Emails obtained through a public data request show a connection between Margaret Anderson Keliher’s appointment as the Public Works director in February and the introduction of “dynamic lanes” in place of all-day bus lanes in the Hennepin Avenue South redesign plan. Via email, city planners and Metro Transit expressed concern over how the dynamic lanes would affect a new rapid transit line along Hennepin, and these concerns were validated by an outside consultant analysis done in March.
Public Works identified all-day bus lanes on Hennepin Avenue South as a priority starting in 2018. Public Works staff prioritized the bus lanes in their proposed redesign plans because of the city’s own policies including the Transportation Action Plan, Vision Zero, and Complete Streets. These policies compel street reconstruction to prioritize people’s safety and de-prioritize traveling by car.
A public data request was submitted after the concept of “dynamic lanes” was introduced by Public Works in place of all-day bus lanes on Hennepin Avenue South. The city fulfilled the public data request after Mayor Jacob Frey vetoed the Hennepin Avenue South redesign plan. The data contains communications between Public Works staff, Anderson Keliher, the mayor, and councilmembers about the proposed change.
On Feb. 22, just days after Margaret Anderson Keliher was confirmed by City Council as the new Public Works director, the city’s Director of Policy and Government Affairs Peter Ebnet sent an email with the subject “Hennepin Ave for policy briefing - pull together memo decision.”
The email described three options for Hennepin redesign plan that were presumably being considered:
1. Stay on track with one of the recommended layouts that Public Works developed,
2. Take one of the layouts Public Works has prepared but trade dedicated bus lanes with “dynamic” lanes, or
3. Go in a completely different direction, including possibly removing bike lanes.
In Ebnet’s email, the only plan that had any noted pros and cons was the third option. The pros included “potentially keeps business” and “potentially supports neighbors with grave concerns.” The noted cons included “PW staff will be mad,” “may not be in alignment with adopted policy,” “will piss off advocates,” “bad for climate work,” and “sets bad precedent.”
In March, the city hired engineering consultant group Kimley-Horn to analyze how dynamic lanes would impact the E Line. Kimley-Horn concluded that there was high risk to the line’s performance without dedicated lanes. The consultant group recommended two options for dynamic hours of operations to reduce the high risk. During these hours, there would be parking restrictions along Hennepin Avenue South. There are already similar parking restrictions during peak hours on Hennepin Avenue South.
Via email, staff at Public Works did not seem thrilled with the change to dynamic lanes, but had to ultimately accept the direction they were being given. On April 25, Allan Klugman, a city principal professional engineer, wrote to Becca Hughes, then senior transportation planner with the city, that it “[w]ould have been nice for our mgmt team to have noted today we have a draft ppt to review. I agree with your ideas but I’m sort of in the ‘let [Anderson Keilher] wing it, no one’s asking me’ mode.”
In May, Hughes left her position after 18 years of working for the city.
Staff at Public Works weren’t the only ones that seemed blindsided by the abrupt removal of dedicated bus lanes from plans that were in development since 2018. On May 12, Nick Thompson, a capital projects manager at Metro Transit, wrote to Anderson Keliher,
“I am not sure what is being drafted by staff to present at the [Transportation and Public Works] Committee next week but one thing that will be important to Metro Transit is that the action and information presented not include the proposed hours that were on the presentation when we met last week. Those hours are such that we couldn’t come out and support them publicly at this point.”
The next day, Thompson sent a letter on the behalf of Metro Transit to Anderson Keliher. “Bus lanes along Hennepin Avenue in Uptown are critical to the success of the METRO E LINE, and to our shared goals of making transit fast and attractive for people to use,” Thompson wrote.
During its May 19 meeting, Public Works & Infrastructure committee members pushed back on the dynamic lanes and the committee voted to reinstate the dedicated bus lanes to the plan. The plan, with dedicated bus lanes, also passed the full City Council on an 8-5 vote. The mayor vetoed the layout and parking restrictions that were necessary for a dedicated transit lane.
In a letter explaining the veto, the mayor wrote, “we can’t 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.”
“This [Hennepin redesign] must be driven by metrics such as transit delay, speed, and reliability; corridor operations; and safety,” Frey said in his email, despite the findings from Kimley-Horn that showed a negative impact on the E line’s operation without dedicated lanes.
At its last meeting on June 30, City Council didn’t have enough votes to override the mayor’s veto of the plan but did have enough votes to send the vetoed items back to the Public Works and Infrastructure committee, which is meeting on July 14. Ward 8 Councilmeber Andrew Johnson said that he hopes the council can find an outcome that’s even better than what was originally proposed.
Adam is a Lyndale resident who is passionate about land use and transit issues