Despite rainy weather, about 300 people gathered this Saturday in Omaha to protest the city’s plans to eliminate its “bike czar” position.
Carlos Morales, the city’s bike/ped planner, had been recruited from Los Angeles for the job, which paid $80,000 per year. But the new budget proposed by Mayor Jean Stothert eliminates the position, which had been funded for four years primarily through grants.
Protesters demanded three things, said Stephen Osberg, vice chair of the advocacy group Mode Shift Omaha: 1) They want the position maintained; 2) they want a complete streets policy; and 3) they want a citizen’s advisory board for bike and pedestrian projects.
“There’s been a lot of progress made in bicycle and pedestrian planning in the last few years,” said Osberg, including the addition of bike lanes and work on a major trail project. “But we don’t see the sort of systemic change that would indicate the city has fully integrated multi-modal planning into its agenda.”
Stothert responded to the protest by issuing a statement saying the city would establishing an “Active Living Advisory Committee” run by volunteers. But she maintained that the “bike czar” would be eliminated.
Many prominent officials have criticized the city’s decision, including City Council Member Chris Jerram, former Omaha planning director Marty Shukert, and Anne Meysenburg, executive director of the nonprofit Live Well Omaha — which helped fund Morales’ position.
“I don’t want people to not feel like this isn’t a blow for our city, because it is,” Meysenburg told the World Herald. “Having someone dedicated and providing those services to the community was a huge opportunity overall.”
Mode Shift Omaha is now rallying the troops to speak up at an upcoming budget meeting on the subject.