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City Council Candidates, D3

1 Mar

Today we’ll hear from Cammy Watkins and Jen Bauer, both running for Omaha City Council in District 3. Current Councilor, Chris Jerram is vacating his seat so we have all new candidates to choose from! Comments are published exactly as received.

Cammy is smiling at the camera and her black hair is pulled back. She's wearing a colorful white, blue and green floral top and a fabulous blue and silver necklack.
Cammy Watkins
Jen is smiling at the camera with a brick wall background. She's wearing a v-neck pink and purple top with a black sweater over it. Her medium auburn hair is parted on the side and about chin length.
Jen Bauer

What are Omaha’s most pressing transportation needs? If elected, how will you address these needs?

Cammy Watkins: “The lack of transportation options beyond private vehicle transport is the most pressing need. I would like to initiate a revision and update of the City’s Master Plan. It is out of date and does not match the needs of the City today. With this revision we can then incorporate elements from the AFFH, the CSDG and other plans that Omaha has invested time and money to develop but never implement.”

Jen Bauer: “I believe that our transportation options well funded for a city of our size. I believe our transportation system could be more robust, have better routes if it were better funded. I would support funding increases for our transportation needs, if they addressed the needs to the community.”

Should the Planning and Public Works Departments have separate directors, or should they be combined into a single entity?

Cammy Watkins: “From research, I learned it is not uncommon for a City to have Directors for both departments. Consolidation of the Departments could bring greater continuity, but I don’t feel like that is not the main issue in Omaha. So under the current City leadership I don’t know if that would solve the problem. We need to change City leadership at the Mayor level and then talk about breaking up the silos and mentality of complacency that is prevalent in our local government. However, if we are looking at cost savings to address the economic impacts of COVID, I would recommend Department director consolidation over employee layoffs.”

Jen Bauer: “I understand the thinking that the two should be combined but I would prefer that they should work in conjunction with each other. I don’t feel that a city of our size would allow for a Planning director to be able to focus on the bigger picture while completing the tasks of the Public Works director. While PW needs to focus on issues that arise in the here and now, they also need to think of solutions that would help the future. At the same time, the Planning Director should be open to forward thinking solutions to current issues. There needs to be a culture shift where we ask each director to be able to chart out their vision for a sustainable Omaha.”

Last year, Omaha approved $200M in bonds to close the funding gap for street maintenance for five years. Is this a good long-term solution for funding our street maintenance needs? If so, why, and if not, why not?

Cammy Watkins: “No, I think the bond would have been beneficial if it was focused on infrastructure improvements, but for maintenance, its a band-aid at best. Reviewing the Omaha 2021 budget, the capital dollars from this bond being used for maintenance aren’t even going to impact most streets. So this additional tax burden impacting all of Omaha residents, won’t be realized by all of us. And in true Omaha fashion certain districts are getting way more investment than others for the repairs. Oh and there was indications that there will be a tax bump that won’t be felt till 2022 (after the election year).”

Jen Bauer: “While the program has some merit, it is not the best long term solution. It doesn’t fully address the issues of the unimproved streets or provide for a better solution than the creation of improvement districts which are set up by neighbors. It doesn’t help the areas impacted the most by poor street conditions. The maintenance plan is better than the previous plan, but the increase to our tax base doesn’t justify ignoring that we have an issue in north and south Omaha with quality roads that still isn’t being addressed.”

Which issue is of greater importance to our city moving forward: transportation accessibility or average commute time?

Cammy Watkins: “Transportation accessibility and really equitable mobility options since not all of us commute, but all of us must move about this city.”

Jen Bauer: “Transportation Accessibility. We need to move back to a time where people lived closer to their places of employment. Not farther out.”

Much of our current transportation infrastructure excludes people who cannot drive for reasons of age, ability, or financial means. What will you do to make sure that Omaha accommodates the transportation needs (equitable access to employment, commerce and services) of all citizens?

Cammy Watkins: “I have been diving into literature about building strong towns and the concept of mobility justice. Knowing that the ConnectGo initiative is in place and that many studies and reports have been commissioned on transportation access in our city. I would first find out what are the barriers to implementing the recommendations from these reports and studies. Then I would work with my partners in the Council to eliminate these barriers and establish more urgent timelines from implementation. The research is complete, the information about what is needed is clear, what is missing is the political will to just get sh*t done!”

Jen Bauer: “I will support funding to bring our infrastructure up to modern day standards if it truly addresses the inequalities. We need a more robust North/South bus, a better option to get out west, and we need to somehow make the stops accessible and safe for all riders.”

How often do you or your family use active modes of transportation such as a Metro bus, bicycling, or walking?

Cammy Watkins: “Honestly, not as often as I would like to if I had a more walkable city or mass transit options. Whenever I travel I utilize public transit and/or walk and I love it and am always sad Omaha doesn’t have these same options available.”

Jen Bauer: “I walk to establishments in my neighborhood. If I return to my office, which is less than a mile away, I will either ride my bike or take the #11 bus to Aksarben where my office is located.”

Do you support expanding the city’s recently-passed Transit Oriented Development (TOD) policy to additional corridors/neighborhoods, including allowing home owners to construct Accessory Dwelling Units on their property?

Cammy Watkins: “Ok, so I had to google Accessory Dwelling Units and I do have to say that is part of the problem with the TOD and really ANY city project. We don’t speak to people in language and ways that bring them along with us in our plans. Change is hard for most people and the idea of something new and seemingly invasive is scary. However ADUs are not that, our city has tons of them they are called “Mother-in-Law” houses. I absolutely support allowing those to be built and I support in theory the expansion of the TOD policy to more neighborhoods (because in reality its better than the current zoning allows). In practice we have to do a better job of hearing the criticisms and working in partnership with the community to address it. And by we, I mean people who actually know how to have difficult conversations with people about change and redevelopment, not the Policy wonks that develop the plan. Send a few of us Community Organizers in to work WITH the community on the implementation plan and we can see dramatically different outcomes.”

Jen Bauer: “I believe we need to look at expanding the TOD to areas of the ACI zoning. I have supported the rezoning to allow ADU’s but before we push this, we also need to address the fact that many of the ADU’s will only increase car traffic and usage if no there are no viable transportation options.”

Do you support Metro Transit converting to a Regional Transit Authority under Nebraska Law with an elected board of directors?

Cammy Watkins: “YUP! I would love to see Metro move from a privately held entity and become part of the local government departmental infrastructure.”

Jen Bauer: “Yes. I believe this would help to gain more funding and overall acceptance in Omaha.”

Omaha recently hired a Vision Zero coordinator. What are your expectations of the role they will play in trying to eliminate traffic deaths in Omaha?

Cammy Watkins: “That they look beyond vehicular causes and consider how we reach zero traffic fatalities through a multimodal approach to equitable mobility access. This means taking into consideration not only vehicular crashes, but bicycling infrastructure, adequate space on streets for safe use by all modes of movement as well as city design and development which can inadvertently promote unsafe modes of transportation.”

Jen Bauer: “If the state required drivers education in order to get a drivers license and allowed laws to be passed regarding texting and driving, we may not need a Vision Zero Coordinator. This coordinator also needs to work to change the culture of car dependency and overall bad driving.”

Ten years ago, Omaha was promised a protected bike lane on Harney Street and it was never built. What will you do to ensure that project is completed in 2021?

Cammy Watkins: “Listen, there were a lot of things promised for Harney Street (which is the street I live on btw). I can’t promise I will work to ensure the project will be completed in 2021 because, you know global pandemic, racial inequity…. I can’t promise that I will make that a priority in 2021, but I can say that I will find out what the delays are and keep the community informed on it and push to move forward on the commitments that were made so that our bike users have more secure and connected routes.”

Jen Bauer: “I wasn’t aware of this promise. And I don’t honestly know the plan. However, I’m not sure that Harney is now the best location for this, depending on where it starts. Harney near 40th street doesn’t seem safe. But I would look into partnering with both Planning and Public Works to potentially change the rules on stationary bike lane markings at least near intersections/turn lanes, to promote safety.”

Finally, if you could magically make one change to the transportation environment in Omaha, without consideration of cost or political consequence, what would it be?

Cammy Watkins: “Implement an above or underground mass transit system that has auxiliary lines which get folks to the edge of neighboring metro centers (Lincoln, Bellevue, CB, Bennington) and serves the core neighborhoods of Omaha (is that one thing?!? Meh its one thing).”

Jen Bauer: “I would stop approving the creation of flat parking lots and parking garages. I would make parking more expensive to push people to think of other options to driving to work, unless it was a car pool. It would involve a culture change of moving the bus and it’s riders away from being viewed as “less than”. I would add buses and routes further out west that weren’t an hour to go 20 minutes. I would ask leaders to lead by example and use public transportation.”

City Council Candidate Questionnaires, D2

26 Feb

For part 2 of our series, we’ll hear from candidates running for Omaha City Council in District 2! The current representative, Ben Gray, has held the seat for the past 12 years. We’ll also hear from new candidates, Cornelius Williams and Steven Abraham.

Images: Ben Gray is on the left, in glasses and suit and tie. Top right is Cornelius Williams, outside with a muted green shirt and dark suit jacket, and below him, on the bottom right is Steven Abraham in a white shirt and blue tie with red background.

What are Omaha’s most pressing transportation needs? If elected, how will you address these needs?

Ben Gray, 12 year incumbent: “There are several pressing needs. Bus service does what it can within it’s budget but it’s still a problem getting people with limited resources to jobs outside of their community. Trails and bike lanes are just starting to come on line in the eastern part of the city. If elected I would continue working with Mode Shift Omaha as well as Metro to advance different modes of travel as well as continuing the work of bringing more business closer to people most in need.”

Cornelius Williams: “In my district the most pressing need are the condition of the roads and traffic flow”

Steven Abraham: “Omaha’s pressing transportation needs are: modernizing the actual vehicle options, establishing routes that benefit individuals working night shift, implementing a better fare system that could incorporate different currencies, and updated routes and transit stations. When elected I would work with organizations to improve transportation methods to keep Omaha moving.”

Should the Planning and Public Works Departments have separate directors, or should they be combined into a single entity?

Ben Gray: “There should be two separate directors. There are a number of functions within each department that would make it very challenging for one director to stay on top of all functions of each department.”

Cornelius Williams: “Separate departments with good communication and cooperations”

Steven Abraham: “Both departments should work together to improve infrastructure and transportation issues, the planning department really tackles more of the residential and land strategizing but has a transportation planning area. Public Works actually focuses on transportation needs. is there a benefit to consolidating these two departments under one director? possibly. but I would keep them separate until I have further information.”

Last year, Omaha approved $200M in bonds to close the funding gap for street maintenance for five years. Is this a good long-term solution for funding our street maintenance needs? If so, why, and if not, why not?

Ben Gray: “It is a tool for helping us get caught up a little but I don’t see it as a sustainable model. Among other things Congress needs to allocate more money to the Highway Trust Fund for cities and states. We also need to adjust the state gas tax allotment. We also must address urban sprawl if we are to properly get a handle on our street issues.”

Cornelius Williams: “I am one who would like to reduce bonds because they just put off raising funds now.”

Steven Abraham: “This could answer the call of many infrastructure issues and at the same time add an additional 35 dollars to properties of 100,000, which I’m not for raising property taxes but I understand the need. In District 2 I feel we have some of the oldest infrastructure in the city besides south Omaha, so I would make sure that older areas are addressed first.”

Which issue is of greater importance to our city moving forward: transportation accessibility or average commute time?

Ben Gray: “Transportation accessibility.”

Cornelius Williams: “They brake down to the same thing. Better accessibility means better commute time.”

Steven Abraham: “Transportation Accessibility.”

Much of our current transportation infrastructure excludes people who cannot drive for reasons of age, ability, or financial means. What will you do to make sure that Omaha accommodates the transportation needs (equitable access to employment, commerce and services) of all citizens?

Ben Gray: “Continue to work with Metro and MAPA to keep these issues in sharp focus with ongoing pressure to address these problems with sustainable solutions.”

Cornelius Williams: {left blank}

Steven Abraham: “Making sure transportation is more focused in the areas mentioned in the question. We’re talking about specialized populations and as a city councilman, I can advocate for that population because I have worked directly with them for the last 13 years.”

How often do you or your family use active modes of transportation such as a Metro bus, bicycling, or walking?

Ben Gray: “Walking at least three days a week. When weather permits riding my bike nearly every day.

Cornelius Williams: {left blank}

Steven Abraham: “My family typically drive to our destinations but we also enjoy walking and bicycling. I have took my older children on the Metro bus to show them how to use the system, just incase they needed to use the services. Growing up here in Omaha I personally used the bus system frequently.”

Do you support expanding the city’s recently-passed Transit Oriented Development (TOD) policy to additional corridors/neighborhoods, including allowing home owners to construct Accessory Dwelling Units on their property?

Ben Gray: “Yes.”

Cornelius Williams: {left blank}

Steven Abraham: “This could be beneficial in the city of Omaha. Other cities across the United States has been implementing this process to boost the amount of residential, business, and leisure spaces within walking distance of public transportation. This kind of goes back to the combining of the planning and public works department, because in order to make this a success in my district we would need to increase for-profit business to fit the perimeters of this type of model.”

Do you support Metro Transit converting to a Regional Transit Authority under Nebraska Law with an elected board of directors?

Ben Gray: “I have mixed feelings about that. As long as we don’t leave out those most in need in vulnerable zip codes and we can show how a regional system will benefit those who rely on the service I could support that.”

Cornelius Williams: {left blank}

Steven Abraham: “This could help address many of the issues/disparities identified in previous questions like individuals with low income, seniors, and people with disabilities. I would have to do more research but looks like it could be beneficial.”

Omaha just hired a Vision Zero coordinator. What are your expectations of the role they will play in trying to eliminate traffic deaths in Omaha?

Ben Gray: “Though I supported this position I doubt much change will happen in the short term.”

Cornelius Williams: {left blank}

Steven Abraham: “Identify areas with high traffic accidents, work with public works and the planning department to see what type of innovative construction ideas can be used to lower the numbers of accidents. Also identify where the most fatal car accident are and do something similar in those areas.”

Ten years ago, Omaha was promised a protected bike lane on Harney Street and it was never built. What will you do to ensure that project is completed in 2021?

Ben Gray: “I will be pushing Public Works to make it a priority in 2021.”

Cornelius Williams: {left blank}

Steven Abraham: “See why the project was never completed, if it was due to not simply wanting to finish I would do my research then either advocate for the completion of give a breakdown of why it wasn’t able to be completed, I would also look at alternatives solutions to help fulfill the promise of the citizens that felt it would be a good addition.”

Finally, if you could magically make one change to the transportation environment in Omaha, without consideration of cost or political consequence, what would it be?

Ben Gray: “I would eliminate as much of our carbon footprint as possible. We are literally killing our planet and the people who reside within it. Fossil fuels have to be reduced significantly.”

Cornelius Williams: “Moving away from using Fossil Fuel sources”

Steven Abraham: “Make sure that everyone has reliable clean fuel transportation to and from anywhere they needed to go through any type of weather.”

City Council Candidate Questionnaires D1

25 Feb

Local elections are so impactful to the future of transportation and mobility in Omaha. Take a look at the following questions from MSO and answers from candidates Pete Festersen & Sarah Johnson, running for City Council in District 1. Answers appear exactly how they were received and each district will have its own blog post with all candidates’ answers.

Pete Festersen is smiling at the camera in a dark navy suit with white shirt and blue tie.
Pete Festersen, 12 year incumbent.

What are Omaha’s most pressing transportation needs? If elected, how will you address these needs?

Pete Festersen, D1 incumbent: “Omaha needs to do a better job at improving its public transit system and increasing opportunities for walkability, biking, recreational trails and alternative transit. As a council member I have consistently advocated and sought funding for such projects whether it was Omaha By Design Master Plan Amendments, Complete Streets, Transit Oriented Development, Vision Zero, ORBT, Keystone Trail Connections to Cunningham Lake, scooters, bike share, and many other projects. Clearly we need an overall strategy, however, to better connect those that need transit and to attract the skilled workforce of the future that is key to our economic growth. I would welcome the opportunity to work on this strategy and think now is the time in coordination with a growing coalition of advocates.”

Sarah Johnson is standing in her back yard wearing a dark top with zip front vest and dark jeans.
Sarah Johnson, MSO Co-founder

Sarah Johnson, D1 candidate: “The most pressing need involves a shift away from car culture, achieved by communication around the importance of transportation systems and networks holistically, not just our current “car city” narrative supporting the utter dependence on cars. We need leaders who use active transportation so they have the perspective needed to really understand the issues first hand. One easily achievable step in that direction is redefining sidewalks as part of the transportation system and treating them accordingly. Right now they are not well defined and certainly not treated as important transportation corridors by the city. We’ve recently seen how simultaneously crucial, yet disregarded, our sidewalks are after winter storms and by amending the municipal code, we can classify sidewalks as part of our transportation system. Many other cities do this and we should too. ORBT and other public transportation doesn’t work without clear sidewalks. People with disabilities are essentially stuck without options during the winter due to the lack of prioritization with sidewalk clearing. Also, regular painting of crosswalks and stop bars and simply adjusting crossing times would be helpful. This is the first step toward a more equitable system of transportation. Baseline but essential.”

Should the Planning and Public Works Departments have separate directors, or should they be combined into a single entity?

Pete Festersen: “I’m open to the idea of a single entity. Although that would create a really large department with many different functions that could be difficult to manage, I would definitely like to see improved coordination between the departments when it comes to embracing new ideas, design principles, and more progressive development and transit concepts. That has been a challenge in my work for sure and greater accountability would be welcome.”

Sarah Johnson: “I don’t think they need to be combined necessarily, but currently they seem to be completely disjointed and working counter to one another instead of collaboratively. Constant communication and respect is key and needs to be addressed or the Directors should be replaced. Currently the two departments don’t seem to work well together and certainly don’t seem to share a vision for the city. I’d like to see the Planning Department actually make the plans for PW to implement. Right now, too much of the planning and direction comes from the PW department and I don’t understand why the only thing they seem to care about is moving cars quickly through an area. The Planning Department has good plans; let’s implement them already! Frankly, inter departmental communication across the city needs to be improved in addition to the way the city communicates with its residents.”

Last year, Omaha approved $200M in bonds to close the funding gap for street maintenance for five years. Is this a good long-term solution for funding our street maintenance needs? If so, why, and if not, why not?

Pete Festersen: “I believe this was a necessary step to address the poor condition of our street infrastructure throughout the city and to more proactively address potholes and unimproved roads. I was disappointed, however, that it didn’t also include allocations for pedestrian, bike, trail system and alternative transit improvements. That needs to be our next step.”

Sarah Johnson: “It’s irresponsible to use a bond for maintenance of this sort; this is a misused band aid and not a good long term solution. I’m upset that no one brought up the fact that if we use this huge amount of money to just re-build a system that we know is unsustainable, we’re not really making progress. The only way I would’ve been on board with this bond initiative, is if we said from the start that it would be used to build back more sustainable systems that don’t only allow car drivers to feel accommodated. As long as we keep just building wider, faster, smoother roads for cars, that’s what we’ll see: more cars that continue to decimate roads. Induced demand also works with non-car modes and I think we should’ve mandated that the roads will be built back with a more equitable mode split (not just all for cars). If we build safe and connected protected micro-mobility lanes, people will use them. If we make sidewalks wider and set back from the fast moving car traffic, more folks will be able to feel safe using them as well. Omaha is addicted to cars and it’s costing us big time. Bonds should fund innovation and long term investment and this isn’t that. The impacts of countless TIF handouts should be reassessed and the resources we’re giving to developers could instead stay in the city’s hands to fill potholes instead of using more tax dollars in the form of a bond.”

Which issue is of greater importance to our city moving forward: transportation accessibility or average commute time?

Pete Festersen: “Transportation accessibility.”

Sarah Johnson: “Accessibility of course! But, while we’re talking about commute time: we need to make sure that non-car commutes can be competitive time-wise. Take for example the time commitment needed for some public transportation trips in Omaha. We have to be realistic with how we incentivize travel modes. If I need to get from home to work and can do so in a car in 15 minutes but a bus ride (with likely transfers) would take over an hour, I’ll continue to see my car as the only feasible option. So I guess the answer is both, because even if it’s an accessible bus stop, if I have to allow over an hour to just get to work, that’s not attainable in reality.”

Much of our current transportation infrastructure excludes people who cannot drive for reasons of age, ability, or financial means. What will you do to make sure that Omaha accommodates the transportation needs (equitable access to employment, commerce and services) of all citizens?

Pete Festersen: “This is a really important issue that also impacts social determinants of health and disproportionately impacts areas of poverty. Equitable access – per my comment above – needs to be part of an overall transportation strategy for it to be effective and now is the time to pursue that overall strategy.”

Sarah Johnson: “First of all, we need to acknowledge it’s an issue. Currently my mind is on snow clearing of sidewalks, intersections, and bus stops. I think it is crucial that Omaha gets sidewalks recognized as part of the transportation system and takes responsibility for their maintenance (as I mentioned already). I’d ensure that PW isn’t being inefficient and thoughtless when building curbs that don’t follow ADA law, just to have to go back years later and pour them correctly. I’d vote NO on increasing speed limits, since Vision Zero says speed = death. I wouldn’t allow e-bike bans to get to the point that the Parks Department has made and installed signs before it even comes to council. There have been so many votes this year and over the past decade that don’t align with the City’s supposed goals and policies. Urging for consistency in policies and action is the first step toward a more equitable Omaha.”

How often do you or your family use active modes of transportation such as a Metro bus, bicycling, or walking?

Pete Festersen: “Walk and bike several times per week. Bus/ORBT on occasion.”

Sarah Johnson: “Pre-pandemic: every day! I don’t actually own a car, but my husband does so once in a while I’ll borrow it. We both primarily use our electric bikes for daily transportation, yes, year round. Oftentimes we walk to the post office or coffee shops in Dundee and Benson. We ride to the grocery store, pre-covid to restaurants, bars and friends’ houses, and now even to deliver yard signs for the campaign! I used to use my bike on the front of the bus a lot when I had meetings downtown. I am sad to have recently learned that you can’t take an ebike on the ORBT! I’ve reached out to Metro and they’re looking into what can be done about that as I think it’s a poor policy that hopefully can change.”

Do you support expanding the city’s recently-passed Transit Oriented Development (TOD) policy to additional corridors/neighborhoods, including allowing home owners to construct Accessory Dwelling Units on their property?

Pete Festersen: “I worked directly with advocates, the planning department and associated neighborhoods to unanimously pass the initial TOD policy and master plan amendment and as planning committee chair I would continue to advocate for its expansion.”

Sarah Johnson: “Yes! We’re in the midst of a housing crisis and everything we can do to address it with urgency should be considered. Allowing for and incentivizing creation of the “Missing Middle” type of housing is crucial to address the housing shortage we’re seeing in Omaha currently. We need to make sure that the TOD corridors expand into more of Omaha and ADUs are another important piece of the puzzle. Form based code is something that needs to be utilized so we can really respond to the growth and density needs we’re seeing, not just considered unattainable because it isn’t the way it has been done in the past. We need to be nimble as we adapt to changing needs in housing.”

Do you support Metro Transit converting to a Regional Transit Authority under Nebraska Law with an elected board of directors?

Pete Festersen: “Yes, I see this mechanism as holding the most promise for making innovative public transit improvements in the short-term.”

Sarah Johnson: “Generally, yes; I’m all for expanding the funding for Metro and this is probably a good way to do that. I will tell you based on my very short experience with running for office, that it’s kind of awful and the barriers (especially financially) are daunting. It will be crucial to have a diverse set of representatives on the Regional Transit Authority and I’m afraid that if it’s not done in a more intentional manner, we’ll just end up with a bunch of old white men making decisions, as per usual. It’s time to address systemic racism and we’ll need to make sure that the historically marginalized communities are really able to have a big part in shaping the vision for this new entity. I do love the idea of connecting the region with transit as so many people travel regularly between Lincoln and Omaha that it only makes sense to support that movement with better options than single occupancy vehicles or the wrong time of day Amtrak options we have currently.”

Omaha just hired a Vision Zero coordinator. What are your expectations of the role they will play in trying to eliminate traffic deaths in Omaha?

Pete Festersen: “The Vision Zero coordinator started last week at city hall and I have placed him on the next city council public works committee agenda. My expectations are that he will get engaged with all planning and public works projects to improve the design and construction of our physical environment for the benefit of pedestrian and bike safety and to reduce traffic fatalities. It is critical that the departments give him true access and authority which was not previously afforded to the city’s bike and pedestrian coordinator.”

Sarah Johnson: “Expectations or desires, as they may differ?! I think that the new role was intentionally positioned in the PW department so that they’ll have more control of what the new hire can and can’t achieve. My expectation is that, as we’ve heard, he’ll be stuck doing ADA paperwork for the first few years. My hope is that he is a good conduit between the community and the city and can actually have the authority to make real changes in the best interest of safety for our community. We know car crashes are more likely than gun homicides and we really need to get real about better road design as a tool rather than just enforcement with police. I’m cautiously optimistic overall.”

Ten years ago, Omaha was promised a protected bike lane on Harney Street and it was never built. What will you do to ensure that project is completed in 2021?

Pete Festersen: “I would support placing funding for the project in the budget/CIP and work with advocates and the council member from that district to help make it happen.”

Sarah Johnson: “It’s hard for me to put into words how this project (or lack thereof) makes me feel. As one of the main organizers for the Heyday on May Day showcasing this project as a demonstration event all those years ago, I was so excited to see this project succeed, especially since we had the neighborhood and city hall, including Mayor (Suttle) on board. Then the election changed everything. Leadership and local elections matter! This protected bike lane, like many other bike infrastructure projects, just are not a priority for the current administration or City Council. We were told to get it into the CIP, so we did! Then it was removed without discussion. Then it got booted from being a publicly funded project to the pet project of Metro Smart Cities and Bike Walk Nebraska with private funding! It’s being delayed once again, despite the fact that we know pop up projects (especially during Covid when many cities are doing all they can to rush projects through to allow safe transportation and recreation outdoors) can be done quickly. It’s also problematic to me that it’s being considered a pilot project. After the “pilot” bike corral in Benson that had no data collected, no communication about success or failure, nothing indicating the City took the traditional “pilot” considerations into their decision making, was ripped out with a bike attached, I’m not too hopeful that this one will be done well either. Sour grapes, sure.”

Finally, if you could magically make one change to the transportation environment in Omaha, without consideration of cost or political consequence, what would it be?

Pete Festersen: “A multi-faceted public transit system that served the needs of all citizens and offered the amenities needed to attract the skilled workforce of the future while increasing innovative economic development within the urban core. (Oh, and a world class bike and walking trail system)”

Sarah Johnson: “A city wide safe, protected, connected micro-mobility network! I’m talking about lanes physically separated from fast moving car traffic, that allow for people on analog or ebikes, cargo bikes, scooters, mobility devices, etc. to feel able and encouraged to leave their car at home. Good for physical and mental health and important for the planet! Oh, and better funding for Metro so that buses can run frequently to the airport and late into the night so that drunk driving isn’t as prevalent. Oh, to dream! Mostly, new leadership who will take all of the data and plans and will make things happen! We know there’s a need; we know how to do it. Now let’s stop making excuses and make real progress!”