If asked some of your favorite cities to visit, many of you will mention places like New York, D.C. or Chicago. One of the common threads that links those cities is good, safe, functional public transportation. When you’re in New York, hopping on a bus or the subway is commonplace; you often find yourself traveling comfortably with the masses from to one location to the next. But when you return home to Omaha, how often do you consider using anything other than your vehicle to get around town?

Omaha is a city that is almost entirely dependent on personal vehicles. Not only do we rely on our four wheels to take us everywhere around town, we are almost always alone in them. The next time you’re standing at a major intersection, especially during rush hour, take a few moments to see how many drivers are alone. The answer, you’ll find, is pretty much everyone.

Despite the number of Omahans who currently get around town in personal vehicles, demand for better public transportation is increasing. On a national level, the Obama Administration has placed a high priority on complete streets and public transportation. Locally, $7.8 million in national stimulus funds was used to purchase 24 new buses for Omaha’s fleet, all of which were rolled out this past Monday.  In conjunction with that rollout, the Metro Area Transit also announced an exciting new branding campaign, complete with a more user-friendly website and plans to incorporate wi-fi into many of its buses.

While a new brand and an updated website might be seen like an empty a gesture towards making concrete improvements to Omaha’s public transportation system, it’s a significant symbolic step and a great starting point. When the Young Professionals Council conducted the YP Bus Challenge in the spring/summer of 2009, they found that many people who had intentions of using the system were thwarted from doing so because the “on-boarding” process was so archaic and cumbersome.  By streamlining the process and making it more user-friendly, new users will hopefully take the actual step of hopping on a bus for the first time.

Is Omaha’s Metro bus system perfect?  Absolutely not. There are undoubtedly ways to improve the system both in the short and long-term.  Unfortunately public transportation funding at a state level in Nebraska is among the worst. After all, we are the only state with a “Department of Roads” — rather than a “Department of Transportation.” And given the state’s current fiscal crunch, we shouldn’t anticipate an influx of funding to Metro anytime soon. But that doesn’t mean improvements can’t occur.

Improving Omaha’s transportation system starts with increased ridership. Increased demand will require increased attention from local authorities. That means those of us who commonly complain about bus service, but never use it, should buy a bus ticket, get on, and give it a try. Yes, it takes some planning. And yes, it might increase the length of your trip. But the benefits outweigh the costs in most cases.

Let’s stop having the chicken/egg conversation and waiting for the system to “be fixed” before trying it out.  Visit, plan a trip and take it.  It won’t hurt, we promise.  In fact, you might actually enjoy it.

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Have you been to yet?  If not, you’re missing out on an excellent opportunity to help make Omaha a cleaner, greener and healthier city.

Passthepotatoes is the online town hall venue soliciting, vetting and prioritizing ideas to green Omaha.  Idea generation has already occurred in two of five categories.  Natural Environment kicked off the process and voting has since closed with a a 5 cent plastic bag tax garnering the most votes.  Good idea?  Bad idea?

Voting is currently underway in the Urban Form & Transportation category with several cool ideas on the table.  Buses and bikes and trains, oh my!  And while you’re there voting, share an idea related to Building Construction, the most recent category seeking your ideas.

It’s time to stop complaining and start participating.

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On Wednesday, August 4th at 5:30 pm, join the organizers from Omaha by Design at Slowdown as they present information on the outreach and development of the Environment Omaha document. Among other things, Omaha by Design is responsible for Environment Omaha efforts as well as Pass the Potatoes. Environment Omaha is the initiative to add an environmental element to the City of Omaha Master Plan. Pass the Potatoes is a great way to get involved (from the comfort of your couch) in Omaha’s efforts to become a more sustainable community.  You can chime in with your original ideas, or show support for ideas that others have submitted. Please join Omaha by Design on Wednesday night to learn more!

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Smart Urban Development, Sustainability

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

Pass the Potatoes is an online town hall event brought to you by Environment Omaha and Community ReDesigned. Over the course of the next eight weeks, citizens (that’s you!) can submit ideas, second ideas, give feedback, and eventually vote on their favorites. The top ideas will be reviewed and the most achievable ideas may become a reality.

There are five topics to comment on: Natural Environment, Urban Form & Transportation, Building Construction, Resource Conservation, and Community Health.  If you have a great idea that should be pursued, log on and share it.  And stop saying, “Nobody has ever asked for my opinion.”  You’ve officially been asked… Get on it!

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This PBS documentary explores how other cities have dealt with, and continue to deal with, transportation planning and how their choices affect their cities. There is a lot of interesting information about Denver’s beltway and Portland’s mass transit, both of which are very relevant to the conversations happening in Omaha now.

Blueprint America: Road to the Future, an original documentary part of a PBS multi-platform series on the country’s aging and changing infrastructure, goes to three very different American cities — Denver, New York and Portland, and their surrounding suburbs — to look at each as an example of the challenges and possibilities the country faces as citizens, local and federal officials, and planners struggle to manage a growing America with innovative transportation and sustainable land use policies.

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News, Smart Urban Development, Sustainability

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

Design Alliance Omaha is hosting an event featuring Majora Carter on Thursday, February 25 at the Joslyn Art Museum. Ms. Carter was born, raised and continues to live in the South Bronx. Her career has taken her around the world in pursuit of resources and ideas to improve the quality of life in environmentally challenged communities. She founded Sustainable South Bronx in 2001 after writing a $1.25M Federal Transportation grant to design the South Bronx Greenway with 11 miles of bike and pedestrian paths connecting the rivers and neighborhoods to each other, and to the rest of the city. That project secured over $20 million in funds for first phase construction and serves as alternative transportation, an economic development anchor, storm water management infrastructure as well as healthy recreation. Her accomplishments grow from the notion that self-image is influenced by surroundings—so those surroundings should be beautiful! Her vision, drive, and tenacity earned her a MacArthur “Genius” Grant. She started 2007 as one of Newsweek’s “25 To Watch”, ended the year as one of Essence Magazine’s “25 most Influential African Americans”. She has been named one of the “50 most influential women in NYC” by the NY Post for the past two years, and “NYC’s most influential environmentalist” by the BBC World Service.

daOMA Presents: Majora Carter, Environmental Advocate
Thursday, February 25, 2010
7:00 pm
Joslyn Art Museum Witherspoon Concert Hall

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Friday, November 13th, 2009

As part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 the Department of Energy (DOE) awarded 206 Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants to local municipalities and tribes across the country, totaling nearly $111 million. Closer to home, the City of Omaha received $4.3 million, and the City’s first step towards using that money was hiring Omaha’s first Sustainability Coordinator, Kristi Wamstad-Evans.

Evans, who was previously the National Sustainable Solutions Program Coordinator at HDR, Inc. (a common supplier of talent for Mayor Suttle), reported to City Hall for her first day on September 8, 2009 and will be paid $70,000 per year for the next three years. One of her primary objectives will be to lead the development of the City’s comprehensive sustainability strategy, which must be submitted to the DOE by November 24, 2009.

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