Hundreds Protest After Omaha Mayor Scraps City’s Only Bike/Ped Planner

About 300 people braved rainy conditions to demand better bike and pedestrian accommodations this weekend in Omaha. Photo: Mode Shift Omaha
About 300 people braved rainy conditions this weekend to demand better bike and pedestrian accommodations in Omaha. Photo: Mode Shift Omaha

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.

Protestors had three demands, including the retention of the city's "bike czar." Photo: Mode Shift Omaha
Photo: Mode Shift Omaha

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.

  • LAifer

    Why be so adamant about deleting a position funded entirely by outside grant money? Unless the Mayor plans on reappropriating those dollars toward some other purpose (which would be difficult if impossible to do anyway), this saves the city absolutely nothing. What a sham.

  • Streetsblog Network

    I should have made it clear, the grant money has dried up.

  • chris

    “I don’t want people to not feel like this isn’t a blow for our city, because it is,”

    That was a hard sentence to parse.

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Ha!! Omaha should be so lucky!

    I’d like nothing more than to go back home to Jersey and work as a bike/ped planner there but in one of the richest states per capita in the nation, not a single city or county has a dedicated bike/ped planner! NJ TRANSIT sucks up all the federal Alernative Transportation funds leaving almost NOTHING left over for bike/ped. Instead of using my first rate Rutgers education where I studied under John Pucher back home, I’m forced to search the far flung corners of this nation to look for work.

    Pay me $60,000 and I’d come to Omaha!

  • Andy B from Jersey

    Double negative!

    Wait! Triple!!!

  • LAifer

    Oh. In that case, I’m not surprised. It’s not unusual for local governments to eliminate grant-funded positions once the grant money is gone. Still, from a city priorities perspective, this is saying something about Omaha’s leadership’s values, because you know that their department of parking and traffic is gonna be fully staffed.

    ‘Course, here in LA, we have a measly two pedestrian coordinators for the nation’s second-largest city. As they say, people in glass houses…

  • Wayne H.

    What benefit has the $80,000/year investment provided for the city? What is the alternative public investment for that money and the expected benefits?

  • Carmin

    Thanks for covering this story. Although the grant money has dried up, I think this story is about more than one position. There was a lot of open hostility to bikers and biking culture in the mayoral election and my sense is that this is viewed as the first blow. Omaha definitely needs this position, so much of the development in the last 20 years as been so exclusively car-centered, that they need someone with experience to start correcting it. (Among other things, They’ve been nominated or won Streetsblog terrible intersection contests for a few years!) When I visit, I am horrified by the lack of bike lanes and even sidewalks. There is a shopping mall across the street from a hotel I stay at and you have to walk about 3 miles to get there on foot. And they have great neighborhoods and streets for biking, if the infrastructure would support it.

    I hope that Omaha can continue to develop its biking community, but the loss of the position will hurt.

  • Pedestrian Error

    Why is slang for a bicycle and pedestrian planner “bike czar”? #pedestrianinvisibility

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