Human Scale, Mode Shift Omaha, Perspectives, Safety, Walking|

Amanda Long is a member of Mode Shift Omaha.

Walking is a major form of transportation in my household.  As with anything there are frustrations and problems to be solved – but walking is our favorite way to get around.

Entrance to Tunnel Under Dodge Street

One of our regular destinations is school.  I am in my 11th year of having a child walk to the local elementary school.  My youngest child has walked there her entire life – first to drop off and pick up her big brother – and then to transport herself.  It’s a habit – and an absolute preference. When the weather is too bad to walk, both of our moods darken and we begrudgingly hop into the car.  Drop off in the car is much more stressful for both of us. We have to deal with traffic and trying to get out of a car with a backpack, lunch box and sometimes a school project.  When I have to drive to pick up my child from school I actually have to leave earlier as it takes longer to find a place to park the car and walk up to the school building than it does to walk from home.

I’ve read that walking to school has been shown to improve both academic performance and psychological well-being, as well as public health.  Our experience agrees with that. A walk at the beginning of the day makes us both more awake, alert and ready to focus. In addition, the walk to and from school gives us time to talk at the beginning and end of the school day. It’s often where the best talks happen.  On the hardest days the walk has therapeutic benefits – anxieties can be verbalized while we simultaneously get the physical benefits of walking to help us cope the rest of the day.

Bike Rack Haiku

When we walk, we see and experience things you can’t from the car – our favorite is the big hound dog that looks over the second-floor balcony and announces its presence in its unique hound dog voice. We hear the leaves crunch under our feet, see the first crocuses that appear in spring, smell freshly-mowed grass and experience the quiet of a good snowfall.  We get to enjoy the decorations that people put on their houses and get to observe someone’s sense of humor in their ever-changing configurations of pink flamingos. We can browse a Little Free Library, peruse the community garden’s neighbor garden and see if they have that herb we need for dinner. We can window shop in the stores in our neighborhood & check out the restaurant menus.  We read haikus on bike racks and see public art.

Community Garden

With the experiences we have with walking I believe it when I read that people live in more walkable neighborhoods trust their neighbors more and children have more opportunities to be independent.  As we walk the neighborhood, we get to know the people. We say hello, meet the dogs & greet the children playing in front yards.  Because of our walks, we know multiple families on every block that we frequent. This knowledge and familiarity build the bonds of trust that a neighborhood needs to thrive.  I may not walk alone in your neighborhood in the dark of night – but I do walk in mine as I know who’s who and who lives where – and who could help if needed.

In every neighborhood that I’ve regularly walked in, I’ve had a strong feeling of connectedness to the people, schools, and businesses in that neighborhood.  I find myself face to face with many people along the way- which reminds me of what we have in common. There’s rarely a day that goes by that I don’t get a smile or wave from someone across the street or through their car window.  When something out of the ordinary is happening in the neighborhood, I feel comfortable stopping to talk to someone with a familiar face and compare stories. Maybe the first step to increasing social capital and a feeling of connectedness to others is as simple as taking regular walks through our neighborhood.

3 Replies to “Omaha at Human Scale: A walk to school”

  1. Terry Hickman says:

    Great piece! I’m revamping my life January 1, and now I think I’ll take a “walk to work” (I’m retired) every morning to start my day! One question: Where the heck is that dismal, spooky underpass? I thought they’d finally got rid of those things.

    • Amanda Long says:

      Thanks and enjoy your walks. The underpass is in Dundee – 51st and Dodge. The neighborhood association and city did a lot of work on it – now when you walk through it you see tons of beautiful public art made in partnership between UNO and Dundee Elementary kids. The lighting is decent too. It’s used a lot – and many families use it to get to school.

  2. Wally Matsora says:

    How true that a walk to school can be healthy ! But, these mopes in city government have no clue. Take for example November 18, 2019; on the north sidewalk of Pacific Street between Countryside Village and 84th Street.
    Why were the Omaha Public Works orange barrels placed sporadically along this stretch of sidewalk when there was no sidewalk repair or other project being actively performed on that sidewalk. There was road work; but,
    that does not give the Public Works mopes rights to obstruct the sidewalk which school children use to get to the safe traffic light controlled crosswalk
    in front of the stores/shops on the north and school grounds on the south of Pacific. The political answer always given, ‘there should be a sidewalk on the other side of the street’. Yeh, well,maybe the bully uses the south sidewalk, or maybe there is a dog that puts the child, aduld, or frail senior in fear that they may face harm (call somebody… backside)…it is easier to avoid the conflict/confrontation and safer, too. These politicals who espouse public safety should be thinking about pedestrian safety from able bodied to mobility challenged where taking the longer way around to get to a destination may be too exhausting for some. And, why should the pedestrian be inconvenienced because some construction crew is too lazy or does not want to be inconvenienced having to provide alternative ADA compatible walkways adjacent to the obstructed right-of-way ? Shame on all you politicians who do not want to in convenience the project even though big cities quite properly do. The barrels on Pacific Street sidewalk should have been placed between the sidewalk and the curb along Pacific or temporarily stored in the Mayor’s office rather than obstructing the sidewalk. Public Works needs to under go a paradigm shift and a bolt of lightening through their asbestos underwear.

    Trouble is being on social security with the federal political mopes seeing fit to rig the COLA formula to cost us 35% erosion in purchasing power from 2000 to 2019; does not allow even miniscule contributions to help back these grassroots movements.

    Concerned Senior with some mobility issues.
    Wally Matsora.

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