Category Archives: Transportation

What Will It Take?

I’m starting to get a bit frustrated about multi-modal progress in Omaha. While the city administration seems to react positively to concerns and ideas, in practice they don’t seem to get it. Here’s a few examples of the mayor and her minions not quite “getting it.”

In 2016, Omaha was recognized as having one of the better Complete Streets policies in the country. Admittedly, our policy is pretty decent on paper, but there doesn’t feel like a lot of effort or thought backing it up. At a forum during the mayoral campaign, I asked Mayor Stothert about Complete Streets implementation in a recently announced development project. If I understood her answer correctly (and I’m pretty sure I did,) she said that because the development would only affect two or three blocks of the road it didn’t make sense to follow the policy. Her thinking was that those two blocks wouldn’t lead to or from anywhere. Following that logic, Complete Streets would not be implemented ANYWHERE unless the entire length of the road was developed at once. While I’d love to see that happen, I know that’s not practical. The only way Omaha will end up with a Complete Streets network is if it’s piecemealed together, taking advantage of ALL development/redevelopment opportunities.

My second example is 63rd St. You will remember this thoroughfare from my posts on Plungergate. For a five block (1/4 mile) stretch, this residential street widens to allow for bike lanes on both sides and parking on the east side. Unfortunately, the lanes are only striped and (from what I’ve observed) use of the curbside parking is minimal. This extra width entices motor vehicle drivers to accelerate to highway speeds, and many of them do. This makes what should be a quiet peaceful street next to Aksarben Village a de facto drag strip, menacing pedestrians crossing and cyclists riding the street.

At a neighborhood meeting, the “solution” suggested by Public Works was to remove the bike lanes and allow parking on both sides of the street. This suggestion fails for several reasons. First of all, if streetside parking is not being utilized on the one side already allowed, why would it be used on both sides? The road is still wide, even the hint of narrowing provided by the bike lane is removed, so what will cause the NASCAR wannabe’s to drive reasonably? I don’t see it either. In my opinion, what should have been suggested is a Complete Streets/Protected Bike Lane treatment that… Oh wait! That flies in the face of the mayor’s forum response to me. Carry on! I doubt that the proposed roundabout is going to appreciably affect the safety of vulnerable road users.

My last example today is the widening of 120th St. In reviewing the Environmental Assessment, it appears that they plan on connecting the Papio Trail to the trail system in Tranquility Park. Great idea! No really, it is! However, the detail shows the connection being made north of West Maple up near Old Maple. While the city’s GIS data shows that the trail does reach that far currently, the reality is that it ends in Heflinger Park, south of West Maple. What are the plans to extend the trail northward to meet its soon to be created link to Tranquility? If there are no such plans, I have to wonder: did anyone from the city actually look at the trail, or did they just assume the GIS data was correct?

Now the mayor has a new buzz word to deal with: Vision Zero. I understand that she’ll be tasking ALAC with reviewing other policies and developing one for Omaha. I hope ALAC will take the time to recognize that the goals of Vision Zero can be best reached by rigorous application of the Complete Streets policy. Further, that such application needs to start now and not wait for the completion of the Complete Streets manual. After all, the tenets of Complete Streets can be found in the nine policy documents already adopted by various entities within Omaha.

Roll on!

Stand up; Resist!

As everyone is aware, the climate out of DC has definitely changed. No, this is not the result of CO2, methane or any of the myriad other greenhouse gases we continue to spew into our atmosphere; that’s a DIFFERENT kind of hot air. No, I’m talking about our newly minted President, Donald J. Trump (henceforth referred to as DJT.) Barely two months into his tenure at the White House, DJT has already alienated many of our allies, undone years of environmental progress, and (assisted by his Republican Congress) stated to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

Now he’s released his budget. With the exception of the military, pretty much every other facet of government will have drastic cuts to their budget. Since this blog is about transportation, let’s focus in on that area.

You will recall that during his campaign, DJT emphasized the need to repair, replace and maintain the nation’s infrastructure. However, his proposed budget shows no sign of that thinking. According to The Hill,  he’d like to cut the DOT budget by 13%. His budget eliminated the TIGER grants and TIF funding that many states, cities and locales have relied upon to develop alternative transportation infrastructure. Furthermore, it eliminates funding for Amtrak and for the Essential Air Service program, both of which are vital to small rural towns and areas. Guess the only infrastructure he’s really interested in is a wall between the US and Mexico. Yeah, I know he said that Mexico will pay for the wall, but what DJT isn’t telling you is that that payment will come in the form of tariffs on Mexican goods, which translates into higher costs for those producers who will understandably pass on those costs to us, the consumer. So who’s REALLY paying for that wall?

The good news is this is a budget proposal. It has to be passed by Congress before it becomes a fact. And while some within his own party are saying “No” right now, the vote isn’t actually being taken yet. Let your legislators in DC know where you stand. Tell them what you want. If we work together, we just may win. But if we stand quietly, we most assuredly lose.

Roll on!

Contemplation on What’s to Come

Winter sunriseSitting with my morning brew and watching as the rosy hues of dawn gave way to the golden rays of the sun,  I began thinking about the state of our cycling nation. Like the current national political landscape, we should be concerned about the direction and focus of our collaborative efforts. Let me explain.

In my opinion, there are two major bicycle advocacy organizations in the US: The League of American Bicyclists (LAB) and People for Bikes (P4B). In the past, these two groups co-existed well (or seemed to) with each lending its voice to the efforts of the other to further the cause of bicycle riding in the US. In particular, P4B was a sponsor/supporter of the League’s annual National Bike Summit.

This year, according to reports coming from the bike summit, P4B is noticeable in their absence. With no presence in DC and no mention on the event website, it appears that a schism may have appeared in our wheeled community. Are we destined to the same fate currently being suffered by the Democrat Party? Is the advocacy family to be split between the “establishment” of the LAB and the upstart thinking of P4B?

Several years ago, LAB recognized that they had (have?) a diversity problem. To help resolve it, they hired Adonia Lugo as a diversity manager. However, according to Dr. Lugo, when she made suggestions they fell on deaf ears, and nothing of substance changed. (Please note that this is entirely from web/news reports; I was not there.) Dr. Lugo left her position at LAB after a short term; LAB’s loss in my opinion.

Other stats I hear coming from DC also concern me. It was reported in one blog that the chair has set a goal to reach 100,000 members within ten year; this from a current enrollment of 20,000. With the reported increase in cycling over the last decade, why is this current number so low? Furthermore, what was the peak membership? If it has dropped, does that explain the staff reductions in the office? (LAB, please work to keep Caron Whitaker; she’s a great voice for us in the Halls of Congress.)

And what of P4B? Is it coincidental that they’ve instituted a Bicycle Friendly Places program that does much the same thing as LAB’s Bicycle Friendly America? Are they hosting their first Bicycle Friendly Places Conference (their version of the Bike Summit) this year? Does the leadership of P4B feel that LAB is falling short of their mission? Like the progressives in the Democratic party, are they willing to risk fragmenting the base to further what they see as the proper course of action?

Hopefully, this is conjecture on my part and there is no rift in the cycling continuum. Perhaps it’s all in my own perception, and the two organizations can and will continue to work together. As I finish up this little post, a glance out the window tells me that gray clouds have gathered, pushing back the rays of the sun. I hope, sincerely hope, that this isn`t a portent of what’s coming to the world of cycling transportation.

Roll on!

Bits & Pieces

Just some updates, recaps, and shorts that wouldn’t fill a post by themselves.

The plan on consolidating Fixit station repair has changed. The board over at Omaha Bikes has decided that they don’t have the bandwidth to assure that the stations are maintained. It proved to be more difficult to find a non-profit partner to share the labor portion of the plan. However, Eastern Nebraska Trails Network approached the good folks at Re-cycle Bicycle (a for profit organization) and they have forged an agreement to maintain the units that are to be placed by ENTN and Missouri-Papio NRD. Don’t know where this leaves the sixteen other stations in the metro; guess they’ll continue as is.

Folks wanting to know where to park their bikes in our fair city can download the Bicycle Parking app. Available for both Android (Google Play Store) and Apple (App Store[?]), the app will show you all of the city installed bike parking with data provided to the developer by the Planning Department and Omaha Bikes (with a little help from me.) The developer is also looking to add Fixit station locations to the app. Incredibly easy to use and to add privately installed parking as well.

ModeShiftOmaha is finalizing a candidates’ survey on multi-modal transportation in the metro. This survey will be forwarded to all candidates in the upcoming municipal election. Results will be compiled and published by MSO.

Finally, I’m reflecting on a better focus for this little blog of mine. It will, of course, still be bike transportation (other alt transpo as well,) but I feel the need to set some targets to shoot for. More on that to come.

In the meantime, the weather this weekend looks to be BEAUTIFUL! Time to get out and enjoy yourself in whatever (at least semi-legal) way you choose. Until next time.

Roll on!

Bicycle Infrastructure: Fixit Stations

Bicycle Infrastructure: Fixit Stations

fixit-02.jpg

We’ve all seen them. Some of us have even used them for quick fixes and adjustments. The Fixit Station. There are currently just over 15 stations in the Omaha area (that I know of at least.) Clicking on the link will take you to a map showing those whose owners agreed to publication. The number of stations will more than double in the near future, thanks to Missouri-Papio NRD and the Eastern Nebraska Trails Network. All of these organizations have procured and installed these stations for use not only by their own employees and clientele but, graciously, also for the use of the general public. They deserve our gratitude for this.

With almost as many owners as there are stations, some issues can arise. If a station needs maintenance or repair, who does the cyclist contact? Some of you will recall that this happened last year when a pump head malfunctioned. In at least one case, the organization that installed the station no longer exists, leaving the unit orphaned (and in this case, derelict.) Who is responsible for the maintenance of these benefits to our community?

Omaha Bikes is working on what they hope will be a solution to the quandary. In this solution, the owners of each station will purchase a maintenance plan for each unit. That plan will cover two scheduled maintenance visits to perform the tasks as detailed by the Dero manual. In addition, two more inspection visits will be included to check the units for missing or broken tools. If additional work is required (i.e., tools replaced,) the charge will be the cost of the tools plus labor to install. Owners will be notified before this work is performed.

Omaha Bikes has agreed to be the central contact for bicycle riders who wish to report problems with a Fixit Station. Cyclists with a smartphone will be able to scan a QR code which will open up the web browser on the phone to a reporting site. A unit number will be autopopulated and a textbox will allow for descriptive entry of the problem.

Once received, Omaha Bikes will notify one of the organizations who have agreed to perform the maintenance labor. Which brings me to the purpose of this post (took long enough, didn’t it.) Omaha Bikes is looking for clubs, groups, organizations (preferably bike related) who may be interested in providing the labor for this plan. These will be Contract Organizations (CO.) Our current proposal is to pay CO a contracted rate of $5 – $6 for each unit maintenance visit, with an additional $2.50 – $3 for inspection visits. This equates to $10 – $12 per hour according to Dero estimates. While this won’t make your club/organization rich, it may help to further your mission.

If you know of a club, group or organization who might be interested in working with Omaha Bikes on providing this service, please reply in the comments below.

Thanks, and Roll On!

More Parking? Really??!?

Last week I listened to a recording of an interview that Mayor Stothert did with KFAB radio here in Omaha in which she reviewed her tenure as mayor and touched on her future plans for the city. One of the topics mentioned for the future was the development for Lot B near the Centurylink Center.

During that discussion the mayor noted that a large portion of parking downtown is unused for most of the day. She went on to say that Lot B was prime property for development and should be utilized more along the lines as mixed use. My initial thought was “My god! She’s finally getting it!” That sentiment lasted all of three seconds as she followed with a statement that those 850 parking spaces would have to be moved elsewhere.

Now I’m just a lowly accountant/consultant, but if they’re largely unused now, won’t that still be the case if you pave over another plot of land to put them elsewhere? And, if I heard correctly, the area she wants to move them to is closer to the river which also seems to me (the lowly accountant/consultant) prime real estate for a park or other public development.

Unfortunately, this is just a continuation of the car-centric thinking that pervades almost all of American society. There is an innate belief that if you own a fuel burning vehicle, you have the right to subsidized parking close to whatever destination you wish to choose. Wouldn’t it make more sense to find ways to provide MORE than adequate transportation to desired destinations other than hopping in your car? Instead, we add to an infrastructure burden that we already are unable to maintain. Personally, I’d much rather see the water infrastructure fixed (over a dozen main breaks in the last month) than widen 168th street. Sure, I know that the money for the roads will largely be coming from the state and federal governments, but that only shows that the mind shift needs to come from levels higher that City of Omaha government. But the shift has to start somewhere.

So let’s start by NOT moving those parking spaces, but eliminating them. Provide alternative transportation to those events that MECA makes their money on (sure would be nice to see their books.) If we want Omaha to be a city for the future, we need to start taking the future into consideration. Right now, I’m not seeing it.

Roll on!

Widening 168th Street

The city of Omaha is planning to widen 168th Street from three lanes to four and adding a median. The stated goals of this project are to enhance safety, to increase capacity, and to reduce traffic congestion. While these may sound like worthwhile goals, only one (to increase capacity) will be realized, and this at the expense of the other two goals. So let’s consider this goal first.

As noted above 168th street is currently three lanes, with the center lane used for turning. Effectively, that means that the through traffic is two lanes. Increasing to four lanes sounds like it will double the throughput potential, and it may. But for how much of the day is that increased throughput required? While I haven’t seen the study, I suspect that it will only be during rush hours: one direction in the morning and the other direction in the evening as commuters return to their homes. This means that for the majority of the day, the increased width of 168th Street will remain empty and unused.

How will this enhance safety (or will it?) For pedestrians who are crossing the road, there is now an additional lane, plus the width of the median to cross. Which means they’ll be having to hustle a bit more to get across. They’ll also have another lane to watch for oncoming traffic. Suffice to say, I don’t see how those who walk are made safer.

What about those in cars? They may be safer for a time (more on that in a bit,) what with more room on the road. But, again, in the less than long term, I don’t think this will bear out either. This brings us to congestion. Conventional wisdom says if you want to relieve congestion, widen the road. The reality, however, is that induced demand will set in and in a much shorter time than expected, the roadway will be just as crowded as before the widening. And with the return of the congestion, the same safety issues return for the motorist in his four wheeled metal box, possibly multiplied since there are now more cars surrounding the driver.

One part of the project I have no issue with is the enhanced sidepaths. These will allow pedestrians and cyclist to travel in the same directions of the road more safely than if they were to share the road. As noted above, this safety only lasts until they try crossing the road.

There are many infrastructure needs in Omaha. A fair number of our roads, bridges, and sidewalks are in need of repair. Is spending the money on widening 168th Street really the best use of limited transportation funds?