Omaha Cycling Getting Up to Speed

New Coordinator Has Some Early Wins

Balancing breakfast is always easier when you’ve got to bicycle to work. Pounding down the “Works” breakfast at Radial Cafe is a recipe for disaster while summiting the hills in Omaha. It is not easy to be sick on a bicycle, particularly when maneuvering through rush hour traffic.

Why cycle? Control your portions, save on gas, get those calves swollen and be the sweaty envy of your co-workers who are red faced, not from a morning workout, but from attempting to park. The good news is that more Omaha workers are walking, carpooling or taking the bus. More is good, but how do we keep those numbers of healthy riders rising?

Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator Carlos Morales may have the solution.

Brought onto the City of Omaha Planning staff in September 2010, Morales’ grant-funded position focuses on integrating active transportation in the city master plans, making it a top priority for planners.

“One of the main goals when I arrived in Omaha was and continues to be securing dedicated funding for alternative transportation,” said Morales.

He said many metro areas have funding for additional positions, leverage funds to meet grant-matching requirements, and to encourage and provide training for an entire metropolitan area.

With Omaha being one of the lower-ranked cities for activity, Morales had his work cut out for him. Funding and spending levels are comparatively low in Omaha, he said.

His focus on active transportation is slowly creating bicycle friendly streets, encouraging more people to slap on a helmet.

Though funding has been a hurdle, Morales has confidence for the future of Omaha cycling.

“A couple of major wins for walking and biking have included submission of applications to obtain transportation enhancement dollars for close to a half-million dollars,” he said. “Previously, these were grants that the City was not involved in, and this marks a change in the way we look at applying for funding. In terms of increasing bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure we have been working on the Transportation Master Plan Update and have made tremendous strides to incorporate walking and biking in the future plans.”

As a cyclist, I used to feel vulnerable on the road. Now, I can’t commute without nodding to a fellow biker, battling the Farnam hill with a delirious, endorphin-induced smile on their face. There is no doubt that Omaha is moving towards accepting cyclists and even encouraging people to tuck away their car
keys.

“One commitment is that our maintenance crews sweep the 16th Street bike lanes on a more frequent basis,” added Morales. “We are adding more signage along Burt Street and constantly working to increase the number of facilities that accommodate bicyclists, whether it is in the form of having dedicated space for bicycle parking or room for on-street facilities. We have doubled the number of bicycle racks and continue to install bicycle parking.”

The bus system has even become bicycle friendly. “A little secret that people are realizing is that all Metro buses are equipped with a bicycle rack. The best part about this is that it is free to take your bike,” said Morales.

One major issue that has affected plans has been the rising river.

“The flood has strained our resources tremendously both in terms of adding to our current work load and keeping everyone busy,” said Morales. “Our wonderful crews in both the Public Works and Parks and Recreations Department have been working diligently to secure our levees, making sure pump stations are working and managing and dealing with the flood. The riverfront trails are currently closed due to safety concerns and will remain
closed until further notice.”

The safety of cyclists and walkers remains a top priority, and though it may
be tempting to breeze by the “Trail Closed” signs, please abide by the request and save yourself from biking through sewage.

Despite funding delays, flood issues and white knuckle grips on car keys, Morales has made tremendous strides for Omaha’s active transportation system.

“We are looking ahead for the future needs of our city and ensuring that future developments and redevelopments are accommodating bicyclists and pedestrians.

‘We still have a long way to go but with the help from our partners such as Activate Omaha, Live Well Omaha, Omaha Bikes, the Community Bike Shop, the bicycle stores in Omaha, THOR and others we are working to make our City a great city to bike and or walk.”

Enjoy the weather and cycle this week. Your calves will thank you.

For more information on the transportation plan, go to http://www.cityofomaha.org/tmplan. For more information on trail closures visit: http://www.cityofomaha.org/parks/parks-a-facilities/trails--bridge
for information regarding trail closures on the Council Bluffs visit: http://www.councilbluffs-ia.gov/ documents/ClosedTrailMap-20110613.pdf.

posted at 07:32 pm
on Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

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