On the Streetcar

1 Feb

Mode Shift is excited about projects that can improve how people can get around in Omaha. A streetcar project has the potential to reduce the number of car trips taken in the urban corridor, reduce the number of parking spaces and allow for more density and walkability along the route. That said, this project is primarily about inducing capital investment and generating wealth, and we are greatly disappointed about the lack of transparency and public engagement involved in making this decision. As an organization focused on transportation equity, it is important to Mode Shift that the streetcar benefits many, and not just a few residents and developers. Our board has multiple thoughts to share on the creation of the streetcar, and a few have been highlighted below. 

Who benefits from increased property values? 

The property adjacent to the streetcar will become more valuable and the reduced need for parking will allow current under-utilized lots to intensify. We hope that the city uses this generated wealth to support more frequent bus service in the rest of the city, to fix and maintain sidewalks, and to ensure that Omaha is accessible for everyone, not just people living near this one corridor.

Why build more parking if the streetcar will reduce our reliance on it? 

Rhetoric around parking as it relates to the streetcar is confusing and problematic. Omaha has an excess of parking downtown, which the Mayor acknowledged in her statement, saying, “excess, unused parking takes up valuable real estate and chokes downtown development.” However, she goes on to say that Omaha has several new parking garages planned, at UNMC, Heinz, Millwork, etc. In fact, parking funds will fund the streetcar. Mayor Stothert ends her announcement with the comment, “it is very clear to all of us, and to every developer, that the lack of parking is really choking development downtown” [20:00] and goes on to say that we need to also access underutilized parking. The streetcar should reduce our need as a community for parking, not increase our reliance on it. 

Red squares represent surface parking and yellow squares represent parking garages. Thanks to Derek Miller in Omaha’s Planning Department for allowing us to use this photo which was originally posted in our “Expansion of Parking” blog.

The use of TIF funds for this project is inappropriate. 

We support Senator Justin Wayne in his statement that allocating TIF funds for this project, and designating this stretch of Farnam Street area as “extremely blighted” is inappropriate. TIF reform is needed in order to ensure these funds are spent appropriately, with a certain percentage focused on affordable housing. Additional property tax levies and sales taxes that only apply to this district, as Kansas City used to fund the Streetcar, could better ensure that the beneficiaries are paying for this. This will also ensure that the City receives a fair share of property taxes from this district as values increase to pay for increases in services. 

Including Vision Zero infrastructure needs to be a priority. 

We will continue to advocate for the prioritization of different transportation modes alongside streetcar development. This includes but is not limited to safe pedestrian infrastructure, including marked crosswalks and shoveled sidewalks, protected bicycle lanes, and safe and well lit bus stops. Constructing the streetcar without considering these additional important elements will not create an equitable system for all. We’re also tracking the ADA compliance of these plans. Some street cars are accessible and others are not.

Mock diagram showing the streetcar includes a cyclist riding in a lane with traffic. Including separated infrastructure for cyclists is a best practice and is not shown here. 

Disappointed in the lack of transparency.  

Finally, MSO is disappointed with the lack of transparency in this and related decisions about the downtown library. As multi-modal advocates, we want the public to be included in decisions about how everyone can get around in the city.

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