Mode Shift Board Member, Madeline Brush attended the Midwest Transportation Summit, at Chicago’s Environmental Law & Policy Center, August 9th and 10th.
Activists from across the Midwest came together and strategized on how to improve public transportation in our communities. A group of attendees participated in the drafting of new policy. Gathering everyone together to share ideas was important.
Peter Skopec of Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (WISPIRG) lead conference. Ash Narayan, the director of Transportation Policy of 10000 Friends of Wisconsin, in Madison, was also present.
The other organizations from the region in attendance were: Frontier Group, Wisconsin Green Muslims, Environmental Law and Policy, ReAmp Network, Sierra Club, Michigan Environmental Council, Mode Shift Omaha, NIAOMI , Wisdom, Great Plains Institute, Illinois PIRG, Active Transportation Alliance, Alliance For Sustainability, Illinois Environmental Council, MN350, and the Better Bus Coalition.
The focus for the weekend was a document created by WISPIRG, the Frontier Group and 1000 Friends of Wisconsin: The Road to Clean Transportation. This report examined the challenges facing transportation in the Midwest region from air quality to opportunity.
In our Thursday session, Peter Skopec stated, “Cars and school buses in the Midwest do not have reduced emissions. We need to have strategies to improve transportation for citizens.” He meant that in addition to expanding and improving public transportation services, we need to also lower the emissions of the vehicles we’re using.
Here, in Omaha, we are seeing progress toward lower emissions in two areas, personal vehicles and public transportation. OPPD is offering rebates for customers purchasing electric vehicles and installing home-based charging stations. Our fleet of buses is getting younger, more efficient, and environmentally friendlier with an introduction of 38 new buses to the fleet. These new vehicles will run on compressed natural gas (CNG) or have cleaner-burning diesel engines.
Improving public transportation access is especially important in communities where not everyone, like me, has access to a car or the ability to drive. And when I walk about public transportation, that doesn’t mean only “more buses.” To my mind, that means we should be making our communities walkable, bike friendly, and safer for everyone by slowing traffic through residential areas.
The best place to push for this transformation toward cleaner transportation is at the local level. Local Zoning and Planning policies are the first step to make neighborhoods walkable and bike friendly. These solutions tie back into a clean energy strategy and taking care of the environment. After all, the cleanest energy is the energy you don’t need to use.
To get the message out to our communities, the group attending the conference are planning a Regional Day of Action. We will be challenging public servants and business leader to use public transportation for one day. The day will emphasize the benefits and challenges that come with the current transit environment. This day of action will emphasize that communities must make the initial investment, is better, cleaner, healthier choices which will save them money and resources over time.
By Madeline Brush