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The mission statements of UNMC, Nebraska Medicine, and Clarkson College focus on patient care, healthcare education, research, and community outreach. Transportation—moving people around—is not a part of any of their respective missions. However, to achieve those missions, their people (employees, students, visitors, and faculty) must be able to move from one location (e.g. home) to another (42nd and Dewey campus). Thus, as the institutions continue to grow their positive community impact and add new buildings, the demand for transportation increases. Typically, this means more cars.

So what are these institutions going to do about the increased transportation demand?

They basically have three options (the first one doesn’t count):

  • Don’t grow. Not an option for a national healthcare leader.
  • Build out. Build more surface parking, which requires tearing down buildings and creates sprawl.
  • Build up. Build more parking garages at over $20,000 per parking stall.
  • Get creative. Find ways to get people to campus without using their cars every day.

If transportation is approached with the assumption that everyone will drive, parking becomes the obvious solution (Option #2 or #3). But when an organization sees transportation as fundamentally about moving people, driving a car and the parking that is required as a result becomes just a solution of many (and an expensive one at that as reported in Parking Problems? Transit Programs As a Cost-Effective Solution). When this comprehensive view of moving people is combined with an increased emphasis on wellness, millennials driving less, and a new Dodge St. BRT (Bus Rapid Transit), there is an opportunity to expand their positive impact without the burden of providing as much parking.

True to form in their leadership and innovation, UNMC, Nebraska Medicine, and Clarkson College got creative. We partnered with key stakeholders from all three institutions to design their new TravelSmart program, which was launched in June. TravelSmart is available to all employees and students at Screenshot 2015-06-24 12.24.26UNMC, Nebraska Medicine, and Clarkson College. The program promotes transportation options that will decrease parking demand, including activities such as walking, biking, carpooling, and taking the bus.

We helped design and implement a comprehensive employee input and engagement process to ensure the TravelSmart program met the real needs of the their employees and students. It included surveys, focus groups, forums, and more to select and refine the right components of the program.

One key finding from this process was that active transportation isn’t for everyone, and that’s OK. Some employees or students have limitations on how they get to work based on where they live or their schedule. However, there are enough people willing to shift their travel mode to active transportation when the infrastructure and programmatic support is in place. This group is large enough to reduce the need to build more parking.

As a result, there are several ways the TravelSmart program makes it easy for people to use active transportation options:

  • Free online service to help connect carpool partnersScreenshot 2015-06-30 12.00.51
  • Free carpool parking passes
  • Free Omaha Metro bus passes
  • Free secure, indoor bike parking and access to lockers and shower facilities
  • Free guaranteed rides home in emergency situations
  • Daily-rate flexible parking for the days a participant needs to drive alone to campus

Already, employees are choosing to become TravelSmart participants and leave their cars at home.

TravelSmart saves money for employees and the institutions, improves employee attraction and retention, supports a culture of active living, and improves air quality in the city. There are great benefits for employees and students that participate –  a healthier lifestyle, less stress, fewer costs associated with driving and parking, and improved environmental conditions. Employees and students are not the only winners: patients, families, and community members also benefit when these institutions use their property to carry out their core missions, rather than for parking lots.

 

 

 

 

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Just over a year ago (May 2014), we conducted our first Passion Projects. In a nutshell, all six of us are given a 24 hour period to do just about anything. At the end of that period, we convene at Fontenelle Forest and we each spend some time talking about what we did and what we learned. There’s no expectation or requirement that the activities directly align or relate to our work, although they always have.

We’ve since repeated the exercise in February 2015. Here’s a list of a few Passion Projects from the team:

  • Researched local ecological impacts of and potential policy solutions for climate change
  • Researched water issues specific to the Omaha region
  • Researched recycling behaviors for the apartment dwellers in our building (Tip Top)
  • Researched and prepared a list of the top 20 best practices for conducting an effective meeting
  • Researched biomimicry and how it relates to our work

I have an interest in and passion for Omaha’s physical design characteristics and how they impact our daily lives. My time spent on Omaha’s Urban Design Review Board really opened my eyes to just how much (or how little) our community cares about improving our urban environment.

The way we design and build our largest public spaces – our streets and the associated right of way –  have a huge impact on our community’s health, safety, ability to safely and enjoyably use active transportation, and our well-being. So I decided I wanted to measure the quality of six intersections in Omaha to see what I could learn about how our community’s urban form is faring.

I focused on intersections that are traditional main street environments, as I have a high expectation that they are the best, most-inviting places for anyone and everyone. I then created a scoring system after doing a little research and set out to take measurements and conduct observations. The results:

  1. 11th & Howard
  2. 24th & N
  3. 24th & Lake
  4. 50th & Underwood
  5. 64th & Maple
  6. 33rd & California

Screen shot 2015-05-22 at 5.34.18 AM

Rather than diving into the details via this blog post, I think it’s easiest to offer an actual summary of what I did, what I learned, and where these intersections excelled and fell short. Here are the results: Passion Project: Assessing the Quality of Six Omaha Intersections.

As noted therein, this is not necessarily my area of expertise. As such, many experts in the field will look to the methodology and chuckle. I’m cool with that. My hope was not to conduct a highly rigorous analysis. Rather, I wanted to learn something. And if what I did and the manner in which I did it sparks a discussion or could be used in some small way to improve Omaha’s urban environment, I’ll consider it a win.

Onward and upward!

 

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TINSTAFP In high school economics I learned that There-is-no-such-thing-as-a-free-lunch (TINSTAAFL)—basically that I can’t get something for nothing. Somewhere, someone pays for what I get for free. This brings me to TINSTAFP: There-is-no-such-thing-as-free-parking. But I bet most people probably think there is free parking all around them, especially in Omaha. How many times a week do you park for “free”?

When you park at work? How about at the grocery store? Going out to eat? At the kids’ soccer game?

Chances are if you live in Omaha, you park for free (nearly) all the time. Two exceptions may exist in downtown and midtown Omaha where there are more places to live, more entertainment, and more businesses within a few blocks of where you park. Because of higher demand for land use, a parking spot is more valuable and one way to recover part of the cost is to charge for parking. But just because parking appears free doesn’t mean you aren’t somehow paying for it. Parking has real costs and someone somewhere is paying for it. When you park for “free” at the store, restaurant, or at the movies, you are still paying for parking in the form of slightly higher prices that the business uses to cover the cost of owning and maintaining the apparently “free” parking. When you park for “free” on a city street, you are still paying for parking in the form of taxes that fund road construction and maintenance. Like I said before TINSTAFP.

You’ve Got Questions

Between the widely held notion that parking is free and a desire to quantify the value of transit came the following questions:

  1. Do transit programs reduce parking in Omaha, Nebraska?
  2. How much does a transit program cost compared to parking?

These questions were answered by a study Verdis conducted to dig into the real costs of parking specific to Omaha and compare them to the cost of transit. A summary of the answers to these two questions is below. To dig into the data deeper, you can read the Executive Summary and the full report: Parking Problems? Transit Programs As a Cost-Effective Solution. The full study goes into details about:

  • Effectiveness of existing transit programs at colleges like Metropolitan Community College’s Pass to Class and UNO’s MavRide and at Omaha employers like Union Pacific and Pacific Life
  • Models for setting up a transit program at your organization
  • Tax advantages of transit programs
  • Details to nerd out on all the costs associated with building, operating, and maintaining parking lots
  • Along with all the supporting data behind the numbers

We’ve Got Answers

Existing Bus Pass Programs Reduce Parking Demand In short, what we found is that yes, transit programs do reduce parking demand at the organization that provides the transit program. In the organizations surveyed:

  • Students participating in their college-provided bus pass program are reducing the number of parking spaces needed by 172 spaces each day.
  • Employees that participate in and employer-provided bus pass program are reducing the number of parking spaces needed by 67 spaces per day.

Potential for Further Parking Demand Reduction: The study also found that bus pass programs are not reaching their full potential at colleges and businesses. There are still students and employees who would use a transit program, or would be willing to try it out, if they knew it existed or if the program was expanded.

  • At local Omaha employers, there is potential that over 45% of trips to work by employees wouldn’t need a parking space if transit programs met full program potential (chart 12).
  • At employers participating in the study, for every 100 additional participants, parking demand could be reduced by as much at 54 spaces per day.
  • At UNO, for every 1% increase in MavRide program participation, one could see a reduced need for parking by up to 25 spaces per day.

The nice thing about transit is that you don’t have to use it every day. Some people ride the bus a couple days a week and drive the others. It is about finding what works for you and the people at your organization. Remember, for every person who rides the bus even one day a week, that is a parking spot is freed up for that day. So you may be thinking this is no big deal, transit programs get more people on the bus and fewer driving their cars to school or work. The big deal is that each parking space saved means real dollars saved. For every parking spot that isn’t built, the organization saves over $20,000 for a single garage space and over $3,500 for a space in a surface lot. And when the monthly cost over the life of a parking space is compared to the monthly cost of transit, transit wins out nearly every time. How Much Does A Transit Program Cost Compared to Parking?

Through research of parking costs at several Omaha locations and the cost of existing transit programs, the study was able to pinpoint an apples to apples comparison of the cost per space per month to compare to a 30-day unlimited transit pass.

Bus Pass Program Costs: Regardless of who pays, a 30-day unlimited ride pass will cost between $42-$55 per pass. Organizations who become Metro Partners can receive bulk discounts reducing the cost of the 30-day unlimited ride pass to $42. Tax advantages can bring this cost even lower. Parking Costs: Parking costs vary based on several factors. Is parking provided by the employer or leased? Is it a garage or surface lot? Is there a shuttle provided between the parking lot and the college or business? Regardless of who pays, the following are the costs of parking in Omaha:

  • Employer Leased + Provided Parking: Monthly leased parking ranges between $48 per space for surface parking and $70 for garage parking.
  • Employer Provided Surface Parking: The cost for providing surface parking, including land, design and construction, and operations and maintenance, ranges between $73 – $163 per space per month. (20 years at 4% interest)
  • Employer Provided Garage Parking: The cost for providing garage parking, including land, design and construction, and operations and maintenance, ranges between $119 – $224 per space per month. (35 years at 4% interest)
  • Parking Shuttles: When needed, parking shuttles can cost on average between $13 – $28 per space per month.

Conclusion Simply put, transit programs reduce parking demand and transit programs cost less than providing parking for employees. Transit programs work for some employees and students, it never will be used by everyone, nor should it be expected to be. The point here it to provide better transportation options so those who choose to enjoy their commute on the bus can do so, making it more pleasant for them and for those who choose to drive on a now less congested road. So what are you waiting for, get a transit program set up at your organization today! Feel free to contact Daniel or Metro if you are interested in setting up a transit program.

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Last August I noticed that Metro Transit was on pace to reach several milestones in 2012, and I wrote about it on this blog. One of those milestones was providing more than 4 million passenger trips in 2012. With 2012 now behind us, I am excited to share that Metro Transit provided 4,225,612 rides in 2012. This is a significant achievement for several reasons:

  • It is the first year Metro has provided more than 4 million rides since 1991 (4,098,497 rides). At that time, gasoline hovered near $1.00 per gallon, automakers were ushering in the era of the SUV, suburban expansion continued to be the dominant paradigm, and Metro ridership was on the decline. Now, gasoline prices are relatively high, automakers are focusing on fuel efficiency, suburban development is giving way to urban redevelopment, and Metro ridership is on the rise. Check out the trend in the graph:
(Download the graph as a .pdf: Metro Transit Ridership by Year 1973–2012)
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  • Metro ridership in 2012 matches (exceeds?) the number of passengers through Eppley Airfield in 2011: 4.2 million.
  • The previous one-month record ridership in at least the past decade was in October 2008 (381,678 rides) after the economy crashed. The current peak is now October 2012 (406,566 rides) with August 2012 (377,731 rides) a close third.
  • Seven of the ten months with the highest ridership in the last decade occurred between June 2011 and October 2012. Eight months in 2012 rank in the top twenty for ridership.

The ridership data paints a picture that is consistent with external indicators: gasoline prices; lifestyle preferences of Generations X, Y, and baby boomers; growing awareness of the environmental and health consequences of driving; and economic pressures making it more difficult to own and operate a private vehicle. In addition, Metro has rebranded itself and continues to make improvements to its services (e.g., bike racks), facilities (e.g., the North Omaha Transit Center renovations), and programs (e.g., Metro Partners) while it awaits the results of the Central Omaha Transit Alternatives Analysis, the Regional Transit Vision Study, and the implementation of the Omaha Transportation Master Plan. The external factors, the continuous improvement, and the ridership numbers clearly show that Metro Transit is becoming an increasingly important transportation option in the Omaha area.

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Just before all the snow melted in the middle of January, I walked to pick up my daughter from her first day back at school after the holiday break. The first thing she did when we started to walk off the school property was ask if she could put on her boots because there was a pile of snow taller than her which she wanted to climb.

You see, many days we pick her up in our car because our days are so full and fast. Right now, however, I’m on paternity leave for the birth of Aderyn’s baby brother Rohan so I’m helping out with everything around the house, including getting Aderyn to and from school. One of the reasons we chose to live where we do is precisely because it is a “very walkable” neighborhood with a walkscore of 71. Add to this all the recent attention to how sitting is killing us and I thought it would be a good practice for me to walk to pick up my daughter, and of course, there are the environmental benefits and cost savings of not driving.

Aderyn didn’t really expect to walk home; she merely had her shoes on and wasn’t prepared for an adventure going home. As soon as her boots were on, her feet were climbing up the snow pile, and after only a few minutes of conquering it, she wanted to slide down on her bottom to get back on the ground. Sadly for her, school clothes aren’t conducive to sliding down snow piles.

As quickly as the pile invited her to climb it, a large empty lot full of melting snow invited her to run through it, picking up snow on the way, which ended up as broken snowballs on and in my coat.

snowy walks = an adventure waiting to happen

Really, who would have imagined walking home would lead to so many adventures? Trekking through the vacant lot allowed us to pass through a friendly neighbor’s yard as a shortcut where Aderyn picked up a two-inch piece of ice the size of a cookie sheet! No surprise it didn’t last long before she smashed it on the sidewalk to see all the pieces it broke into.

Back on the sidewalk the name of the game was “throw snowballs at daddy” again, which was really quite fun as I dodged, ducked, and got hit with snowballs. The game was only interrupted long enough to splash in puddles along the way.

Next, we made our mark in the snow on top of a short retaining wall where we guided our gloved hands through the snow, knocking plenty off in the process. We soon turned down the big hill by our house where Aderyn’s imagination ran as fast as someone sledding down the hill. In fact, she began to imagine how fun it would be to sled down the 2 1/2-block hill on the snow-packed sidewalk, of course only to magically stop before crossing into the street. When I pointed out how hard it would be to stop a sled moving at that speed, she thought a hill as high as the trees might do the trick to slow us down. And once we would be stopped at the top of this hill-as-high-as-the-trees, we could start over by sledding down the backside of the giant snow hill.

By the time we figured all this out we were feeling even more adventurous so we cut through an old abandoned alley to get to our house from the backyard. All of this made me feel like our journey home from school was just like the kids’ dashed trail in Family Circus comics.

The point is, none of this would have happened had we driven home. Not to mention it was the slow pace that created enough space in my mind to be so present to Aderyn, especially when she asked if we could go sledding. Luckily for me, I had the presence enough to say yes. However, the sledding, getting “air-time”, and pulling daddy down the hill stories will have to wait for another time.

Needless to say whenever I walk up to get her after school her first question is now, “Did you walk?” quickly followed by, “Let’s have an adventure!”

Where did you walk today?

What adventures do you make time for in your day?

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It’s 30 degrees and snowing this morning yet I biked into Verdis HQ. As I leap-frogged the #11 down Leavenworth Street on the way in this morning, I found myself thinking about why I was on two wheels and how it related to some of our transportation demand management work with our clients.

The Moody family was down to one car today so I no longer had the option to comfortably hop into my car and drive in. About 8:00 last night, I started mulling options: I checked in with Patrick and Chris, both of which live nearby, to see if carpooling was an option (it was). I confirmed the bus schedule (still running…as always), and took a look at the weather to see if it was going to be amenable to biking (cold and snowy).

Research in hand, I gave myself until 7:30am this morning to decide. At 7:25am I turned down a carpool ride and left the house (on the Linus) planning to hop on the #11. As I climbed the hill towards the bus stop I found myself enjoying the time spent on the bike and decided to press on and just bike all the way in.

The Trusty Linus

The reason I was on two wheels was, in part, because I didn’t have the choice to drive alone in my car; I was pushed out. On the other hand, I was being pulled onto my bike; that is, I wanted to ride. The feeling of having the cold, snowy air whipping my face felt the same as it did when I was eleven years old flying down a snow-packed hill on a sled. It was fun and exhilarating, and a little dangerous yet perfectly comfortable.

Progressive companies that are motivated to have their employees (and maybe even their clients…gasp!) mobilize in non-traditional ways have the same two-pronged bevy of alternatives. That is they can push their folks out of their cars AND pull them into other options.

Pushing Them Out
Providing disincentives to driving alone is a touchy subject. Ninety six percent of Omahans commute to/from work alone in their cars so it’s quite the challenge when companies start enacting policies or programs that actively dissuade people from doing so. The most popular and easiest-to-implement method is increasing the amount of money people pay to park their car. But it’s effective. It hits them where it hurts the most – in the pocketbook – and it will move the needle. When pushing people out of their cars, however, it’s vital to give them other options…to pull them in.

Pulling Them In
Actively enticing employees to carpool, or hop on the bus or bike is a much more enjoyable endeavor with many opportunities for creative programs and policies. There are many options to consider, so we always recommend an extremely simple approach…ask employees what they do and don’t want. A straightforward survey will reveal current commuting patterns, barriers to new alternatives, and how likely and willing people will be to participate in new programs.

As part of that survey, it’s important to offer possible programs that you might actually consider implementing should you find adequate interest. In other words, don’t mention a subsidized bus pass program unless you’re prepared to actually institute the program. But the survey should get to the bottom of what people might get excited about. Are they more likely to be bikers than bussers? Do they know where and when busses run? Have they ever considered carpooling? Is their biggest fear being “stuck” at work because they missed the bus or their carpool ride home? Do they even own bikes?

Once you know more about what people do and don’t want, it’s number-crunching time. Model out possible changes in your company commuting patterns so as to determine if you can avoid constructing a new surface-parking lot, for example. Once you have a sense for what might work, consider a pilot. There’s not always a need to walk through the halls dropping bus passes on every desk. Start simple, learn a few things, and then expand.

Transitioning from a workforce that predominantly drives alone to one that is migrating towards more sustainable alternatives is not easy. People are creatures of habit, and they’ll always take the path of least resistance unless you intervene in some way. But that intervention needs to both push them out of their cars and pull them towards other options. Work it from both angles and you’ll have far more success…and happier employees as well.

Onward and upward.

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The Heartland Active Transportation Summit (HATS) took place on September 28, 2012—two weeks ago—and by reflecting two weeks later I get to share with you all the concepts that really stick with me. The focus for HATS this year was “trails and transit,” which means the speakers focused on public transit[1] and multi-use trails, primarily in urban settings.

Perhaps I should first address a question that often comes up in our work at Verdis: How does (active) transportation relate to sustainability? I can understand how many at first might not see the connection. Oftentimes people think about sustainability within a box that includes only recycling, using less water, and turning off lights. However, sustainability goes far beyond that. Active transportation is a key aspect of the sustainability of communities because it does several things at once, all of which relate to the three pillars of sustainability: people, planet, and prosperity. Active transportation…

  1. Is more efficient than single-occupant, conventionally powered vehicles and therefore produces less air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and stretches our energy resources—particularly oil—farther so we don’t run out of them as quickly or don’t need to depend on foreign sources so heavily.
  2. Reduces the number of vehicles on the streets, making the streets safer for other people whether they are walking, bicycling, or driving a vehicle. A side benefit may be that with fewer vehicles on the street, traffic congestion is reduced and results in less time and fuel wasted stuck in traffic[2].
  3. Directly and indirectly improves community health. For users of active transportation, it provides a direct health benefit because they are either walking or bicycling more as they get to or from transit. For non users, active transportation means better air quality with fewer vehicles on the road, and therefore reduced incidences of asthma and other respiratory diseases.
  4. Makes better use of available land by supporting denser development and preserving undeveloped land in its natural or agricultural state. In urban areas, it may also mean less land used for parking lots as more individuals arrive at their destination by transit, walking, or bicycling and do not need to store a personal vehicle somewhere nearby.
  5. Generally is more economical for individuals than owning and driving a personal vehicle. This of course depends on a number of factors, but assuming a person has access to transit, drives an average vehicle, and lives in an average community, they can save hundreds of dollars per month using transit instead.
Now—although I was tweeting my impressions and fun statistics throughout HATS—I would like to share my top five impressions after the dust has settled.

1. Make it Sexy

Too often we think of transit as being purely functional and without aesthetic value. Maribeth Feke with the Greater Cleveland Transit Authority made a presentation on the HealthLine in Cleveland, which is a bus rapid transit line designed to look and act like light rail. When planning the roughly 6-mile line, Cleveland completely redesigned the street from store front to store front, selected a vehicle that is sleek (it even “smiles” (see image below)), designed shelters that look cool and have interactive digital kiosks, and also involved local artists and gave the line character using thematic signage and other features.

For me the takeaway was that by making transit sexier (my words, not hers), you will pique the curiosity of people who might not otherwise have considered transit. Of course there are many other factors that affect a person’s decision to use or not use transit, but the “make it sexy” idea borrows from the automobile industry, whose advertisements are full of emotional appeal. One Danish company has figured this out and created an amazing commercial that shows transit as exciting, sexy, and desirable. The commercial is also quite funny in its hyperbole, but is a refreshing take on transit and borrows much of the drama and special effects of automobile advertisements (and movie trailers). Do you think it is effective?

2. If You Build It, They Will Come

I cannot attribute this takeaway to any one presenter, but it certainly proved to be true in projects discussed by several speakers. In all cases, it was clear that thoughtful, useful, and connected trails and transit infrastructure attracted riders and users, and often exceed expectations. It was true with the HealthLine in Cleveland, and it was true with the Midtown Greenway in Minneapolis. Check out this short video on the Greenway (P.S. It gets plowed before the streets do when it snows).

3. (Un)Arrested Development

Similar to the fact that urban trails, thoughtfully designed transit lines, and even rural trails see more use than initially expected, nearly every project also led to increased development along the trail or line. In some cases, neighbors who fought against the new trail or transit line near their home end up loving it, and developers have even embraced these features. As Carl Knoch from the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy highlighted, in one community in the northeast a developer even went so far as to name its new multi-family building after the trail it was built next to.

The huge impact of trails and transit on development is clear, and therefore they should be viewed as an economic development tool as much as they are a personal mobility and choice tool. There is data to show that bus rapid transit and street car (as technologies) appear to always increase development along the route. I snapped this photo from Ranadip Bose’s presentation:

Ranadip is with SB Friedman and will be helping study the economic impact potential of various options under the Central Omaha Transit Alternative Analysis, a planning process currently underway in Omaha looking at transit options from downtown to midtown, UNMC, and branching out to UNO and Aksarben Village.

4. Bicycling is Good for Health and the Economy

One of the speakers at HATS, Dr. Sam Lankford, is a professor at the University of Northern Iowa and the author of the Iowa Trails Study, which looked at the economic and health benefits of bicycling in Iowa. Dr. Lankford’s research used a conservative approach, yet it still concluded that annually:

  • bicycle commuting generates over $50 million in direct and indirect impacts for Iowa
  • bicycle commuting saves Iowa over $13 million in healthcare costs
  • recreational cycling generates over $360 million in direct and indirect impacts for Iowa
  • recreational cycling saves the Iowa over $70 million in healthcare costs
Futhermore, the study estimated that in 2011, more than $18 million was spent on bicycles, apparel, accessories, and service at local bicycle shops (not chain or “big box” retailers) in Iowa leading to bicycling related tax revenue for the state. The study provided some empirical evidence for what we all know is intuitively true: that bicycling provides economic and health benefits for communities that embrace it as a means of both transportation and recreation. Personally, it was great to see scientific research methods applied to this area of interest. I also was pleased to see such positive results in a state that in many ways is similar to Nebraska, leading me to believe that Nebraska can also embrace cycling more fulling and reap similar economic and health benefits.

5. Abundant Access

The lunchtime keynote speaker was Jarrett Walker, an international expert and consultant in transit planning. His keynote presentation was full of eye-opening insights. But because Walker has a knack for boiling down seemingly complex concepts into their essential parts and getting at the simple core of an issue, it was easy for me to encapsulate his presentation with one idea: abundant access.

Abundant access, Walker said, should be the goal of any good transit system. Abundant access means that a person can get from an origin to any destination, when they need to get there, in a reasonable amount of time, and even to be spontaneous. It also means that any person can access the transit system, whether they be someone who depends on that system, or someone that chooses to use it for one reason or another.

For anyone that wants to use transit, abundant access also means freedom from having to own a personal vehicle. In the U.S., we often think about the personal vehicle as providing freedom to get where you want to go when you need to get there. But when the average annual cost of owning a vehicle in the U.S. is between $7,000 and $9,000, and you have to worry about parking and storing that vehicle, and taking care of that vehicle, owning a vehicle actually starts to feel more like a burden. Good transit that provides abundant access, on the other hand, can enable a person to be without that burden and experience mobility free from encumbrances. In Omaha, U.S. Census data suggests that the cost of vehicle ownership may be a strain on many households and accordingly there may be a need for transit services beyond current levels[3]. Recent trends in Metro Transit’s ridership support this hypothesis.

Conclusion

After HATS 2012 I was left with sense of the huge opportunity. There is clearly more we can do in Omaha and in Nebraska to take advantage of the opportunities around improved transit and expanded trails. We aren’t going to see that change overnight, and there will be many smalls steps before we realize that vision. The good news is that there are many concurrent planning efforts underway right now at the regional and local level that can incorporate and plan for more trails and transit.

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[1] To borrow a definition from Jarrett Walker, “public transit” means a system of “regularly scheduled vehicle trips, open to all paying passengers, with the capacity to carry multiple passengers whose trips may have different origins, destinations, and purposes.” Walker, Jarrett, Human Transit 13 (2011).

[2] “Traffic congestion is taking its toll. The cost of traffic congestion in 1999 came to $78 billion nationwide. This total includes the cost of 4.5 billion hours of lost time due to traffic delays and 6.8 billion gallons of fuel wasted while sitting in traffic.” Source: The Association for Commuter Transportation, Commuter Choice Brochure Document No. FHWA-OP-02-027, www.commuterchoice.com.

[3] City of Omaha, Master Plan – Transportation Element: Inventory and Needs Assessment 30, adopted by City Council on August 21, 2012). Available on the City of Omaha website.

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[NOTE: this is being cross posted from modeshiftomaha.org. A version of this was submitted to the Omaha World Herald on 9/4/12]

The recent policy report from the Platte Institute for Economic Research on public transit featured in the Omaha World Herald (Think tank: Raise bus fares, privatize system) on Aug. 25, 2012, is based on several erroneous assumptions about transportation demand and funding.

Travel demand patterns are changing. Nationally, younger generations have substantially reduced their average annual number of vehicle miles traveled while increasing their use of public transit. A report by the Frontier Group (Transportation and the New Generation) shows that from 2001 to 2009, the average annual number of vehicle miles traveled by 16 to 34-year-olds on public transit increased by 40% while vehicle miles traveled decreased by 23%. Locally, surveys done by the Greater Omaha Chamber’s Young Professionals have found that YPs consistently call for better public transportation options. Furthermore, half of households in Northeast Omaha do not have access to reliable transportation to get to school and work so need public transit options. There will soon be a pressing need from aging baby boomers for public transit when they are not able to drive.

The report also does not seem to take into account the fact that everything in our transportation system is subsidized by tax dollars, the issue is how we choose to distribute these subsidies. Today’s transportation policies focus on moving and parking cars not on supporting transit, which means most of us have little choice but to drive a private vehicle for transportation, the cost of which is an average of $8,776 per year according to AAA (a de facto tax because we are forced to purchase and maintain a vehicle in order to participate in the community).

It is a good idea to look for ways to improve efficiencies in public transit so that market demand is maximized, but not at the expense of the broader social goals of giving more people better access to employment and other opportunities. Public transit provides many benefits to the community, including increased mobility and improved quality of life for citizens, creating jobs and economic opportunities, saving individuals money, and reducing congestion and energy consumption. It also reduces the need to build evermore parking lots, highways and interstate exchanges, which come with exorbitant price tags (new highway lanes are estimated at $1 million per lane mile).

In 2008 Metro’s funding was $29.52 per capita of Douglas County residents, ranking our metro area 238th out of the 280 largest metro areas’ transit systems in the nation (Environment Omaha, Sustainability Makes Dollars and Sense). We can and should do more, not less, to invest in public transit. Investing in public transit is investing in Omaha’s future growth, economic development and well-being.

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