Five Questions with Carter Eberhardt

17 Aug

We invited Carter Eberhardt to speak at our July member meeting about a specific pedestrian issue that was raised by some members around the construction project at the Benson Theater. Carter listened to the concerns and provided a valuable perspective as to how contractors and builders slot into the transportation ecosystem. We wanted to have a longer conversation with him, so we invited him to be the guest at our August Coffee Chat, this Friday, August 21st. 8 a.m.

To prepare for the chat, we asked him five questions:

Lund-Ross has experience with in-fill, rehabilitation, brown-field and green-field development. How do transportation considerations vary depending on the type of project?  

For us the biggest consideration with regards to transportation when building a project is safety.  Each project is so different and has unique sets of transportation related hurdles to consider.  It is ideal to have a project with a large area that we can have workers, equipment and delivery trucks all contained within the boundaries of the site.  This is often not the case, especially when doing remodels in urban environments.  In these situations we have to pay special consideration to where delivery trucks can be safely unloaded.  A couple things that we really try to focus on in situations like this are:

  • Try to get a good feel for the area’s circadian rhythm with regards to pedestrian traffic and vehicular traffic.  Once we have a good feel for this we can be strategic about when we have deliveries or if we need to block the street we do it at times that are the least disruptive and safest for our workers.
  • Make sure our job site is very obvious and clearly marked to both pedestrians and motorists.  The goal is to avoid surprises and give people the opportunity to alter their route with plenty of warning.
  • Ensure our jobsites are well secured to keep both pedestrian traffic and vehicular traffic from accidently coming on site and being exposed to a potentially dangerous situation.

A lot of your projects have been in historic areas of the city. How does parking, access to transit and pedestrian accessibility fit into those projects?

These projects are always difficult.  When in these situations we always do our best to leave an area for pedestrians to safely walk past our site, this is not always achievable.  If the City allows, we try to rent “bag” as many parking spaces in front of the project as possible to keep cars and pedestrians at a safe distance.

Most importantly, we have to stay flexible in these situations and be willing to change our barricading/parking plans with what we are experiencing.  In the end we are dealing with human behavior which is inherently unpredictable.  So when we notice our plan is not producing the results we were expecting and possibly putting pedestrians/cars in unsafe situations we must be willing to change our plans right away.

Our organization focuses, often, on the attributes of a finished project, and how it fits into the transportation ecosystem. What are the roles of the architects, developer and contractor as it relates to transportation accessibility?

Owners/developers are the key.  What is built is a direct reflection of the owner/developer’s priorities.  The code and city requirements define a minimum, anything above and beyond this is at the discretion of the owner/developer. 

What is a Lund-Ross project you are particularly proud of and why?

The Early Leaning Center at Kennedy

I am most proud of this project because of the services this project provides.  In essence the goal and services provided at this building focus on those children most at risk and provides them an exceptional research based early education so that when they go to kindergarten they have every tool they need to succeed.  I have been so impressed with the people that work in this area and the lengths they are willing to go to ensure that these kids have the best chance at success possible.

Here is a link to their website, I am not doing them the justice they deserve.

If you could magically change one thing in Omaha with regard to transportation what would it be?

Make public transportation more practical.

 I see the lack of practical public transportation as a very large contributor to the inequities within our city.  In a city as large as ours, having a car should not have the oversized impact on a persons earning potential that it currently does. 

Wider, better maintained sidewalks.  Especially in the areas of town where a large portion of the population often walk as a their form of transportation.

I have worked in North Omaha on North 30th Street for 5 years now and am constantly appalled with the amount of people that have to walk in the street due to the condition of the city’s sidewalks in this area.  It is especially bad in the winter when snow is piled on the sidewalks.  To make maters worse, there are 3 schools right along this stretch of road.

Scooters are coming!

22 Jul

The headline in the World Herald read, “Love them or hate them: Electric scooters are returning to Omaha.” Certainly not the most encouraging framing of the issue. Establishing a binary of good or bad, positive or negative leaves little room for nuance. Instead, we should look at the use of dockless electric scooters on the spectrums of safe to unsafe, inclusive to exclusive. To that end, we can look at the policies, and enforcement laid out in the updated rules regarding the use of scooters in Omaha and see where the second pilot lands.

First, it should be clear that Mode Shift neither endorses nor disparages the use of electric scooters. We advocate for all forms of transportation to the end that they make the city more accessible to everyone. A critique of the implementation is not an indictment of the mode.

Is it safe?

Scooters are not inherently safe or unsafe, any more than any other transportation device, especially one that is new to the user. It takes time to learn how to ride a bike or drive a car — it takes time to learn how to walk or ride a wheelchair. So, setting aside the initial learning curve, are scooters safe to operate? The answer depends on the environment provided for their operation. 

In the city of Omaha, scooters are required to operate on city streets with speed limits of 35 miles per hour or slower. The guidance is to use bike lanes where available. The recommendation is to use a helmet. There are a number of “no go” zones where scooters are drastically slowed and where they cannot be “docked” — these include university campuses, the medical center, around the convention center, the riverfront and the Old Market.

While these “no go” zones are ostensibly for safety, they have the effect of slowing or excluding connectivity between nodes of activity. For example, the “no go” zone around the convention center creates a barrier between the Capital District and North Downtown, an area promising exciting future developments. The “no go” zone around the Med Center creates a barrier between the Blackstone and Aksarben or Benson.

Scooters are specifically excluded from city sidewalks, though users are encouraged to park them on sidewalks and not in the street where they are to be operated. This is to limit friction between people riding scooters and people otherwise using the sidewalk. This policy means people riding scooters are competing for road space with motor vehicles. Even where there are bike lanes, Omaha still has no on-street, protected bike infrastructure. Cars often park in designated bike lanes. Without dedicated spaces for vehicles like bikes and scooters, the danger factor operating them on the street increases.

The fact is that riders will ride where they feel most safe. For some, this will mean the sidewalk in the absence of a safe, specific designated space to ride a scooter.

Is it inclusive?

Making a scooter share fully inclusive of the entire population would be a challenge, but there are a few areas where geographic, demographic, capability and economic factors remove Omahans from the opportunity to use the scooters.

The new rules limit the users to individuals 18 and older who have a state ID or driver’s license, a stricter limit than we have for other motor vehicles. To unlock a scooter, you need to have a smartphone and a credit card. Anyone without any of these three items is effectively excluded from using a scooter, especially with the new policy that each user can only unlock one device.

Councilman Gray initially voted against accepting the proposals of the scooter vendors because he didn’t feel like the distribution of scooters would effectively include his North Omaha district. He changed his vote when the vendors assured him they included North Omaha in their plans. 

We have seen no plans to include adaptive scooters in Omaha, but it is a technology being rolled out in other cities that allows users of a range of physical ability to use the service.

Another question of inclusion is how the city intends to enforce/encourage cooperation with the updated policies. The answer is enforcement. Infractions of the ordinance regarding scooter use will incur a $100 fine, issued by the police. These fines would disproportionately burden poorer people and (depending on patterns of policing) minorities.

What can others teach us?

In San Francisco, the city found that friction diminishes with time, “scooter parking citations and related 311 complaints to the city  . . . dropped.” This suggests that time and familiarity can establish better habits and less distrust. The city also encouraged technological innovations to prevent cluttering sidewalks and making  the devices more accessible to all users.

According to a NACTO study of micromobility, scooter shares work best in conjunction with bike share programs. It seems the two modes are used in very different ways, with bike shares being used during commute times, and scooters being used most during weekends, likely for recreation. According to noted planning theorist, Jeff Speck, “Bikeshare without good bike lanes is foolhardy” a sentiment he echos in his works longer than a tweet. This same idea applies to scooter sharing programs as well.

Where do we go from here?

Scooters are a fine mode of transportation. Most users report a positive, even gleeful experience riding them. In Omaha, when it comes to safety, they have a lot of the same risks as other active modes, such as walking and biking, with an added learning curve that initially may make them seem “more dangerous.” If the city wants to make them safer, they need to create dedicated infrastructure, including on-street parking zones. Creating dedicated lanes for scooters and bikes will establish a protected, middle-speed space that will separate scooters and bikes from pedestrians as well as automobiles. 

With the destination data we have from the last pilot, we should also establish recommended saferroutes for scooter users to and from popular stopping points. Another positive step would be to reexamine the no-go zones, and whether they promote safety or create a barrier to mobility.

Finally, we should not make scooters yet another issue the police are tasked with. Enforcement should be a last resort dealing with scooter traffic. Education and infrastructure are our best tools for compliance. 

Without creating a safer, inclusive environment, we fear that shared scooters will not succeed in Omaha. It would be a shame to lose a form of transportation that encourages people to get out into their community and experience it from a unique speed and point of view.

Five Questions for Kimara Z. Snipe

14 Jul

Kimara Z. Snipe is a community servant. In addition to her work as a Youth Services Specialist for the Omaha Public library she serves on the Omaha Public School Board and is the current President of the South Omaha Neighborhood Alliance (SONA). She will also be our guest this Friday, July 17th at 8 a.m. for our monthly Coffee Chat. We will be talking about South Omaha and the work SONA is doing. We asked her five questions.

1. What are the areas and issues covered by SONA? 

The mission of the organization is to enhance South Omaha Neighborhoods through communication, collaboration, empowerment and promoting positive perceptions.  That being said, we focus on issues that affect the quality of living in different neighborhoods, which varies even within South Omaha.  Our areas and issues range from addressing gang violence and graffiti, to acting as a liaison between our neighborhood members and the city and state governments.  We have addressed issues such as violence, transportation, graffiti, police and community relations and more.

2. What is a transportation project or proposal you would consider a success in South Omaha?

This is a great question.  I never want to speak for the entirety of SONA.  I think that transportation is something that leaves a lot to be desired in both North and South Omaha.  

3. What is a specific transportation challenge facing South Omaha neighborhoods?

This answer varies. I’ve had numerous complaints from people who live within the RE/CAP (racially and/or ethnically concentrated areas of poverty) that the elimination of bus lines has caused numerous issues.  I would say that public transit is definitely an issue and needs major adjustments.  I would also say we lack alternative modes of transportation.  South Omaha is full of walkers – they need safe walkways and ways to bike and get around.  South Omaha currently has 2.5 cars per home, this also causes major parking issues which can often lead to penalties, which are disproportionate for people of color as it is.

4. How can people get involved with SONA?

I’m so glad you asked.  The first thing I would suggest is to sign up for our email list.  This way they can receive our meeting invites and other news.  We meet (currently virtually) every 1st Thursday of the Month at 7:00 PM.  Secondly, I would suggest that any person living in Omaha find out if they have a neighborhood association and join.  If they don’t have one, start one and I’m happy to help them get started.  You can verify if you have a n.a. by checking the Mayors website.  Third, reach out to me.  I’m happy to meet up virtually or at a park practicing social distancing to explain the benefits of membership.

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

I would invest in multiple modes of transportation.