There are three legislative bills currently in the Nebraska Legislature of interest to active and public transportation advocates. Please contact your state senator and the appropriate committee members designated below to express your support or opposition.
LB 716 – Provides and Eliminates Provisions Regarding Pedestrians and Bicyclists
Description: Introduced by Senator Rick Kolowski (Omaha), LB 716 would repeal the mandatory side path law and clarify the right of way for when people on bikes and people walking are crossing streets while using a trail.
Analysis: Nebraska’s current law is based on the 1968 version of the Uniform Vehicle Code, which repealed its mandatory side path provision in the 1990s. We are one of only four states that still have such a provision in the law. The provision currently on the books does not give a person on a bike the choice to ride safely on the road if the available side path is poorly designed, poorly maintained, or if the sidepath has debris that could be dangerous through which to ride.
This provision is also important from a planning perspective. Cities should be given the flexibility to plan, design and build infrastructure that optimizes the safety of all users. Side paths should be allowed to coexist next to a street with a bike lane if a city feels that this creates the safest environment for all users. Under current law, this example would technically make it illegal for a person on a bike to ride in a bike lane if there is a side path adjacent to the street.
These provisions clarify the law with regards to who has the right of way when bicyclists and pedestrians cross streets while using a path designed for pedestrians and bicyclists. This only applies to trails; not to sidewalks that are not designated trails. Many Nebraska cities have trail systems where these types of crossings are an issue, and many of them are expanding or actively looking to expand their systems. Current statutes do not specifically address this type of crossing, and a clarification in the law is needed.
LB 799 – Include Capital Acquisition Costs in the Nebraska Public Transportation Act’s Assistance Program
Description: LB 799 allows for the state to participate in the funding of capital transportation expenses, as it does currently for operating costs. Current law matches operating costs for municipalities, counties, transit authorities and qualified public-purpose organizations at a 20% federal, 40% local, and 40% state match. Currently capital acquisition is only matched by the federal government at 20%, with the local match being 80%. This bill would treat capital acquisition costs the same as operating expenses.
Analysis: Improved public transportation is vital to the economic viability, health, and environment of both urban and rural Nebraska. Many Nebraskans don’t have access to motor vehicles for their transportation needs, especially the elderly and young, and must rely on public transportation, family and friends, or charities to meet their transport needs. LB 799 would extend State assistance to public transportation to capital investments like new vehicles and maintenance facilities.
Analysis provided by ProRail Nebraska.
LB 960 – Adopt the Transportation Innovation Act and Provide Transfers from the Cash Reserve Fund
Description: LB 960, introduced by Senator Smith of Omaha, at the request of the governor, would establish, prescribe the authority of, and fund the Transportation Infrastructure Bank, provide a statement of legislative intent and prescribe reporting requirements for the Nebraska Department of Roads relating to the completion of the Nebraska expressway system, and provides authority to the Nebraska Department of Roads to implement and utilize alternative contracting methods for the construction of state transportation projects. It would divert $150 million from the Cash Reserve Fund to the new Transportation Infrastructure Bank Fund.
Analysis: This bill has some positive aspects: It encourages “Design and Build” as a procurement process, which has the possibility of finding some efficiencies and it encourages a prioritization that would give advocates a list of projects to try to influence; whereas now the priorities are less transparent. However, the bill is essentially focused on building and maintaining roads, so appears to be car-centric and expensive business as usual, doing nothing to support more transit and active transportation.
See recent coverage of the bill here.