Businesses get a break with veto of plan eliminating Hennepin Ave. parking

Just when the car wreck of a plan to eliminate most parking spots in the reconstruction of Hennepin Avenue in Uptown appeared unstoppable, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey slammed the brakes on community activists. A day after the Minneapolis City Council voted for 24-hour bus lanes that largely exclude parking along the busy thoroughfare, businesses finally got a break after months of warning that many would not survive without parking for their customers and delivery trucks.

The setback did not sit well with the special interest group Hennepin for People, a key player behind the radical makeover of one of the city’s busiest streets.

We are disappointed but undeterred. 51% of local bus riders are people of color. Frey’s action disregards the needs of working class transit riders, adopted city policies, our city’s climate action goals, an outpouring of support from our community, the entire 15-member Minneapolis delegation to the state legislature, the expressed preference of Metro Transit, the recommendation of his own professional Public Works Department staff, and of course a vote of the Minneapolis City Council. We will continue to fight for full-time bus lanes. 

Frey still supports most of the “progressive vision” of the reconstruction plan to scale back traffic lanes for protected bike lanes, bigger sidewalks and busways. But business owners evidently got through to city hall by making the case for using dedicated bus lanes for parking between rush hours, when rapid transit buses would likely run.

“I cannot, however, support keeping bus-only lanes 24-hours a day when buses do not run 24 hours a day,” Frey said in a letter to the Minneapolis City Council. “This would ignore the countless small businesses, many of them BIPOC-owned, who compromised both for the presence of a protected bike lane and prioritized bus lanes at the expense of a substantial amount of parking. Many of those same business owners and employees have navigated profound economic stressors ranging from the global pandemic, the civil unrest of 2020, rising inflation, and a workforce shortage. Let’s at least show a willingness to work with them.”

But die-hard proponents of wiping out most parking do not appear to be familiar with the concept of compromise. Minneapolis city councilor Aisha Chughtai illustrated their all-or-nothing politics on Twitter.

I reject the Mayor’s framing of 24/7 bus lanes as a “loss” for small businesses. This is a talking point of fear that denies data. On one of MN’s most dangerous streets for pedestrians, transit users, bikers, and drivers, investment in people-centered infrastructure is vital.

Frey’s veto sends the proposed redesign back to the city council for consideration at the end of the month. Even with city hall finally behind them, the future of the remaining businesses in Uptown may largely hang in the balance.

“We can achieve our shared climate and transit goals while preserving a reasonable number of parking spaces for community businesses by allowing for a flexible operational plan that is capable of offering transit service up to 24-hours a day,” Frey said in the letter to city councilors. “I am urging you to work with my administration and Public Works leadership team to do exactly that.”