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Candidates boost cycle tracks, slam streetcar plan

Posted by: Eric Roper Updated: October 16, 2013 - 2:17 PM

Candidates for mayor expressed near-unanimous endorsement of protected bike lanes at a transportation forum Tuesday night, while also criticizing a plan to build streetcars along Nicollet Avenue.

The forum at the University of Minnesota, sponsored by various bicycle and urbanist groups, featured five of the top eight mayoral candidates. Mark Andrew, Jackie Cherryhomes and Don Samuels did not attend.

Candidates were asked to weigh in on the Minneapolis Climate Action Plan's goal of adding 30 miles of protected bike ways in Minneapolis by 2020. The issue has been controversial lately as bicycling advocates fight for more cycle tracks -- which include barriers between bikes and general traffic.

Council Member Betsy Hodges said bicycle infrastructure is important for people like her, who are not avid, year-round cyclists. “Protected bikeways are important. Not everybody is a comfortable cyclist," Hodges said.

Stephanie Woodruff also said she was a cyclist, though not an avid one. "I live on Franklin between 1st [Avenue] and Stevens, and I personally would not ride down 1st Avenue. I’ve seen cars, I’ve seen people get hit. It’s just not safe," Woodruff said.

All others expressed general support for the plan except Cam Winton, who stressed that he supports cycle tracks on a "case by case" basis. “Whenever anybody proposes any new spending, I look at that request, that proposal, with healthy skepticism," Winton said. He said bicycling advocates have convinced him that cycle tracks are wise along Washington and Minehaha Avenues -- the latter of which will likely not be happening.

On streetcars, Hodges was the lone person on stage endorsing the plan as it stands -- to pay for a $200 million "starter" streetcar line by redirecting more than $60 million in property taxes from existing projects. Woodruff opposed the funding method, while Bob Fine, Dan Cohen and Winton opposed streetcars altogether.

Woodruff was asked what funding method she would favor over the so-called "value capture district" approved by the City Council.

“I completely support value capture," Woodruff said. "It’s just that this deal…is not a true value capture. In my mind this is tax diversion, because it’s taking the taxes of those units that are already in development."

She said the project should be funded by development spurred by the streetcar line. That would be more akin to tax increment financing, which the city fought for unsuccessfully at the Legislature to use instead.

Other questions touched on parking, pedestrian activity and potholes. Winton garnered applause, and a Twitter nod from Council Member Gary Schiff, for saying, "Minneapolis should entire eliminate minimum parking requirements." That refers to mandates for developers to include parking in new residential properties.

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