A crowd of about 50 people over the age of 65 filled the basement of Union Bank and Trust on Calvert Street on Saturday afternoon as three of Lincoln’s mayoral candidates fielded questions concerning the city’s aging population.
Forum organizer Rachel Trevizo asked candidates Leirion Gaylor Baird, Cyndi Lamm and Jeff Kirkpatrick about their policies regarding transportation and city services for senior citizens.
All three saw public transportation as the key to independence for Lincoln’s older population and each had a different way to promote and develop the StarTran bus system.
Kirkpatrick commended StarTran as well-run, but encouraged personal commitment from Lincoln’s citizens to choose to use the bus rather than drive to work. He said this commitment will combat declining ridership.
However, the Lincoln Metropolitan Planning Organization’s 2018 Annual Transportation System Performance Report listed steady ridership increases since 2010, though numbers for 2015 and 2016 were below peak ridership.
Kirkpatrick said he would do his part by riding the bus to work a couple times a month or more if he was elected mayor.
Lamm and Gaylor Baird had their own strategies to increase ridership. Lamm proposed a park-and-ride system where people would have designated locations to park their cars before riding public transit around the city or into downtown.
Gaylor Baird said she would work to develop housing along public transit lines and increase alternative transit options, pointing to the downtown trolley system and the autonomous shuttle project being explored by Mayor Chris Beutler.
Lamm said the autonomous shuttle project is unlikely to take off until state lawmakers cut the red tape standing in the way of quick 5G deployment, a necessary high-speed network in order for autonomous vehicles to function. LB389, the Small Wireless Facilities Act, was introduced in 2018 to address this, but has since been indefinitely postponed.
When Trevizo floated the question of a one-stop community center for aging citizens, none of the three candidates jumped at the idea of a single location, rather preferring to support multiple locations around the city.
“It’s so hard to get large parcels of land for the number of housing units that people need to live in,” she said.
Gaylor Baird proposed redevelopment plans for places where big-box stores have moved out. She pointed to Gateway Mall, where several tenants, including Sears, Younkers and Charlotte Russe, have recently left as a possible place to explore redevelopment. She said the vacant spaces can be repurposed as housing, services for senior citizens and community spaces.
Lamm suggested private partnerships with businesses such as the YMCA to provide space and services for senior citizens, allowing for more locations around town rather than a centralized spot.
Kirkpatrick said he wants to increase support for the senior centers provided by the city’s Aging Partners.
All three said they consider Lincoln’s senior citizens when putting together the city’s budget. Gaylor Baird said all of Lincoln’s politicians have a responsibility to take its aging population into account when crafting policy.
“As we go forward, I can’t help but look to the past so we see the people who came before and helped build this community,” she said. “We have a responsibility to take care of them and pay it forward.”
Trevizo said the forum was important for the candidates, because it allowed them to meet with the city’s older generations and understand their concerns.
”We want the candidates to know who we are and what we do,” she said. “There’s a lot of older people who can help with volunteering, that can do much more than just play bingo.”
The other candidates, Krystal Gabel and Rene Solc, did not participate in the forum. The two candidates with the most votes will emerge from the April 9 primary to face off in the May 7 general election.