Omaha examines ways to change transportation systems

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April 2nd, 2012

Omaha, NE- Like any bustling metropolitan city, Omaha has seen its public transportation network change with a growing population.

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KVNO reporter Ben Bohall sat down with writer Jessica Clem-McLaren to discuss her upcoming article- the third and final in a series examining Omaha’s transportation system in this Wednesday’s edition of the Reader.

Ben Bohall, KVNO News: I’m joined by Jessica Clem-McClaren, a contributing writer for The Reader. Jessica, can you begin by describing what this third and final part in the series details?

Jessica Clem-McClaren, The Reader: This is a cover piece focusing on urban development in Omaha. It ties in to a series of stories I’ve written based off of the Transportation Master Plan revisions. This has been almost two years of deliberations between the city of Omaha and the planning department, and its consultants. What we wanted to do with this final piece was really give layman’s terms to urban development and planning in Omaha for some readers who may not have an idea of what expansion, urban planning, or what sprawl means.

Jessica Clem-McClaren's story is a cover piece focusing on urban development and transportation in Omaha (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons).

Bohall: In this cover feature, you go back and explore the history of Omaha’s transportation system. How has that system changed over the years?

Clem-McClaren: Obviously, when Omaha first formed, it was a very high density area because everything was by foot travel, primarily. The introduction of the street car in the 1880’s, I believe, really expanded options for people to separate themselves from work and home. Workers had the option of moving away from the dense, city core where everyone congregated since everyone had to walk to work or ride to work. So, with the street car, they were able to move on and create these neighborhoods. Some of the historic districts like Benson, Dundee, Florence, they were created during this time by people who were moving out and extending the core. As time went on and the car came about, we created this system of highways and arterial roads and everything kept expanding out. As we look at development over time and you look at density in Omaha at the very beginning, as I said, it was basically a solid mass. If you look at it now, it has this kind of Swiss cheese pattern: everyone is so spread out. What we’re looking at as far as efficiency and sustainability in urban planning and transportation planning is that we’re not necessarily wanting to make everyone go back to the inner city. We’re not trying to reverse the process of development- that’s impossible. We’re trying to look at more efficient options because right now the transportation system is unsustainable.

Bohall: As we see Omaha’s transportation system change, what sorts of requests has the city seen in terms of what Omaha’s citizens are looking for?

Clem-McClaren: They want to see something that is going to essentially be efficient, easy-to-use, and safe. The city understand that, as well as planning. One thing the planning department really wants to emphasize is that they’re not trying to force people out of their automobiles. There is still going to be a automobile-focused directive in the transportation plan, there has to be. But, what they want to do, is set beside specific funds for maintenance, trail improvement and bicycling lanes. We have the bicycle and pedestrian coordinator in the city department right now. They’ve implemented 20 new miles of new bike lanes throughout the city. There needs to be set aside funds for keeping these options safe and efficient and easy to use. That’s one thing that they really want to stress to the public: there’s going to be a balance set of options for all commuters.

Bohall:Jessica Clem-McClaren’s feature will be the cover story for this Wednesday’s edition of The Reader. Jessica, thanks for joining us.

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