Eikenberry is a founding member of Mode Shift Omaha. Harris has worked on active transportation and Safe Routes to School issues for several years through her work at Live Well Omaha.
In the Oct. 17 World-Herald, reporter Erin Golden provided a balanced look at the state of transportation in Omaha (“With Mayor Stothert, bike-friendly projects may face more headwind”).
As the city considers its future transportation policies, we believe a strong case can be made for multimodal transportation in Omaha. By “multimodal,” we mean a transportation system that creates safe and viable options for people to get around the city by car, bicycle, walking and public transit.
First and foremost, it makes good fiscal sense. Mayor Jean Stothert is right to be concerned about the cost of road construction. According to the Federal Highway Administration, the cost to construct a new lane-mile of a four-lane divided highway can range from $4.9 million to $19.5 million in urban areas, depending on population. Conversely, the cost of installing a bike lane is approximately $5,000 to $50,000 per mile.
Spending “millions and millions” on infrastructure to make walking and bicycling safer for our citizens would not be needed; taking a strategic view and making investments in infrastructure that accommodates all modes of transportation in key corridors would make a major impact.
A shift of only 3 percent to 5 percent could put Omaha on par with cities like Minneapolis and Portland, Ore., both of which are among the most attractive cities in the U.S. for businesses and employees. Research continually shows that support of multimodal transportation is good for economic development — it creates jobs and job access, increases money circulating in the local economy, reduces the cost of congestion and increases private investment and property values.
Furthermore, the status quo will certainly bring additional burden to taxpayers. The cost of maintaining the current infrastructure continues to grow while Omaha’s air quality is perilously close to the threshold of being noncompliant with EPA standards. According to the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality, if ozone levels continue to trend upward, the Omaha-Council Bluffs area could reach nonattainment. Nonattainment is defined as a violation of the EPA threshold for National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
If Omaha reaches these levels, it would need to implement costly measures, such as additional vehicle emission checks, to bring levels back down.
The mayor’s quote in the article, “About 98 percent of the people of Omaha commute by car,” does not paint the full picture because it accounts for only 20 percent of all trips classified as “commuter trips” by the U.S. Census and the Bureau of Transportation. Statistics have shown that nearly 40 percent of all car trips are 2 miles or less.
In actuality, around 30 percent of Americans do not even have driver’s licenses. While some of this demographic includes children, it is also made up of a growing number of older Americans who cannot or choose not to drive. Furthermore, that number is trending upward as the percentage of people without a driver’s license continues to increase. Trends also show that a growing number of millennials and young professionals prefer to use public and active transportation.
Given all of this data, and without even adding the extremely compelling health and safety arguments that can be made in support of investing in multimodal infrastructure, why would our city not want to make proportionally appropriate investments to make our transportation system safer and more accessible for everyone and help us avoid consequences that will be extremely costly to taxpayers?
Such investments just make good fiscal sense.