Smart Trips Voter Guide – Darren Tobolt

Candidate Questionnaire Web Header_Tobolt

Darren Tobolt_thumbnail


Darren Tobolt

City Council Ward Office sought

Ward 2

Campaign website

1) How do you get around in St. Paul?

My wife and I have been a one-car family for nearly 10 years despite work and volunteer responsibilities taking us across the metro every week. We both take the bus as much as possible and use the car as needed. I work in downtown Saint Paul and will bus, ride my bike, or walk to work. My wife loves to walk home for the second half of her bus commute at the end of the day. We intentionally moved into our current home to be close to multiple bus routes and within easy walking distance of grocery stores, restaurants, and shopping. I am a transit advocate, and one of the reasons I am running for City Council is to bring this advocacy and transit experience to all residents. If more people used more transit, we would have better support, understanding, resources and amenities across Saint Paul.

2) In your opinion, what is St. Paul’s greatest transportation challenge?

Saint Paul’s greatest transportation challenge is building an environment of respect for all modes of transportation. I think a great place to build that consensus is around walkability. A healthy transportation system for all means more sidewalks and safer crosswalks so that all people feel comfortable walking from their homes to schools and local businesses. All transit trips begin and end as a pedestrian trip, and as a Councilmember I will pay attention to the last mile experience and multi modal connectivity.

3) What are your priorities for allocating transportation spending?

I will prioritize a healthy transportation system for all. I will advocate for safer sidewalks and crosswalks, as all transit trips begin with walking. As a member of the Saint Paul Long Range Capital Improvement Budget Committee, I consistently advocated for inclusion of bike and walkways with every proposed road reconstruction project. I firmly believe when it is time to fix our roads, we must also take advantage of that construction period to create complete streets that are safe for all users.

As a longtime board member of Transit for Livable Communities, I have advocated at the State Capitol for improved transit and transportation funding. I will continue this advocacy as a Saint Paul City Councilmember.

4) Our city streets have limited space to accommodate competing users including people walking, people biking, people riding transit, people driving, parked cars and delivery trucks.

a. How do you feel these competing needs should be balanced?

The streets of Saint Paul were built in the 1800s to support the multi-modal transportation needs of that era. I am concerned with much of the animosity around discussion of building a modern, multi-modal transportation system today. Cars are not going away, and we need to make sure that we do more to find parking solutions, such as shared and community parking that support small business and vibrant commercial corridors. However, we can reduce the dependency on cars by increasing safe and accessible transit options while ensuring local residents and businesses feel supported. I will be a leader to engage everyone in the discussion and make sure we are going forward together.

b. What is a complete street to you?

A complete street is one that is safe for all users of all ages using all modes of transportation.   A complete street also serves small businesses and residents living on those streets. Saint Paul’s charm comes from its neighborhoods built around small economic development areas; those areas are served by small businesses, residents, schools and public buildings. We must ensure these streets are safe for all users.

5) Do the current mechanisms for collecting feedback on transportation projects work?

a. If yes, why? If not, how would you change the process?

I know the City of Saint Paul, Ramsey County, and Met Council work hard to encourage public input in transit studies and developments, but the formula they are using needs to be better. It is not enough to assume residents will learn about events or have an opportunity to weigh in via Facebook, Twitter, or technology in general. Ward 2 is home to a large senior community, many of whom do not use the Internet. I’ve also found that a Facebook explanation of a transit project will generate more misinformation than any community meeting. Facts are replaced with biases, and emotions out way the bigger picture. I believe in the old fashioned method of sweat equity, knocking on doors and flyering neighborhoods to ensure residents are informed of developments. I also believe there are times when we can’t wait for people to show up at a meeting two months down the calendar; as City Councilmember, I will leverage ward-wide office hours and block clubs to engage residents early. I will work with community papers to ensure consistent and thorough information on transit developments is shared.

Once at the community event, residents need an opportunity to speak. It is not enough to place dots next to ideas to show interest. Many people come to transit events to try to understand better what is before them, not to say which idea they like better when they aren’t sure what they are looking at in the first place. I want public forums to be a place to help close this knowledge gap by using videos of real examples, speakers who are not employed by the City, and providing open question and answer periods.

b. How would you involve more people who don’t normally participate, like young people and people of color, in transportation conversations?

As a full time City Councilmember I will make it my mission to ensure all people living along corridors know the process, the current state, and the value of each resident being heard. I won’t wait for people to log onto an internet tool or attend a library open house; you can’t wait to hear from people. I would like Saint Paul to take more partners to improve its reach on transit engagement and education. Two examples of future collaboration are Saint Paul Public Schools and Metro Transit. Many families depend on public transportation or would benefit from an improved system to help their child get to school on time. Residents riding Metro Transit likely have a vested interest in improvements to the overall system and would participate in a public meeting. To me, the solution is not always easy, but it is often clear.

6) Currently, Gateway, Riverview, Rush Line, Red Rock and Robert Street are all transit corridors being studied in St. Paul. What are your priorities for transit development in St. Paul and the East Metro?

I appreciate the connectivity all lines have together and will support my City Council colleagues and peers in Ramsey, Dakota, and Washington Counties to ensure a robust transit and transportation system for the entire east metro. As the Ward 2 City Councilmember, I will prioritize Robert Street, Riverview, and all developments involving Union Depot.

7) This year, St. Paul made a new commitment to becoming a “world class bicycling city” by passing the St. Paul Bicycle Plan.

a. Now that we have a bike plan, what is your vision for implementation?

The key to successful implementation is successful community engagement. This engagement must start happening across Saint Paul right away, so we are ready to take advantage of opportunities to include the bike plan into other construction projects as Saint Paul and Ramsey County move up maintenance schedules. We must work hard to bring residents and businesses together to understand the plan, provide a place to share concerns and priorities, and reflect those concerns in the final outcome. I would use the community organizing principles and creative partnerships I described in previous answers to reach as many people as possible with a focus of growing education, engagement, and support for implementing the plan.

b. What are your priorities?

It is critical bike plan implementation takes advantage of existing and scheduled road maintenance or reconstruction to save time and money. Connection to and through downtown and more north-south connections are important to building a citywide network.

c. How should the plan be funded?

Many of Saint Paul’s streets included in the bike plan are eligible for funding from Ramsey County or the State of Minnesota. Leveraging dollars from those entities, along with their road construction schedules, will help drive implementation without great increased cost to the City of Saint Paul. I will also advocate for regular capital improvement bonding projects like RSVP to include bike plan implementation and the 8-80 vitality funds.

8) Through the 8-80 vitality project, St. Paul is on a path to becoming a city safe for people from eight to 80 years old to walk, bike and play. As the city seeks dedicated 8-80 funds, how will you ensure that those funds are used to create safe spaces for everyone and improve the public realm?

I am concerned that the intentions of the 8-80 vitality fund will be lost lost without more public input and a definition to what is a good project. I will look to the Knight-funded fellowship position to help with both issues. I am the only candidate in the race with experience with the capital improvement budget and will make sure that we have an open and transparent process going forward.

9) In light of the recently passed bicycle plan, does St. Paul need a pedestrian plan? Why or why not?

All transit trips begin with a walk. In order to build a safe community, a person or family must feel comfortable crossing the street. A pedestrian plan should always be inherent in any public works, economic development project, and small area plans. We need more sidewalk coverage, and I will make it my priority to develop a pedestrian culture within the City of Saint Paul.