Omaha at Human Scale: The Tale of a Bench

26 Oct

As we turn the corner into the final months of 2018, Mode Shift Omaha would like to invite the community to share their experiences of the city at “human scale.” This is in contrast to how much of the city is built and how most people experience moving through the environment: automotive scale. We will be highlighting joys and challenges of using active transportation modes in Omaha and the experience of encountering the environment at human scale. The first in the series if from Cindy Tefft, Mode Shift member and activist focused on the 72nd and Dodge area.

“The 72nd Street corridor, north and south of Dodge Street, is an area I traverse often either by walking, bicycling, or driving my car. I notice the bus benches in the area tend to collect litter.  Not being a frequent bus user, I have to imagine what it is like to be a person who either has no choice but to ride the bus, or does have the choice and uses the bus consistently.

“The litter surrounding these benches contributes to a perception of bus users as ‘trashy’ or of a lower class.  East of 42nd St there are more trash receptacles placed at bus stops.  West of 42nd, not so much.  One particularly difficult stop is 72nd and Pine where a few weeks ago I stopped to clean up what appeared to be a homeless person’s large plastic bag full of supplies that had been ground into the mud.  Depending on where the bus driver stopped, transit users had to walk over the trash to board the bus.  While I was picking up this muddy mess, (broken glass, books, pens, paper, etc) a bus pulled up, the driver actually got out and spoke to me.  He said it really upset him that people left trash like that.  I asked if he, as a driver, ever reported it to Metro and he said that he had but nothing ever got done.  This particular bus stop has a 55 gallon steel drum that I’ve placed near the bench which is used regularly.

Garbage and litter on the ground around a bus bench at 72nd and Maple.

“72nd and Maple Street  SE corner caught my eye recently and after several days of seeing the litter around that bus bench, I wondered what would it be like to be a transit user and having to sit amongst rotten food, alcohol containers, discarded duffle bags, many plastic bottles and cups of partially empty soda.  On a free day, I rode my bike to the stop along with bags and a trash picker and went to work.  I collected enough litter on that corner to fill a 55 gal bag and two 30 gal bags full.   Fortunately, a nearby business allowed me to use their dumpster.

“The trash and litter is something I’ve been working on for several years.  The bus bench company has had litter campaigns and will clean the benches if there is a problem.  Their position is that people just shouldn’t litter.  This is a more systemic problem than not littering.    The city will clean (to some degree) the area if they are called due to a complaint.  This process is reactionary only.  The City of Omaha Park Maintenance person says it is a gray area and when the bus bench contract comes up next year this may be part of the discussion.

Three full bags of garbage and litter collected by Cindy.

“In my investigation into who is responsible for keeping up the bus benches, I discovered the rent from the bus benches goes into the City of Omaha general fund and does not go specifically to the Parks Maintenance or any other city office.  There is no funding by any entity to work with bus stop littering.”

If you would like to contribute to the Omaha at Human Scale series, e-mail us at info@modeshiftomaha.org.

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