Minnesota public transportation enhancement projects in the metro area have generated heated debates in the past decades. MinnPost journalist Peter Callaghan described the expansion of the metro area light rail transit facing, “political, financial, environmental and legal challenges,” over the years. Currently in the Minnesota State Legislature, a bill has been introduced to halt all funding or any action for proposed Metropolitan Council guideway projects. Attacks on our public transportation infrastructure planning and funding can be viewed as a continuation of the light rail projects debates which have occurred since the 1970s. Not only should we oppose such efforts to cut funding but moving both the Minnesota and metro areas to a new model: The 15-minute city.
The 15-minute city has been described by urban planning activists as an area that can provide access to all human needs through walking, biking or public transportation. The new urban model has been gaining traction recently, and Minnesotans should take note. A previous Community Voices author, Keith Heiberg, made excellent points regarding how public transport helps reduce the largest source of carbon emission in the state. Additionally, he laid out the argument public transportation offers a safe, reliable, and clean transportation option in the state, which makes it essential.
Beyond these points, we must consider the mental and physical health benefits the 15-minute city urban planning model affords. A review of recent scientific literature highlights the importance of walkability and affordable, reliable, public transportation options in improving community health outcomes. In 2014, researchers strived to develop a walkability index to identify healthy community behaviors. The researchers found the more walkable the geographic area, the more likely residents would walk or cycle for both leisure and transportation related purposes. Additionally, researchers have found links between community walkability and lower crime rates and decreased chronic illness. Lastly, 15-minute cities promote increased activity, an important factor in positive mental health. This increased activity lowers the risk for loneliness, depression, and anxiety.
Public transportation improvement would help our neighbors. Importantly, data from 2021 indicated Metro Transit services offered 32.9 million rides. Of those riders, customers were predominantly Black, Indigenous, People Of Color (BIPOC) between the ages of 18-34. When researchers reviewed walkability, they found blocks which were predominantly African-American faced challenges such as: unevenness of roads, increased obstructions, and higher likelihood of physical disorder. These researchers concluded there is an increased likelihood of poorer health outcomes in those areas. Additionally, researchers have found links between community walkability and lower crime rates and decreased chronic illness. These issues highlight the need to advocate for increased walkability of cities and improved public transportation infrastructure.
The proposed bill to halt funding would disproportionally impact a marginalized community within the metro area, negatively impact our wallets, and worsen our physical and mental health. Those who oppose the idea of the 15-minute city claim it’s a way to control or confine people to a particular neighborhood. Currently, online communities feel freedom of movement would be challenged in this movement. Or it is meant to take cars away from people or limit means to explore beyond their neighborhood away. Their worst fears? It is a government plot to keep residents back in lockdown. These opinions are damaging to Minnesotans and could not be further from the truth.
The Metropolitan Council’s objectives offer great insights into why metro public transportation is important. In fact, the council want to promote healthy and equitable communities through: reducing transportation-related emission, reduce transportation impacts on natural, cultural, and developed environments, promote healthy communities and promote community cohesion and connectivity. Minnesotans should call on state legislators to promote the improvement of the public transportation system and move towards the 15-minute city urban planning movement. Halting earmarked funds appropriated for public transportation improvements is harmful to our wallets, health, and our neighbors. These issues highlight the need for Minnesotans to advocate for increased walkability of cities and improved public transportation infrastructure.