As we bring 2016 to a close, we’d like to take a moment to reflect on transportation-related accomplishments and challenges over the past year. Here are our top ten transportation stories:
1. Historic Buildings Saved from Parking Partisans
Thanks to the mobilization efforts of Restoration Exchange Omaha and Mode Shift Omaha, as well as your letter writing, testimonies, and rallying, Omaha Performing Arts announced last mid-February they would no longer pursue their efforts to acquire and then demolish three century-old buildings to create unnecessary parking to be constructed in their place. Our voices DO matter (at least sometimes)!
2. Victories for Bike Safety
There were some big wins across the state for bicycling this past year. One, thanks to the work of the Nebraska Bicycling Alliance, was the approval of LB 716, which gave people on bikes the same legal right of way in crosswalks as people on foot. The bill also eliminated an outdated mandatory side path provision that was in the statutes. The law went into effect on July 21, 2016. Also, kudos to Lincoln for being the first city in the state to implement a Curb-Protected Bike Lane in a core area of downtown Lincoln. Perhaps someday we’ll see the same in Omaha, such as the protected bike lane on Harney Street featured in the Transportation Master Plan? In the meantime, we’re grateful to the City of Omaha Parks and Recreation for getting the South Omaha Trail finished; this is a much-needed addition to enable a connected, safe riding route from the Keystone to midtown and downtown Omaha.
3. Work Began on a Complete Streets Design Guide
The Omaha City Council approved a Complete Streets policy in August 2015. In June 2016, the City announced starting to work on the Complete Streets Design Guide, which will build on past street design efforts, consolidate existing guidelines in one document and rectify inconsistencies in standards where appropriate. It will also define street typologies, craft roadway and intersection designs that support all modes of transportation, and develop an implementation and maintenance plan to ensure the successful incorporation of Complete Streets elements into the City’s future projects. Let’s hope the Guide is done and will start to influence future projects sooner rather than later.
4. Still Spending Millions on Roadway Expansion
Sadly, while we wait for a Complete Streets policy to be implemented, the City continues to pour millions of dollars into road widening projects, mostly in the western parts of the city. Thanks to a windfall from the Build Nebraska Act, the City can now implement a long list of road widening projects that cost a lot with unclear benefit. Research suggests traffic studies systematically overstate benefits of these types of road widening projects due to the effects of generated traffic or induced travel on roadways; that is, as Todd Litman describes it, when “road improvements that reduce travel costs attract trips from other routes, times and modes, and encourage longer and more frequent travel….This consists in part of induced travel, which refers to increased total vehicle miles travel (VMT) compared with what would otherwise occur.” So a vicious cycle of widening, increased demand and sprawl, increased costs, and so on continues.
5. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Planning in Full Swing
One alternative to road widening is improving transit. BRT should help do just that. Our board members and other supporters have been actively involved with the BRT Stakeholder Committee, which has been meeting this past year to work with Metro Transit on planning for the BRT, to be running along the Dodge Street corridor by late 2018. The benefits of the BRT are anticipated to be many, including helping to make the entire transit system more efficient. Two open houses were held in June to get input from the public on vehicle design and other areas. Metro also hired an Outreach Coordinator soon after. Check out more about the BRT on Metro’s website here and read our BRT series here.
6. 32 Avenue Project Finally Completed
After several years of back-and-forth between Public Works and neighbors and institutions in the area, the work to slow down traffic and make 32 Avenue safer, especially for people walking and bicycling, has been completed. Unfortunately, a protected bike lane was not part of the improvements; however, a shared use path along Hanscom Park and curb extensions along the street were included in the new design. There are a few reported connectivity problems—such as the painted bike lane heading South ending abruptly and a rough transition from on-street bike lane to side path heading north—but all-in-all, the street will hopefully be safer for all users. Now if we could only improve the overall process to get to (better) solutions like this in a quicker, less painful fashion…
7. Funds Raised to Makeover the Dodge Street Overpass
Thanks to the work of the Dundee-Memorial Park Association and City Councilman Pete Festersen, money was raised to get the historic Dodge Street Overpass sandblasted and repainted to maintain its integrity—just in time for its 50th anniversary to take place in 2017. The Dodge Street Overpass enables hundreds of children and adults to safely walk or bicycle to school or work on a daily basis, connecting trails along Elmwood and Memorial Parks. While it’s great to have philanthropists and others support this project, in the future, we would like to see this type of key transportation infrastructure supported fully and completely by “regular” transportation dollars. As our coffee chat with Greg Youell revealed, in the Omaha area, car-enabling road projects are mainly funded by local, state or federal transportation funds while bike/ped/transit projects are typically funded by private, philanthropic funds.
8. Pedestrian Safety a Continuing Concern
There were once again several injuries and fatalities in the region involving people walking this year; one earlier this month at 44th and Dodge Streets. Data collected and mapped this past year by Lacey Matney shows this area along Dodge Street is especially dangerous for people on foot or bike; certainly an issue that will need to be addressed as foot traffic likely will increase with the introduction of BRT. The Omaha Safe Crossings campaign we kicked off this year is meant to bring attention to dangerous intersections and help make them safer for people of all ages and abilities who walk, bike, or use other mobility aids. Check out the data we’ve gathered so far here.
9. Transit-Oriented Development Planning Gets a Boost
The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) selected Omaha to receive assistance in planning development near transit systems as part of the second round of FTA’s Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Technical Assistance Initiative. The initiative supports efforts to create mixed-use, walkable communities near transit with a focus on economically-disadvantaged populations. The City of Omaha will receive technical assistance to maximize the development potential of the Dodge Street BRT corridor, including helping city staff draft TOD policy language that includes affordable housing and minimizing displacement of small businesses. In addition, the City will develop marketing materials for public outreach regarding TOD.
10. Heartland B-Cycle Expands Its Network
Heartland B-Cycle announced in November that it secured funds to double the size of the system to add up to 36 stations within one block of existing transit stops (along the BRT route). As part of the expansion, the City of Omaha will take over ownership of the equipment for Heartland B-Cycle. According to a recent article, this year more than 16,000 trips were taken on B-cycle bikes, up from 1,000 trips when the system debuted in 2011. While this expansion is a net positive, the lagging development of dedicated bicycle infrastructure to connect the B-Cycle stations could limit the reach and use of the expanded network.
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