Little Steps. Big Impact. news conference a success

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert speaks about the importance of ozone levels and economic development at a news conference Thursday.

Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert speaks about the importance of ozone levels and economic development at a news conference Thursday.

A recent meeting at the City County building in Omaha left everyone breathing easy, due to the fact that the attendees used public transportation to travel downtown. After taking buses and bikes, Omaha area mayors and MAPA executives led a news conference to kick-off the next round of Ozone Awareness Days, which are July 15-18.

Ozone Awareness Days feature 50 cent bus fares and 25 cent transfers. During the first round of the campaign, in June, the Metro transit system saw nearly 12,000 additional riders than the week before. The move is part of the Little Steps. Big Impact. campaign, which aims to improve the air quality in Omaha.  

Curt Simon, executive director at Metro Transit, thanked the mayors for “putting the spotlight on air quality in Omaha.”

Mayors Stothert, Hanafan and Kindig each rode a bus to the conference. Mayor Sanders of Bellevue rode her bike nearly 11 miles to downtown Omaha. They were joined at the conference by Dr. Adi Pour with the Douglas County Health Department and Greg Youell, executive director of MAPA, along with other MAPA employees and board members.

Youell mentioned that although people in Omaha don’t think about air quality as being an issue, ground-level ozone has been on the rise in recent years. He said that this metro-area wide approach is important because “ozone doesn’t follow jurisdictional boundaries.”

Dr. Pour said that the rising ozone levels are close to exceeding acceptable limits.  

“On Tuesday we had 73.9 parts per billion (of ozone), which is close to the 75 parts per billion standard set by the EPA,” she said.

Dr. Pour also mentioned that asthmatics can be especially sensitive to high levels of ozone.

 “Ozone is specifically an irritant to the lung,” she said. “In the Omaha area, 8.9 percent of people have been told by a physician that they have asthma, and 7.9 percent of our children have asthma.”

Elevated occurrences of ground-level ozone can have economic impacts as well. Jean Stothert, mayor of Omaha, explained that having lower ozone levels is a key component to attracting businesses to the Omaha area.

“It is a selling point that we must maintain,” Stothert said.

At the conclusion of the conference, Mayor Doug Kindig of La Vista expressed his thoughts on taking public transportation.

“It really is a cheap mode of transportation,” he said.

A third set of reduced-fare days will be held August 12-15.

For more information, visit www.littlestepsbigimpact.com.