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.

Comparing Costs of Transportation Projects

6 May

Can we afford to create a multimodal transportation system in Omaha? Can we afford not to? The current  system, that emphasizes moving cars is very expensive in terms of costs and safety. A multimodal system that supports streets made for everyone to use, no matter what mode, can attract and retain people of all ages to our city and save a lot in road widening and maintenance, environmental , and health costs.

This chart gives an indication of the financial costs of the current car-centric system, which emphasizes road widening, compared to the costs of investments in projects that improve safety and accessibility for other modes. The costs are either actual (highway and 96 street widening) or estimated (initial cost for the bike loop, one-time capital and annual operating costs for BRT, one-time cost for putting in the protected bike lane, and cost for putting in paved trail).

Costs of transportation projects in the Omaha-area

Per mile costs of transportation projects in the Omaha-area

 

Support Increased Density for Improved Transportation

28 Apr

As a city, we should give careful consideration to the types of development we allow. Buildings and other structures last a long time, and their collective impact on our quality of life is immense. Everything from how comfortable we are walking down the street to our ability to get to work is affected by the quality of buildings and infrastructure around us.

70 & CassSome people have expressed reservations about the 434-unit apartment complex proposed by Bluestone Development at the former home of Temple Israel at 70th and Cass. While part of the sentiments behind the objections to the project might be well-intentioned, opposition to the proposed development fails to consider larger issues.

One issue people have raised is the potential for increased congestion due to denser development. This concern is overstated. A traffic study related to the proposed apartments conducted by independent local consultants indicates the development will have only a minor impact on traffic along Cass Street. Traffic will only increase by 2%, an unnoticeable amount. If traffic congestion is a real concern, neighbors should advocate for projects that will help people get around without driving. Transit and the density that support this are the solution.

An upgrade to transit service could help alleviate issues of congestion by encouraging people to use means of traveling besides driving, improve access to jobs and other destinations for those who cannot or choose to not drive, and promote public health through decreased emissions and active transportation. However, a transit system, whether it uses rail or buses, needs riders to be effective.  Density in housing and jobs is the only way to get the riders necessary to support a quality transit system, and the proposed apartment complex will play a role in providing that support. Density also decreases the miles of roads and other support infrastructure that must be built, decreasing the Citys maintenance costs.

In the long term, improved transit supported through denser development will certainly help the City as a whole. It will also help enhance the character of the neighborhood. The proposed development lies on a large block filled mainly with box stores, strip malls, and fast-food establishments. These land uses tend to bring with them large surface parking lots and service roads, creating an atmosphere of frenzied drivers that makes walking or biking uncomfortable. This is a much worse environment than one where people walk because they use transit or live near where they are going. By creating a place where people are incentivized to walk, we get more walkers. If we choose to continue designing exclusively for cars, we will get more cars – and congestion.

In combination with walkable and transit-oriented development in the Crossroads District, these apartments can have a very noticeable positive impact on the neighborhood. We dont know the exact design of the proposed development, but we expect a high quality project of the type for which Bluestone Development, a local developer, is known. It should have ample walking and biking connections to the surrounding neighborhood, minimal car parking, and plenty of bike parking. This development project can be a step in rehabilitating the structure of the area near 72nd and Dodge Streets and in improving our transportation system.

Omaha Reflects National Trend in Leveling of VMT

26 Mar

The Metropolitan Area Planning Agency (MAPA) just released its Traffic Growth, Top Intersection, and Top Interchange reports for 2012.

cover-octnov-06-72MAPA does this report every two years by aggregating traffic count data from local jurisdictions, the Nebraska Department of Roads, and the Iowa Department of Transportation. The Top Intersection and Top Interchange reports aggregate counts at locations throughout the metro to identify and rank the intersections moving the highest traffic volumes. The Traffic Growth Report aims to provide a snapshot of the geographic distribution of Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) in the region. Additionally, this report compares the current figures to previous versions of the report to identify trends within each area of the region.

Overall, the Traffic Growth Report shows that VMT has essentially stabilized in the region over the last decade. This trend mirrors the larger national trend that shows a similar flattening of traffic growth. More strikingly, as the population continues to grow, VMT on a national level has decreased in recent years.

However, nationally these trends have not slowed the development and implementation of roadway widening. Locally, MAPA Executive Director, Greg Youell, noted in an interview about the reports that these new figures serve as justification for additional roadway widening in West Omaha and suburban parts of Sarpy County. While systematic road widenings are the status quo, these types of projects have been shown to “induce demand” and generate more vehicle trips– often making congestion issues even worse. The data, as well as findings from MAPA’s Heartland 2050 efforts, don’t seem to align with a call for more road widening. Nor does it align with the goals of the Omaha Master Plan as we’ve recently noted.

As a result of this “capacity-oriented” approach, many communities are now faced with overbuilt roadway networks and extraordinarily high maintenance costs. This has lead Omaha and other communities to consider “road diets” and other approaches to undo past capacity-enhancement projects as well as better accommodate people who walk, bike, or use transit. These types of complete streets have many other benefits, including reducing roadway costs, enhancing property values and economic development, and improving safety for all users.

Do we want to keep pouring more and more money into a transportation system that is increasingly costly, unsustainable and serving only those who drive? Or would we prefer a system that reduces long-term costs and enables all of us to get around no matter which mode we choose?

Please contact MAPA’s Executive Director, Greg Youell, and tell him that the data from the traffic study shows we need investments in road design that matches current trends and regional and local government policies and plans, and which enable safe and convenient transportation choices for everyone. While you’re at it, contact the Mayor and City Council members to tell them the same.

Road Widening Dominates City’s Planned CIP Projects

20 Mar
Omaha 2014-19 CIP Projects

Omaha CIP Projects

In May, City of Omaha citizens will vote on whether or not to authorize the issue of $92 million in general obligation bonds. The bonds would fund projects in five areas: streets and highways ($47,375,000), sewers ($13,616,000), parks and recreation ($14,511,000), public safety ($6,250,000), and public facilities ($10,272,000).

How these bond funds will likely be spent on street and highway projects is outlined in the City’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP). The CIP is a roadmap that provides direction and guidance for the City on planning and managing its capital and infrastructure assets, including transportation-related projects. We did an analysis of past and the most recent draft 2014-19 CIPs to see what street projects would likely be supported by the bond issue if passed.

Our analysis found that spending for road-widening projects, many on the outskirts of Omaha, dominated the list of CIP projects and increased between 2010 and 2014, while spending for streetscape projects, in the urban core, was quite small and decreased over the same time period.

These planned projects appear to be out of alignment with the goals of the Transportation element of the City’s Master Plan:

  • to provide balanced options for enhanced mobility,
  • attain a safe and healthy environment,
  • create livable and connected neighborhoods, and
  • promote economic returns with fiscal stability.
Omaha 2014-19 Planned CIP Projects

Omaha CIP Projects

Streets designed to meet these goals are important for the well-being of Omaha, reducing financial, environmental and health costs while helping us to retain our brightest talent, enhance economic development, and better serve all citizens.

Road widening projects largely lead in the opposite direction. Traffic studies systematically overstate the benefits of road widening projects due to the effects of generated auto traffic or induced travel on roadways. A vicious cycle of road widening, increased demand and sprawl, increased costs for maintenance, and so on continues and makes it more difficult to implement or enhance active and public transportation.

Street projects need to align better with the City Master Plan. Please email Mayor Stothert to let her know you would like a revision to the 2014-2019 CIP that aligns with the  City Master Plan and its support for increasing density and multimodal transportation.

Also urge her to make CIP data available to the public in a clearer and easier-to-understand format—more transparency in spending on transportation projects is needed. The City of Los Angeles’ Open Budget Portal is a good example of how this might be done.

Join us in making the case for safe transportation options for everyone.

Score One for the Master Plan

11 Mar

The National Bike Summit was held last week in Washington, DC. Thanks to the increasing role of social media, those who could not attend could still learn the best nuggets of info by following #nbs14 on Twitter. One of the more interesting tweets that came across was this from @BikeLeague on March 3:

“A plan without any resources isn’t a plan, but a wish,” says Philip Darnton. No leadership, no continuity, no resources = no cycling.

Certainly, a lack of resources (and leadership that is committed to finding and allocating resources to it) is a problem.  It could be said, however, that a slightly modified version of that statement could be true in Omaha:

A Master Plan without the political will to actually implement it isn’t a plan, but a wish.

Omaha is certainly not lacking in plans: We have the 2007 Green Streets Plan and recently approved Environment and Transportation elements of the Master Plan.  2013 also brought a new Traffic Signal Master Plan, The Metro Area Planning Agency (MAPA) has also just started working on a regional Bicycle/Pedestrian Master Plan, and there is a movement afoot to get a Complete Streets policy implemented.

The plans that are already on the books were not just written up and placed in an obscure policy manual; these plans were adopted by the City Council, many by a vote widely in favor, yet, time and time again, the City Council or Planning Commission exempt or change projects so they do not align with the adopted plans. When neighborhoods or businesses are given permission to “opt out” of connectivity, traffic calming or other measures that increase safety for all modes of transportation, all of these plans become weak or even irrelevant.

Pacific Springs neighborhood; photos courtesy of Kevin Flatowicz-Farmer

Pacific Springs; photo courtesy of Google and Kevin Flatowicz-Farmer

When developers or neighborhoods fight connectivity, residents often try to create their own connectivity anyway. Case in point: the Pacific Springs neighborhood, just south of the Village Pointe shopping area in west Omaha. Village Pointe has retail, restaurants, a movie theater, coffee shops, outdoor concerts, and a weekly farmer’s market during the summer. How great to live so close to all of these things! But, to quote an old REM song, “You can’t get there from here.” There is no convenient way for residents to walk or bike to the amazing things literally in their back yards because there is no street connectivity between the subdivision and the commercial development.

The red line shows the route a homeowner currently has to take to get to Village Pointe via planned routes.  The yellow line is a path made by residents (see walking path photos below).  There may not have been political will to create the connectivity in the first place, but neighbors certainly show “If there is a will, there is a way.”  

Photos courtesy of Julie Harris

Pacific Springs walking path

This past week, the City Council was faced with a similar situation to that at Pacific Springs. Neighbors from the Candlewood Hills neighborhood wanted to eliminate an access road that the developer was proposing to build between the neighborhood and a new development next to Costco. Letters written to City Council representative Aimee Melton were consistent in their message: connecting the two areas would bring too much traffic through their neighborhood, threatening the safety of the residents.

According to the Omaha World Herald: “Councilwoman Aimee Melton, who voted against the plan, said she understood the neighbors’ concerns about the connecting road.  “I think Candlewood has existed for 30 years as it is,” she said. “The people don’t want to be connected, and they don’t care if they have to go out and around to get to Costco.”

Many times, as in this case, the concerns that lead to opting out of Master Plans appear to be based on misunderstandings about how road design influences traffic and how traffic works. For example, road connectivity can help to reduce congestion and traffic problems rather than exacerbate them because it offers people on bikes and on foot easier access to where they need to go, reducing the number of drivers on the road, while also enabling cars to take multiple routes to get to their destination.

Councilman Chris Jerram provided thoughtful remarks (begin at 44:56) about the benefits of consistently implementing the Master Plan and the benefits of walkability and bikeability, not just for the vitality of our community, but so that developers and potential business owners can have confidence that they understand the “rules of the road” and that these will be followed if they choose to build in Omaha. He was spot on.

In the end, the Council voted 6-1 (Melton voting no) to approve the plan with the access road. Thank you to the City Council members who voted to support a citizen-supported and council-approved Master Plan.

This time, score one for the Master Plan. We hope for more in the future.