Pedestrians in a Bird Cage

8 Oct

After raising the issue of walkability and construction zones, it was nice to hear from the Hotline Supervisor (see below) that some aspects of the Safer Sidewalks Petition are already part of city policy. Now that the city is more aware that this is a serious issue for Omaha residents, we hope that enforcing this policy will become a higher priority. Ideally, we’d love to see this as an ordinance so it is written and observable to all. And we need further clarification as to what happens when contractors fail to comply.

Hotline:

“If part of a sidewalk is closed during any project, the sidewalk on the opposite side of the street must remain open. If there is no sidewalk built on the other side of the street, a detour must be created  for pedestrian use. Similarly, in the rare instance that sidewalks on both sides of the street are closed, an alternate route for pedestrian access has to be provided.”

Hotline Supervisor City of Omaha – Mayor’s Office

Today, I visited with a man about a sidewalk he was blocking with a truck and trailer combo. He asked, “oh, do you know someone in a wheelchair who uses that sidewalk?” As if that would be the only reason to keep his truck off of it. What we have is a bird cage* situation.  The concept is that each obstacle in and of itself can be explained away as irrelevant. Whether it is the person parking their trucks over the sidewalk, the homeowner and trash collectors leaving trash cans in the middle of the sidewalk, a construction company closing both sides of the sidewalk, not warning people that a sidewalk is closed ahead – which causes them to have to walk in a busy street, or failing to accommodate pedestrians at major intersections like 84th and Dodge while it was under construction; these violations add up to a city that is difficult to navigate on foot or by wheelchair, or with a cane, or a stroller, or with a dog, or as a visitor.

At 90th and Dodge OMETRO is doing construction on the new ORBT station.  There may be advance notice before the intersection heading west alerting pedestrians to no sidewalk access, but there won’t be a sidewalk detour because of a limited right of way according to ORBT.  “We apologize for any inconvenience this may cause. Consider switching things up and exploring an alternate route for the time being.”  The advice seems insensitive once you have studied the topography of the area. Walking and rolling by 90th and Dodge is not the same as it might be in other places.  The design of the businesses and the housing make self made detours a tricky proposition. I hope you know the area, have a map, an able body, and no kids or groceries.  

At 62nd st and Dodge OMETRO has another ORBT construction zone and pedestrians have been told to walk to University Drive East.  That’s great – except it leads you away from campus. When my sight impaired acquaintance was forced to do it she arrived more than 40 minutes late to a meeting and she was visibly disturbed, flustered, and frustrated.  MSO understands that the city is going to be under continuous renovation and many of those projects are exciting to everyone. What we need the city, and every member of our community to understand is that we cannot wait to be pedestrian friendly. Starting today let us be clear about our commitments and do not let us leave such an important matter to the domain of volunteers.

Distracted by roads and cars we have created a situation whereby it is virtually impossible to travel the city on foot or bicycle in comfort. City dwellers live in a compact and dense area making the lifestyle environmentally friendly and economically profitable.  We should be rewarded for that with a good quality of life.  Metropolitan Omaha has a 50 mile radius with 1.3 million people. What does that mean? It means, you shouldn’t have to worry about getting run over, you shouldn’t have to suck on anybody’s tailpipe, and you shouldn’t suffer because you can’t get where you need to go without major stress. All of us must demand safer sidewalks as a public good.  

Imagine miles and miles of interconnected and uninterrupted sidewalk access that we can count on our city and each other to keep clear and value as a common good for our health and our wealth. If you have any doubt as to the costs of the current 14% longer commute Omaha enjoys, let me explain it.  Driving takes a toll on your body. Over time that sedentary behavior makes you older and shortens your life. It makes you emotionally distant from your community and overweight, which furthers your likelihood of being lonely, which then impacts other aspects of your health. It is also stinking up your air and every year chronic lung disease is listed among the top 3 causes of death in Douglas county. 

Living in a beautiful, connected and walkable community means that the older folks can enjoy their independence a little longer, younger folks can enjoy their independence a little sooner, and everyone in the middle can stop playing chauffeur.  It also means new opportunities for micro entrepreneurs as the difficulty of daily travel diminishes, the quality of the travel improves, and neighborhoods come alive. Below is a good example of a sidewalk staying open during construction at 50th and Underwood street. The owners may have made the decision to keep the sidewalk clear for economic as well as civic reasons. Either way – it is a win-win for the businesses and the many pedestrians in this vibrant part of our city.

Pedestrian sidewalk protection past construction site at SW corner of 50th & Underwood

Think about it.Think. And sign our petition so that everyone knows what you think. 

Sources

http://worldpopulationreview.com/us-cities/omaha-population/

https://www.womenshealth.gov/a-z-topics/lung-disease

https://www.unomaha.edu/news/2019/07/construction-on-dodge-street-through-august.php

*The birdcage is an analogy used by Marilynn Frye to discuss oppression.

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