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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

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Omaha does not require transportation management plans, and it should

4 Apr

A friend of Mode Shift Omaha sent us the photograph below, with the accompanying text:

Photo credit: Farrah Grant

 This is the section on Dodge Street I was telling you about. Both sides of the sidewalk are closed so there is no pedestrian access. On the north side, a sign says “Sidewalk closed: Use other side”…

We have discussed in the past that this is not the norm in other cities of similar size. Other cities require that construction projects that alter or inhibit transportation access submit and execute a transportation management plan (TMP) that reroutes or otherwise accommodates the traffic that is being affected by the construction. Omaha has no such requirement. It never has.

This isn’t some recent decision or a cost cutting device of our fiscally conservative administration. Not requiring a TMP is how business has always been done in Omaha. Consequently, we run into situations where two concurrent projects can entirely eliminate pedestrian access to a major transportation corridor. Without sidewalk access, we eliminate people walking and people using public transportation as safe modes of transportation in the area — and this is on a major bus route near critical health and governmental resources.

With Omaha’s stated objective of becoming a Vision Zero city, it is important that city policies account for the safety of all traffic, not merely the convenience of vehicular traffic. Requiring developers to manage the traffic their projects interrupt is a good way to keep everyone accountable and safe, regardless of their mode of transportation. Continue reading

Better Block Ottumwa

4 Dec

This is from our friend, Nick Klimek, AICP

In October of 2017, I had the opportunity to help the community of Ottumwa, Iowa build a better block in its downtown. More specifically, an official “Better Block” – the national movement that seeks to redesign the public environment through temporary interventions. The interventions may only last a few days, but with the hope that they serve to empower and inspire participants, community leaders, and property owners to immediate and sustained action.

My professional career began in Ottumwa, Iowa – first as city planner, then planning director – and allowed me the opportunity to aide a dedicated group of downtown advocates on the pathway to revitalize downtown Ottumwa; at the time, a task considered unattainable. Much progress has been completed since then (a new business incubator/downtown market, rehabilitated storefronts, and dozens of new apartments above the storefronts) but one question remained: how much more could be done without the millions of dollars needed to improve the street?

Main Street Ottumwa offered a solution – to use temporary interventions to transform the former highway corridor into the environment that its stakeholders want and need. Through a partnership with Main Street Iowa, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Iowa Economic Development Authority, the community hired Better Block to lead the community in its transformation. Upon hearing of this project, I knew I had to be part of it.

I arrived back in Ottumwa on a Thursday morning to a sea of volunteers eager to help. We learned of the plan: to install protected bike lanes; install landscaped bump-outs and pedestrian crossings; arrange trees and flowers; install chairs, benches, and bike racks; design and set up three temporary businesses in vacant buildings; create public art installations; and to create a community event space. Quite ambitious for a days’ work. Continue reading