The COVID-19 pandemic has had a big impact on our work. Our staff began working from home on March 12th and will do so for the foreseeable future. A few weeks ago we shared that we won’t host any Open Streets Minneapolis events in June, and are prepared to cancel any event that poses a significant health risk.
Now we’d like to share how we’re changing our advocacy in response to COVID-19.
Our advocacy approach
We’re a community-driven nonprofit working for a city where biking, walking, and rolling are easy and comfortable for everyone. As a staff, we use a few core values to guide our work:
Centering people who are usually left out
At Our Streets Minneapolis we know that local transportation engagement and decision-making processes are not equally accessible to everyone in our community. That’s why we prioritize the voices of people who are traditionally left out of these processes like Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC), renters, and low income folks.
Putting critical needs first
We’ve always been an organization centered on biking, walking, and rolling for transportation. We know that getting outside to bike, walk, and roll for fun has many benefits including better health. Yet transportation is what connects us to critical needs like jobs, housing, food, and medical care. We also know that while active transportation is a choice for some, many people rely on biking or walking as their only way to get around. In our work transportation comes before recreation.
Decreasing disparities, not amplifying them
We do our best to consider the consequences of the policies we advocate for. We do not advocate for policies that will amplify existing disparities in our city. Instead, we look for solutions that will decrease disparities. For example, this is one of the reasons we do not support enforcement as a strategy to make streets better places to bike, walk, and roll.
How we’re advocating for better streets during COVID-19
We’re using these same values to make adjustments to the advocacy work we planned for this year.
Transportation Action Plan
We are continuing to advocate for our priorities in the City’s Transportation Action Plan. This advocacy is part of multi-year work where we have been able to carry out deep community engagement. We continue to pay attention to the needs of our community as we do this work.
Hennepin County Streets
This winter we began working on a new advocacy campaign to make Hennepin County-owned streets easy, comfortable places to bike, walk, and roll. To do this, we planned to host community forums on Hennepin County streets like Franklin Ave, Lake St, & Lyndale Ave S.
We worked with our partners at Hope Community, Lake St Council, St. Anthony East Neighborhood Association, and the West Broadway Business and Area Coalition to form this strategy because we felt it would be the best way to bring more people into our movement--especially folks who are traditionally left out of transportation decision-making.
COVID-19 has changed our ability to come together at in-person events. We know that for some people online engagement is inaccessible. We also know that for others, attending an online meeting is more accessible than an in-person one. We are working with our community partners to determine the best path forward.
Initiatives emerging during the pandemic
Sheltering in place has drastically changed how people use streets in Minneapolis. While essential workers still rely on streets to get to and from their jobs, many people are now only using streets for transportation sparingly, like when they need more food, prescriptions, or other supplies. At the same time, more and more people are using streets to bike and walk for recreation.
We’re excited that people are increasingly seeing the value of biking and walking as a way to stay healthy. We’re even more excited that a growing number of people are thinking about streets as public spaces.
Yet we haven’t joined the groups and individuals calling for more open parkways and city streets.
In late March our staff decided not to promote COVID-19 open streets advocacy. We did this because we are not confident calls for open streets center people who are usually left out, put critical needs first, and will not amplify existing disparities.
Instead, we are working to determine how we can support the transportation needs of essential workers and underserved groups in our city. For example, we signed on to this letter requesting more personal protective equipment (PPE) for transit workers. We are doing this work by reaching out to partners and others to listen deeply and understand community needs.
We are continuing to learn and refine our advocacy and engagement approach with the help of local community partners and online resources published by groups like The Untokening, Oakland Bike Lab, and the Safe Routes Partnership.
Want to get involved?
Our volunteer work group, Streets for People, is continuing their monthly meetings online. Check out their latest blog post to learn more about their work, including how to join them.
You can also make a gift to support our work on our website.