Effort aims to balance transportation options-Complete Streets Omaha

Complete Streets Omaha uses 16th Street between Capitol Avenue and Davenport Street for a promotional photo shoot Friday.

Groups working on a “complete streets” public policy effort for Omaha filled a downtown street Friday with cars, bicycles, pedestrians and a bus.

They aim to build momentum and public support for the effort by showing people what “complete streets” means and demonstrate what it does not mean.

What it would be is public policy that calls for giving greater consideration to pedestrians, cyclists, wheelchairs and mass transit in new or renovated Omaha streets.

The idea is to make more city streets safe for multiple ways of getting around.

What it would not be is a campaign against cars and trucks.

Hundreds of cities have complete streets policies or ordinances.

Four entities are working with the City of Omaha to create one for Omaha. They are Omaha By Design, CHI Health, Live Well Omaha and the Douglas County Health Department. They’re calling the effort Complete Streets Omaha.

The co-chairs of the group are Douglas County Health Director Adi Pour and Doug Bisson, vice president and community planning manager at HDR Inc.

The group could produce a proposal by spring to send to the Omaha Planning Board and City Council.

What shape that would take — for example, a set of policy guidelines or an ordinance with firmer regulations — remains to be seen.

A small committee of people from nonprofit groups, business, the city and county has been working on a framework for the effort. Committee members have also met with business and industry groups and other community groups and stakeholders.

They say they want public input and will seek it by having at least one public meeting, making presentations to businesses, civic organizations and community groups, and through a website, www.completestreetsomaha.org.

On Friday, they took a series of photographs on 16th Street between Capitol Avenue and Davenport Street in downtown Omaha.

They’ll use the photos in promotions.

They filled half a block with 30 cars.

Then they moved many of the cars away and brought in a bus.

Then they filled one of 16th Street’s bike lanes with cyclists as pedestrians walked through a crosswalk past a row of cars and the bus.

Standing on a wide sidewalk beside 16th Street, Pour said the stretch is a good example in Omaha of a complete street — accessible and safe for drivers, bus riders, cyclists and walkers.

“We have a few examples, but they are too few,” Pour said.

More such streets would make Omaha a more successful, vibrant, healthy city, said Connie Spellman, director of Omaha By Design.

“Our whole purpose is to have complete streets for everybody,” she said. “Everybody gets fearful that we’re saying you can’t drive your car. That’s never going to happen, and I don’t want it to. I love my car.”

Volunteers drove, walked or rode bikes to be in the promotional photographs.

Among the cyclists was Nico Sandi, a 22-year-old Creighton University senior.

“Having only cars is not a good way of sustainable living,” Sandi said. “Not good for the environment. But at the same time, being radical and saying only ride bikes and the bus is not realistic.”

The complete streets effort, he said, “is a very realistic way of understanding transportation.”

Contact the writer: 402-444-1057, christopher.burbach@owh.com

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