Transit for Liveable Communities gears up to save state transit funding

[TLC members gathered together.]

Transit for Liveable Communities (TLC) is a great organization, doing yeoman’s work here in Minnesota to change the regulatory and funding landscape for transit, cycling, and walkable cities. They've had a lot of success, especially recently: getting rail lines built, helping to get lots of federal money for cycling infrastructure, and passing the very important (and obscure) Complete Streets bill. I don't want to imagine what the Twin Cities would look like without them.

But at the same time, one has to admit that TLC has a rather unsexy job. They’re focused like a laser on lobbying at the capital. And that's the kind of issue about which it can be difficult to get people to man the barricades.

So, it was with some curiosity that, after a number of volunteer phone calls, I attended a TLC 'member event' yesterday at the Minnehaha Park pavilion. I didn’t really know what to expect. And as it turned out, it was a vague and pleasant sort of thing that attempted to get people excited about pitching in with the unsexy task of lobbying the state government.

[A TLC member gives her personal testimonial.]

After plying us with Chipotle burritos, TLC had a few speakers talk to the predominantly middle-aged, middle-class, white audience about the importance of lobbying the legislature. The list of speakers included a few of the TLC staff, Golden Valley mayor Linda Loomis (who is going to have GV’s first “complete street” totally re-done by 2016), and State Senator Patricia Torres Rey (as well as a few TLC members). You might call it a transportation wonk-fest-pep-rally, only with shout outs to Representative Melissa Hortman or Keith Ellison’s congressional aide instead of the football team.

Sample exchange:

"Can we get a big cheer for the federal lobbying organization representative in the back of the room!"

[Some scattered applause.]

The event illustrated the challenge of wonky advocacy organizing. It was not the kind of experience that was going to get anybody excited about biking and walking. It lacked the ineffable qualities of a R.T. (Rootin' Tootin') Rybak-ian inspirational streetcar speech. Instead, TLC was trying to figure out how to get people motivated to lobby for the extra twelve second-ring suburban votes needed to pass SB 2052/HB 3025, a resolution for the protection of transit funding according to State Statute 1045.5(b) subsection (c), of or pertaining to The Metropolitan Council. It was the kind of thing that only someone who has spent time at the state capital can really appreciate.

As it turns out, TLC’s #1 priority in the coming year is to stop the state from making transit cuts. And, as Torres-Rey passionately stated, because transit primarily supports those least empowered, this is not going to be easy at all. Transit, particularly in the 'inner city’, is something that most 'greater Minnesota' and suburban legislators have few problems voting against.

And Minnesota is not alone. As this rather dire Guardian article explains, despite the huge need for investing and growing transit ridership across the US (for economic and environmental reasons), despite the constant push for sexy new rail lines, in states all across the country bus budgets (the backbone of public transportation in any city) are being slashed.

Hopefully, TLC can find enough civic activist-type people who can convince swing votes that funding Metro Transit is important. Hopefully the new governor will not be Tom Emmer, who will surely do to MetroTransit’s budget what Mother Hubbard did to her cupboard. With a $6 billion budget deficit, I fear that TLC is going to have its work cut out for it next year. I’m not sure if yesterday’s event is going to help much. I hope I’m wrong!

[Members of the Minnesota House Transportation Committee debate whether to cut transit, or fund road construction in exurban districts.]

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