Omaha’s Traffic Blues

 

A city is like a body. It has many moving aspects. The heart, the brain, the limbs, the gut. But what is the lifeblood of the city? Roads. Paths, trails, highways, interstates, drives, streets. No matter its size, a road is a fundamental tool that connects the city within and without. But perhaps something that is not commonly known, is that roads not only connect us physically, but socially as well. Consider two neighborhoods on either part of a large city. Though they are connected physically, no denizen within these neighborhoods would ever have a reason to visit one another. However, through roads, these two neighborhoods are connected. People from different neighborhoods will go to the same work, same schools, same hospitals, ask assistance from the same police force, fire force, and more and more. Through this physical connection, people from these two neighborhoods are able to connect socially as well.  The following article will show how this social connection exists.

Methodology

The concept to this sociology research project is not only to inform about the transportation system of Omaha but to also motivate people to see the issues that are in front of them. Omaha’s transportation system needs improvement immediately and with all the research that has been conducted on this subject the people of Omaha agree. Omaha’s streets and pedestrian walkways have become crowded and with this expensive but very helpful construction project that is posted on ometro.com we can better the city of Omaha for the people who live here and those who are passing through. The concept is to not make the roads larger for more personal vehicles but to add a bus lane, bicycle lane, and more pedestrian walkways.

Money and the Public

The city of Omaha will benefit greatly from updates to our transportation system to better the way our society views and utilizes our transportation systems. A study done in 2004 showed that Omaha was in need of around 295 million dollars in updates to their current transportation systems (City Planning). Recent projects aimed towards doing so in Omaha include Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), the Transparency Project, and the Capital Improvement Program. Although the price of these projects exceeds expected cost of expected updates, the predicted benefits from these updates will save Omaha millions of dollars over the course of the next 20 years.

Benefits from the Bus Rapid Transit project include: “mobility, growth, quality of life, social equity, and corporate benefits” (Bus Rapid Transit). The BRT project will cost 30 million dollars and has received both federal and private funding. To make up for the expense of the project, money is expected to be saved in: decrease in car crashes, travel time, personal vehicle costs, emissions, water pollution, and parking maintenance (Bus Rapid Transit). The expected savings and societal benefits of these issues are set to outweigh the initial cost. Lessening travel time for current passengers is expected to save them around thirty-seven million dollars over the course of twenty years. This increase in bus users will decrease the number of car crashes to about eleven million dollars over the course of twenty years. The project predicts that around 450 million dollars in new developments will occur concerning other traffic related updates that would not happen without the implementation of this project (Bus Rapid Transit). Additionally, it is predicted that the BRT system will reduce emissions to around a value of 2.4 million dollars by 2038. This will also reduce “water damage from roadway runoff” at the cost of around a million dollars by 2038. Lastly, this project will create around 1,200 jobs for the people of Omaha. Housing along the bus route is also expected to increase as much as 25% (Bus Rapid Transit). When more people are using public transportation, the demand for parking and maintenance of that parking will go down, therefore, cutting the cost of that to around 20,000 dollars a year (Bus Rapid Transit).

The Omaha Transparency project was started by Modeshift Omaha to gather data necessary to improve public transportation by identifying the people affected and the funding and policies aimed at improving it. Currently, the Transparency Project in Omaha is concentrating on an initiative by the City of Omaha called the Capital Improvement Program. Modeshift Omaha has made diagrams and maps of the project to make the project more of a public issue. When the public is more involved in issues such as this, more is done to better the life of the people of Omaha. A large problem the Transparency Project is looking to overcome is this lack of public knowledge of these issues. Members of the Transparency Project are working to bridge the gap between government and public understanding (Transparency Project). Additionally, they work to raise money to fund various projects around the metro aimed at improving Omaha’s transportation (Transparency Project).

The Capital Improvement project maps out the improvements that are set to be made over the course of the next five years. The Capital Improvement Program will cost around 320 million dollars and will make improvements to: “transportation, public safety, facilities, parks, and environmental” (City Planning). Specifically, in transportation, they aim to improve: “bridges, city and state streets, mass transit, improvements in conjunction with community development programs, parking structures, trail transportation and recreation system, and transportation studies” (City Planning). These improvements are expected to impact the community in some positive ways. Some of these improvements to society include: “balanced options for enhanced mobility, attain a safe and healthy environment, create livable and connected neighborhoods, promote economic returns with fiscal sustainability”(City Planning).

Analysis: There are many improvements set to be made in the City of Omaha over the course of the next twenty years including Bus Rapid Transit and Capital Improvement Program. Although costly- the savings in lessening car crashes, travel time, personal vehicle costs, emissions, water pollution, and parking maintenance will outweigh the initial expenditure. The Omaha Transparency project, a project aimed to educate the people of Omaha on transportation projects at the government level like the Capital improvement Program, will help to benefit society by informing them how important it is to become involved in issues that affect them on a day to day basis. The benefits from the Capital Improvement project will enhance society in Omaha making the city a more enjoyable city to make a life in.

Traffic flow

Poor traffic flow is becoming a real issue in Omaha. It’s getting worse as each day passes (Omaha World-Herald 2015). That’s why it’s important to take action sooner than later. The Omaha society is growing fast in average of (1.1%) according to Omaha World-Herald in 2016 (Henry J. Cordes, Mar 25,2016) . The growth rate puts more pressure on the transportation system. Thus said, there are some solutions to outcome this issue.

First solution to help improving traffic flow our group found was to increase the roads capacity (Chiu, Liu, Oct 10th 2008). That can be done by adding more lanes to the roads so the roads will be able to contain more cars. Containing more cars at the same road same time means less pressure on the road during rush hours. Also adding express lanes to the highways is being proved effective in other cities like Chicago and Miami. That would make it less likely to have traffic jams. According to the resources, increasing roads capacity can not only help improving the traffic flow but helps making the roads safer by preventing specific types of accidents from happening. Many accidents on the united states highways are caused by people trying to pass other drivers using the incoming lane. The second solution is to have smart cars(Zhou, Yuan, June 2nd 2016). Human behind the steering wheel is one of the reasons that make traffic flow slower. People tend to make the mistakes all the time while driving. On the other hand, computers think faster and better to deal with the road and doesn’t make mistakes. That is being proved through some smart cars like Tesla. Roundabouts are one of the most effective solutions to improve the traffic flow(H. J. RUSKIN, May 5th 2006). They lower the waiting time at intersections to the minimum possible(H. J. RUSKIN, May 5th 2006). The last solution we found helpful was building bridges for pedestrians to lower the delay of the traffic flow that is caused by them(Bern, Brian, Dec 4th 2013).

Analysis:  Omaha needs some changes to improve the traffic flow. We can summarize the effective changes to the traffic system in four main changes. First is to have the road capacity increased. Second is to rely more on the smart cars instead of the traditional ones. The third is to build bridges for pedestrians on the main in-city roads. And the final change needed is to increase the number of the roundabouts and decrease the number of traffic lights in Omaha.

Bus Systems

Unsurprisingly, a bus/transit system in a major city acts as the lifeblood of economic and social growth, but it is surprising just how much. In this theme, the current condition of the bus system in Omaha, Nebraska will be stated, then possible improvements that can be made to the system, and finally, how that impacts the city of Omaha sociologically.

The current bus system in Omaha, Nebraska is nothing short of abysmal. There are 4 conditions which make it so. The first is that the bus system was created as more of a band-aid, quickly applied, rather than carefully crafted to serve the future of the city and help it grow, (Metro Transportation, pg. 10). A bus system is a major transportation mode for many people that require travel from the urban areas to the inner city. Approximately 16% of the denizens of Omaha do not have any form of transportation and require a bus system to traverse the city, (BRT, pg. 11). A common issue that bus systems have in major cities, is that they only provide a transit service from within the inner city itself, not reaching the many people that actually need it. Omaha is no such exception. The bus transit system remains within the inner city, only venturing out along one major arterial route, Dodge Street, (BRT, pg. 9). This stifles the economic growth of the city, since many people who would gladly take jobs in the inner city cannot, since they have no form of transportation. Secondly, the buses themselves are horribly outdated. Many of the buses on the road were built in the late 1980’s, early 1990’s. The structure of these buses are deemed unsafe, but since buses are not held by a national safety standard that automobiles are held to, many outdated, possibly unsafe buses are still prowling the streets, ticking time bombs, (Metro Transportation, pg. 7). Until a city regulation is passed that requires buses on the streets of Omaha to be up to date, the owners of the companies will continue to keep these monsters on the road, since maintenance is so far cheaper than new. Thirdly, the efficiency and reliability of the bus transit system in Omaha is at a much lower place than it could be. The main issue here is that buses in Omaha do not have their own lane to drive in. This creates obvious congestion, but not just for cars, but for the buses as well. Giving buses their own lane will actually decrease drive times by about 15%, (BRT, pg. 17). The fourth and final condition which makes the current bus transit system a poor one, is the lack of amenities at the bus stops themselves. There is an abhorrent lack of maps, route schedules, luxury amenities such as bike racks, shelters, vending machines, etc. All of these would improve the quality of the experience, and generate more revenue by increasing sales and reliability and validity to the bus transit system.

Many of the improvements have been mentioned above, but I will summarize them again here to keep it clear. The bus transit system needs to stay up to date on their routes, mainly by expanding them in Omaha, more to the west. The buses themselves must remain up to date in order to ensure the security and continuing stability, for a safe and secure society. To do so, a city regulation should be passed that requires companies operating in Omaha to stick to some sort of standard, of which there is absolutely none right now. Another improvement, which would actually be the most cost effective, would be to create a lane specifically for buses. This would actually work best if the lanes were in the center of the road. The final improvements would be to create quality shelters for all bus stops. Luxury amenities such as free Wi-Fi, live-feed schedules, bus routes, vending machines, benches, etc., (Metro Transportation, pg. 47&53).

How this impacts Omaha in a sociological manner is quite extensive, to say the least. Not only would it increase the number of civilians taking the bus, but the bus system would be able to connect more of Omaha, quite literally. This would cause less people to rely on their own cars, if they have them. Less cars means less pollution, which means safer streets. Fewer cars equals fewer accidents, which means safer streets. Also, connecting the urban and inner city areas via bus system will create more job opportunities for those without reliable transportation, creating economic growth. Imagine 16% of the population being able to now work preferred jobs, and imagine the growth that would happen!

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Analysis:  All in all, the bus system in Omaha, Nebraska is currently out of date and underdeveloped. Fixing these issues would support the community not only economically, but socially as well, as explained above. The main improvements that must be made are creating a specific bus lane among routes, extending the routes to reach more urban areas, so they can treat those who actually require the service. Another major improvement would have the city create a safety standard requirement for the bus companies here. The last major improvement would be in and around the bus stops themselves. More amenities, as described above.

Bicycling


Concerning bicycles and how they are connected to the city of Omaha’s traffic system and flow; we have uncovered that there are approximately 20 miles of bike trails and sidewalks available to Omaha bikers. Some of the complications in this is that currently many of these trails to do not connect or meet up with each other via bike trail. Another is that bike parking and rest areas for biking is a bit undersupplied. However the city of Omaha is at the moment working to fix this problem. By providing to businesses the opportunity to have bike racks installed on the sidewalks outside their establishment free of charge(Biking in Omaha). One thing that ties not only into bicycle travel as well as pedestrian travel is that in some of the older zones of Omaha, especially the spots that were constructed in the 1940’s after WWII(Traffic Element) there are no sidewalks on both sides of the street which impede the flow of pedestrian traffic as stated by Jean Stothert in her Omaha Master Plan Traffic Element. Additionally east-west travel is a challenge with the current street setup.

According to Kelly Nicholas in the Journal of Undergraduate Research from the University of Tennessee it has been found that in countries such as Germany and the
Netherlands they have so improved their bicycle mobility as to have 27% of their overall traffic be encompassed by cycling. In order for more of the US and within it the city of Omaha to emulate this success, it would need to incorporate additional bicycle lanes or trails, as well as provide some assurances of safety to cyclists, some suggestions of cyclist safety measures by Nicholas is the installation of a raised bike path, or at least a brightly painted bike lane, Implemented by decreasing the extension of curbside parking for vehicles in reduced speed zones.

In other cities like New York City or Portland some of these measures have already been taken, budgit is a key reason as to why the city of Omaha has not already put such things into place, especially when the city of Omaha is very personal vehicle dependent rather than alternate travel.

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Analysis: The city of Omaha just like any other city suffers from accidents and occasional congested traffic conditions during certain hours of the day. One of the viable options to reducing the strain on the city’s existing infrastructure is to expand the available travel options to the people of the city of Omaha. Biking could very easily be expanded as both a hobby and travel option to assist the city and its inhabitants with getting to where they need to be, when they need to be there.  

Safety

No matter where you go in the country there will always be traffic safety issues (Traffic Element). The jobs of those who make plans for cities and towns are to make those safety issues less prominent (Traffic Element). In this draft you will learn about some of the ways that the city of Omaha plans to eliminate these issues for the sake of the people who live here and the people who are just passing through (Traffic Element).

To begin with is Metro’s bus system, Metro plans to put surveillance on all buses to ensure that if anything has happened to endanger any of the passengers then it will be recorded and used as evidence (Traffic Element). Reductions in regional VMT (Vehicle Miles Traveled) will decrease the potential for crashes, improving public safety (Traffic Element). This will provide a corridor that establishes a mix of modes on the roadway for users to choose, including buses, cars, trucks, bicyclists, and pedestrians (Traffic Element). Pedestrian amenities will have a traffic calming effect, reducing speeds and improving safety for all road users (Traffic Element).


Lastly, pedestrian walkways can be dangerous for those who are walking when some bicyclists are riding on the same pathways as those who are walking (Traffic Element). This system has designed specific roadways for bicyclists to get from place to place without getting in the way of vehicle traffic and pedestrian traffic (Traffic Element). This system has also designed specific walkways just for those who are walking to where they are going from where they are coming (Traffic Element).

Analysis: This system has a solution for all traffic solutions. The safety of all who live here and all who visit or are just passing through is impeccable. This system has solutions to make Omaha a much safer place to travel through and in.

Conclusion

In conclusion, if the transportation system were to be improved, the city of Omaha would benefit directly via lower pollution emissions, better flow of traffic, lower public transit prices, more accessibility to impoverished areas, and safer streets (Bus Rapid Transit). These improvements are set to cost around 400 million dollars and will be completed over the course of the next twenty years (City Planning). From a sociological perspective, these improvements will benefit society in Omaha by enhancing the living experience citizens currently undergo.

 

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