MINNEAPOLIS — The City of Minneapolis is looking at doing something many people have wanted for years: clearing snow and ice from the sidewalks.
Snow and ice during Minnesota winters are a yearly hazard for people trying to make their way on sidewalks.
“My sister, while walking her dog, actually slipped on an unclear sidewalk and broke her leg in three places,” said Minneapolis Council Member Robin Wonsley.
Wonsley was one of 12 “yes” votes in a committee to approve a sidewalk snow and ice removal pilot program for next fall.
The council is expected to officially approve the program this week.
“If we have a city that emphasizes mobility, being pedestrian-friendly, being senior-friendly and also values public safety, sidewalks is a part of all of that,” Wonsley said.
This winter, it’ll still be the responsibility of homeowners to shovel the sidewalks in front of their properties.
The specifics are still up in the air of which sidewalks will be cleared during the pilot.
Wonsley says a few dozen miles of high-usage pedestrian streets will be selected.
The pilot will also target seniors who need the help and property owners with a history of not shoveling their walks.
“I think it’s a good idea because the sidewalks just get really slippery for elderly people and things like that so it’d be good to not have to worry about the ice,” said Taylynn Torgerson, who lives in Minneapolis.
The pilot program costs about $600,000. Some of that would come out of the police budget.
The city also commissioned a study on clearing all of the sidewalks.
The report includes some downsides like the snow not getting cleared quickly enough, the environmental impacts of more equipment and road salt, and the noise of crews working through the night.
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At 81, there’s no slowing down for Sharing and Caring Hands’ Mary Jo Copeland
MINNEAPOLIS — It’s a name many in Minnesota have heard: Mary Jo Copeland.
She’s the woman behind Sharing & Caring Hands and Mary’s Place in Minneapolis.
“I’ve been wanting to change the world since I’ve been a little girl,” Copeland said.
And there’s little doubt that Copeland has changed the world, or at least her small corner of it.
“I think the most gratifying thing is the power that, the grace that God has given me to bring people hope,” she said. “Hope is not just a wish, it’s a promise.”
It’s a promise that started in the 1980s when she volunteered for Catholic Charities, then branched out on her own.
“I found a little storefront over on Glenwood Avenue and I got my own place in 1985,” she said.
That was the start of Sharing & Caring Hands. In 1995, she opened Mary’s Place, a transitional housing complex. Two years later, a drop-in center was added that serves more than 1,000 people a day.
One of the people Copeland has served is Phillip Wylie.
“She changed my life around,” Wylie said.
Wylie came to Minneapolis from Chicago and says if it wasn’t for Copeland, he’d be living a very different life.
“When I came here she said, ‘Hold your head up. You arrive here and me and God is gonna take care of you.’ And I was like whoa (laughs)! I’d never heard nothing like that in my life, ever, and it kind of changed me.”
Wylie now works for Copeland, as does Missy Brown.
“Me and my children stay here and she offered me a job,” Brown said.
She thanks Copeland for believing in her.
“Hope, life in general. She taught me actually how to live my life again, instead of just being, ‘Oh I can’t do this, I can’t do that,’” she said. “She made me stand up and look at myself like you can do anything. And I was like I got it, I can do anything.”
Copeland gives all her thanks to God.
“I think Jesus in heaven said, ‘Now this is a stubborn little girl, I’m gonna use her,’” Copeland said. “And ever since then I was just, I was always trying to be better.”
Copeland is 81, but she doesn’t let that slow her down. She did tell us she now takes Fridays off.
Record-breaking warmth cost the Minneapolis Park Board $750,000 — for just one week of skating
Record-breaking warmth this winter melted Minneapolis’ outdoor ice rink traditions — and cost the park system $750,000 for just a single week of skate-worthy ice.
For almost two months, park workers got up before dawn to flood the 45 ice rinks in parks throughout Minneapolis, only to see their work melt away in the daytime. A proper freeze finally arrived near the end of January.
Lyndale Farmstead in south Minneapolis opened on Jan. 17, followed by every other rink within the next three days. But the cold didn’t last. Almost as soon as skaters laced up, the ice started to melt again. Within a week, all rinks were slush.
The cost for eight days of outdoor skating, hockey and broomball: $750,187, or about $94,000 per day. Now, some parks leaders are pondering the future of the city’s much-loved outdoor rink system in a warming climate.
“I think it’s a wake up call,” said Park Commissioner Becky Alper. “If you look at the long-range forecasts, I think we can expect more variability in temperatures … Let’s plan for that so we’re better serving the public with the resources that we have.”
Alper, an ice skater, has asked the board’s recreation committee to gather data including how much the system spends on ice rinks annually for how many days of use, what planning is done for unseasonable weather and whether climate experts are ever consulted.
This winter’s record-breaking temperatures — caused by the combination of climate change and El Niño — shouldn’t be the benchmark for any kind of year-to-year prediction, said assistant state climatologist Pete Boulay. But the state is steadily warming, with climate patterns morphing to resemble Iowa’s. In recent years, winter overnight lows have seen the biggest upswing, which is particularly detrimental to ice-building.
“Over time, we’ve had definitely warmer winters. We’ve seen that through the years, the shortening of the coldest part of the season,” Boulay said. “In a cost-benefit ratio, what would be the tipping point of do you do outdoor rinks or not? That’s up to the bean counters to figure out.”
Cities can use refrigerated rinks, like the Roseville Skating Center, to hedge their bets on outdoor ice in an uncertain climate, Boulay said. But they’ll have to decide if it’s worth the cost.
Alper and Commissioner Billy Menz have also suggested that park staff consider the feasibility of incorporating refrigerated rinks into new park plans.
“I’ve been really pushing the board that if we’re going to act boldly for climate change, we also have to act boldly in the area of recreation, and this is a place where we could do that,” said Menz. “Because without acting boldly we’re going to have no ice to skate on.”
Refrigerated rinks are part of the long-range plans of Columbia Park in Northeast Minneapolis and North Commons Park in north Minneapolis, which is slated to receive a $35 million makeover in the next few years. Billed as the biggest neighborhood park construction project in the Park Board’s history and already running over budget, North Commons’ schematics include a placeholder for an unfunded refrigerated rink. Northside skaters would need to raise private funds to make that a reality.
Park staff estimate a refrigerated rink at North Commons would cost $6 million to $8 million, including a canopy to provide ice-extending shade.
New Directions Youth Ministry, a nonprofit that runs a low-cost hockey and figure skating program at North Commons, hopes to build it for less. The organization is getting ready to launch a capital campaign that describes bringing a refrigerated rink to north Minneapolis as an equity issue: kids skating in defiance of the racial stereotypes and financial barriers that have traditionally kept low-income people of color out of hockey.
Kids whose families can afford to participate in club sports and rent indoor ice typically skate five to six days a week, but lower-income kids can develop the same skills on an outdoor rink for free, said Dale Hulme, executive director of New Directions. This winter’s late freeze and early ice-out meant the hockey program’s 70 kids got to hit the rink at North Commons just twice. They made up some of their missed park league games indoors at Parade Ice Gardens, but with no practice in between, it was virtually impossible to compete.
If they could raise the money for an outdoor refrigerated rink at North Commons, it would help level the playing field between Northside players and their more privileged peers when the weather doesn’t cooperate, said Chris Williams, North Commons hockey coach. He used to live in a working-class Hispanic neighborhood of southwest Detroit, where an artificially cooled rink was a neighborhood centerpiece. He’d love to see that at North Commons.
“We played a game on Saturday, and our goalie had played like two other times before. … If he’d had the practices, he would have been that much farther along,” Williams said. “So our mission is to provide this low-cost opportunity to get involved in hockey because hockey is just one of these things, a Minnesota thing … and I think it’s important for the kids to have this.”
The Minneapolis Park Board’s first maintained outdoor rink was Loring Pond in 1884. It has been providing free skating for 140 years.
OPINION EXCHANGE | Ballot initiatives can make for a stronger democracy in Minneapolis
Opinion editor’s note: Star Tribune Opinion publishes a mix of national and local commentaries online and in print each day. To contribute, click here.
The dream of American democracy is a government where we all have a voice in our communities, and we all work together to build the kind of world we want to see. Unfortunately, it rarely feels that way for many of our residents here in Minneapolis. Too often, residents ask elected officials to pass laws and implement programs to address social problems and improve the city, only to see city leaders cave to corporate lobbyists and business interests.
Ever since I joined Minneapolis City Council, I have seen constituents fill the council chambers to voice their concerns or support for a wide range of issues — often issues they’ve worked on for years with little help from their elected officials, and sometimes with the city as the main obstacle. Their frustration, at times, is gut-wrenching. I feel that frustration too, as my ability to help them as a council member is often hampered by the city bureaucracy and a lack of political will by some of my colleagues or the mayor that I alone cannot overcome.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Eighty cities across Minnesota give residents the right to bring their ideas to the ballot via ballot initiatives — encompassing more than 1.75 million of our fellow Minnesotans. In fact, only 25% of home rule charter cities deny ballot initiatives to their residents, and Minneapolis is one of them.
If you’ve voted in a recent city election, there is a good chance you’ve seen a citywide question on your ballot. But right now, the only type of questions that can make it to the ballot are charter amendments. This restriction in our charter prevents residents from bringing a whole host of important questions to the ballot.
The council is currently considering introducing a charter amendment that would lift the restriction on ballot initiatives and referendums. If passed, it would give the people of Minneapolis the power to bring forward ballot initiatives and put their solutions directly on the ballot, so their neighbors can vote on important policies impacting their lives. It would also allow them to use the same process to have a referendum on a policy passed by City Council. If, for example, the council passed a policy people didn’t like, Minneapolis residents could collect signatures to bring the policy to the ballot for a vote.
Our neighbors across the river in St. Paul trust their residents with this tool. A few years ago, when communities in St. Paul were frustrated with a trash pickup policy passed by the City Council, people collected signatures to bring a referendum to the ballot, which opened up dialogue and brought this crucial issue to a vote in which residents could have the final say.
Years ago, in Minneapolis, neighborhood restaurants were prohibited from selling cocktails. There was little support for this law, but people were stuck with it. Luckily, since the law was in the city charter, it was placed on the ballot and it was struck down. But there’s no reason the ability for residents to have a say in our communities should be limited to matters in the city charter.
People in neighborhoods across the city often feel powerless in their ability to affect meaningful change. Allowing ballot initiatives would give residents a powerful tool to bring their concerns forward. Instead of struggling to have their voices heard by a select few city officials, residents would be encouraged to talk to one another. Encouraging those conversations, even when there’s difference of opinion, fosters democracy and strengthens the bonds of community.
I ran for office to be a voice for working-class people in City Hall. But I don’t just want to give voice to their concerns. I want to lift up their solutions. From the $15 minimum wage and the East Phillips Urban Farm to sidewalk plowing and bus lanes, many of our city’s most popular ideas came directly from our residents. We can join the 80 other cities across the state and finally allow ballot initiatives and referendums in Minneapolis, putting power in the hands of the people, lifting up even more of their solutions.
By legalizing ballot initiatives and referendums, we can empower Minneapolis residents to advocate for their communities at the ballot box. We can empower working-class people to debate their political priorities and proposed solutions, then have the chance to make those proposals reality. That’s what democracy should look like — and it’s what democracy can look like, right here in Minneapolis.
Robin Wonsley represents the Ward 2 on the Minneapolis City Council. A public hearing on the proposal discussed in this article is set for 1:30 p.m. Monday during the meeting of the council’s Administration & Enterprise Oversight Committee in Room 350 of the Public Service Center, 250 S. Fourth St. A related commentary on the subject — “Initiative and referendum in Minneapolis? Interesting proposal. Five concerns.” — was published Friday.
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