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City of Omaha

Riding Omaha: Meet Carlos Morales, the city’s new point person on biking

Omaha's desired brand as a progressive, livable, eco-friendly burg with enhanced mobility options took a step forward with city government's recent hiring of Carlos Morales as the city's first bicycle pedestrian coordinator. Morales started the City Planning Department position Sept. 7. He came to Omaha from Los Angeles, where he was assistant coordinator for the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, Bicycle Outreach and Planning. “There was a community effort to bring this position to fruition through our various partners, including [Metropolitan Area Planning Agency], Activate Omaha, Live Well Omaha and others,” Morales said. Part of his $65,000 annual salary is paid for by Live Well Omaha, a nonprofit promoting active lifestyles and increased bike-pedestrian access, and by Alegent Health. The organizations are among the constituents Morales works with from the transportation-recreation community. “There's a very strong group of health professionals and bicycle advocates in Omaha and they lend me great support,” he said. “They're really happy I'm here. Working with them is going to be phenomenal — they have great ideas, they just need a little extra guidance on certain things, and that's kind of what I'm here for. Morales said key players are behind many recent improvements to cycling in the city, including the 20-mile Bike Omaha loop (a system connecting the Keystone Trail, the Boulevard Trail, downtown and midtown). “In the near future we have a couple of new campaigns that are going to kick off that sound like excellent examples of how to work public-private funds and how to work as public-private relationships,” he said. Morales works closely with former Omaha city planning director Marty Shukert, a principal with RDG Planning & Design and chair of the Mayor’s Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee. Shukert’s an avid urban cyclist and active transportation guru. Morales, who bikes himself, earned his master’s in urban planning with a concentration in transportation policy and planning from UCLA. He gained practical experience in Sacramento with Odyssey, an initiative to address the transportation needs of underserved populations, and with AmeriCorps VISTA. He gained more experience in L.A. working to increase and improve bike-pedestrian nodes. “I learned about aspects of engineering — of how do cities actually plan the bikeways, what are the measurements,” he said. “Learning that background of how things are done and how they're built is great for any planner ... It makes it more practical and easier to work with different departments, such as public works, which is involved in the striping, construction and resurfacing of streets. “It allows me to look at streets differently and to be able to have (an informed) conversation with engineers.” Morales believes he's adept at working within existing government-political systems. And he's particularly interested in working disenfranchised, low-income minority communities to make sure future policies and projects work for all bicyclists and pedestrians. I Morales said he has a passion for “making streets more than just for cars. It’s part of the city fabric, and part of being in a city is having different modes of transportation, whether walking, biking, public transit. He said he's “providing options and choices for people about how and where they want to go and by what mode.” He liked what he saw when he visited Omaha last July. “I was taken by the amount of bike trails and their proximity to nature,” he said. “The other thing that struck me is that a great network is already in place. The street grid kind of lends itself to providing access and mobility options. It just needs a little tweaking, and it will be wonderful for bikes and pedestrians.” Morales expected to succeed Michelle Mowery as L.A. bicycle outreach and planning coordinator in several years, but the prospect of starting something new, with his own programs, made the Omaha opportunity appealing. The Guatemala native, who came to the country with his family as a boy, said Omaha’s growing Latino population contributed to him and his wife Lauren choosing to come here. “I want to work towards integrating more and figuring out what connections we can make in that community,” he said.

posted at 07:18 pm
on Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

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