North Mpls. activists want bus connection to Southwest light rail

Advocates for racial equity are divided on just how far the Metropolitan Council has come to make the proposed Southwest light-rail project beneficial for all.

On the steps of Minneapolis City Hall — and alongside three city council members — preachers and community organizers on Tuesday complained that the Met Council has taken little action to improve access and amenities for the city's north side. Community engagement is no substitute for firm commitments, said the Rev. Paul Slack.

"We're sick of process," said Slack, pastor of New Creation Church in Minneapolis. "Process means nothing."

But Avi Viswanathan, campaign director for HIRE Minnesota, has a more optimistic view. Viswanathan, whose group aims to boost employment rates for people of color, points to the Met Council's plans to explore training opportunities that would benefit minority businesses and workers.

"While we're not totally at all the solutions yet, their willingness to come to us and continue to engage has been really significant, and it's something the city of Minneapolis and Hennepin County have not done yet," said Viswanathan, who did not attend the press conference.

Discussions between the Met Council and various social-justice groups on the matter have been productive, said agency spokeswoman Meredith Vadis.

The Met Council is the only agency to respond to a coalition of 30 organizations demanding equity commitments from the project, Viswanathan said. The Met Council's 21-page commitment to transit equity includes plans to add dozens of new bus shelters in low-income areas and to review opportunities to increase bus connections at all Southwest light-rail stations.

Still, that response didn't go far enough for some, including transit riders mobilized by ISAIAH, Take Action Minnesota and Neighborhoods Organizing for Change. Most troubling, the advocates noted, is a triangle on the north side where bus connections to the Southwest line are lacking.

"What we're saying is we need some commitment right now — a public statement — that the Metropolitan Council and all of the planners and everybody who's been working the process is going to fill this gap," said ISAIAH executive director Doran Schrantz.

City council members Kevin Reich, Elizabeth Glidden and Lisa Bender expressed solidarity with the equity concerns, even though the council is expected to offer its consent to the project next week. Reich and Glidden said some of the demands — such as the bus connections to the light-rail line — fell outside of the scope of the so-called municipal consent process.

Glidden said her commitment to the Southwest project remains strong.

"But it doesn't mean I'm discounting some of the issues that continue to be raised by the community, and I don't think the Met Council is discounting those comments, either," Glidden said. "My encouragement to them is that we're going to need to work together to be able to meet some of these issues that are real and reasonable."