As a Minneapolis-based attorney, I live, work, play and bike in the city. Although my city might be known for its lakes and our infamous Juicy Lucy, Minneapolis’ dedication to having safer streets for all should be included in that list.
To reach the safe streets goal, numerous non-profit organizations and groups are working tirelessly behind the scenes. One of these groups is Our Streets Minneapolis. I recently had the opportunity to chat with Our Streets Minneapolis Executive Director, Ashwat (Ash) Narayanan.
Ash graciously shared his thoughts about bike transportation in the city, as well as the Vision Zero plan. One thing’s for sure—we can all learn a thing or two about his passion and dedication to the cycling community.
A Passion for Transportation Fueled by Community Need
Before moving to the United States, Ash lived in India. Millions of people there all rely on transportation. With so many people per area, transportation is rather unique when compared to the U.S. It was also a big part of Ash’s life and soon became his focus.
Ash realized that most programs or initiatives may have included cycling, but they didn’t include safe areas for pedestrians or individuals requiring wheelchair access. He believed that community and transportation initiatives as a whole needed to change. That’s where his advocacy began.
An Advocate for Transportation for All
Ash’s advocacy for safe transportation for everyone began before he became the Executive Director of Our Streets Minneapolis. Previously, he was the Director of Transportation Policy at 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, a statewide non-profit dedicated to building healthy communities through better land use. He advocated for moving funding away from major highway projects to better support local projects.
Now, Ash focuses on advocating for safe streets for all people who use them, including those who bike, walk and roll. According to Ash, “It’s my goal to bring inclusivity to the forefront and see justice in transportation.” He also currently serves on the MnDOT Sustainable Transportation Advisory Council.
Our Streets Minneapolis & the Vision Zero Initiative
Ash also shared his thoughts on the Our Streets’ initiatives regarding the Minneapolis Vision Zero plan:
“Our Streets supports the Vision Zero goal to reach zero traffic deaths and serious injuries. We also agree that this goal is critical to making Minneapolis an easy, comfortable place for people to bike, walk and roll. We also commend the city’s emphasis on using a data-driven approach to addressing racial and income disparities in traffic crashes and their focus on streets with the most crashes.”
Ash and the Our Streets Minneapolis organization do have some concerns about whether Minneapolis will be able to reach their goal. These concerns are centered on three areas:
Our Streets Minneapolis believes that the current funding amount isn’t enough. Yet, they’re excited about the increase in funds recently budgeted for 2021. Says Ash,
“The first year of Vision Zero was funded at only $100,000. The mayor’s draft 2021 budget includes $1 million for Vision Zero. We’ve supported the city’s efforts here by asking our network to tell their council members to support increased funding for Vision Zero.”
In Minneapolis, streets are owned and operated by many different entities, including the city, Hennepin County, MnDOT and the Parks Board. Unfortunately, many of the streets with the most crashes are owned by Hennepin County, meaning the city doesn’t have control over what happens on them.
To help combat this threat to the Vision Zero goal, Our Streets is advocating on behalf of these streets: “Another way we’re supporting Vision Zero efforts is through our advocacy to improve county-owned streets in Minneapolis.”
For any initiative, enforcement is always in question. In fact, many Vision Zero plans in the U.S. rely heavily on police or automated enforcement as a street safety measure. Our Streets believes there’s a better way.
“We oppose police and automated traffic enforcement because it amplifies racial disparities. Re-designing streets is a more effective way to make streets safer. The city’s Vision Zero Action Plan includes evaluating a traffic enforcement division for MPD. We oppose this and have advocated strongly against it.”
Together We Can Make Minneapolis a Safe Place for All Who Use Our Streets
No matter the challenge, through the advocacy of people like Ash and organizations like Our Streets, Minneapolis can become a safer place for all who use our streets. The goal can only be accomplished by all of us banding together for the cause.
Have you been in an accident on a Minneapolis city street? You have support. Just send me a message or give my law firm, Brazil Law Group, a call.