Heartland 2050 Summit Connecting People to Life: Transit in a New Light

On Wednesday, May 8, 2019, Heartland 2050 held its annual Summit at the Downtown Hilton Omaha. Katharine Eagan Kelleman, the CEO of the Port Authority of Allegheny county(Pittsburgh), was the keynote speaker. Ms. Kelleman brought an unique perspective on transit and its importance. The summit featured a keynote address, multiple options for breakout sessions, a panel discussion, and times for collaboration and networking.


Ms. Kelleman’s keynote speech reinforced the theme of the Summit, which was “Connecting People to Life: Transit in a New Light.” Ms. Kelleman started by asking what attendees can do to make sure our kids stay here, then made the case for a well-funded and vibrant public transportation system.

Ms. Kelleman also talked about all the benefits of living in a city like Omaha, but said, “What’s the point of having amenities if your people can’t access them.” She explained having free parking is not a transportation policy. Then ended with a call to action, “If you make it (public transit) better for the guy in the tie, it’ll be better for everyone.” Summit attendees had a very positive reception of the keynote address and overall presentation. They praised Ms. Kelleman as “inspirational, compelling, knowledgeable, motivating, pragmatic and realistic.”


The Focus on Food – Share Our Table breakout session featured Mariel Harding (United Way of the Midlands), Craig Howell (Together Inc.), Susan Whitfield (No More Empty Pots), and Courtney Brewer ( Live Well Omaha). This session discussed the Share Our Table plan, how it came together to address difficult food issues in the region, and how the various groups work in unison to build upon the previous food systems to establish a clear path forward.


The New Buses – New Tech – Better Transit breakout session featured Curt Simon, Emily Baarson and Jason Rose from Metro Transit. This session highlighted how Metro Transit is finding news ways to connect the community through improved buses, upgraded equipment, technological enhancements and multiple other updates. They also took this opportunity to provide insight on Metro’s transit development plan and the biggest transit investment in decades, Omaha Rapid Bus Transit(ORBT).


The Transit Oriented Development Creates a Brighter Future breakout session featured Evan Schwietz (Metro Transit), Brandon Garrett (City of Council Bluffs) and Kellie Johnston Dorsey (City of Omaha). This session detailed how transportation plays an important role in community development and creating new transit opportunities.  The speakers explained the concept of Transit Oriented Development and efforts by both Omaha and Council Bluffs to implement it.


The Keep Tristan’s Light Shining breakout session featured Tom Everson (Keep Kids Alive Drive 25), Lisa White (Tristan White’s Mother), Brian Leaders (National Park Service), Alora Nowlin (Treynor Student), Brad Riphagen (Trees Forever), Kelly Groskurth (City of Treynor) and Mackenzie White (Tristan White’s Sister). This session discussed the “Treynor Keep Kids Alive Drive 25 group”, and its creation following the death of Treynor High School student Tristan White. The panelist also shared what they’re doing to make Treynor, Iowa a safer place to walk, cycle, play, drive, and ride.


The Highlighting Transportation Pressure Points Panel concluded the Summit and featured region group of experts consisting of Karen Gibler (Sarpy County Chamber), Abbie Kretz (Heartland Workers Center), Jaymes Sime (Micah House), Keith Station (Heartland Workforce Solutions) with Katharine Eagan Kelleman as the moderator. This panel discussed the need for successful transportation planning and efforts to put the people who rely on transit in their daily lives at the center of the conversation.  Before taking questions from the audience Ms. Kelleman, had the audience think about this powerful quote, “The loss of human dignity can’t be a pre-condition for using public transportation.”


The Mobility Cafe sponsored by Park Omaha was also a big hit. The Omaha-Council Bluffs Metropolitan Area Planning Agency (MAPA), Metro Transit, Park Omaha, Lime and Heartland B-cycle were all there. This gave attendees a chance to hear about new transportation options coming to the metro area, and even experience some first hand.


The Summit gave participants the chance to engage with panelists and presenters, to ask questions, sparks discussions, and connect with one another.

Thank you to our sponsors for the Summit! Emspace + Lovgren, Metro Transit, Park Omaha, and Pottawattamie County Community Foundation.

Thank you to everyone who attended and to our speakers and panelists for their engaging presentations and discussion. If you were at the summit we would greatly appreciate it if you could fill out our post-Summit survey, the link can be found here.