Omaha Budget & CIP

3 Aug

If you’re able to make it down to City Hall (1819 Farnam, 2nd floor) tonight, Tuesday, August 3rd at 6:30 to testify in opposition to the proposed budget and CIP, we’d love to see you there. If you’re unable to make it, please take a moment to email your thoughts today to your City Councilor (find their info here) and copy the City Clerk: cityclerk@cityofomaha.org. We are opponents to the way it’s currently written, which allocates $0 to protected bike lanes…this means that the Harney Street pilot lane isn’t being funded/planned for as permanent. Unacceptable! Here’s a news story about the lack of funding.

A construction crew working on the Harney Street cycle track. This is an intersection being painted green. There are orange traffic cones blocking off the area with white bike images in the bike lanes.
Construction of the Harney Street Pilot

Here’s what the MSO Board submitted to the City Council:

Dear City Councilors & Mayor Stothert, 

I am submitting comments on the City of Omaha Budget and Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for Mode Shift Omaha. Mode Shift Omaha advocates for transportation equity that enhances quality of life and opportunities for everyone to live, work, and play.

The City of Omaha has committed to increasing active living, stopping the brain drain of young people leaving Omaha, and Vision Zero, meaning a goal of zero traffic deaths on Omaha roads. The mayor also has set up a climate change task force expressing an interest in reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. Increasing investments in pedestrian, scooter, bicycle, transit, and traffic calming infrastructure will help the City meet these stated goals and create a better, safer, cleaner, and more vibrant Omaha for everyone. The Omaha Chamber of Commerce’s Connect Go initiative is also advocating for more of these investments in multi-modal infrastructure. However, both the City budget and the Capital Improvement Program have little-to-no investments in these areas. The City needs to step up and allocate funding to improve multi-modal infrastructure and help us get to Vision Zero.

Additionally, we support starting an unarmed civilian traffic safety division to more equitably and safely enforce traffic laws at a lower cost. 

Thank you to Councilman Festersen who has proposed around a $3M allocation to make the Harney Street cycletrack permanent. Mode Shift Omaha supports funding to make this cycle track permanent and would like to see funds budgeted for future cycle track miles in the City’s CIP beyond this one project. 

The CIP contains $173M on road and intersection widening, while only $29M on traffic calming and pedestrian improvements with $0 for bicycle/scooter infrastructure. That’s almost 6 times more funding for road widening, which leads to increased demand thus more traffic and more pollution. If the City cares about the goals of Vision Zero, attracting more young people, and reducing carbon emissions, the CIP funding allocations should better reflect those goals. 

TheCIP also contains $129M for parking, 150% more than the $86M in last year’s CIP.  That is more than $270 per person who lives in Omaha to build more unneeded parking!  This compares to less than $20 per person on transit. Most of the parking owned by the City now is empty much of the time.  Let’s invest in lower cost infrastructure (eg lane diets, painted crosswalks, and cycletracks) that creates a more vibrant and exciting City for all. 

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Liz Veazey, Board Chair, Mode Shift Omaha

New MSO Member Perspective

21 Jul

We asked a new Mode Shift member, William Carmichael, to share a bit about his transportation story. Enjoy!

In front of a wooden bookshelf, William is smiling at the camera with rimless glasses and a graying beard.
William Carmichael

I didn’t expect to take up cycling at 53. Still less did I expect that I’d ever be emailing city officials semi-regularly, asking for them to step up in support of transportation equity. It took parenthood and a pandemic to change my thinking.

 Like apparently a lot of people, I found myself contemplating getting a bike during the early days of COVID-related lockdowns and closures. I managed to make it through 2020 without pulling the trigger, but earlier this year our seventeen-year-old child got their driver’s license and a job, both in the span of a couple weeks. Although there was no practical way for us to adapt to the change in their schedule without needing some additional transportation options, I balked at the idea of getting another car; three vehicles for a family of three seemed like overkill to me, and still does. So I went ahead and bought myself a bike. It was an easy decision to make, mainly because I’m lucky enough to live fairly close to my job, and also close to a mixed-use trail that covers most of the distance *to* that job.

 A lot of people in Omaha don’t share my good fortune, however, and for many of them going without a car isn’t a choice, as it was in my case, but a necessity instead. Picking up cycling late in life, after decades not even owning a bike, made the obstacles that the city imposes on people without cars stand out starkly to me. As I said, there’s a great trail that I can take to work. But getting to that trail involves either traveling along a major thoroughfare with lousy sidewalks and inattentive drivers, or rolling the bike across places that aren’t supposed to be access points (although bafflingly enough there is signage to warn drivers of pedestrians and cyclists crossing the road at this specific non-access-point). And if one travels in the opposite direction, there is a gap of about a three quarters of mile in the trail, and the only option for crossing that gap is to travel through streets that are, if I’m being diplomatic, “unsuited to non-motorized traffic”.

 All of this in a part of town that I know gets better service and more attention from the city government than most. I started wondering about how I would feel about it if the bike were all I had. Observation and thought made in pretty clear that pedestrians weren’t being treated much better, and trying to use mass transit to get from my neighborhood to virtually anywhere else in the city would be so time consuming as to be entirely impractical. And again, other neighborhoods have it worse.

 I started looking around to find out if anybody was making an effort to have the city start factoring multi-modal transportation into its plans, and that is how I found Mode Shift.

“In the short time I’ve been involved, I have already seen them effect practical policy changes and directly serve the community via volunteering.”

I am happy to have found a community that’s working to transform Omaha, from a place where not owning a car is hugely detrimental into a city where public spaces are designed around the needs of people rather than cars.

[If you’d like to share your story about transportation or mobility in the Omaha metro, let us know! We’re always looking for blog submissions.]

Trails Now Open for Transportation 24/7!

15 Jul

We did it! Thanks to all of you who wrote to your City Councilor or showed up at City Hall with us to testify in support of more equitable trail use policies, including keeping them open all day, every day. Until Tuesday, our Parks Trails were technically closed from 11pm-5am but the Council unanimously approved the updated rules! Now if you’re riding home after a late shift or for any transportation trip, you’re free to legally and safely use the trails. Additionally, all classes of electric bikes and scooters are also allowed after this update and our advocacy. We have started a great relationship with the new Omaha Parks Director, Matt Kalcevich, due to this endeavor and look forward to more opportunities to work together for the good of the community. We’re also grateful, as always, for our collaboration in advocacy with Bike Walk Nebraska. Go team! This is a great step toward mobility equity in our area and we have you all to thank. Check out more news coverage here.

Near the edge of a trail, with blue sky and green trees in the background, a new bike share station with 5 bikes is next to a bike rack for parking and a green fixit station with tools and pump.
The Twin Creek Trailhead has amenities! Bike share, parking and FixIt Station!

Speaking of good trail news, check out the new fixtures at the Culver’s in Bellevue just off of the Keystone trail. You’ll now find a Heartland Bike Share station complete with their fun new electric bikes, bike racks for parking while you grab a snack, and a FixIt Station with tools and a pump to keep you rolling along smoothly. This work has been a long time coming so it was great to celebrate with the community this past Wednesday.

We also just received some trail closure info from the Parks Department about some emergency work needed at Lake Zorinsky. Scroll to the bottom for the complete list of trail updates.

ZORINSKY LAKE TRAIL CLOSURE: On Wednesday July 14, 2021 a section of the Zorinsky Lake Trail underneath the 168th Street Bridge was closed so the Omaha Public Works Department could perform emergency work on a sewer line under the bridge.   Trail will be closed through Tuesday, July 20, 2021.  Trail users east of the bridge can use the trail and walkway on the east side of 168th Street to loop around the lake.  Trail users on the west side of 168th Street will be unable to loop around the west side of the lake during the repair work.  Questions should be addressed to Dennis E. Bryers, FASLA, PLA, Omaha Parks, Recreation and Public Property Department at 402-444-3798 or at dennis.bryers@cityofomaha.org

Aside from the Zorinsky closure and emergency detours due to storm debris (be careful out there!) below is a link to the full July report of Trail Closures, detours and updates.