That a car-free lifestyle is about to get easier in Omaha is good news on so many levels. By eliminating route redundancies and prioritizing ridership, the city's public transit system will bring more convenience and better service to (most) transit riders, while more efficiently using the existing taxpayer dollars and resources of the city. Similar to Houston's plan to change its status quo by providing an alternative to total automobile dependence, Omaha has likewise developed a workable plan to improve its transit service without raising costs to the public. And because better mass transit means fewer people driving, this translates to reductions in carbon emissions and air pollution. Call it a win-win-win.
Despite the inevitable resistance stemming from Omaha's culture of "fast country roads and the wide open spaces of America's heartland" and Houston's identify as "a vehicle town", these regions are beginning to embrace public transportation because of the benefits it brings to their communities. More broadly, other city transit agencies can follow the example of Omaha and Texas as they reshape their future. For resources to help your own city implement sustainable transportation options, check out Path to Positive's Tools to Make an Impact.
It's tough for mass transit to compete with the fast country roads and wide open spaces of America's heartland. Take Omaha, Nebraska. Population and job densities are super low, the suburbs are super sprawled, parking is super cheap, and pedestrian infrastructure is anything but super. The city's Metro bus system averages just 18 boardings per revenue-hour, and only two of its 34 lines run every 15 minutes—the minimum threshold for show-up-and-go service.
"There's areas where we still don't stand a chance against cars," says Evan Schweitz, a planner with the city's Metro transit agency.
But demand for better transit is ticking slowly upward in Omaha—especially downtown. Population in the core was up 5.5 percent in 2010 over 2000. Metro ridership has been on a steady rise and eclipsed 4.2 million trips in 2012. A microtransit start-up just launched a bar shuttle. Residential developments without on-site parking are no longer out of the question. "We're seeing more people live downtown and prefer to not own a car," says Schweitz.
A car-free lifestyle is about to get easier in Omaha.
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