Let’s Move on Public Transit Improvements

5 Dec

Image from Transportation Master Plan update.

From Transportation Master Plan update.

The Central Omaha Transit Alternatives Analysis (COAA) held its fourth public meeting on December 3, 2013, before finalizing the transit recommendations it will make to the Omaha City Council and Metro Board of Directors. After more than a year of study and discussions with stakeholders and the public, the COAA has narrowed the possible alternatives down to 3 major options, and one combination of two options. The options are laid out in detail here, but briefly they include:

  1. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) along Dodge/Douglas
  2. Bus Rapid Transit along Farnam/Harney (couplet) or Farnam (contraflow)
  3. Modern Streetcar along Farnam/Harney (couplet) or Farnam (contraflow)
  4. Combined Bus Rapid Transit and Modern Streetcar, both along Farnam/Harney

We are very pleased to see the City and Metro taking the steps needed to improve transportation options along the Dodge/Douglas/Harney/Farnam corridor, which serves as the backbone and core to improving the larger regional transit system. Providing multiple options along this corridor is our best bet for changing the culture of transportation in Omaha. As noted during the public meeting, study after study has shown the need for better public transportation in Omaha, now is the time to make improvements happen!

Mode Shift Omaha supports transportation options for everyone. Any of the alternatives will help to bring this about—we support the option or combination of options that has the most likelihood of getting implemented. Beyond that, we support the option(s) that will have the biggest impact on improving the larger transit system. From the data provided, funding for these projects will come from different sources (not necessarily from raising taxes), and will serve somewhat different populations. Both BRT and a streetcar will also potentially bring a great deal of economic development to the area. The study projects, over a 15 year outlook, a potential increase of 1,200 to 8,500 jobs and additional development growth of $305 million to $1 billion. It would be fiscally irresponsible for the City NOT to invest in these transportation options given the return on investment (not to mention enhancement in quality of life for citizens).

After a good deal of discussion with members and colleagues, among the proposed options we support the BRT because it seems the most likely to be done sooner and extend service to a larger area. Of the BRT options, we prefer the Farnam contraflow. If the BRT option is selected, we encourage aiming for the “gold standard,” incorporating best practices such as dedicated lanes and other amenities essential to make the outcomes of a BRT worth the investment.

We also appreciate the value of a modern streetcar and support this option if it is feasible. Of the streetcar options, we prefer the Farnam contraflow. Contraflow (two-way flow for transit)[1] is preferable to the couplet (one-way pair)[2] options because, as Jarrett Walker discusses in his book Human Transit, couplets are more problematic for users. He writes in a blog post about this:

…if you care about people getting where they’re going, the one-way split reduces the area served by a transit line. That’s because for a two-way line to be useful, you have to be able to walk to both directions of a service. The further apart the two directions are, the smaller the area…that will have a reasonable walk to both of them.

We want transportation options that get people to where they need to go!

We also urge the City to include protected bike lanes in the Farnam contraflow design if feasible. The Transportation Master Plan showed Farnam and many downtown streets have more space than needed for cars, so it’s likely there will be room to create a true “complete street” on Farnam, where cars, buses, bikes and pedestrians can co-exist safely and efficiently. In addition, we hope the proposed COAA route or other plans in the Regional Transit Vision will address better transit access to Creighton and the airport.

Finally, we suggest we all start reframing discussion about these transportation options—highlighting the increased capacity and multiple benefits they will bring to everyone. In particular, we all know the mention of a streetcar immediately brings to mind past studies and controversies. Times have changed and the demand for public transportation has increased—the way we talk about options such as a streetcar needs to change too. What about calling it the “Omaha Midtown Tram” or the “Midtown Connector”?

What do you think? Please post your comments below so we can consider them before finalizing the official comments we send into the COAA.

Please also send your comments to the COAA by the end of this month. You can send them directly to: email@OmahaAlternativesAnalysis.com or see the comment form here. The more comments the better; we need to show decision-makers that we want action on transit improvements now.

 


[1] Contraflow bus lanes are areas in which a dedicated lane of an otherwise one way street is reversed for buses and other mass transit.

[2] A couplet is a pair of parallel, usually one-way streets that carry opposite directions of a signed route or major traffic flow, or sometimes opposite directions of a bus or streetcar route.

6 Responses to “Let’s Move on Public Transit Improvements”

  1. Eddith Buis December 11, 2013 at 9:28 pm #

    In order to have viable transportation in this growing city, we need to have better PUBLIC
    transportation, as well as a bike path from 10th St. to 42nd St. to handle traffic efficiently.
    I feel we should START with the BRT approach prior to the trolley idea.

  2. Willie Uehling December 12, 2013 at 2:40 am #

    I am surprised that Mode-Shift has supported the BRT option. You state the idea that the BRT is a more quickly implemented mode. It is more quickly implemented and the service area extended, however the quickness of implementation leaves much to be desired. There is no comparison between the development attracted between streetcars and BRT. Just look at KC for an example of how much development BRT attracts, as they are currently seeking a streetcar route.

    Of course the BRT would be fast to implement. All that needs the be built is the attractive stops, and the longer buses be bought. Realistically we have to ask ourselves, “Are dedicated bus lanes really going to be implemented along Dodge street?” The obvious answer to me is no. There is very limited lane space along the critical areas of Dodge where this BRT would be implelemted. Not to mention, the BRT option you suggest could not possibly be more than 5 minutes faster than the current Route 2.

    Theres always a push-pull between timliness and quality. And in reality there hasn’t been any implementation timelines stated in the AA that would suggest a streetcar would take longer than a BRT.

    To me it comes down to a consideration of quality vs quantity. The fact remains that Streetcars are a strong catalyst for development because their routes do not change without significant investment. Although BRT provides some benefits, BRT stations are relatively easy to replace and inherintly garner some doubt to buiness owners.

    I know Mode-Shift has a higher influence than the average citizen like me, and I personally feel that you have gotten it wrong this time.

    • modeshiftomaha December 12, 2013 at 8:24 am #

      Willie, thank you for your comments! If you haven’t done so already, please share them as well with the Central Omaha AA folks. We will take into consideration in revising the feedback we provide to COAA by the end of this month. It’s not clear we’re in any disagreement about things. We came to the conclusion in the post above, based on a group discussion of the options after the meeting, that we want both options and more options. We know from discussions with Metro and City Planning that a BRT can be done much more quickly–so let’s get started on that right away–and move toward a streetcar option as well if it is feasible. The choices really seem to be different as far as goals, audience, and funding sources. At the end of the day, we need to shift and reduce our exorbitant spending on enabling cars to get around to start investing and saving in the long-term on moving people around. Thanks again for your comments!

  3. Matt Steele December 30, 2013 at 1:22 pm #

    No more Stroads!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Omaha Gets Serious About Transit | Streetsblog USA - April 24, 2014

    […] advocacy group Mode Shift Omaha has said the projects represent “our best bet for changing the culture of transportation in […]

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