For the final installment of our Omaha City Council candidate questionnaires, we’re combining districts 6 & 7 since we only had one reply from each district. So, here’s Naomi Hattaway from district 6 and Sara Kohen from district 7. They’re running against incumbents Brinker Harding and Aimee Melton, respectively, who did not reply to our questionnaire yet.
What are Omaha’s most pressing transportation needs? If elected, how will you address these needs?
Naomi Hattaway: “Outside of some of the well-known transportation needs (accessibility, access to routes for all of Omaha, clearing of sidewalks, etc.), I have a vision for more diverse thought and lived experience being showcased in our community engagement efforts and planning processes. We have amazing and excellent talent across our City, yet we tend to ask the same questions, in the same manner, with the same results. Too often we only act on feedback from a particular subset of residents, and that’s a disservice to a city’s built environment. Additionally, the “language” spoken by our elected officials, planners, and decision makers of Omaha is quite different from the language of everyday residents of our city. This dissonance doesn’t allow for forward innovation and problem solving. My vision is that we see more equitable policymaking, to dovetail with improved community building (in part, city planning with the true needs of people at the helm of design). It might not appear as a transportation need, but my vision is that we have less transactional management and more intentional dialogue. Less “this is how we’ve always done it” and more opportunities to listen to and learn each other’s language so we can make progress together.”
Sara Kohen: “I hear a lot from people in my district about streets and other transportation-related issues. We need to prioritize these issues and address them in a methodical, strategic way. We should identify transportation needs and goals, gather stakeholder feedback, collect data collection, and then proceed strategically to help us invest in transportation in the ways that will provide the most benefit to Omahans.”
Should the Planning and Public Works Departments have separate directors, or should they be combined into a single entity?
Naomi Hattaway: “I do not have a current official position on a common director between the Planning and Public Works Departments, but I would like to see the City of Omaha explore the appointment of a director of sustainability to ensure climate goals are aligned with racial equity as we get ever closer to the implementation of the 2050 LRTP.”
Sara Kohen: “I’m open to suggestions for making our city government more efficient or responsive, though I’m concerned that a combined department might be too large and include too many different functions to be able to achieve these goals. I would like to see more collaboration and cooperation between Planning and Public Works concerning, for example, implementing Omaha’s Complete Streets Design Guide and other policies aimed at helping our transportation system meet the needs of people living in Omaha.”
Last year, Omaha approved $200M in bonds to close the funding gap for street maintenance for five years. Is this a good long-term solution for funding our street maintenance needs? If so, why, and if not, why not?
Naomi Hattaway: “This large of an increase in bonds funding is not a good long-term solution.”
Sara Kohen: “The $200 million bond issue only paid for a handful of projects and is not a long-term solution to our badly neglected streets. We should seek to build capacity in Public Works, both in terms of skilled personnel and investing in equipment. Doing so will put us in a better position to maintain roads properly for the next 20 to 30 years, not just pursuing quick fixes that don’t address long-term issues. Maintaining the status quo—and not attempting to address these underlying issues—will mean that the city will end up in a position where we keep having to have these bonds to maintain our streets, and that’s not something that anyone wants.”
Which issue is of greater importance to our city moving forward: transportation accessibility or average commute time?
Naomi Hattaway: “I believe that transportation accessibility is of the utmost importance. Average commute times are currently tenable for the majority of Omahans. Concerning accessibility, I am excited about Mode Shift’s work to adjust language and normalizing accessibility as a priority. Instead of walkable, we might use “navigable” or “as accessible as possible”. Word choice may not seem to obviously relate to active transportation assets, but when we are more inclusive of our community and neighbors, the economic benefits of an innovative multi-modal transportation plan can be fully realized. One practical way to better manage our assets is by acknowledging that “take back our streets” must be inclusive of community members that utilize curbside drop-off and pick-up for medical appointments, or for our neighbors that rely on delivery (medicine, meals-on-wheels), or shortened walking distance when running errands or providing caretaking services. Any type of inaccessibility equals forced isolation, and I think Omaha can increase their prioritization of reducing barriers as we manage transportation assets and improve accessibility. ”
Sara Kohen: “We need to look at all of our transportation goals—accessibility, commute time, safety, quality of life, environmental impact, and careful stewardship of city resources—and figure out how we can do the most good.”
Much of our current transportation infrastructure excludes people who cannot drive for reasons of age, ability, or financial means. What will you do to make sure that Omaha accommodates the transportation needs (equitable access to employment, commerce and services) of all citizens?
Naomi Hattaway: “As an elected City Councilor, I commit to bringing the voices of the most impacted to the table of discussion, along with the members of groups such as Mode Shift. Transportation access being prioritized is step number one, and a very close second is ensuring that chairs (proverbial or actual) are pulled up to the table when decisions and pivots are being made.”
Sara Kohen: “I plan to listen to feedback from other Omahans, look at the data, and work with partners in city government, as well as in the private and nonprofit sectors, to move toward an Omaha in which more people are able to access all that our amazing city has to offer.”
How often do you or your family use active modes of transportation such as a Metro bus, bicycling, or walking?
Naomi Hattaway: “Our family is a casual bicycling family, however due to a motorized scooter accident (December 2019, CA), my mobility has been severely impacted, so our bicycles are parked in the garage for now! As our neighborhood is not very walkable in terms of services and businesses, our walking habits are for exercise and leisure only.”
Sara Kohen: “My family and I often bike and walk and look for opportunities to do so when possible. Even the youngest Kohen (age 3 ½) likes to ride in the bike trailer!”
Do you support expanding the city’s recently-passed Transit Oriented Development (TOD) policy to additional corridors/neighborhoods, including allowing home owners to construct Accessory Dwelling Units on their property?
Naomi Hattaway: “Yes.”
Sara Kohen: “Omaha’s TOD policy is a positive development, and I am interested in exploring how it could be expanded in other places.”
Do you support Metro Transit converting to a Regional Transit Authority under Nebraska Law with an elected board of directors?
Naomi Hattaway: “I believe Omaha could benefit from elected leadership for the Metro Transit, however we first need to remove the barriers to individuals who desire to serve in an elected capacity. Meaning, we should first work to have clearer paths for a diverse set of folks to campaign, fundraise and win elections. Once we achieve greater representation with those who are running for office in Omaha, then I would support looking into a regional transit authority that is held by elected officials (similar to our peer cities, such as KC, Des Moines, Charlotte, etc.). Additionally, I believe that some of the status quo we maintain, is a system that refuses to name the impact of local systemic racism and our leadership model / electoral process would be a great place to begin.”
Sara Kohen: “Depending on how it would be implemented, the Metropolitan Area Transit (MAT) board voting to convert to a Regional Transit Authority, as allowed under the 2019 law, could help address some of the transportation-related challenges the city has been facing and stimulate our local economy by getting workers to unfilled jobs in different parts of the metro area.”
Omaha recently hired a Vision Zero coordinator. What are your expectations of the role they will play in trying to eliminate traffic deaths in Omaha?
Naomi Hattaway: “My expectation of Mr. Sobczyk is that he will work to listen and understand the work that has been done thus far, from groups such as Mode Shift and other groups and entities working to improve transportation in Omaha. I also have an expectation that he will both seek to listen AND also educate as a norm, both elected officials and the general public. I also would like to see him present a scorecard or metrics from his first year, so we can help achieve the goals set forth by him, in his new role.”
Sara Kohen: “The coordinator should develop a plan and timeline for eliminating traffic deaths, coordinate efforts among city departments, and help educate the public about steps they can take.”
Ten years ago, Omaha was promised a protected bike lane on Harney Street and it was never built. What will you do to ensure that project is completed in 2021?
Naomi Hattaway: “I would need more time to learn from folks knowledgeable about the project, and it’s current status, before being able to speak on whether it can be completed in 2021, and why it was paused / not completed in the first place.”
Sara Kohen: “I plan to work with the Councilmember representing that area to consider and address any challenges to implementation.”
Finally, if you could magically make one change to the transportation environment in Omaha, without consideration of cost or political consequence, what would it be?
Naomi Hattaway: “I would love to see more transparency and true community engagement when it comes to planning, forecasting and building our City! Specifically regarding transportation, my magic wand would wave in the direction of education and accessibility. Until neighbors in all parts of Omaha realize just how important safe roads, the way we use our land and why accessibility matters, we have work to do. I have been working with Shelby Seier of All Kinds Accessibility on an audit of District 6 (including transportation accessibility, whether we prioritize disability rights, what ways we can better serve our elders and aging population, etc.). It’s encouraging to see that it might not be about magic that’s needed after all, but simply a willingness to listen and learn, with some bravery and gumption from our elected officials sprinkled over the top.”
Sara Kohen: “I would like to see the development and implementation of thoughtful ideas to improve our transportation environment that are based on stakeholder feedback and data. The Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce is doing some really interesting work in this area with the Connect Go transportation strategic plan. They have identified goals for improving our transportation options here in Omaha and are gathering data and seeking public input. I look forward to seeing their recommendations.”