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Midwest Transportation Summit

6 Sep

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

Conference_Midwest





The Noise About Riverfront

17 Jul

All around town, there is a buzz around the plan for the riverfront. As something intended to physically unite the city around its downtown through a first-class urban riverfront, it has provided something for everyone… something to love, like, dislike, and generally question.

At ModeShift, the dialogue has been similar but first, let’s recap the proposal:

  • Stated intent: “Create a catalyst on the riverfront”
  • Physically and psychologically connect Downtown Omaha with the “riverfront” including Heartland of America Park, the Gene Leahy Mall, and Lewis and Clark Landing.
  • Completion by 2021

Lewis and Clark Landing

riverfront image A 

    • Connection to North Downtown by the “Baby Bob.” Proposed in CIP
    • Connection through proposed Capital Avenue Extension

Heartland of America Park: 

riverfront image B

    • Extends Douglas Street  for a better connection with Lewis and Clark Landing (vehicular way)
    • Extends Farnam Street as a pedestrian promenade that will terminate in a pier over the Missouri to provide a physical and visual connection to the river
    • Lawn bridge over the railroad between Farnam Street extension to Interstate 480 to provide a better connection to the river
    • Riverfront Trail (“Riverfront Promenade”)
    • Ice/Rollerblade Ribbon

Gene Leahy Mall

OM-RIV-HeartlandofAmericaPark-109

    • Sunken level, maintaining some water, from 11th Street Promenade to 8th Street
    • An 11th Street Pedestrian Promenade to provide a connection across the mall
    • Street level park from 11th Street Promenade to 13th Street
    • The surplus land from 13th to 14th Street is proposed for “future development, civic plaza, and future civic opportunity”
    • Theoretically, raising the mall to street level will make it easier for pedestrians to cross the space between Douglas and Farnam Streets

As there is more information contained in the plan than appropriate for a single blog post, there is much more information available on the project website: Riverfrontrevitalization.com/. Below are our thoughts on the proposal…

Pros:

  • $290M investment in the core of the city
  • Will likely result in major private market investment in the core of the city
  • Great cities have great downtowns and great urban parks and this seems like a step in the right direction
  • A complement to the ORBT and the potential streetcar (alignments and interactions should be incorporated into the design)
  • A strategic investment to physically and psychologically connect three disparate public spaces
  • The proposal includes several pedestrian and bicycle connections in the study area including missing links:
    • 11th Street Promenade on the Mall
    • Riverfront Promenade through Heartland of America Park and Lewis and Clark Landing to connect trail segments
    • An improved connection between the Gene Leahy Mall and Heartland of America Park
    • Better access to the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge

Cons:

  • The Gene Leahy Mall is an iconic public space and meddling with it should not be done lightly.
  • The Gene Leahy Mall – today and in the future – is isolated by the adjacent street environments on Farnam and Douglas Streets and are not sufficiently addressed in the proposal. Both Farnam and Douglas Streets should be calmed to reduce vehicle speed, increase pedestrian and bicycle safety, and activate the streetscapes along the mall.
  • The proposal is likely over programmed which will likely threaten the user experience
  • The number of elements in the proposal will result in high maintenance costs and will likely lead to competition between event lawns within the project and with existing facilities such as Turner Park.
  • The lack of public involvement further reinforces a ‘pay to play’ form of community engagement.
  • People will continue coming downtown with their cars unless the city continues to invest to encourage transit ridership and to make the city safe for bicyclists and pedestrians.

We wish for transparency moving forward and we will demand quality because the stakes are too high for Omaha.

 

Welcome our newest board members!

5 Jul

Last April we held our annual elections for new board positions. We had many apply and today we are happy to announce 4 new board roles for the upcoming cycle. Please join us in welcoming (list names alphabetically). Below are brief bios serving as a snapshot of their expertise and contributions to our board.

Derek Babb.JPG

Derek Babb
“I am a computer science teacher at Omaha North Magnet High School. I am passionate about equity in education and specifically CS education for all. My favorite form of transportation is bike and I ride as often as I can. I am also concerned about the fiscal consequences of our land use policy in Omaha and hope to make the city more bike and pedestrian friendly as well as more financially solvent.” Derek has a Bachelors degree in Secondary Education from UNL, a Masters in Mathematics from UNO and a Masters in Educational Leadership from Midland University.

John Cavanaugh headshot.jpg
Born and raised in Omaha, John Cavanaugh returned to Omaha in 2014 after living in Vermont and Washington D.C. John has a Law Degree and a Masters in Environmental Policy from Vermont Law School. He currently works as a criminal defense Attorney for indigent clients.

“I became interested in transportation as an environmental issue but have come to see it also as an economic justice issue. I want to help make Omaha a City that is livable for everyone regardless of Neighborhood or income.”

Crystal EdwardsCrystal Edwards
I have received all of my degrees from Nebraska institutions. A 1994 graduate of Ravenna Senior High School, I have long shown a passion for serving others through my work. Raised in the United Methodist tradition of social justice and trained at the University of Nebraska in sociology, I have studied the issues of inequality that divide us and sought out the connections to bring us together. As a high school student I engaged in service and as a college student I learned through service.

In 2005, I received a PhD from University of Nebraska Lincoln and now as an adjunct Professor of Sociology at the University of Nebraska Omaha, I encourage service through community research. Currently, I host a website sharing student driven sociological research about Omaha called the Omaha Social Project. I encourage everyone to spend time sociologically exploring Omaha. I love to walk and I wish that I felt more inspired to do that in Omaha. I feel that the overwhelming preference for cars, and the unusual feeling of anonymity and power it provides to drivers makes it difficult for anyone to enjoy the city who isn’t driving through it. I will avoid walking if it means crossing busy thoroughfares and I really despise this so I am choosing to make Omaha a more walkable place. We must encourage alternatives for transportation because it will improve our overall lifestyle and reduce our costs and the alternatives should be fun and creative. I joined Mode Shift to put my back into it.

nickklimekNick Klimek
Originally from Green Bay, Wisconsin, Nick came to Omaha by way of Ottumwa, Iowa where he led the city’s planning and development department. He now works as a community planning consultant helping cities throughout the Midwest to address their issues and capitalize on their opportunities. “I got involved in ModeShift because the form the city’s transportation network is important – it will dictate how residents of Omaha will live and how the city will function for decades to come.”