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Omaha at Human Scale: The Bike Commuter

16 Nov

Scott Ussery is a Mode Shift Omaha member and regular bike commuter who rides from his home in Papillion to his job as a statistician for an insurance company in Omaha.

Scott holding his bike

I use the Strava app to track my mileage, and as of November 5, I’ve ridden 4,200 miles in 2018, a lot of which was my work commute.

On the days I ride, I zigzag through neighborhoods past schools, through the LaVista Sports Complex and then east on Harrison by Seymour Smith Park to the Keystone Trail. At Karen Park I cut over to the South Omaha Trail and ride it all the way to the Field Club Trail. I’ll brave Leavenworth, eastbound, until I can bear north on Turner Blvd. When I get to Harney I can choose to grab a coffee from a favorite local coffee house, or head straight into work at Physicians Mutual Insurance Company. The whole commute is 12-13 miles, one-way, and takes a little over an hour.

The ride home is a little longer. I’ll continue south on the Keystone, past Harrison, to the West Papio trail. Sometimes, I’ll meet up with friends along the route and we’ll finish the commute together. Those are some of the best rides.

I sometimes do a multi-modal commute, cycling up to the Park-n-Ride at Tara Plaza just east of 84th. This is the southern extent of Route 93, the express route serving Papillion and Ralston. I’ll put my bike on the bus’ front rack and ride the bus downtown. In the evening, I’ll ride home on my bike.

Sun halo on the creek levee

When you’re riding your bike, especially early in the morning, you get a totally different perspective than you get from driving in a car. I enjoy the solitude, the opportunity to listen to your environment, see the world from a different vantage point. You get to see how the rising sun creates a halo around your shadow on the creek levee. You hear cardinals and jays call out to one another. Wild turkeys and Canadian geese wander around the trail keeping you vigilant.  

Turkeys on the trail

I like rolling past people’s vintage cars in the neighborhoods, and taking notice of the swelling creeks after a rain. The murals and graffiti under the bridges along the trails are something you can’t see from the roads. And at night you get the moon! A full moon is impossibly bright when you’re riding down the Keystone Trail and the darkness of a new moon is complete.

Moon over the Keystone Trail

Not to say there aren’t challenges to commuting by bike. People driving cars cannot for the life of them accurately judge the speed of someone on a bike. I’ve learned to use routes that have little or light car traffic. I still encounter cars pulling out in front of me or cutting me off to make a turn. It’s a real frustration.

But the frustration isn’t greater than the joys I get from the people I’ve met and got to know on the trails, coffee shops and other watering holes around town. I’ve met lots of riders through past Winter Bike Challenges, Live Well Omaha Commuter Challenges, National Bike Challenges, Corporate Cycling Challenge and various organized coffee rides, charity rides and theme rides. Many of us are “connected” on Strava where we give kudos to one another’s riding efforts, comment about rides, trails or photos and/or plan upcoming rides together. There is an entire two-wheeling community out there and it’s been a pleasure to be a part of it.


Coffee Chat Preview: What’s Up for 2019?

13 Nov

For our coffee chat, this month, we’re gathering a round table of local transportation professionals to talk about what plans and projects will be rolled out in 2019. Join us Friday, November 16th, 8 a.m. at Rally Coffee (749 N 14th St) to get a peek into the future.

We will be  joined by Greg Youell, Executive Director of MAPA; Jason Rose, Outreach Coordinator for Metro; and Kevin Carder, Long Range City Planner for the City of Omaha. Expect an informative conversation about the coming ORBT roll out, road diets on 24th and 30th Streets, and regional plans to connect us to our immediate neighbors.

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.


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.