Mayor Frey not telling the truth about his bus lane veto

So much agreement on something so necessary, ambitious and having to do with the removal of any amount of parking is incredibly rare. But in a Friday evening veto, Mayor Jacob Frey stomped all over the remarkable consensus that has formed in support of full-time bus lanes serving the E Line BRT when it opens in 2026. Not only was Frey using his veto power to override a vote of the Minneapolis City Council — he was disregarding things like the strongly worded request (expressed in a recent letter) of the entire 15 member Minneapolis legislative delegation, his own professional Public Works staff, the desire of Metro Transit (who’d like to ensure the success of a $60 million transit upgrade), and the needs of transit riders.

But there are reasons to keep pushing. Transit advocates have had an answer every step of this process. They have built this consensus for full-time bus lanes so successfully that the Frey administration can’t tell the truth about what they’re doing. They know they’re on the wrong side and they aren’t proud of it.

Frey makes the intentionally misleading claim in his veto letter that the Hennepin layout has not changed. For nearly a year and a half, every option presented to the public contained a full-time bus lane. Then, what was advertised as the final staff recommendation in January included a full-time lane. After four years of engagement, the public wasn’t presented with the reality that full-time lanes had been stripped out of the plan until the City Council’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee vote on May 19.

Towards the end of Frey’s letter, there’s a completely disingenuous argument for relying on the recommendations of professional public works staff. The city’s staff just had years of work and their recommendation overridden at the literal last moment by Frey’s very political new public works director, Margaret Anderson Kelliher.

Frey says he can’t support 24 hour lanes for buses that don’t run 24 hours. You might interpret this to mean buses will get a lane while they’re in operation. Or perhaps most of the day. This is not the case. The hours his public works director has in mind are extremely limited: between four and six hours per day.

Just 12 days ago, Frey’s new public works director committed to full-time bus lanes in the “very near future”— which she said while trying to kill their implementation four years from now (upon completion of reconstruction & BRT upgrade). If four years from now isn’t “very near future,” what is?

Less than a week before last November’s election, Frey campaigned as a transit advocate in support of “much more significant investments in public transit” and said the things he’s “most excited about” are “BRT” and “to prioritize bus lanes.”

Frey’s claim that this is harmful to local business comes without any supporting data. We know people-centered street designs are good for local business, even when they remove some parking. We know we can’t compete with suburban-style development on parking availability. What makes this part of the city special is the large number of people and destinations within a compact area — and the choices we have for how to get there. The Hennepin reconstruction is an opportunity double down on this strength.

This is our chance at a street design that’s good for business; helps the city meet it’s climate goals to have more people choosing to drive less; gives people the choice to not spend increasingly large chunks of their paycheck on gas; a win for Mayor Frey, who can take credit for living up to his campaign commitments; and good for local transit riders — the majority of whom are people of color. This could be a win all around if Mayor Frey would stand back and let it happen — or if the City Council finds one more vote to create a supermajority to override.