BLC Statement on Revised Routes Announcement: Make Equity and Inclusion Real

On March 11, the Metropolitan Council and Hennepin County introduced new Blue Line Extension LRT route options. The Blue Line Coalition — a coalition of community-based organizations representing marginalized populations along the proposed corridor — released the following statement in response to this announcement. 

Less than a year ago, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, government institutions — from the Governor to Met Council to city leaders — made clear, public commitments to equity, justice and inclusion. But today, as our communities are re-traumatized by the Derek Chauvin trial and increased police presence across the Twin Cities, we learn yet again that the lives of our Black and Brown, Indigenous and Immigrant communities are left out of the critical conversations that have had and will have a deep and lasting impact on our lives.

Institutions at this table have not followed through on the promise to include the Blue Line Coalition as an authentic partner with a meaningful seat at the table. We are forced to react to discussions that have not included us or our communities — discussions that have resulted in a major step in this process. While we have attended hundreds of hours in meetings, we were given just five hours advance notice of the new proposed routes. This continues the generational history of transportation planning as an insidious tool of systemic racism. We can do better.

Since 2013, the Blue Line Coalition has partnered in good faith with Hennepin County and other groups to engage residents and stakeholders to ensure the Blue Line Extension project benefits rather than displace immigrant and BIPOC communities along the route. Our primary ask has been clear and consistent: For this project to be equitable, the voices of directly impacted communities must be centered. But, at every point along the process, we have been minimized or excluded.

Most notably, we are deeply discouraged by the absence of Olson Memorial Highway among the route options. For years, Harrison Neighborhood Association and its residents have dedicated countless hours to providing input and articulating a vision for a transit line that will ultimately bypass their community. It is now clear that residents were asked to design their own displacement. While project leaders assured us that the coming light rail would bring street safety improvements and affordable housing resources, it has only resulted in zoning changes for new development and skyrocketing rents and property values. We urged leaders that anti-displacement policies couldn’t wait until construction — and we were right. Now, many of the residents who participated in the initial community engagement have been denied the opportunity to benefit from any transit improvements in North Minneapolis because they have been pushed out.

As a coalition, we stand in solidarity with Harrison Neighborhood Association and its residents, while also maintaining a sense of urgency to move forward and bring needed transportation options to our communities. In addition to addressing the harms to Harrison and other Near North neighborhoods, we strongly urge Hennepin County and Met Council to:

  • Provide transparency and accountability around the funds allocated to facilitate negotiations with BNSF.
  • Revise Hennepin County’s contracting process and increase the funding for community-based organizations to do the essential engagement to reach directly impacted residents and actualize equity in the process and outcomes of this project. The resources allocated for community engagement are dramatically less than the real cost and scope of organizing and the complexity and length of the contracting process is a significant barrier.
  • Actively engage with us in advancing policies for equitable housing and affordable commercial spaces to ensure our communities are able to stay in their homes, thrive in their businesses and save hundreds of hours wasted by a poorly designed transit system to spend with their families and loved ones.
  • Prioritize anti-displacement policies at the forefront in all levels of decision-making regarding this project. While government entities have had years to plan and implement a light rail extension that properly addresses the impacts of development and provide strong anti-displacement policies that center current residents in the community, largely BIPOC residents, there has been little to no progress.
  • Commit to true inclusion that shares information with our coalition as early as possible in any decision-making or public announcements to allow our organizational members and the constituencies we represent the opportunity to review, process and respond in a timeframe that respects our expertise and honors the many competing issues in our communities. The recent announcement of the possible new routes is a present example of the continuous pattern of interactions in which there is a lack of intentionality to obtain equitable outcomes and our coalition is made to react rather than participate.
  • Act on our shared understanding of the tremendous potential impacts — both positive and negative — of the development of this line, specifically learning from previous lessons, including the experiences of the Harrison and Near-North neighborhoods. The immense equity implications of this project necessitate intentionality and accountability in all aspects of the process. We will not ask our communities to design their own displacement.

For generations, highway projects have decimated Black business districts to spare white neighborhoods. Transit projects have skipped over communities of color to whisk white commuters to downtown job centers. The decisions about the Blue Line extension will further entrench this pattern by promoting displacement or we can reimagine the public process to support success and vitality of our immigrant and BIPOC communities.

As we said in August, we are disappointed, but we are not disheartened. We know our voices have shifted the narrative and our efforts have set a clear course for equitable engagement. We want to walk together with all of you in this journey to bring light rail to the North Minneapolis and the northwest suburbs but we need your trust and cooperation to shift the long legacy of transportation planning as a driver of destruction and displacement in our communities.

By intentionally working with us to address what has been holding us back we can unleash the economic potential of people who live financially burdened, one unexpected expense away from eviction. Together, we can give back hundreds of hours spent on poorly designed transit to families or individuals who can choose to invest that time in themselves, their families and their communities. With our communities at the center, we can — and must — transform transportation planning into a tool for inclusion and equity. The time to act is now.

Read BLC’s public statement from August about abandoning negotiation with BNSF here.