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The process for recent bike-lane decisions prompts the question: Who should decide community needs?

Who decides community needs? The citizens who make up that community or a few ambitious politicos?

Who decides community needs? The citizens who make up that community or a few ambitious politicos?
MinnPost photo by Corey Anderson

It’s not about parking. It’s about being responsive to citizens. It’s about hearing the voice of the majority.

Here’s some background: On 38th Street, the Neighborhood Association supported a partial parking ban despite a huge outcry by a majority of neighbors and several business establishments. And the City Council voted to override citizen wishes. The plan is to create a 38th Street bike path and lose parking on one side of the street. It would be easy to move the bike path a block or two away to a residential neighborhood from a business street.

Never mind the majority

On 8th Street SE, the Marcy Holmes Neighborhood Association (MHNA) supported the same kind of bike path with a narrowing of driving lanes and elimination of parking on one side of the street. MHNA supported the parking ban in a highly dense neighborhood with many new condos and rental properties, despite vigorous protests. The city followed suit after even greater protests. Never mind the majority.

Move the bike lanes to a less dense street? Good idea. But then, several bike lanes already parallel the proposed new one just a few blocks away — one on a quiet, safe residential street and two on safer one-way streets, all created with neighborhood support. Despite enormous neighborhood outrage, a new bike path is to be striped on a busy street with buses and trucks and high-density housing.

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Here’s the real problem: The outrage comes from the process. First the Neighborhood Association supported the City of Minneapolis proposal despite a meeting where a crowd voiced almost unanimous opposition to the plan. Then one impacted town home association, representing 60 homes, filed a process grievance against the Neighborhood Association. In a meeting of the concerned parties the town home representatives were told that they are only looking out for their personal (selfish?) interests. “We are representing the welfare of the community,” said a representative of MHNA.

Who decides community needs? The citizens who make up that community or a few ambitious politicos?

Advocates for slavery also claimed to reflect the welfare of their community, as did the Nazis during the Holocaust in their plan to “free the world of all Jews.”

More opposition

Widespread opposition continued with fliers, leaflets and pleas to City Hall. Several town home associations pleaded with Third Ward Council Member Jacob Frey to send a representative to a meeting — to hear the citizens, to discuss alternatives, to negotiate, just to be heard. The response: The decision has been made. The Neighborhood Association has approved the plan and, therefore, it is no longer negotiable.

Fred Amram

More protests. More meetings. More outrage. Then, suddenly, at the most recent meeting of the MHNA, the vice president announced that, because of vigorous opposition to the 8th Street plan, he would be ready to reopen the discussion by the board. But after discussion with the Third Ward council member and others at City Hall, clearly the decision had been made and reopening the discussion would be fruitless. Another member of the MHNA board announced that, because of vigorous opposition, she was ready to move to rescind the original vote supporting the city plan. However, because the city had already made its decision, she would not move to rescind.

So, there you have it. The city approved the plan because the Neighborhood Association endorsed it. The Neighborhood Association will not change its position because the city has approved the plan. The citizens are squeezed out of the process.

And therein lies the problem. When a large group of citizens is excluded from the process, the consequence is anger, frustration — even rage.

One is reminded of the poet, Dylan Thomas:

Do not go gentle into that good night. 

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Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Fred Amram, a resident of Minneapolis and a University of Minnesota emeritus professor, is the author of “We’re in America Now: A Survivor’s Stories.”

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