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Omaha at Human Scale: Working Parent and Transit

2 Jan

This will be the final edition of this run of Omaha at Human Scale. We look forward to 2019 being a year of activity and activism for Mode Shift Omaha.

Nicole Wheeler is Vice Chair of the Mode Shift Board of Directors.

As a working parent, I am always running from work to school to someone’s evening activity. I spend my days working in advertising at Hudl and my husband, Ted, and I operate a roving bookstore, Dundee Book Company, in our free time. When I moved from my job at Yahoo in West Omaha to the downtown Hudl office, one of the many perks in making the job change was that I would finally be able to take the bus to work. I have  been interested in the effects of climate change since I was a child and the fact that I couldn’t take the biggest step of limiting my driving had always bothered me. Being able to make this change was something that allowed me to live true to my personal values and show my children how to do so as well.

Ted at the Bus Stop

Ted is a writer and works from home and is able to walk our kids to school each day. The number 2 bus is in close proximity to our home. The times when Ted is out of town for extended periods of time really puts our bus riding to the test. If the children are at different locations, pick up and drop off become a long planned journey with several stops. These trips serve as a great teaching moment, when I can show my kids that they can navigate the city via bus and teach them how to do so on their own. We also run errands together on the bus, which is a great lesson in only buying things you need and things that you really want to carry home.

Our days typically start with Ted walking the kids to school, while I take the bus downtown. We leave around the same time, walk a few blocks together and part ways where I head for the bus and everyone else heads for the school. The kids usually stay for clubs or after-school care, as our jobs go until 5 or 6 pm. If I need to pick them up, I take the bus one stop further than normal and can be at the school in a few minutes walk time. From there, we can walk home via the Dodge St. subway/underpass, lugging backpacks and musical instruments the few blocks it takes to get there. Having to carry all of that home really highlights how much stuff kids are carrying around all day long. The walk home is a great time to decompress and have a conversation about everyone’s days.

Waiting patiently for the bus

For other parents who would like to try and take the bus, I would suggest first, waiting until the time is right in your life. If it doesn’t work for you with small babies, then give yourself a break and wait until it does. Secondly, see if you can switch your mode once or twice a week. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing and taking the bus even a few times a week can alleviate an enormous amount of commuting-driven stress. I’ve met very few parents who wouldn’t love 30 minutes to themselves and the bus is a great chance to get that.

Back on the Bus!

I’m happiest getting around Omaha by bus and I would rather move to a city with more public transit than have to rely on a car again, but none of this would work for me without a spouse who works close to our children’s school; a flexible, supportive employer; a good supply of quality base layer clothing and a lot of sunscreen. I’m privileged to have all those things and I’ve met many wonderful people on the bus who don’t have any other choice but to rely on the bus – with or without that same support. Our system works for me, but as we continue to mature it, I hope that it can work for everyone.

Get Involved in Omaha’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP)

1 Jan
Thanks to some recent efforts by the City, Omaha’s Capital Improvement Program (CIP) looks better than ever. But despite these improvements, it is ultimately a meaningless long term plan because the City deviates substantially from it every year without explanations, visibility, accountability, or public engagement.
Why does this matter? Considering the 2019 CIP includes over $200 million of Omaha property tax funds, taxpayers deserve a process that:
  1. Engages the public
  2. Explains why some projects get funds and others don’t
  3. Explains why some projects proceed even when their cost skyrockets past the prior year’s estimate and they are years behind schedule
The City’s Planning Committee, led by Pete Festersen, and includes Brinker Harding, and Rich Pahls, is considering making some changes to the CIP. This gives us a chance to propose some changes that will make the CIP a meaningful planning document.
So how can you get involved? Mode Shift proposes these actions in January:
  • Form 3 teams – one for each City Council member of the planning committee.
  • Review our proposed CIP changes with the teams to fine tune them and so that each team is knowledgeable about the issues (we have a resource page to help you be more informed here or view this detailed video)
  • Meet with the three Council member to advocate for the changes.
  • Emphasize public involvement with specific steps that the City could perform. We’ll ask for the full process to be in place by January 2020, but we’ll include some sample public requests with your help such as:
    • Reviving our effort for a bicycle lane program
    • Re-instating the Leavenworth project that disappeared without any explanations last summer
    • Perhaps a pedestrian project?
  • Publish blogs and videos in January. Let us know if you want to contribute! Email joanna@modeshiftomaha.org
We need your help to make this happen. Join us on January 23, 2019 – 7 p.m. at UNO’s Community Engagement Center for a Mode Shift member meeting where we will form the teams and begin the steps outlined above.

Omaha at Human Scale: A walk to school

17 Dec

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.