Great Progress on the Multimodal Front

26 Aug

Today the Omaha City Council approved the addition of a Complete Streets Healthy Living Manager position to be added to the Public Works in the latter half of 2015. 

It’s important that we all stop and acknowledge just how far we’ve come in one month’s time.

When the City of Omaha budget was released, it did not include the Bicycle Pedestrian Coordinator position. According to Mayor Jean Stothert, the position was no longer necessary because “the purpose of this position, the goals have been reached.”

So, for a moment, that was the outlook. It was bleak.

Today, things are very different. The Mayor acted fairly quickly to create the Active Living Advisory Committee and selected Julie Harris to be its first chair. Win.

Soon thereafter, several months of ongoing discussions between several city departments, Omaha by Design and others culminated in an agreement to create the city’s first Complete Streets policy. Win.

The Metropolitan Area Planning Agency (MAPA) then offered to ramp up its multimodal planning efforts if the city agreed to chip in a few bucks to make it happen. The city obliged. Win.

And finally, a position dedicated to multimodal transportation – a balanced transportation coordinator – was restored into the budget. As it stands today, the City Council approved a position in Public Works and the Mayor agreed to a similar position in Planning. There’s still the possibility of a veto, so we’ll see where this shakes out. Nevertheless, we’ll call it a win. 

That’s some pretty legit progress in the last 4–5 weeks, and its largely due to the unbelievable grassroots activism of multimodal advocates like you. You stood in the rain at a bike/ped rally. You contacted your city council members. You attended and spoke up at the budget hearing. You blew up social media. You wrote to the Public Pulse. You responded to media requests.

The end result of your hard work is that we are in a far better position now that we were before the Mayor’s office announced the elimination of the Bike/Ped Coordinator. We completely flipped the trajectory and drove the conversation and decisions.

Good work, people. Very good work. Now comes the hard part: holding the city accountable to what it agreed to do. As ModeShift continues its progress to formalize into a legal entity, we commit to continually pushing the conversation forward and holding our elected officials and other decision-makers accountable. But we need your help.

Are you with us?

We’re re-launching on September 22. Come say hi, celebrate today’s victory, and learn what Mode Shift’s plans are for moving forward. House of Loom. 6:00 – 9:00pm.

Status of the City’s Multimodal Plans

21 Aug

It’s been a crazy few days on the city budget front with a big meeting with the Mayor on Monday and a budget resolution from Councilperson Jerram introduced on Wednesday. Here’s a quick synopsis and summary of where we stand.

Mayor Stothert, who was joined by several upper-level staff members, generously pulled together a meeting on Monday to 1) clarify her proposed plans for multimodal efforts and 2) get some feedback from the active transportation community.

The Mayor’s plans are as follows:

  1. Active Living Advisory Committee (ALAC)
  2. Deliver a Complete Streets policy in nine months
  3. A slightly expanded role for comprehensive transportation personnel at the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency (MAPA), with funds from the City of Omaha to assist
  4. A position in the Planning Department that is dedicated to multimodal transportation – a balanced transportation coordinator

The Mayor’s ALAC has already been formed by executive order. The wheels are turning, and Julie Harris will be an excellent leader. The Mayor articulated a desire to ensure the Committee is effective, and we wholeheartedly agree.

The effort to create a Complete Streets policy has been in the works for several months. Omaha by Design is convening and facilitating, and there is involvement on the Working Group from a good list of stakeholders; HDR, the Planning, Public Works, Parks & Recreation Departments, the Mayor’s Office, Douglas County Health Department, Alegent Creighton Health, and LiveWell. Their scope of work includes extracting and synching references to Complete Streets from ten other city plans (i.e., Transportation Master Plan, Environmental Element, Urban Design Handbook, Green Streets Guide) into one policy.

MAPA currently has staff that work on multimodal planning to some extent. They offered to ramp up their efforts with a regional focus but asked the City to chip in a few dollars to help make it happen. The Mayor indicated the City is on board.

There weren’t many details on the dedicated position within the Planning Department. The Mayor revealed that the City has funds available in the existing budget to pay for one additional full-time position since a City Planner position is currently vacant. The balanced transportation coordinator could be filled by a new hire, or a current employee could be shifted into the role. James Thele, Planning Director, is working on mapping it out.

Overall, we are encouraged by the Mayor’s plans. If implemented effectively, Omaha will be well ahead of where we are today. The key is execution.

Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Councilperson Chris Jerram introduced a budget resolution that adds a Complete Streets Active Living position in the Public Works Department in the second half of the 2015 budget year (following the completion of the Complete Streets policy).

We like the idea of having staff focused on multimodal transportation in both the Planning and Public Works departments. Both are important. And in our view, it’s an appropriate allocation of resources to have both.

We’ll be following the progress over the coming days and will continue to share updates on our website and via social media. The final budget deliberations and voting will occur at the August 26 City Council meeting at 2pm. See you there.

For more information and coverage, see today’s Omaha World Herald article

Budget Hearing Logistics

12 Aug

10557400_10203610913266051_7199861361230378539_nTonight is the night! The Omaha City Council will hear public input on the proposed 2015 budget. Please attend, bring a friend, and advocate for a position within the city to focus on complete streets, healthy living, and active transportation.

The Public Budget Hearing will start at 7pm in the Omaha/Douglas Civic Center, 1819 Farnam Street.

  • Bicycle parking is right outside the Farnam Street entrance. An Omaha B-cycle Station is also located outside the building and a group is riding from 6015 Maple St. (the Omaha Bicycle Co.) starting at 6:30pm sharp.
  • Several buses pass nearby.
  • Car parking is on street or at 1910 Harney.

When you arrive at the City Council Chambers, you’ll need to sign in to speak. Then, when your name is called you will have three minutes to speak.

The more each of us can stick to our areas of knowledge and personal experience, the better. Rather than summarizing all the reasons for supporting a staff person focused on multimodal transportation, make an articulate case about one or two facets. Support your case with facts, statistics, and your personal experience. Please be respectful in your comments.

Our focus is on the need for a full-time position dedicated to complete streets and healthy/active living in Omaha that will ensure multimodal design is integrated into all development throughout the city, and the enactment of a meaningful Complete Streets ordinance. These are important and justified for many reasons, including those articulated here and here.

We’ll have “I walk. I bike. Omaha.” stickers there for you to wear.

If you can’t attend (or even if you can), please contact City Council members and the Mayor.

Council members, you can view this map to find out who is your representative:

District 1 – pete.festersen@cityofomaha.org

District 2 – ben.gray@cityofomaha.org

District 3 – chris.jerram@cityofomaha.org

District 4 – garry.gernandt@cityofomaha.org

District 5 – rick.pahls@cityofomaha.org

District 6 – franklin.thompson@cityofomaha.org

District 7 – aimee.melton@cityofomaha.org

Mayor’s chief of staff:

marty.bilek@ci.omaha.ne.us

Mayor’s Hotline: (402) 444-5555

Please copy info@ModeShiftOmaha.org on your email. Thank you!

Bike/Ped Rally Logistics

9 Aug

A few things to note regarding the Bike/Ped Rally scheduled for noon on Sunday, August 10 at Stinson Park. We will convene at the Tower at noon, rain or shine.

Following brief comments from Councilman Chris Jerram, Mode Shift Omaha chair, Craig Moody, and Omaha Bikes spokesperson, Ryan Feagan, there will be optional, at-your-own-risk bikes and walks. Whether you’re biking or walking, please obey the rules of the road. It is not a closed course. Be safe. Ride right. Signal your turns. Stop at all stop signs and lights. Have fun. Be respectful. And wear a helmet if you’re riding.

Routes are as follows:

Bike Route— A 4.12 mile route utilizing shared roadways and designated bike lanes in the Aksarben/Elmwood Park Neighborhood. North on 67th through Elmwood Park. Roundabout north on Happy Hollow to Howard. To 55th. South to the Leavenworth Bike Lane. West to 60th. South to Woolworth. West to 63rd. South to Center. West to 64th. North on 64th Ave back to Stinson.
Bike Route
Walk Route—A 1.46 mile route on city streets with varying infrastructure for pedestrians. East on Center to 60th. North to Shirley. West to 67th. Back to Stinson.
Walk Route
Walk Route Alternate—No hills, good for children walking or biking. East on Center to 63rd. North to Shirley. West to 67th. Back to Stinson.
Walk Route Alternate
And if you want to roll on your own, the Keystone Trail is easily accessed from Stinson Park.
We look forward to seeing you all on Sunday. Have fun. Sign the petition. Wear a sticker. Be boisterous yet respectful. And be an advocate.

Regarding the Elimination of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator Position

1 Aug

If Omaha’s budget for next year is adopted as proposed, our city will no longer employ a Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator, the city’s only staff member dedicated solely to addressing the needs of people when they travel by foot or on bicycles. We strongly believe that this action would be a step in the wrong direction, and we urge the City Council to restore the position into the budget.

An urban planner focused on pedestrians and bicyclists yields many benefits. Our current Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator, Carlos Morales, has shown us that. Since he began his tenure in 2010, he has facilitated the addition of roughly 20 miles of bike lanes and sharrows, overseen the installation of more than 400 bike racks, and initiated a citywide dialogue on the needs of pedestrians. He regularly provides technical support on private and public projects throughout the city, and importantly, he has helped secure several million dollars specifically for bicycle and pedestrian educational and infrastructure projects.

Carlos has done a great deal of good for Omaha, but one can hardly say that all of our goals related to non-motorized transportation have been met. Simply, it is far more difficult and far less safe than it ought to be to travel around our city on foot or by bicycle. There is plenty of space in the public right of way for us all to enjoy a bit of it, but we need an advocate with specialized knowledge who can participate in daily conversation at City Hall to help make that happen.

Recently, it was suggested that the revival of a volunteer committee (the Active Living Advisory Committee, formerly the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee) could fill the void created through the removal of the Coordinator position, and the mayor reinstituted it on Wednesday. We applaud the resurrection of the group, but we disagree that it alone can meet our needs. The committee will do a good job providing additional perspectives on bicycle and pedestrian projects, but it cannot be expected to do the difficult work of ensuring that best practices are met on every streetscape redesign. Its members will not take the time to fill out lengthy applications for grant funding, nor will they be available to help review the plans of new developments to ensure that they adequately consider how people will access the locations from nearby neighborhoods or through transit. They will not fill requests for bicycle racks, and they will not complete the reports to document the state of walking and biking.

Ultimately, we need (and deserve) a paid staff member who understands that our city’s residents and guests want to get around without having to hop in a car. If combined with the new Active Living Advisory Committee, and the enactment of a Complete Streets ordinance, the City of Omaha will have the necessary elements in place to implement the transportation master plan and its vision for safe and balanced transportation in Omaha now and in the future.

Please help us take action to ensure that our voices are heard.

Contact Your Elected Representatives

If you agree, please take a moment to write your representative on the City Council and call the Mayor’s Hotline (402.444.5000).

Attend our Rally: August 10th at noon at Stinson Park in Aksarben Village

Show our elected leaders that we care about the state of biking and walking in Omaha. RSVP at the Facebook event page.

Attend the City Council Hearing

Attend the City Council’s hearing on the proposed budget on August 12th from 7:00 to 9:00pm at the Omaha Douglas Civic Center, 1819 Farnam Street.

 

Correction: A previous version of this post stated that the current Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator “raised nearly $3.7 million specifically for bicycle and pedestrian projects.” After further exploration, the exact figure directly attributable to his efforts cannot easily be determined.  We apologize for any confusion.

Open House to Wish Angie Eikenberry Well!

15 Jul

Ever since its inception a few years ago, Mode Shift Omaha has been influenced and guided by Angie Eikenberry. Her deep knowledge of and passion for smart transportation has been the single most important factor in Mode Shift’s success. And now we, all of us, must bid her a fond, temporary adieu.

Dr. Eikenberry, who is an Associate Professor in the School of Public Administration at the University of Omaha, was recently awarded a prestigious Fullbright U.S. scholar grant and will spend the next academic year conducting research in the United Kingdom.

Her presence will be greatly missed in Omaha. She has almost single-handedly driven Mode Shift’s activities for the last year; organizing events, sending emails, populating our social media feeds, attending meetings, and just generally being awesome. We all recognize that it will take nearly a dozen of us to maintain the pace that Angie has set.

The wheels go up on July 20. The day before, however, we invite you to stop by an open house at the Omaha Bicycle Company to thank Angie for her herculean efforts and to wish her and her family well in the U.K. Here are the details:

When: Saturday, July 19, 2014 from 6:00 – 9:00 p.m.
Where: Omaha Bicycle Company, 6015 Maple Street
What: An open house to honor Angie Eikenberry’s efforts and to wish her well in the UK

We’ll have a few beers on hand and a couple of light snacks.

Hope to see you there!

A Dodge Street Safe for Everyone

25 Jun
Image from KETV

Image from KETV–38 & Dodge Streets

The grievous death of Creighton University physician, Dr. Edward Horowitz, on Monday at the intersection of 38th and Dodge Street illustrates the serious challenges faced by the City of Omaha as Dodge Street becomes a future multi-modal transportation corridor. Dr. Horowitz was killed by a vehicle while crossing Dodge Street with the right of way and walking in a crosswalk.

Dodge Street represents Omaha’s central corridor and has been identified as the primary element linking the city’s areas of civic importance. Early work by Omaha by Design described this as a fishbone, with Dodge Street acting as an organizing spine for the city’s green spaces and neighborhoods, and where the highest level of the new urban design standards would be applied. The recent Central Omaha Alternatives Analysis concluded Dodge Street, Farnam Street, and Harney Street should host both a new Bus Rapid Transit line and an urban circulator, the locally preferred term for a streetcar. Both of these transit technologies have been celebrated as models of Transit Oriented Development, meaning an increase in development along these transit lines can be expected both in advance of, during and after the construction of these lines if they proceed as planned.

However, increased development and improved transit opportunities along and near the Dodge Street Corridor won’t succeed without reconceptualizing Dodge Street as a safe space for pedestrian movement and without providing the necessary facilities required for people who walk to move along and across Dodge Street in a safe manner. Nearly every transit rider is ultimately a pedestrian as the first or last leg of a transit rider’s journey is usually on foot, and the current design of Dodge Street is one of the least habitable places in the city for pedestrian traffic. An aggressive and visionary approach to Dodge Street is needed if the proposed transit improvements advance, something along the scale of Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s recent Great Streets Initiative, which recognizes the important role great streets play in making great neighborhoods and great cities. Omaha’s central corridor and the neighborhoods defining it won’t be great without a new and visionary approach to how Dodge Street safely accommodates all forms of transportation.