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Mpls. efforts prompt dropoff in lead poisoning

The number of cases of lead poisoning in Minneapolis have plummeted over the last several years, as the city has used about $17 million in grant funding to tackle the problem.

Since 1997, annual reports of lead poisoning in the city have dropped by about 95 percent, from 933 to 45 in 2014, city health officials reported Monday. In a council committee meeting, Environmental Health Director Daniel Huff said his team is finishing up work funded by a three-year grant and preparing to continue similar efforts with a new grant.

Federal grant funding provided since 2012 has helped the city inspect more than 250 homes and apartments and perform lead mitigation work on many of them. Many of the city's older homes have lead paint on walls, windows and exteriors; lead-based paint was frequently used until it was banned in 1978.

"It's safe to assume that a majority of our housing," contains lead paint, Huff said. 

Children, who sometimes eat paint flakes or pick up lead paint that has turned into household dust, are particularly susceptible to lead poisoning. Exposure to lead, which is also found in soil around Minneapolis, in older pipes and sometimes in toys and household goods, can lead to a variety of health problems, including with brain development.

Alex Vollmer, a project coordinator with the city, told the council that efforts to get lead paint out of homes has helped with the steep dropoff in the number of poisoning cases. But he said officials have also seen problems from people in lead-safe houses who are using unsafe products, like clay pots often used to cook beans. The glaze from the pots can contain lead.

About three-quarters of the properties that have been involved in city lead cleanup efforts are rental properties, and many of them are home to low-income renters. Vollmer and some council members said they see the work on lead removal as part of the city's broader equity efforts.

"While lead is not predisposed to attack any one individual, we find there are some communities being affected more than others," he said. 

More information on the city's lead paint programs can be found here.

Biker pushback likely to kill Queen Avenue bike boulevard

It’s beginning to look like bikes won’t have a place in the revamped Penn Avenue corridor of north Minneapolis after pushback against a Hennepin County plan to divert them to a nearby street.

Three local bike organizations oppose the planned Queen Avenue bike boulevard that’s part of Hennepin County’s latest plan.  A City Council committee is expected to approve a staff recommendation on Tuesday that the Queen alternative not be pursued.

The Penn project originated as a reconstruction designed to accommodate bus rapid transit, a limited-stop service in which riders buy a ticket before boarding. That's slated for 2017. That will reconfigure some of the streetscape.

A project steering committee in February supported a 38-foot wide roadway that would be allocated to a driving lane and a parking lane on either side.  The street also would get a five-foot-wide boulevard and a five-foot-wide sidewalk on each side.

The group ruled out options that would include six-foot-wide bike lanes on all or part of Penn, but directed exploring Queen as an alternative.

So far, the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, the North Minneapolis Bicycle Advocacy Council and the Minneapolis Bicycle Coalition have opposed the county’s Queen layout.

What’s wrong with it?  Queen isn’t wide enough for both bikes and cars, especially with parking and snow added in, said Alexis Pennie, a co-founder of the North Side bike group. Obstacles along the route also posed too many changes in the proposed route, said Will Lumpkins, another co-founder.

The bike coalition didn’t think the proposed investment in Queen was going to pay off with increased bike use, according to Ethan Fawley, its director.

The proposed Queen route would have run between 44th Avenue N. and Bassett Creek. But it would have dodged over to Russell Avenue at two locations, once to go around the Lucy Laney school grounds and another time at Willard Park. Between Willard and Olson Hwy., the route would have split into one-way sections on Russell and Queen. It also made a dogleg at the Penn-Broadway junction.

Bike advocates said they’re willing to forego a design they didn’t find workable. They said they hope that a Thomas Avenue bike boulevard that’s proposed in the city’s 2011 bike master plan will be built some day.

Linda Higgins, a county commissioner representing the area, said she’s disappointed that bike advocates turned down the Queen alternative, but said bikes feel victim to the limited right-of-way and competing priorities on Penn.

“I still think Queen is the way to go. I don’t think I’d like to be a bicyclist on Penn,” she said.