The November Coffee Chat is coming up Friday, November 18 and we wanted to get to know our special Guest, Stephen Osberg — one of the planners for the city of Omaha — a little better. So we asked him these questions.
I like to get around through a variety of means when I have that option, preferably on foot helped out by transit or on a bicycle. In the city, I like driving the least, yet I find myself behind a steering wheel for most trips these days.
2. What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge to multi-modal transportation in Omaha?
I think we need to think about how we choose to prioritize the different uses of streets. Streets are our city’s most prevalent public spaces, and they are used for everything from outdoor dining and walking to driving or biking. We all use them in a variety of ways, but we tend to most closely associate them with driving. That focus ends up carrying over to our funding priorities. Our ongoing Complete Streets project is a a joint effort by the Public Works and Planning Departments to formalize the process by which we design our streets to achieve a greater balance between priorities.
3. What, in your opinion, the the greatest multi-modal success in Omaha?
We have well over 100 miles of off-street trails in Omaha (over 200 in the region) that provide uninterrupted travel around the city and even across the Missouri River for people moving by foot or bicycle. We owe quite a bit of thanks to the NRD and the Parks Department for that accomplishment. Unfortunately, those trails cannot provide access to all the places where people want to go. We recognize that we need to do more to build out our on-street bicycle facilities, and we’ve got several projects in the works to greatly extend our network.
4. How did you come to have an interest in transportation?
For several years I relied solely in bicycling and walking to get around Omaha. As I think we all know, that isn’t always the most comfortable or convenient thing to do, though I really enjoyed it. In those days I worked at Blue Line Coffee in Dundee, and one day someone left an issue of an urban planning journal on a table. I picked it up and a whole new world opened up to me. I realized that cities aren’t designed by happenstance and that I could contribute to the way my city works. Shortly thereafter, I headed off to graduate school for urban planning.
5. If you could magically change one thing about the transportation system in Omaha, without limit to budget or feasibility, what would it be?