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5 Questions for Metro Transit

16 Sep

You’ve seen the canopies appearing up and down Dodge Street. You’ve experienced the end of many (but not all) of the construction zones. This means we are getting close to the launch of Omaha’s first bus rapid transit line. Therefore, we invited Metro Transit leaders to our Coffee Chat on Friday, September 18 at 8:00 a.m. to talk to us about the ORBT launch. You can register to join us here.

In preparation for our chat, we asked 5 Questions:

1. So . . . anything new?

A few things! We’re getting prepared to launch ORBT this fall, with most of the remaining station canopies getting installed later this month. We have a couple locations yet to finalize, and we’ll be coming out with our plan for launch soon! We also welcomed our new CEO, Lauren Cencic, this week.

2. But seriously, ORBT, what do we need to know? What can you brag about and what do you know needs to be improved?

We’re getting close! Our launch date is still to be determined as we finalize construction. ORBT will obviously be a new way to ride transit in Omaha, so we’re planning ways for the public to get to know the system as we approach opening day (more details coming soon). Overall, we’re very excited about how the system will function. All of the elements that make this a transit enhancement – the buses, the stations, the tech – are very impressive. With this being our first foray into rapid transit, I’m sure there will be tweaks and improvements to be made, but this is a fantastic first step.

3. The first ORBT pilot replaces a previously established route. Is that the strategy moving forward or is there a plan to reimagine how and where Metro operates using the bus rapid transit expansion?

ORBT will indeed be replacing Route 2, and its function as the spine of our bus network and connection to nodes of activity are among the reasons it was identified as an ideal first bus rapid transit line. This replacement will allow us to provide more frequent service on Dodge Street all days of the week. With any future lines, we would need to evaluate travel patterns, spacing between nodes of activity, and other factors before determining whether replacing or supplementing existing service would be the best solution.

When making service changes like this, we carefully evaluate the changes through various lenses, including its impact on existing and potential riders as well as the Federal Transit Administration’s Title VI regulation. In this particular scenario, our analysis showed that 99% of our riders will have their stop change by 4 blocks or less, and 94% by 3 blocks or less. Additionally, the change will result in a net benefit to minority and low-incoming populations along the route. We will also be taking steps to provide more access to riders amidst this change, including extending Route 4 from Westroads to Regency to expand service into the Regency Shopping Center and adding ORBT Stops at 77th & Dodge to provide a connection to the Keystone Trail.

4. The landscape of Omaha is marred by a long and complicated history of racist approaches to transportation infrastructure. What is Metro doing to address and remedy this reality?

Transit access is always connected to infrastructure. Development patterns that change from east to west and north to south can create a challenge in consistency. To make things more challenging, there have been historical actions when highways have bisected neighborhoods, development has interrupted throughways, and land use has not traditionally focused on people – especially for marginalized populations.

Metro plays an important role in addressing this challenge by connecting people to opportunities, like jobs, housing, education, recreational and social activities and other essential services.  Providing access to these opportunities is one of our essential functions and a key lever in addressing disparities. Most of our high-frequency bus routes are in areas of high ridership, job and housing density, and accessible infrastructure, and many of these routes align with those areas of disenfranchisement. As a transit provider, we are guided by Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination in our service planning – any modification we make to our system goes through a stringent Title VI review.

One important component in addressing challenges and promoting equity within our system is meaningful engagement with diverse constituents around topics of investment in our transportation infrastructure. As we talk about the future of our transit system, we will look to ensure more voices are at the table and work with our entire community to figure out how we can grow as a reliable and valuable community asset and partner.

5. The hardest job of any transit agency is to accessibly connect where people live with where they work. How does Metro Transit envision an Omaha five or ten years from now with improvements in that area? What other entities and agencies need to cooperate?

Access to jobs is certainly a major focus point for us, and we are also concerned with connecting people to the other places and people that are important to them. When we talk about providing access to jobs, we dive into the data, but we also talk about individual experiences. When a rider’s origin and workplace might be separated by some distance, traveling to work can be challenging whether on a bus, in a car, biking, or with any other mode. However, we are already starting to see some shift in development and job growth near our bus network, and we hope to see that trend continue. We’d love to see more housing and jobs brought into the core, where good, accessible infrastructure and transit service already exists. For us, it’s a matter of building connections with employers and future employers early, and discussing transportation needs from the outset. We’re seeing a lot of traction with other entities and partner organizations, namely the City of Omaha (especially around Transit Oriented Development, Complete Streets, and Vision Zero), the Chamber’s ConnectGo project, and Omaha by Design’s Smart Cities initiative. We’ve been engaged with these projects and will continue to do our part as a vital partner in Omaha’s future.

COVID-19 has obviously shifted expectations of the workplace and what travel (especially commuter travel) looks like. It’s tough to predict where we’ll be in the future, but we are committed to our mission of connecting our riders to the people and places that are important to them. Furthermore, while it’s important to discuss where we connect people, we also must consider how we connect them, specifically with reliable and frequent transit service. While we don’t yet have an exact roadmap of where we’ll be in the next 5 to 10 years yet, we are anxious to build out partnerships and engage with our community to develop a system that is based on what they want and need.

We’re adding new Board Members!

4 Sep

We are excited to announce the addition of two new Board Members to Mode Shift Omaha.  Kimara Snipe and Manuel Cook joined the Board in August of 2020.  Please join us in welcoming them to the Board.

Kimara Snipe

Kimara Snipe works and lives in Omaha, Nebraska where she has been an advocate and community leader since a teenager. She has dedicated her life to servant-leadership in marginalized communities in all of Omaha.

Kimara is the Community Partnership Manager for Nebraska Civic Engagement Table, focusing on empowering the rising electorate of Nebraska, together and a Youth Specialist for the Omaha Public Library where she created Teen Talk About, a program focusing on trauma through literacy with 12-18 year-old at-risk youth.

As president, she revitalized the Highland South-Indian Hill Neighborhood Association. They were recognized for their annual National Night Out event that focuses on poverty and bridging the gap between the police and community. Kimara also serves as President of the South Omaha Neighborhood Alliance (SONA). SONA enhances South Omaha neighborhoods through communication, collaboration, empowerment and promoting positive perceptions.

Kimara is elected to the Omaha Public School Board where she serves on the Policy Committee and the The Better Together Coalition. Her goals are to focus on equity, policy and mental health, and she is committed to growing communication between schools and OPS families.

Kimara resides in South Omaha, where she is active with neighborhood youth and her church. 

Beyond all the talent and insight Kimara brings to the Board based on her extensive work in the community, she also is a user and supporter of the Omaha Metro Bus System and will expand our understanding of the transportation issues and opportunities for South Omaha neighborhoods.

Manuel Cook

Manne is a placemaker and urban planner who works to develop vibrant places and more livable built environments. Manne works closely with local artists and grassroots organizations to produce events, exhibitions, and creative place based projects. 

He is the project lead for Spark CDI and recently worked for the City of Omaha planning department where he led the Forever North Strategy and specialized in planning for people-oriented, human-scale development for the neighborhood planning section.

Additionally he has a long history of placemaking projects including, “The Study,” which repurposed two vacant and underutilized spaces on North 24th Street and resulted in a handful of creative lead projects and was a catalyst for several organizations including Culxr House, NOISE, and Drips. 

Manne studied Spatial Sciences at Rijk University in the Netherlands and holds a Master of Science in Urban Studies from the University of Nebraska at Omaha. 

In addition to all the contributions and talent Manne brings to Omaha, he also is an avid cyclist and looks forward to expanding the reach of our Biking Team and further connecting us with the work of many North Omaha community organizations.

Hopefully after reading Kimara and Manne’s bios you are as excited about the future as we are.  It’s going to be a great year!

Don’t feel alone when advocating on city streets: CIP Edition!

28 Aug

Pedestrian and biking advocates often feel alone when they watch city street improvements go every which way except their way. Those advocates often feel like the real estate developers sit at the inside table from which the public is excluded.

Well, at the Omaha City Council meeting of August 18 it unfolded that even a developer as prominent and active as Paul Smith often feels the same way – outside the Omaha Public Works room looking in.

Paul Smith is the driving force behind the Millworks Common, a $60 million project including the MasterCraft building and the newly gutted Ashton building now refurbished to house Omaha’s fastest growing tech company, Flywheel. Also in the permitting process for the Millwork Commons area are two apartment buildings for another $75 million of investment – plus other buildings to come.

In Omaha’s Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) in 2018 was $3.5 million of city bond money to build an extension of Seward Street westward and 14th Street northward to make an outside boundary to the north and west for Millwork Commons and to allow trucks a way to bypass driving through the middle of the Commons. The $3.5 million was in the 2018 CIP for construction in 2019.

Well, nothing was built in 2019 and now nothing has been started in 2020 and this current CIP pushes the project into 2021, if it gets built at all. At the Council meeting Paul Smith sounded like Charlie Brown when Lucy has just pulled the football away . . . again.

From the discussion at the City Council meeting, it appeared that there’s a lobby that makes pedestrian, bike and real estate developers get pushed out of the deciding room – the truckers.

The trucking lobby may have another way that best suits them and they stopped the Millwork Commons streets. “Sorry about that but we pay lots of gasoline taxes.”

As the City Attorney explained to the powerless City Council, “the CIP is just a plan, not a contract.” Public Works can go into the room and do whatever they want. The CIP isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on.

So, why does the City go to such expense, trouble and printing for the annual CIP plan? It’s a bone to throw to the public (and to the Council) to distract the public while the real decisions are made elsewhere.

ModeShift has been advocating for years to improve the transparency of the CIP. But why? “It’s just a plan not a contract.”  Welcome to the outside, Paul. We wish we had an answer.

  • Lee Myers, Mode Shift Board Member