishthu, Macalester Groveland Community Council student representative, member of Support Saint Paul and a Streets.mn contributor. He is excited about public space, reconnecting the urban fabric, and allocating land for repairing past damage, housing, and community enterprises. But one of the most important reasons for the boulevard is the climate. “As a youngster, I’m used to inheriting decisions made by previous generations – it’s a chance not to make another bad decision leading to climate damage.” He grew up in Oregon, which is destroyed by wildfires every year and getting worse. Private car travel is a big contributor to carbon use, he said. “We have to invest so that we don’t push cars into our cities.”
Community engagement and support
- Our Streets canvassers and volunteers have knocked on 4,900 doors since February in Seward, Rondo, Frogtown, Hamline-Midway, Union Park and Cedar-Riverside.
- 10-20% of people open their doors.
- Of these, 95% support the boulevard as an option or the option, with 1% disagree and 2% unsure.
- What people like: It’s ambitious (climate/environmental justice), it addresses the whole corridor, transit/walking/parks, health and returning neighborhoods.
They received 425 survey responses via their website:
- The main positives identified about the boulevard were faster public transport, space for housing and businesses, ease of crossing, greater accessibility, space for markets and community gardens.
- Most important questions: How will traffic be affected and how will conversion be funded?
Our Streets currently asks three things of leaders:
- That the MnDOT include the Boulevard in the list of alternatives to the project
- That the MnDOT amend the Rethinking I-94 Purpose and Need documents to allow for fair review of the Boulevard, and that the amendments include changes from the October 2021 Community Letter
- That the cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul apply for a Reconnecting Communities planning grant to study a freeway to boulevard conversion
The new MnDOT commissioner sent a letter in late spring pledging that a freeway to boulevard conversion be evaluated as an alternative in Rethinking I-94. But there are other aspects of the boulevard’s vision that are important, particularly with regard to restorative justice, so this commitment is not enough, according to Our Streets.
Communities reconnected the grant has a deadline of October 13. Grants are specifically put in place to repair damage caused by past infrastructure and should be used to study conversion. Our Streets asks that the grant application be written to comprehensively assess the impact of the project and be led by a company with no financial interest in the expansion/reconstruction of the highway, but rather has experience with conversions.
This would be a grant application by both cities (thereby reaching out to mayors, heads of public works, city council members) – but Our Streets is also asking MnDOT, counties and the Met Council of the sustain.
So far Hennepin County Commissionohner Angela Conley and Minneapolis City Council member Robin Wonsley spoke about their public support for Twin Cities Boulevard, and Wonsley supported the grant application publicly.
Because no mayor’s office was represented at the forum, Our Streets closed the Accountability Forum by urging people to call them (Jacob Frey: 612-673-2100, Melvin Carter: 651-266-8510).
- Share your support (what is one of the reasons you support Twin Cities Boulevard for Rethinking I-94?).
- Highlight the Reconnecting Communities grant program, which is exploring the idea of converting the freeway to a boulevard to assess impacts on equity, transportation access and climate.
- Ask for their support for their city to apply before October 13th.
Our Streets Minneapolis plans to host another accountability forum on September 27, just weeks before the Reconnecting Communities grant application deadline.