Adapting yesterday’s infrastructure to today’s needs.
The Omaha Belt Line was built in 1885 to connect the industries of the city to main rail lines. Outpaced by the growth in long-distance trucking from the 1960’s, the Belt Line was abandoned in the 1980’s, leaving a wide swath of underutilized space cutting through the city. The corridor now perfectly aligns many of the region’s most important new centers of education, transit, health, and employment with the city’s core, where jobs and services are concentrated along east-west corridors.
A month-long exploration of the possibilities inherent in this corridor was conducted by a team of designers and planners, called Realigning a Region. The design process was open to the public through weekly studios, which more important than any particular proposal, initiated an act of regional planning direction from a place’s existing geography and demographics. Many communities spend decades and millions of dollars looking for orientation, and often, the direction is heavily influenced by those with the most financial or social capital.
Although our exercise culminated in a specific proposal to recast the corridor as a multi-mobility spine combining light rail and commuter trail to catalyze regional connectivity, a far more important outcome is recognizing the corridor as a compass for future regional planning efforts.
Enhancing Access and Mobility: One of the most compelling aspects of the Belt Line is its potential to catalyze an integrated regional mobility system that is accessible to residents who desire and require better mobility. The corridor intersects all the critical east-west corridors defining the contemporary axes of employment and wealth creation in the Omaha metro region, connecting several at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. By integrating the Belt Line with a regional bus rapid transit system and enhanced local bus service, several modes of transportation can operate to connect neighborhoods to jobs while catalyzing distinct redevelopment areas throughout the region.
Reassembling the Corridor: Recasting the Belt Line as a mobility corridor will require a phased strategy for acquiring property and mitigating impacts for the right-of-way as well as maximizing development opportunities adjacent to new infrastructure. We have categorized and tiered parcels along the corridor according to these imperatives. To start, we propose re-stitching the corridor in North Omaha as a continuous public space. Should light rail or rapid bus be introduced to the corridor, we have identified parcels that would be positively impacted by development of infrastructure, including stations. We have also identified parcels offering prime opportunity for transit-oriented development with particular attention paid to vacant, abandoned, or underutilized and obsolete uses within a half-mile (10 minute walk) of proposed stations.
Read coverage of the project in the Omaha World Herald.