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Five Questions for Julie Harris

16 Jul
Julie Harris, Bike Walk Nebraska

Join us this Friday, July 19, at the Hardy’s Coffee at the Highlander for our monthly coffee chat with Julie Tuttle Harris, Executive Director of Bike Walk Nebraska. Julie is a native of Scottsbluff, NE, and grew up in a neighborhood in which it was safe and easy to walk and bike to school and summers were spent exploring and bicycling the neighborhoods. Julie rediscovered her joy of biking as an adult and enjoys using her bike for transportation to run errands and to ride to the transit stop to catch the express bus to her office. She also enjoys recreational cycling on her road and mountain bikes.

1. What city in Nebraska has the best biking infrastructure?

Lincoln, and not just because they have the state’s only protected bike lane. The trail system runs in several directions, making it much more functional for transportation, complimented by the existing bike lanes and designated routes on neighborhood streets that add to the connectivity. I’m also very excited about Lincoln’s new Bike Plan that was created in 2018. 

2. What are the greatest challenges facing biking and walking in the state?

Well, when you’re ranked 50th in the Bicycle Friendly State rankings, you have many challenges! The overarching theme is that we don’t have enough folks that understand the importance of multi-modal transportation; a mentality that facilities that make life safer for people biking and walking are “special amenities” rather than a legitimate need. This mentality impacts priorities, planning, policy, funding, statutes, you name it. Having said that, we are starting to see change happening, which is encouraging.

3. What is your favorite bike/walk success in the state?

The Johnson Lake Trail, south of Lexington. This trail has been built little by little and has the most fantastic group of champions that you could imagine. These folks have dealt with everything that The Bureaucracy can throw at them – state agencies, TWO sets of county commissioners, public utilities, natural resources districts, home owners associations, funders, and maybe even Santa Claus. Nonetheless, they persisted and have created an amazing trail.

4. How has adding walking to the mission of Bike Walk Nebraska changed the organization?

Walking has always been an informal part of our mission – you can’t talk about complete streets and safe routes to school and the need for trails without the words “biking and walking” being together in the same sentence. The new name and brand more accurately reflect the work that was already being done. 

5. If you could magically change one thing in the state with regard to transportation what would it be?

I would waive my magic active transportation wand and throw down a layer of super cool traffic calming along every non-interstate highway once it hits the city limits of Nebraska towns.  The idea that the efficient movement of trucks (read: avoid slowing down and stopping at all costs) somehow trumps the safety of the citizens of rural communities is my hot button issue. Don’t get me started. 

Five Questions for Abbie Kretz

19 Jun

This month, June, 2019, our Coffee Chat guest will be Abbie Kretz from Heartland Workers Center. Abbie is the lead organizer for the organization, and we’ll be discussing how transportation and employment are inseparable. Join us Friday, June 21st at the Scooters on 30th and Ames at 8 a.m. From the Heartland Workers Center website:

Abbie grew up in Schuyler, Nebraska. She holds Bachelor of Arts degrees in philosophy and religion, and Spanish, and a Master of Arts in sociology. Previously, Abbie was a volunteer with the Good Shepherd Volunteers in Peru. While in Peru, she coached soccer and started a reading group at a home for teen girls, worked at a women’s center, and coached boys soccer in one of Lima’s shantytowns. In her free time, Abbie enjoys running, teaching and doing yoga, reading about world history, and traveling.

We asked her five questions:

1. What is your preferred mode of transportation?

 I guess my mode of transportation is my car; however, I wish I used more public transportation. When I travel to see friends, I always use trains, subways, or buses to get around because that’s the culture. I feel like it provides increased opportunities to engage with people that sitting is a car does not.

2. What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge to multi-modal transportation in Omaha?

Like I said above, it’s the culture of public transportation.  Until we can get people out of their cars and feel like they know, understand, and can rely on other modes to get around.  Personally, I think the use of public transportation is perceived to be used by people who don’t have or cannot afford cars.  So we really need to change the mindset of people (including myself) that the public transportation system is safe, reliable, and functional for all.  

Secondly, we also need to ensure that the infrastructure is set up this way and can actually get people to where they need to go – to jobs, entertainment, etc. – whenever they need it – whether it be through public transportation or alternative modes (i.e. bike trails  and lanes).

3. What, in your opinion, the the greatest multi-modal success in Omaha?

I would say the fact that there is now a multi-sector approach looking at the transportation issues – that goes beyond just fixing potholes – and is working to create a vision for a better transportation system.

4. How does transportation influence the mission and capabilities of the Heartland Workers’ Center?

In 2015, we conducted a community assessment in South Omaha.  A question we asked stated, “do you use public transportation?”, and the majority of respondents said no – because they use their cars.  Even more recently, this is an issue we continue to confront with leaders, who state that they cannot get around in Bellevue easily or that youth cannot be engaged with programs after school because they won’t have a way home if they stay.  We’ve also seen how it impacts leaders ability to be involved with our efforts – their cars need to be repaired, they cannot find a ride, or it can be too costly to drive to South Omaha (if this is where meetings are).  It definitely impacts one’s ability to be more engaged in the community.

5. If you could magically change one thing about the transportation systems in Omaha, without limit to budget or feasibility, what would it be?

I love magic wand questions.  We would create a system (buses, trams, bikes, walking trails, etc.) to where people no longer feel dependent upon their cars in the metro area because the culture is changing and making these other systems more accessible and easy to use.

When the Sidewalk Ends in Omaha

8 Jun
New Video from our Walkability Team

Omaha has a problem with maintaining accessible pedestrian options, especially around construction projects. This situation is neither inevitable nor without remedy. Many cities require transportation management plans when construction will block pedestrian infrastructure.

Sign our petition encouraging the city to adopt policies consistent with other comparable cities that recognize the need for accessible pedestrian infrastructure.