Friday, December 16, 2016, we welcome Julie Harris as the guest speaker at our monthly coffee chat. Julie is the executive director of the Nebraska Bicycling Alliance and chair of the Omaha Mayor’s Active Living Advisory Committee.
We asked her five questions:
1. What is your preferred mode of transportation?
I love a good bus/bike combo. I try to use my bike whenever I can, which for me, ends up being for short trips for errands. When I travel, I usually make my logistical decisions based on active transportation availability – when I arrive at my destination, I challenge myself to see if I can make it through the trip without using a car.
2. What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge to multi-modal transportation in Omaha?
I hate to take the easy way out and say funding, but I think it is funding. Political will for projects is much easier to build if funding isn’t an issue. Most of the cities we think about as having excellent bike/pedestrian/transit infrastructure had/have a leg up with a large grant or a dedicated funding stream.
3. What, in your opinion, the greatest multi-modal success in Omaha?
The Benson Route on the on the 20 mile system was a game changer in terms of getting more people biking. A veteran Union Pacific employee told me that he rode to work from Benson to Downtown for years and felt like an anomaly; by the time he retired (a couple years ago), he regularly saw more bikes in one day than he used to see all year. Metro Transit has really contributed, too, with bus bike rack use topping itself year after year, the route reorganizations and the upcoming BRT project.
4. How did you come to have an interest in transportation?
I just realized that I’ve hit the 10 year mark of working in this field. It started with being passionate about wanting my kids to have the chance to walk and bike to school like I did when I was growing up. I was fortunate to find a job with Activate Omaha/Live Well Omaha that started as part time/temporary and continued to grow. My passion for walking and biking clicked with my background in municipal/public administration and the rest is history. I’m squarely in the center of my personal Venn diagram.
5. If you could magically change one thing about the transportation system in Omaha, without limit to budget or feasibility, what would it be?
If a giant pot of money fell out of the sky, and it was up to me to spend it, I would build a connected system of protected bike lanes throughout the region. And I’d find a way to make them mostly flat. (You said magically, right?)
From the Nebraska Bicycling Alliance website: Julie earned a Bachelors of Science in Political Science and Economics from Kearney State College (now University of Nebraska at Kearney) and a Masters in Public Administration from University of Nebraska at Omaha. She worked in the fields of local government and public health before joining the Nebraska Bicycling Alliance as Executive Director.
A native of Scottsbluff, Nebraska, Julie grew up in a neighborhood that made it safe and easy to walk and bike to school from kindergarten through her senior year of high school. Until the glamour of a driver’s license intervened, Julie and her friends navigated around town via bicycle during the summers. She still remembers the pride she felt when she saved up enough money to pay her half of the cost of the 10 speed bike her parents partnered with her to buy.
Although she is most passionate about using her commuter bike for transportation, Julie enjoys getting out on the open road with her road bike and putting her mountain bike skills to use in off road areas, too. Like a majority of Nebraskans, a busy work and family schedule has her driving a car on most days.
Julie chairs the City of Omaha Active Living Advisory Committee, and she is a member of several local and state organizations, steering committees and working groups that focus on active transportation and Complete Streets issues. Additionally, she is a volunteer with local organizations such as DEVO (kids mountain bike club) and Omaha Bikes. She is an active bicycle safety League Certified Instructor with the League of American Bicyclists. Her favorite job of all is being a mom of two amazing daughters.