Archive by Author

She’s Back!

30 Sep

We are thrilled to announce that Sarah Johnson is back as a member of the Mode Shift Omaha Board of Directors.

Sarah is an Omaha native and one of the founding members of Mode Shift Omaha. She’s been involved in the bicycle industry in one way or another for the past 18 years and recently closed the Omaha Bicycle Co., her own bike & coffee shop, due to persistent health issues. After stepping away from the MSO Board about 3 years ago, she was able to focus on closing the business and address her physical wellbeing. After another surgery she’s feeling better and ready to re-engage with MSO. Silver lining of the health stuff: she’s now a big believer in the transformative power of electric assist bikes! She and her husband share one car and both primarily rely on electric bikes for transportation year round, including their electric tandem. 

She lived in Lincoln while earning a Journalism degree from the University of Nebraska and has also called Grand Lake, CO home for a few years where she gained first hand knowledge of how bike friendly places can be, particularly compared to Omaha. She’s a long time vocal advocate for safe streets and is comfortable having an unpopular opinion. Sarah is inspired by progress happening in other cities and tries to encourage Omaha to learn from outside successes and then actually implement great projects here. A little less talk, a lot more action! 

Although she’s often disappointed with the decisions the City makes, she does her best to work collaboratively and focus on potential rather than shortcomings. Sarah worked with the City Council to adopt a new policy prohibiting parking in bike lanes and regularly vocalizes her opinions at City Hall. She’s currently working with the Parks Department on changing the language of a proposed electric bike ban and is determined to make sure that trail users aren’t punished but instead encouraged to use our trail system safely. She also works with the NRD to install bicycle FixIt Stations throughout the metro area. 

We have work to do here and she’s excited to be back on the board of Mode Shift Omaha to push for change! Some of her favorite MSO events from the past include the Heyday on May Day, the Save the Specht rally, the Vision Zero press conference which spurred the Mayor into action around the issue, and the Bike/Pedestrian Coordinator rally. She loves bringing people together and empowering them with the knowledge of how to impact the City of Omaha for the better. Sarah looks forward to planning more group rides, rallies, and events to help shift Omaha away from its current car-centric culture.

Once again, no public transportation coordination

22 Sep

Next week, access from downtown Omaha directly to the Lewis and Clark Landing on the Missouri RiverFront will be shut off for two years. The only access will be from the airport road (Abbott Drive).  A walking and biking route could have been open for easy access from town to The RiverFront  Here’s how:  

Back in 2012 the Omaha Transportation Master Plan identified as a vital project a connecting bridge from the North Omaha baseball stadium area eastward to the river and the Bob Kerry Pedestrian bridge over the Missouri River. In 2014 the project made it into the city’s Capital Improvement Plan – which allocated funds for the project.  We call this pedestrian bridge expansion the Baby Bob.

A close up of a map

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As you can see from this map, if the Baby Bob was constructed there would be access to the many riverfront amenities that so many enjoy:  the Bob Bridge, the Lewis & Clark Trail HQ, the condos and Gallup offices. Yet now and through 2021 when The Riverfront revitalization construction closes the streets from Farnam and Douglas and Capitol Streets, no such access will be possible. The Baby Bob may be available in 2022 when the other routes to access The Riverfront will also be open. But for two years there is  no  direct access from downtown Omaha and no public transportation coordination. 

By the way, the money for the Baby Bob Bridge has been available for 7 years – 7 years of planning and talking but no construction.

The city didn’t use its allocated funds for 7 years and now nothing will be open until 2022 – which is 9 years after funds were first put into the CIP.

AND the city wasn’t even mostly spending its Omaha tax money. Most of the money to do the project comes from private local funds. Of the $8.2 million total cost, $3.5 million (43%) will come from private local; $2.5 million (30%) will come from local taxes, and $2.1 million (25%) will come from federal non-roadway funds.

For comparison, $2.5 million of local transportation taxes get spent on just a block of noise walls along the speedways the city builds alongside the streets (highways) the city widens in West Omaha. How much does that noise wall benefit the citizens of Omaha versus access to The Riverfront?

  • Lee Myers, Board Member
A large passenger jet sitting on top of a building

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View from the Bob Kerry Pedestrian bridge westward to 10th Street at the baseball stadium where the Baby Bob bridge would connect.

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.