Public attitudes toward transportation in Omaha are evolving in major ways. Many Omahans remain fully satisfied with traditional car-focused transportation. But a growing portion of city’s residents are looking for alternatives. They want more robust and creative public transportation options. Some want bicycles to be shown greater inclusion and respect as a component of a broader menu of transportation choices.
Omaha elected leaders and city staff have shown they’re paying attention, through a range of policy changes and projects. It’s encouraging to see the work that will lead up to inauguration of the city’s first rapid-transit bus service, for example. Worthwhile regional discussions are underway to pave the way for long-term strategic transportation coordination.
Last week presented a setback, however. The Public Works Department’s removal of a bike corral in Benson, to open up a parking spot, triggered confusion and angry complaint against the city. The battle over the 12-bike parking fixture revealed considerable disagreement among city leaders over bike policy. City Council member Pete Festersen, who represents Benson, tried unsuccessfully to stop the corral’s removal. “We worked hard to get that established, and we think the multimodal opportunities are important,” he said.
The situation provided a good illustration of the depth of dissatisfaction among a segment of residents chafing at Omaha’s struggles to make headway in creating practical biking opportunities. White-painted protest bicycles appeared in several locations Monday to express frustration.
A 12-bike parking fixture in one sense is only a small item in the scheme of things, and arguments over it shouldn’t overshadow important progress in other transportation areas. But neither should be the complaints be dismissed.
The best course forward is for Omaha leaders to be in serious conversation about bike policy and get on the same page. Transportation planning is difficult and complex, but after recent events, the need for greater consensus-building is clear.