Mode Shift Omaha is a founding partner in the curriculum development and organization of the Citizens’ Academy for Omaha’s Future. This Spring 2016 session our part-time Program Coordinator is participating in the Academy as a student. On April 21, Mode Shift facilitated the Citizens’ Academy session on transportation: transit, travel demand management, and active transportation. Here are some highlights from that workshop:
Freedom is in the eye of the beholder of transportation choices, explained the featured speakers Michael Helgerson from Metro Area Planning Agency (MAPA), Evan Schweitz from Omaha Metro Transit, and Daniel Lawse from Verdis Group and Omaha Metro Transit board.
If a car has been your main mode of transport and suddenly for some reason you are without a car, you know the struggles of depending on others for rides or borrowing cars.
That freedom doesn’t only exist with cars. Having access to other modes of transportation grants us that same freedom. Transportation freedom – knowing and using different transport options – empowers people to take ownership of their lives.
Advocates for utilizing and promoting transportation options, such as Mode Shift Omaha and some Citizens’ Academy participants, are not trying to shame people by passing judgment on which mode of transport they’re using. When Mode Shift educates the public about the accessibility and effectiveness of other transportation options, we are emphasizing the positive economic, health, and happiness effects that come from diversifying modes of transportation.
It’s no news that regularly choosing to walk and bike brings glowing health benefits for the body, mind, and spirit. Perhaps a less observed benefit of opting to use other transportation modes is the adventure that comes from needing to use your wits. Trying new things, trusting the unknown, and physically immersing yourself in the world (rather than sitting behind an enclosed shield of steel) forces us to learn, grow, and connect in many ways.
The bus system in Omaha is improving. Evan Schweitz, Transit Planner at Metro, listed the ways they’ve changed the bus service since May 2015. One of the biggest ongoing improvements by Metro has been shifting gradually from a coverage-based system to a frequency-based system. Rather than expanding the number of bus routes across Omaha, they’re increasing the quantity of buses on busy routes.
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) will bring more changes to how people travel in Omaha. Mode Shift has written several blog posts about BRT (our latest one here) and also have detailed notes from our February Coffee Chat with Metro’s Lauren Cencic.
Mike Helgerson of MAPA shared a study on the different attitudes and skills of cyclists in Omaha, ranging from not comfortable on a bike at all, to confident but worried about safety, to very confident in all types of weather, terrain, and road conditions. In terms of how Omahans feel about safety on bicycles, 63% feel unsafe, 32% feel safe with streets with bike lanes, and only 5% feel very safe. This information is important for the City, transportation stakeholders, and citizens to consider when planning of future transportation projects in Omaha.
According to Metro Transit, 2% of Omahans use other modes of transportation beyond driving single-occupancy vehicles. (We’ve noted elsewhere that this is not quite accurate as it is based only on commuter data.) The Citizens’ Academy members talked tentatively about setting a goal of 20% for the city in the near future.
Increasing our city’s use of multiple modes of transportation requires an informed public; people who care about the city and their health and the impact of the current system. It requires us to make conscious choices every day about which mode of transit we take. It requires us to change our routine from using the same mode of transport to asking the question, “Do I really need my car today?”
Can you commit to this challenge? Give it a try for a day. Write your questions, comments, and observations about your state of mind and happiness while experimenting with new transportation modes and routes. Then share your experiences on social media using the #ModeShiftOmaha hashtag.
Can you choose a different mode of transportation for at least one day of your work week? What are you willing to change about your transportation patterns to help us reach our 20% goal for alternate transportation use in Omaha? Join the Live Well Omaha Commuter Challenge as a step toward making this change.