What’s making news in Minneapolis, reported by the Star Tribune’s team of city reporters. Send news tips to baird.helgeson@startribune.com.

Olson's role debated as Teamster strike recalled

Posted by: Steve Brandt under Politics and government, Public safety Updated: July 18, 2014 - 9:53 PM

One of the more intriguing aspects of the 80th commemoration of the 1934 Teamster strikes is a rekindling of the debate over the response by Gov. Floyd B. Olson, a Minneapolis native.

Olson played a delicate role in the strike by Minneapolis truckers. He was elected as a left-leaning governor of the Farmer-Labor party. Yet he also had some support from business elements in Minneapolis for his vigorous prosecution of corruption on the Minneapolis City Council in the late 1920s, when he was Hennepin County attorney. Indeed, as one speaker this week recalled, a striker colloquially warned Olson that he was straddling a picket fence between the sides of labor and business, making any slip likely to be painful.

After open street warfare involving strikers and newly deputized lawmen, Olson mobilized National Guard troops during the May strike by drivers, but kept them on standby status.  That strike was resolved by an imperfect agreement that led to the climactic July strike, when more violence erupted.

Strikers were determined to stop truck movement, and business was determined to keep them running. After police opened fire on unarmed strikers trying to block a truck in the city’s market district, leaving two dead and dozens injured, many shot in the back, Olson mobilized the guard and declared martial law.

Farmer-Laborite Eddie Felien, editor-publisher of Southside Pride, argues that Olson’s actions maintained picket lines and preserved the strike when any other governor would have crushed the strike.

Others aren’t that charitable.  Bryan Palmer, the Canadian academic whose “Revolutionary Teamsters” advances study of the strike, spoke Thursday night at the downtown library. He addressed Olson’s role: “There was no question his actions were going to harm the strike when he brought in the National Guard.”  The guard issued permits for truck movements, seized strike headquarters and threw strike leaders into a military stockade. Palmer quoted one strike leader during this period as saying: “Trucks are moving.  They’re breaking the strike.” And another strike leader, Farrell Dobbs, simply titles one chapter of his 1972 memoir on this period “military strikebreaking."

Yet guardsmen never fired on strikers, unlike some other notable American labor confrontations.

Another historian, Mary Wingerd, who spoke on the same panel as Palmer, said she thinks Olson’s presence as governor played a significant role in strike psychology.  Despite being led by Trotskyist militants, the strikers likely mostly voted Farmer-Labor.  Having a governor of their persuasion in office — rather than a conservative hardliner -- likely made it easier for individual strikers to make the difficult commitment to put their jobs on the line in a strike, she said.

Palmer confessed that despite his research, he’s still somewhat mystified over how a strike that was starting to fray somewhat as it wound into August suddenly produced a settlement favorable to strikers. He gives more credit to President Franklin Roosevelt than Olson. Roosevelt clearly wanted the strike settled before the 1934 election; Palmer suggests that local bankers with substantial federal loans from the New Deal’s Reconstruction Finance Corporation put pressure on a key representative of recalcitrant employers.

The debate will keep historians busy for decades to come.

City looks to install bicycle corrals

Posted by: Alejandra Matos under Urban living Updated: July 18, 2014 - 3:20 PM

Demand for bicycle parking is so high in some areas that the city wants to install on-street bicycle corrals.

The corrals are groups of bicycle racks, installed adjacent to the curb, in the road's parking lane.

Currently, the city provides off-street bicycle racks to businesses, community center and organizations that are willing to split the cost of installing and maintaining them with the city.

The city's Public Works department will present the proposal to install 25 corrals to the city council on Tuesday.

Birchwood Cafe and Northbound Smokehouse Brewpub already have similar corrals that they installed on their own. The city's Public Works Department says there have been requests for more because bicycle parking demand exceeds the available spaces on the sidewalk or boulevard racks.

The department has set aside $50,000 to install the corral, which will be seasonally available from April 15 to Nov. 1.

The cost to install the stalls is estimated between $1,800 to $2,900 for the first year and $150 to $250 for maintenance in subsequent years. Those who want a corral would also split the cost. The city anticipates each location keeping its corral for a minimum of five years.

If the city council passes the proposal, those interested in installing a corral would have to apply for it. The city will give priority to those that have a high bicycle volume.

On-Street Bicycle Corral

Minneapolis joins other cities regulating Lyft, UberX

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: July 18, 2014 - 1:40 PM

Minneapolis became the sixth jurisdiction in the country Friday to legalize Lyft and UberX, following a near-unanimous City Council vote that came amid concerns from the taxi industry.

Lyft drivers wearing pink shirts bumped fists in the hallway outside the council chambers after final passage, which capped months of haggling between the California-based companies, the taxi industry and city regulators.

Lyft and UberX, now known as "transportation network companies, essentially allow people to act as chauffeurs of their own vehicles, connecting with passengers through smartphone apps. They cannot pick up passengers who hail them on the street, but unlike taxi companies are free to raise rates.

“This ordinance takes some excellent steps towards adding to the cornucopia of transportation options that we have," said council member Jacob Frey, the ordinance sponsor, adding that more options will help people give up their cars.

The new ordinance distinguishes the companies from taxicabs, creates a process for them to become licensed and specifies what insurance they must carry. Insurance is a particularly complicated issue for the services, since they typically use hybrid plans that complement a driver's personal policy.

But taxi industry representatives weren't happy with a two-tier fee structure that will charge major taxi companies significantly more than transportation network companies. Others have concerns that changes to the wheelchair-accessible vehicle requirements could backfire.

Minneapolis follows California, Colorado, Seattle, Chicago and Baton Rouge in passing legislation to specifically regulate the services; St. Paul is crafting its own version, while other cities have interim agreements.

"We can’t shy away from progress simply because a few other cities haven’t done it yet," Frey said. "Minneapolis is a great city and Minneapolis can lead damn well.”

The lone 'no' vote on the council, Council Member Blong Yang, said the proposal would mean "that the livery industry will be changed forever.” In particular, he felt the city should not enable the companies for operating illegally.

“The story is Lyft and UberX came to town, they are currently operating unlawfully, and basically it seems like we’re seeing that’s fine we’ll make laws that favor you," Yang said. "And there’s something wrong about that.”

Yang also expressed concern about the licensing fee structure, which charges transportation network companies a flat fee of $35,000 while cab companies could pay upwards of $80,000 depending on how many vehicles they have. The city's business licensing manager, Grant Wilson, said this is because regulating the taxi industry consumes much more staff time.

Another point of contention related to how a proposed incentive program for wheelchair-accessible vehicles will work. The city will fund it using a $10,000 surcharge, which replaces an existing requirement on companies to provide the vehicles themselves (which never acheived compliance).

"I dont think there's a taxicab company that will do it," said Waleed Sonbol, owner of Blue and White Taxi, following the vote. That concern that no one will bid on the program was reflected in a letter earlier this week from disability advocates.

Frey said the new system will actually work better, however. “If you’re an individual with disabilities and you need transportation, you call one number and you will get service that is fully ADA accessible," Frey said. "And we aready have four or five different companies that are chomping at the bit" to provide that service.

Council Member Cam Gordon, who expressed concerns Thursday with the disability provisions, said the entire process convinced him that the Twin Cities should be tackling transportation regulations as a region.

“This whole process has only reaffirmed for me my conclusion that having the city regulate this industry is no longer necessarily appropriate,” Gordon said.

Cabs got several breaks in the new law. New regulations spearheaded by council member Abdi Warsame allow non-city facilities to inspect vehicles, extends the maximum age of vehicles by five years and gives drivers more parking privileges.

“What we have in front of you is the wish list of the taxi companies,” Warsame said.

“Minneapolis is a city that innovates,” he added. “It’s a city that moves ahead. It’s a city that advances. I think introducing Lyft and Uber, as well as the deregulation of the taxi industry, will improve the transportation in the city of Minneapolis.”

Photo: Two sides at the City Council chambers during public hearing on the ordinance this April

Last-minute concerns emerge over Lyft, UberX and taxi rules

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: July 18, 2014 - 6:58 AM

Disability advocates and insurance experts are raising some last-minute concerns with a proposed overhaul to the city's transportation ordinances.

The City Council is slated to vote Friday on a package of changes that would legalize services like Lyft and UberX while relaxing regulations on taxi companies.

In a letter to the council, two disability groups asked for the vote to be delayed after learning that one cab company was no longer planning to participate in a new wheelchair-accessible incentive program.

At issue is the elimination of a requirement that cabs posses a certain percentage of wheelchair-accessible cabs. Companies never complied with the mandate, so the new rules would convert it into a surcharge to help fund a fleet of accessible cabs.

Though it appeared that Green and White Taxi and Airport Taxi were going to participate in the program, the Minnesota State Council on Disability and the Minneapolis Advisory Committee on People with Disabilities learned that they were Airport Taxi was changing their minds.

"We recommend that you establish a face to face summit with all the key stakeholders so that an agreement can be negotiated in a public forum," the groups said in a joint letter.

A separate letter from the Insurance Federation of Minnesota, a trade group, said that the companies -- rather than drivers -- should bear the burden of ensuring that Lyft and UberX drivers are covered by insurance during the period when they are logged into the app, but not engaged in a ride.

UPDATE: In response to a similar question from the state's insurance commissioner, business licensing manager Grant Wilson said he intends to perform audits to ensure the insurance provisions are being followed.

They also expressed concerns that the insurance requirements are lower when the drivers are logged into the app, but not in the middle of a ride. Finally, they said the ordinance should address uninsured and under-insured coverages.

The sponsor of the ordinance, Jacob Frey, said they are still on track for a final vote on Friday morning. He does not plan to offer any substantial amendments.

“This is the latest in a long line of attempts to stop the progress of this ordinance and the legalization of the ridesharing companies," Frey said. "And I’m not tolerating it.”

Regarding the wheelchair accessibility question in particular, he said that multiple entities have expressed an interest in the incentive program. But firm commitments can't be obtained until the city issues a request for proposals, he said.

Below is the letter from the disability advocates. A section of the insurance letter is at the bottom of this post.

Minnesota state council on Disability

Insurance letter selection:

Overall, the current language is well done and has properly focused on making sure there are no insurance  coverage gaps in order to be licensed as a TNC. However, there are some problematic provisions for which clarity/clean-up would be beneficial.

First, we believe the burden should be on the TNC network provider to make certain that there exists a commercial policy applicable to the TNC driver for the entire app-on/app-off period, and not just the “prearranged ride” period. As drafted now, the TNC network provider must file evidence of commercial insurance for the “ prearranged ride” period, while the “ app-on waiting for a match” period requires either the TNC network provider or the TNC driver to produce evidence of coverage.

Second, we think there is a genuine public policy issue of having the lower 50/100/30 liability coverage amounts for the “ app-on waiting for a match” period. Dropping the required ( and appropriate) coverage from $1million for prearranged rides to the lower limits would apply where a driver has the app-on but decides to do personal errands ( e.g. picking children up from school) and an accident occurs. This latter situation will run into the broad livery exclusion in personal auto policies.

Third, the ordinance doesn’t cover or refer to uninsured ( UM)/underinsured ( UIM) coverages or to the availability of the voluntary physical coverages in the TNC policies. The UM/UIM coverages should follow the policy providing the liability coverage. State law will control the interpretation of statutes requiring specific types of coverage( PIP, UM,UIM). We believe there could be litigation in the PIP area since the ordinance  requires evidence of the minimum PIP required by state law,  but many consumers choose to buy higher limits of PIP coverage. Also, we don’t think that Minneapolis has jurisdiction over how coverage would be divided if there were more than one policy applicable to an accident, as provided in 343.70(g).

INTERACTIVE: Tour of proposed Mpls. light rail stations

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: July 17, 2014 - 8:07 AM

What do the proposed Southwest light rail stops in Minneapolis look like today?

That was the question the MPLS blog aimed to answer one recent afternoon on a bike tour of the five proposed Minneapolis stops within city limits. Finding the stops can be a challenge, since all but one of them are located in undeveloped areas likely not familiar to most transit riders.

The city recently negotiated a deal with the Metropolitan Council to spend about $30 million on improving access to the Minneapolis stations. The city has until August 30 to vote on the $1.6 billion Southwest route.

When the deal was announced, council member Elizabeth Glidden said the stations are in “challenging locations” because they are hard to access. “That is one of the reasons why this has been a bit of a challenging route for Minneapolis,” Glidden said.

The city’s transit-oriented development director, David Frank, sees opportunities to build out the station areas. He observed that the lack of existing development at most of the Minneapolis stops likely means fewer neighborhood debates over height, density and traffic when projects are proposed.

“On the other hand, you need a special kind of developer and a special kind of resident or office user to say, ‘Sure I’ll be the first one to go in here,’ with no assurance that the rest of the neighborhood-to-be will follow,” Frank said.

Get a feel for each stop in the interactive below, featuring 360-degree panoramas, annotated maps, photo galleries and descriptions of the station areas.

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