Tag Archives: transit

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 It is out of date and does not match the needs of the City today.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.”

TIF for the Crossroads?

21 Feb
ID: The corner of 72nd & Dodge looking easy from the ORBT stop at the big sign that says “The Crossroads.” A pedestrian is walking in knee deep snow toward a crosswalk blocked by a red truck. Snowy bike racks and trash cans are in the foreground with a bit of clear pavement. Mostly snow covered sidewalks. Photo by Cindy Tefft of our Walkability Team.

72nd & Dodge is one of the most well-known intersections in the city. 81,000 people drive through this intersection daily and for the past several decades, they have driven past a dead or dying mall.  

While almost any development at this location will be better than the current status, the redevelopment has the ability to bring real vibrancy to the heart of the city. Mode Shift Omaha is excited to see how our city can intensify the core areas and make walking, biking, and transit more accessible to more people through thoughtful and intentional design.

This Tuesday, Omaha’s City Council will vote to approve this $80M TIF request. We sent a list of suggestions to Lockwood as well as the Council (see below to download) and were grateful to have been invited to a conversation with the developers who were open to some of MSO’s suggestions. Now we’ll see if the City grants their request. If you’d like to speak to Council before they vote, go to the City Council Agenda here to register and read more. We’ll be there speaking in opposition, since we don’t think TIF is truly benefitting the public in a way that justifies this amount of our tax dollars.

Planning for people first

How does it feel to arrive at this space without a car? Based on the current plan, a person must cross 350 feet of parking before they get to the first shop. Pedestrians are further away than the worst available parking spot.

Rather than having all the car parking in one big surface lot, parking could be spread more throughout the development. A person on foot could come right to a shop, perhaps a convenience store, that sits along Dodge Street. 

People on foot and using mobility aids should also be able to travel within the development safely. One simple way to accomplish this is raised pedestrian crossings. Raised crossings do two things: 1) they slow cars by acting as a speed bump and 2) they alert drivers to be courteous and aware of people crossing.

Another pedestrian-friendly design we would recommend is back-in angle parking where appropriate. This type of parking has been shown to be safer for all road users and further serves to slow through traffic. Lockwood said this was not possible but didn’t say why.

Invite the neighbors

This development has a residential neighborhood directly to the north. There are also new apartment complexes being built on the east side of 72nd on the site of the old furniture store as well as to the southwest. It is very likely that people will walk from these locations to the Crossroads development. 

Connecting to people from the bus

72nd & Dodge is served by several bus routes. Omaha Metro routes 8, 18, 98 and most prominently, the ORBT Dodge route all converge at this intersection. All of the amenities described for people arriving on foot will entice people to arrive by bus. 

  • Paint crosswalks adjacent to the development.
  • Improve sidewalks along 72nd and Dodge Streets.
  • Provide seating areas throughout and well marked crossings within surface lots.
ID: snowy sidewalks with footprints in the dirty snow lead to the ORBT stop where a bright orange bus is at the station at 72nd & Dodge St. Photo: Cindy Tefft.

Connecting to people on bicycles

Many people will arrive at this location by bicycle if they are accommodated when they arrive. The Strava bicycle heat map below shows that very few people are biking in this area currently, likely because it is so hostile to people on bikes. We can also see from the heat map that there are many people biking in the surrounding areas, with the largest number of people on the Keystone trail to the West.

  • Create safe streets within the development for people on bikes.
  • Provide safe bike parking throughout the development.
  • Provide bike lockers for long term parking for tenants.
  • Build multiple locations for the Heartland BCycle bike share docks.
  • Build safe connections between the development and the Keystone trail.
ID: a Strava heat map of the area shown in yellows, pinks and greens. Most people avoid the Crossroads area currently because it’s not user friendly or safe.

Transit Oriented Development

The city of Omaha has recently adopted a Transit Oriented Development (TOD) plan. The basic idea is to increase density of development near transit lines, particularly the ORBT line along Dodge, and build closer to the street. To accomplish this, the city can reduce restrictions on the zoning, allowing for multi-family units to be built without special variances. The other tool is to reduce the number of required parking spaces (and where they put said parking), owing to the thought that people could live car-free or car-lite with the amenity of nearby transit.

Tax Increment Financing (TIF)

For this project, the developer is asking for a record $80 million (for a single project) in tax increment financing from the city. While we disagree that this development requires such funding, it is clear that the city is going to award this money so we ask that the city make some demands in exchange.

Is TIF Worth It? (OWH) If you haven’t already read this article, do so now for a deeper understanding of TIF and how it works, or doesn’t’!

What the developer can do:

  • Make the development more friendly to people on foot or on bicycle by not requesting waivers to sidewalks along Chicago.
  • Use raised crosswalks throughout the development.
  • Provide back-in angle parking.
  • Re-orient the businesses along Dodge to welcome people riding the bus or arriving by foot.
  • Provide plentiful bicycle parking throughout the development, close to retail and dining.
  • Provide 2 Dero FixIt Stations within the development.
  • Include Heartland BCycle in the planning and build space for their bike docks.

What the city can do:

  • Improve pedestrian safety features such as painting crosswalks and stop lines adjacent to the property.
  • Improve sidewalks around development.
    • On the perimeter and throughout the property include 7 foot setbacks from traffic and include trees, bushes, and native plants. 
  • No further widening of the crossing area, specifically at 74th & Dodge where a double turn lane is proposed.
  • Create safe connections between Keystone trail on both Dodge and Cass Streets.
  • Designate Farnam as a well marked cycle route between 67th Ave. and 74th St. and to the Keystone on the west.

What the city should require:

  • Affordable housing as part of the development.
  • TOD framework for this site.
  • Pedestrian-friendly features
  • 11’ lanes (less than the current 12.5’ since it sounded like the city originally recommended narrower but they met in the middle at 12.5’)

Omaha is facing a housing crisis and the use of TIF is an important tool in building affordable housing. Omaha needs more housing in areas that are also served by good public transportation. We need to re-evaluate how we use TIF and determine if we are using this tool to build a city that will be prosperous going forward, or if we are giving money to developers without any expectations of creating more affordable housing? It’s also taking money away from schools and streets, forcing us to pass the recent $200M street bond and neglect the needs of our school children and teachers.

If the city is willing to give TIF to every project, without restriction, every developer will ask for this funding. We appreciate the work that the developers are doing and their willingness to incorporate some of our suggestions. In conversations, the developers have been thoughtful and considerate of the needs of people who don’t arrive by car but ultimately, their job is to make money. It is the job of the city to ensure each project works to make our city more equitable and sustainable, especially when using public funds.

ID: a partially demolished building with construction fencing that says, “the crossroads omaha, NE” and “Lockwood Development” and “Century Development” in orange letters with a black background. Photo by Cindy Tefft.

Support Transit Oriented Development by 6/29!

18 Jun showing improved streetscape

By: Liz Veazey, Mode Shift Omaha Board member

I am excited to see more dense development in my neighborhood due to the Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Plan currently proposed by the City of Omaha.  The TOD plan is connected to the new Omaha Rapid Bus Transit (ORBT) that is launching later in 2020 and in addition to proposing new zoning for areas surrounding the ORBT route, the plan includes requirements for bike parking and improved pedestrian friendly streetscapes (example in image below).

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Mode Shift has encouraged members to attend past neighborhood TOD sessions around town and generally supported increased density in Omaha.  I live on the edge of Dundee and my neighborhood association, Dundee Memorial Park Association (DMPA), has done some good work educating my neighbors about the TOD: see article starting on page 1 from the June newsletter , putting a flyer on neighbors’ doors, a recent Facebook livestream & discussions like this on the DMPA Facebook page.  However, DMPA is organizing people to push back against the recommendations of the city and request a lower density zoning designation for most of Dundee (specifically they want most of the orange color below–TOD 3-MNR to only be TOD 4-SFA). The new zoning is only opt-in and would require each property owner to make the case to their neighbors and City Council before a change would be made to the zoning.

Here’s the Dundee area TOD plan (see key below & more info here)undefined

Mode Shift supports diversity of building types, preservation of historic buildings, and cultivating interesting pedestrian landscapes.  We have been involved in fights to save historic buildings in Omaha including the Specht Building downtown, which was saved from demolition through collaborations between Restoration Exchange, Mode Shift and other groups.  I am a member and supporter of Restoration Exchange, I have worked to preserve my 1940s home, and I support historic preservation. At the same time, I support increased density in our neighborhood and I think we can have increased density and continue to preserve the historic and beautiful characteristics of our neighborhood. 

Here is a quote from a former Mode Shift board member, Stephen Osberg, from the chat during the DMPA Facebook Live event on TOD: 

In response to that question about how the new zoning is applied (which is confusing due to the opt-in nature of things): once the TOD zoning is approved, everyone’s zoning will remain unchanged. If you are R7 now, you will stay R7. If you are R4, you will stay R4. The TOD designation provides an alternative treatment that people can opt into by going through the typical rezoning process. That requires going to the Planning Board and City Council, which require public comment. This doesn’t automatically rezone anyone’s property.

Two things: 1) The zoning for the vast majority of Dundee is higher than what is being proposed (R7 & R8). Much of what people say they fear would actually be easier under the current zoning than the proposed zoning. 2) Because the zoning is opt-in, people could develop under either the new zoning or old. If you want more control over the type of development in Dundee, try to move away from the opt-in route to a mandatory rezoning.”

Show your support for increased density and TOD by signing the Missing Middle Housing Campaign’s petition here and you can submit comments to the City of Omaha on the TOD plan here–includes the full plan (you can include general comments at the end or just reach out to Derek Miller in the Planning Department: Derek.Miller@cityofomaha.org ) DEADLINE is June 29th

For reference here is a Coalition Letter in support of Omaha’s Proposed TOD:

The following groups wish to express gratitude and support for the City’s proposed Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Implementation Policy and Code.  This policy is a significant step towards an Omaha with more home choices of all shapes and sizes, near jobs, schools, and transit, and neighborhoods where all Omaha’s citizens can afford to live. 

By supporting more “missing middle” housing in Omaha like townhomes and pedestrian scale apartments, this plan will help provide seniors the options they need to age-in-place by staying in their neighborhoods, and bring about the vibrant walkable conditions attracting young people and their employers, all while protecting Omaha’s historic neighborhoods through its careful consideration of the TOD zone placement.

We have a choice in Omaha, we can either allow compact and convenient homes near transit as we once did adjoining the early 20th century streetcar system, or we can continue largely restricting our residential neighborhoods to one form of building; the large-lot detached house.  This zoning policy of exclusion has not served Omaha well, stonewalling renters, low and middle-income citizens, and young people in search of a starter home, out of neighborhoods-of-opportunity.  It has created unchecked suburban sprawl and its accompanying vast swaths of pavement, engine smog, and straining city budgets.  While this plan has aspects that can be improved, it was considered after extensive public outreach, input, and deliberation.

We ask the Mayor and City Council to approve the proposed TOD Implementation Policy and Code.

To Sign Your Organization on to this letter reach out to: missingmiddleomaha@gmail.com

All images are from the Transit Oriented Development plan here