The vision for future transportation in Omaha cannot focus solely on the automobile, Mayor Jim Suttle said Monday.
Instead, the city's newly revealed draft transportation master plan suggests the need for a better balance between cars, bikes and pedestrians during the next quarter century of growth.
“The landscape of our city is changing, by choice and by necessity,” Suttle said. “As Omaha continues to grow west, the eastern half of our city is being revitalized and attracting younger residents who have made it clear that they want options beyond the automobile.”
But currently, the 93-page draft plan says, Omaha's transportation system is “dominated by a need to accommodate automobile travel.”
And the existing system has its challenges. Most vehicle travel occurs on city's main arterial streets, but some links to Omaha's original grid were lost as the western portion of the city grew.
East-west connections are of particular concern, as Dodge Street and the West Dodge Expressway are the primary roadways that connect both ends of the city. West Omaha's dependence on arterial roads, the study says, creates plenty of congestion.
Traffic on freeways has more than doubled and traffic on main roads has increased by more than 50 percent over the past 25 years, according to the study.
“It's important that the city take steps now to determine how to accommodate new growth,” Planning Director Rick Cunningham said. “Transportation infrastructure is critical in this task, both in terms of enabling the movement of additional
In a broad sense, the plan asks the city to consider two interests.
It must improve and update road infrastructure to accommodate Omaha's westward expansion, but also promote livability by developing bike-friendly construction and bolstering public transportation.
The draft plan also identifies an extensive list of potential bike routes that can be added to city streets and proposes revitalizing some city boulevards with bike lanes. The plan also suggests the city pursue a high-speed rail line connecting Omaha and Lincoln.
Cunningham said the need to expand and improve the city's pedestrian, bicycle and public transportation systems is a simple matter of demographics.
One-third of city residents, largely the elderly and children, can't drive, he said. Another 20 percent can't afford to drive, while more residents want to use public transportation options.
“How do we provide for those demographic cohorts?” Cunningham said.
The draft master plan will go before the Omaha Planning Board for adoption on May 2. The City Council will take up the plan for the first time on May 15 and could vote on the plan by the first week in June.
The city used grant money from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Communities Putting Prevention to Work program and from the Douglas County Health Department and Live Well Omaha to help fund the study.
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