Vetoed Amendments: Omaha’s Climate Denial Problem

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Hannah Michelle Bussa
NEWS EDITOR

Along Harney Street, the Market to Midtown Bikeway is Omaha’s first protected, on-street bike lane. Photo courtesy of Omaha World Herald.

Mayor Jean Stothert vetoed some of the proposed amendments to the 2022 city budget and capital improvement program (CIP) Thursday.

The vetoed amendments were to fund the Harney Street Protected Bikeway, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, infrastructure funding for North Saddle Creek Business District, and a website consultant for Councilmember Juanita Johnson, the representative for North Omaha.

Sarah Johnson, co-founder and Membership Coordinator for Mode Shift Omaha, said Omaha has a climate denial program.

“The Mayor’s budget and CIP are perfect examples of building the wrong things,” she said. “So many organizations have done studies and collected feedback.”

One of these organizations is ConnectGO, which released a report this summer including feedback from more than 4,000 Omahans.

“It’s time for building and implementation, not just more plans that will sit on the shelf,” Johnson said. “People are relocating due to the city’s inaction on mobility equity and climate change.”

The Harney Street Protected Bikeway opened in late July as a pilot program.

Johnson said Stothert supported the bike lane as a good photo opportunity, but there is no funding to make it permanent. It is currently completely funded by private money.

The pilot program is set to run through September 2022.

“It has been in the works for a decade,” Johnson said. “A decade ago, it made sense to start with a pilot project. But now, we’ve learned enough from other cities to know that physically separated lanes are best practice. We just need to get to building a network in Omaha of safe, protected, connected lanes.”

For the Harney pilot program, Mode Shift Omaha applied for a grant through Spin to use data tools to analyze the corridor. However, Johnson said Mode Shift recently heard the only data that matters is collected by Metro Smart Cities, an organization helping with the pilot program, which is chaired by the Mayor.

“Basically, everything is up to her and at this point, she’s not making me feel very good about it’s permanence,” Johnson said. “It is a pretty upsetting ordeal all the way around.”

Johnson said bike lanes are a great start to show people that it is safe and easy to get around on a bike.

“We need to do all we can to help folks move around without the burden of a car,” she said.

The Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan was another vetoed amendment that could have helped people in Omaha without cars. Johnson said having funding earmarked for implementation of this upcoming master plan would be helpful.

“Stothert said we don’t know if the master plan will include capital improvements, but a good plan should,” she said. “We need to be planning accordingly now.”

These vetoed amendments were proposed by Councilman Festersen, who Johnson ran against in the last election. She said she would like to commend him for putting the amendments forward.

“I now would encourage the rest of the council to vote with him to override the Mayor’s vetoes,” she said.

The City Council has the opportunity to override these vetoes on Tuesday, but it will take a super majority of five of the seven to vote to override.

Johnson holds a City Council Club every Thursday night at 7:30 on Zoom to discuss that week’s council meeting. The group learns about the agenda together and works to demystify the process. Those wanting to get involved can register here.

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