Third Annual Bike Swap & Expo: Get Deals on Bikes & Volunteer to help Mode Shift

5 Mar

Sunday March 8 from 11am – 4pm at College of St. Mary’s Lied Fitness Center
Omaha Bike Swap 2015Admission:  $5 or $3 with a can of food to be donated to the Heart Ministry food pantry. Kids under 12, free.

Buy, sell any and all things bike! Bike shops and private sellers will be there. Visit information and education kiosks featuring representatives from cycling related benefit rides, trails organizations, cycling clubs and urban cycling displays.

You’ll also be able to sell an individual bike at the Bike Corral, which Mode Shift is hosting. Proceeds from the Bike Corral will go to Mode Shift!  Bring your bikes to sell and tell your friends!

We could use a few more volunteers for the Bike Corral anytime from 11am-4pm on Sunday March 8th–contact Liz at 919-619-5964 (call or text). Thanks! and join the Facebook event

February Coffee Chat (Trails Update) & Membership Meeting (BRT)

17 Feb

Our monthly signature events are just around the corner. Here’s the scoop:

Coffee Chat this Friday, February 20, 8 – 9am at Howlin’ Hounds.
Eric Williams is the Natural Resources Planner at the Papio-Missouri River Natural Resources District, and the Project Manager for the NRD’s involvement in trail projects. He will present information about current and summer 2015 trail projects in the metro — including the new connection of the South Omaha Trail, Phase 2, and the West Papio Trail from 90th to 108th & Giles.

MSO Membership Meeting, Wednesday, February 25, 7 – 8:30pm at the Pizza Shoppe.
Omaha’s Metro Area Transit received a $14.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation (TIGER Grant) to build Omaha’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. It’s kind of a big deal. Lauren Cencic from Metro, who is managing the project, will be on hand to give us an update and answer questions. As a reminder, we’ve formed a BRT task force whose aim is to ensure that Omaha’s BRT suits our city well.

More information on the BRT:
TIGER Application
.S. Department of Transportation Announcement

Snow Day: A Tale of Two Commuters

7 Feb

On the morning of February 4, 2015, several inches of snow fell on top of the 6 inches that blanketed Omaha two days earlier. Let’s hear from two citizens coping with the weather.

Snow day

Part 1: The Automobilist

Like every Wednesday, I start early for a 7:00 AM meeting with friends at a local restaurant. I peek out the window: more snow, as expected. But I’m ready for it.

I don my snow clearing clothes and begin my standard operation. Assisted by my trusty snow blower, I clear the fresh snow and I manage to cut a path through the windrow of large frozen chunks that, as usual, the city snow plow left along the end of my driveway.

I leave my car idling while I change into my driving clothes – no need for boots and parka in a warm car – and soon I am on the road. My destination is nearby, but the vicissitudes of Omaha streets force me to drive out of my way to major streets and intersections. Despite the midnight passage of the snow plow, the streets are white and slippery, but thanks to my all-wheel-drive, ABS brakes, and new wipers, I feel safe in my warm cocoon. But I am not alone. A van from a construction company materializes in the morning gloom, spinning its rear tires as it attempts a steep climb. I wait until it sees me and drive around it. Next, a car breaks out of its driveway and skids uncertainly ahead of me. That’s the problem: I do everything to be safe, but I can’t count on others to do the same. I leave the neighborhood, join the slow moving caravan on the major streets, with ponderous traffic light stops.

Cars at Intersection

I close in on my destination and find that the best parking places are taken or piled with plowed snow. I park at a distance, make sure my snow scraper is ready for action when I return – the melting snow will have caked the windshield in ice – and I brave the cold, slippery walk to the restaurant.

I burst into the restaurant with scalding ice crystals melting on my brow. I check my watch: 5 minutes late. I need some coffee. And a big breakfast. I’ll work off the calories later, when I drive to the gym and walk 40 minutes on the treadmill.

Part 2: The Pedestrian

Like every Wednesday, I start early for a 7:00 AM meeting with friends at a local restaurant. I peek out the window: more snow, as expected. But I’m ready for it.

I don my parka, boots, hat and backpack, and I step out the back door. My boots contact the snow with a satisfying crunch. My destination is nearby, a 40 minute walk through neighborhood streets and trails. Crystals settle on my hat and parka. My footsteps are muffled as I walk the empty streets, suffused in a glowing, pearly light. I walk by a construction company’s van, wipers sheathed with ice, attempting to climb a steep grade. It drives off in search of a less inclined alternate route. A car breaks through the icy windrow blocking its driveway, and skids uncertainly out of the neighborhood like a dazed mammoth. Otherwise, I have the streets to myself.

Empty street

I walk straight into the restaurant and shake the snow off my parka and hat. I check my watch: ahead of schedule. I’ll enjoy a well deserved coffee and breakfast.

Part 3: The Comparison

The Automobilist The Pedestrian

  • Parka, boots, hat & gloves (snow clearing clothes)
  • Snow blower (including fuel, storage, and maintenance)
  • All-wheel-drive vehicle (including fuel, storage, and maintenance)
  • Ice scraper
  • Gym membership

  • Parka, boots, hats & gloves (walking clothes)
  • Backpack

  • Snow clearing: 15 minutes
  • Car warming: 5 minutes
  • Drive: 13 minutes
  • Park: 2 minutes
  • Drive to gym: 15 minutes
  • Walk on gym treadmill: 40 minutes

  • Walk: 40 minutes
Total: 1 hour and 30 minutes Total: 40 minutes
Stress & Health

  • Stress: High
  • Health: Average
Stress & Health

  • Stress: Low
  • Health: Excellent

Author’s Note: The pedestrian narrative is from my actual experience. The automobilist narrative is derived by superimposing past experiences on February 4, 2015 — Chris Behr.

Benson Streetscape Project Recap

2 Feb

As reported in a recent Omaha World-Herald article, a $1.3 million streetscape project will proceed this summer in Benson along Maple Street and Military Avenue. It is worth recounting what made this project happen and the lessons we can learn from it.

BID plays a key role – The Benson Business Improvement District was a key player in making this project happen. A BID is established by City Ordinance, funded by assessments on property owners within its boundaries, and is accountable to Omaha City rules. The Benson BID decided to focus on a streetscape project to support its burgeoning businesses and restaurants along Maple Street and Military Avenue. Specifically, the narrow, uneven, and obstacle strewn sidewalks do not permit the necessary pedestrian traffic to the businesses, and the high speed of automobiles on Maple Street is a threat to all other modes of transportation.


Valuable City Support – City Councilman Pete Festersen supported the Benson BID’s plans. Funding was planned for the construction (City of Omaha bonds, Kiewit Foundation, and a private donor) and for the maintenance (the Benson BID will pay for maintenance of streetscape elements such as benches, trees, etc). Public Works selected a consultant Engineer to design the new streetscape.

Jurisdiction and Design Standards are not clear – As the design progressed, the consultant Engineer met with the Benson stakeholders who welcomed many of the design elements, such as bumpouts at street crossings, benches, landscaping, and a gathering place at 61st Street. But a few issues remained:

  • Maple Street is a state highway and under the jurisdiction of the Nebraska Department of Roads (NDOR) who has a say in any discussion of lane width or speed limit change. Early attempts to relocate the state highway to another street like Northwest Radial Highway were unfruitful.
  • To widen the sidewalks, street lanes must be narrowed, which leads to many questions: Is the turning lane needed? If so, what is the appropriate width? And what is the appropriate width for the traffic and parking lanes? The City Engineer, Public Works and NDOR provided sporadic, changing answers. The proposed lane widths were not backed up by any published standards and seemed arbitrary.

Maple Street's Turning Lane

  • Another project goal, reducing speeding along Maple Street, could be achieved with narrower lanes, but the lane widths remained the same. Once again, it was not clear why such a key safety matter was not addressed with a transparent and consistent application of engineering standards.

These issues surfaced at various times as the proposed sidewalk and parking lane widths changed first for the better (safer traffic, wider sidewalks) then for the worse: just before the January Urban Design Review Board, the proposed lane widths were such that only 9 inches would be added to the sidewalk, a meager gain for such an expensive project.

The importance of the UDRB – Days before the Urban Design Review Board met to discuss the project, Mode Shift Omaha submitted a letter to the UDRB, praising the positive aspects of the project, but urging the Board to consider better bike infrastructure, streetscape elements, and a lower speed limit, and most of all, to reconsider the lane widths, quoting from prominent sources supporting narrower lanes. The letter concluded that the Benson Streetscape project was good but not great and urged the Board to improve it.

On January 15, the UDRB approved plans that increased the planned sidewalk making it 18 inches wider than the existing sidewalk. So the UDRB review added 9 inches of sidewalk to the Benson community! We credit Councilman Festersen for pushing the parking lane issue and opening lines of communications between all the parties.

In retrospect, better communication between the various entities and the transparent application of engineering standards would have benefited and expedited the project.


What’s Next? – Benson residents and businesses will get a boost from the documented benefits of wider sidewalks and a more vibrant streetscape. Still to be decided is how many of the poles and sidewalk structures will be moved to adjust to the wider sidewalks. Other neighborhoods can learn from the sustained and mostly successful effort of the Benson BID.

We can all work for even more improvement in the future, while we enjoy a walk in the Benson area!

Omaha’s BRT System

27 Jan

There is currently an Omaha Metro Transit plan for a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project, and they have received a 2014 federal TIGER grant of just under $15 million, which would cover a majority of the initial costs. The route will connect “Westroads Mall, Methodist Hospital, Children’s Hospital, Crossroads Village, UNO, UNMC, Midtown Crossing and Downtown Omaha” (from ).

from Omaha Metro TIGER grant application

from Omaha Metro TIGER grant application

The Central Omaha Transit Alternatives Analysis lists the primary components of BRT:

from Omaha Metro TIGER grant application

from Omaha Metro TIGER grant application

“ – Advanced bus service
– Operates in mixed traffic and/or dedicated lanes
– Low floor buses with multiple doors
– Accommodates maximum of 3 bicycles on front of bus
– Preferential bus treatments (queue jumps, traffic signal priority)
– Specially branded service
– Custom stops and shelters
– Shares travel lanes and stops with other buses
– 40-90 passengers per vehicle”

A route with these features would do a lot to improve mobility in the Omaha area, but costs, political concerns, and a tight project timeline could pressure the project partners to make sacrifices that reduce quality. We’re keeping on top of developments, and we need your help to help make sure we end up with a top notch system. Come out to the Mode Shift meeting on Wednesday January 28 from 7-8:30 at The Pizza Shoppe Collective, 6056 Maple St. You can also contact us to join the Mode Shift BRT Taskforce and stay up to date on BRT in Omaha through

Support LB39 Bike Safety Legislation

14 Jan
Please support Legislative Bill 39, which would increase safety for cyclists and provide clarity for motorists and law enforcement:
  • Motorists would be required to follow the same laws for passing bikes as for passing cars
  • Repeals the “mandatory sidepath law”
  • Gives the right of way to cyclists when operating lawfully in a crosswalk
Here is a summary of action that you can take:
  • Send an email of support to Senator Jim Smith
  • Send an email of support to all senators on the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee
  • Contact your state senator by the morning of January 20th
  • Attend the hearing on January 20 at 1:30 PM.

Details about senator contact information and hearing location are provided below.

We believe that the common sense legal clarifications strengthen the rights of people on bicycles (and on foot), clarify a motorist’s responsibilities, and assist law enforcement in their ability to enforce the laws that apply in these instances.

Details about LB39

LB 39 is an enhanced passing law making it clear for motorists and law enforcement, and safer for cyclists.

First, it further defines the actions people in vehicles must take to pass a cyclist.  LB 1030, passed in 2012, mandated that three feet of clearance be given when possible when passing a person on a bicycle, foot, or motorized wheelchair; LB 39 clarifies that motorists would be required to follow the same passing laws for bikes as they do for cars:  using lane markings where applicable, changing lanes to pass if needed, giving no less than three feet of clearance.  This is easier for motorists to remember and visible easier for law enforcement to enforce.

Second, it repeals the ‘mandatory sidepath law’ that states “… whenever a usable path for bicycles has been provided adjacent to a highway, a person operating a bicycle shall use such path and shall not use such highway.”  These types of mandatory use laws are problematic for people on bikes, and the League of American Bicyclists, Legal Affairs Committee states:

Laws that mandate that a bicyclist use a particular facility undermine the ability of a bicyclist to protect him or herself when those facilities are not well planned, designed, and/or maintained….There are numerous operational reasons why a dedicated bike facility might be rendered unsafe or impractical — such as an accumulation of debris, illegally parked vehicles, the need to make a left turn — and in such cases cyclists need to be able to ride in the adjacent or parallel travel lanes without fear of prosecution.

Third, LB 39 gives people on a bike the right of way when operating lawfully in a crosswalk. Under current laws, a person on a bike that is riding lawfully in a marked crosswalk could be ticketed for failure to yield if hit by a person in a car.  This is especially problematic for multi-use trails that have at grade street crossings.

Finally, this bill clarifies that people on bicycles may legally ride two abreast on highway shoulders when it is wide enough to do so.

LB39 was introduced by Senator Rick Kolowski from Omaha. Click here for the complete content of the bill. LB 39 should not be confused with another bill on bike safety that Sen. Kolowski has introduced (LB 38, which does not yet have a hearing date scheduled).

Action: Contact Senator Jim Smith
Send an email of support directly to Senator Jim Smith, who is the Chairman of the Transportation & Telecommunications Committee, at

  • Indicate in the email that you want your message to part of the record.
  • Be sure and list your name and address or your information will likely be disregarded.
  • Indicate why you support this bill and why you think it should pass. Give examples of your own cycling situations with motorists that may help the cause.

Action: Contact the Committee and your Senator
Send an email to all of the senators on the Transportation & Telecommunications Committee, as well as your own senator. The committee members are:

Sen. Jim Smith – Chairman – Omaha
Sen. Lydia Brasch – Vice Chair – West Point
Sen. Al Davis – Hyannis
Sen. Tommy Garrett – Bellevue
Sen. Beau McCoy – Omaha
Sen. John Murante – Gretna
Sen. Les Seiler – Hastings

Action: Attend the Hearing
A hearing date is set for LB 39 on Tuesday, January 20, 2015 at 1:30 pm in Room 1113, the Ernie Chambers Hearing Room, along the southwest hallway of the Capitol. There are two other bills that will be heard first. If you want to attend the hearing to show support, and sign in, that would be very useful.