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Omaha at Human Scale: A week ago, I sold my car

9 Nov

Sarah Johnson is one of the founders of Mode Shift Omaha and is a past board member and officer of the organization. She is also the owner of Omaha Bicycle Co.

A week ago today I sold my car. It was pretty sweet, as far as cars go: a Honda Element which was perfect for hauling donation bikes to the Community Bike Project or a Costco run for the coffee shop side of my business, Omaha Bicycle Co. I also had musings of #vanlife but never really had the time to turn it into the little camper of my dreams. In fact, I maybe drove it twice a month. When it had a little trouble starting on the first try, I was told by 2 different car mechanics (who couldn’t find anything wrong with it) that I “just need to drive it more” at which point I realized it was time to say goodbye to the ol’ green machine. The fact was that I didn’t drive it  enough to justify all of the money that the glorious automobile sucked from my bank account. So, two-wheeled transportation it is!

Sunny days = smiley days

A faded sharrow, but better than nothing and more than we had a decade ago.

I am fortunate that my commute is short, even walkable. For years I had used a regular bicycle as my main form of transportation, riding to work, meetings, and the like. Then, 2 years ago, I ended up in the ER and I have been dealing with chronic pain ever since. Cycling became painful. To minimize the physical exertion, I tried an electric-assist bicycle; a Blix Prima, to be exact. Oh man. What a wonderful solution!! So much easier on my body! On hills! In the suffocating heat and humidity of Omaha summers! Really, they sell themselves; people come back from test rides giggling. My health nightmare aside (I have another surgery scheduled this month) what I’m truly grateful for is the change in perspective toward electric or pedal-assist bikes. I was a skeptic, bordering on hater. Now I am an evangelist. I can get to meetings and work and errand running without breaking a sweat and in a fraction of the time compared to a normal, human-powered bike. Honestly, don’t judge until you try one and see for yourself the benefits and sheer fun of an e-bike.

While this is not the first time I’ve been car-free in Omaha,  I’d definitely say it’s more pleasant now to be bike-reliant than it was my last go-around in 2005. The city has been expanding bike infrastructure and motorists’ attitudes have improved. Car drivers have had time to get used to seeing more bikes on the road and the 3 foot law passed, which helps everyone share the road more gracefully. This is the first time that I’ve been a business owner without a car of my own. I’m lucky to have a car at my disposal (most of the time) when I need it, thanks to my partner who works from home and rarely drives. Just today, I turned down a ride in from him in the pouring rain and laughed/pedaled my way to the shop in a poncho. The right gear makes it fun, not just doable, I promise.

Gerda’s!

Most of my daily routine is on my bicycle. Aside from leading group rides throughout the week, I rely on it for hauling or delivery as well. Some mornings I’ll pick up donuts from Gerda’s Bakery on about 52st and Leavenworth. I ride the 51st Street bike route from Benson through Dundee, and under Dodge to Leavenworth to fill up my basket with baked goodies! The only somewhat complicated section is right out front of Dundee Elementary during morning drop off where 51st is one-way (and not the way I want to go) so I sneak up onto the sidewalk for about 2 blocks and roll along at walking speed. Then it’s smooth sailing right on down to the bakery! They know how to box them up so nothing gets away on the ride back; it also helps that I have a rather wide tire and sort of padded basket to lessen the jostling around. Depending on the time of year and the pothole situation, sometimes a few pastries crumble due to a bumpy ride back to the shop. No problem though, I’m happy to eat the “damaged goods” or turn them into samples.

For anyone who is thinking about trying to get around car-free, you don’t have to sell your car immediately! Ease into it by picking one day a week to start or even just one trip; you’ll be surprised at how easy and beneficial it really can be. I don’t blame you if it’s not your style, or if you have kids who need to be a bunch of different places throughout the day; it’s not for everyone or every lifestyle. I’d just encourage you to give it a shot or at the very least, be kind to those of us who are out there on two wheels just trying to get to their donuts.

Keystone Trail Closure near NFM Through February 21

20 Dec

Thanks to Dennis Byers at Omaha Parks for letting us know about this trail closure.

Keystone Trail Closure – Dodge Street South to the NFM Pedestrian Bridge

A section of the Keystone Trail from Dodge Street south to the Nebraska Furniture Mart Pedestrian Bridge will close for 2 months starting on Tuesday, December 26, 2017 for the demolition of NFM warehouse buildings that abutt the trail. Trail will reopen on Wednesday, February 21, 2018. A suggested detour is to use Dodge Street and Rose Blumkin Drive.

For a detour, trail users can use Dodge Street and Rose Blumkin Drive. I’ve attached a map that shows the closed section as well as a suggested detour.

Select image for larger map

Advocacy in Action Follow Up at 52nd and Radial

4 Dec

Following Mode Shift’s recent videos and action about the issues with the intersection at 52nd Street and Northwest Radial Highway, the City has:

  • Started to paint the crosswalk. The next scheduled painting was Spring 2018, so it’s good to see some action now.
  • Initiated a change to the pedestrian signal system. Thanks to Bryan Guy, at Omaha Public Works for taking the time to look at the signal and reply to one of the signal issues.

Crosswalk Painting on November 21

This is good news. Once we know the extent of the City’s action, we will recap which issues are still open, and engage the City to discuss them.

In the meantime, here is a email sent to Carrie Murphy, Omaha’s Deputy Chief of Staff by Faith. Faith and her family attended the evening advocacy on November 14, and summarizes the events so well, that her email is worth sharing:

Hello Carrie, Thank you for your reply.

I know the mayor is busy, and I appreciate the staff’s attention. I would like to respond to several points made in this press release:

Perhaps the crosswalks are painted twice a year; perhaps they are painted 4, 5, or 6 times a year. In the end, however, the crosswalks are barely visible year-round. I am at that intersection at least twice a week year round and daily in the summer and you can barely ever see the paint. I will be happy to send pictures, but you can go there yourself or you can look at the photo published today in the World-Herald, which shows minimal paint. If they are being painted, they clearly need to be painted more often or more effectively.

As the Mode Shift video pointed out, crossing 52nd on the north is terrifying because there’s no clear line for the cars to stop. When I have my daughter in her stroller, we usually have to cross behind cars because they are pulled so far into the intersection. The same is true for the west side of the intersection, where cars regularly stop so far into the intersection that we end up crossing behind them. When we are able to cross in front of stopped cars, it is on me as the pedestrian to make glaring eye contact with each motorist in the hopes that they see me, because they’re certainly not looking for me. Continue reading