We asked a new Mode Shift member, William Carmichael, to share a bit about his transportation story. Enjoy!
I didn’t expect to take up cycling at 53. Still less did I expect that I’d ever be emailing city officials semi-regularly, asking for them to step up in support of transportation equity. It took parenthood and a pandemic to change my thinking.
Like apparently a lot of people, I found myself contemplating getting a bike during the early days of COVID-related lockdowns and closures. I managed to make it through 2020 without pulling the trigger, but earlier this year our seventeen-year-old child got their driver’s license and a job, both in the span of a couple weeks. Although there was no practical way for us to adapt to the change in their schedule without needing some additional transportation options, I balked at the idea of getting another car; three vehicles for a family of three seemed like overkill to me, and still does. So I went ahead and bought myself a bike. It was an easy decision to make, mainly because I’m lucky enough to live fairly close to my job, and also close to a mixed-use trail that covers most of the distance *to* that job.
A lot of people in Omaha don’t share my good fortune, however, and for many of them going without a car isn’t a choice, as it was in my case, but a necessity instead. Picking up cycling late in life, after decades not even owning a bike, made the obstacles that the city imposes on people without cars stand out starkly to me. As I said, there’s a great trail that I can take to work. But getting to that trail involves either traveling along a major thoroughfare with lousy sidewalks and inattentive drivers, or rolling the bike across places that aren’t supposed to be access points (although bafflingly enough there is signage to warn drivers of pedestrians and cyclists crossing the road at this specific non-access-point). And if one travels in the opposite direction, there is a gap of about a three quarters of mile in the trail, and the only option for crossing that gap is to travel through streets that are, if I’m being diplomatic, “unsuited to non-motorized traffic”.
All of this in a part of town that I know gets better service and more attention from the city government than most. I started wondering about how I would feel about it if the bike were all I had. Observation and thought made in pretty clear that pedestrians weren’t being treated much better, and trying to use mass transit to get from my neighborhood to virtually anywhere else in the city would be so time consuming as to be entirely impractical. And again, other neighborhoods have it worse.
I started looking around to find out if anybody was making an effort to have the city start factoring multi-modal transportation into its plans, and that is how I found Mode Shift.
“In the short time I’ve been involved, I have already seen them effect practical policy changes and directly serve the community via volunteering.”
I am happy to have found a community that’s working to transform Omaha, from a place where not owning a car is hugely detrimental into a city where public spaces are designed around the needs of people rather than cars.
[If you’d like to share your story about transportation or mobility in the Omaha metro, let us know! We’re always looking for blog submissions.]