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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.

Midwest Transportation Summit

6 Sep

Mode Shift Board Member, Madeline Brush attended the Midwest Transportation Summit, at Chicago’s Environmental Law & Policy Center, August 9th and 10th.

Activists from across the Midwest came together and strategized on how to improve public transportation in our communities. A group of attendees participated in the drafting of new policy.  Gathering everyone together to share ideas was important.

Peter Skopec of Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group (WISPIRG) lead conference. Ash Narayan, the director of Transportation Policy of 10000 Friends of Wisconsin, in Madison, was also present.

The other organizations from the region in attendance were:  Frontier Group, Wisconsin Green Muslims, Environmental Law and Policy, ReAmp Network, Sierra Club, Michigan Environmental Council,  Mode Shift Omaha, NIAOMI , Wisdom, Great Plains Institute, Illinois PIRG, Active Transportation Alliance, Alliance For Sustainability, Illinois Environmental Council, MN350, and the Better Bus Coalition.

The focus for the weekend was a document created by WISPIRG, the Frontier Group and 1000 Friends of Wisconsin: The Road to Clean Transportation. This report examined the challenges facing transportation in the Midwest region from air quality to opportunity.

In our Thursday session, Peter Skopec stated, “Cars and school buses in the Midwest do not have reduced emissions.  We need to have strategies to improve transportation for citizens.” He meant that in addition to expanding and improving public transportation services, we need to also lower the emissions of the vehicles we’re using.

Here, in Omaha, we are seeing progress toward lower emissions in two areas, personal vehicles and public transportation. OPPD is offering rebates for customers purchasing electric vehicles and installing home-based charging stations. Our fleet of buses is getting younger, more efficient, and environmentally friendlier with an introduction of 38 new buses to the fleet. These new vehicles will run on compressed natural gas (CNG) or have cleaner-burning diesel engines.  

Improving public transportation access is especially important in communities where not everyone, like me, has access to a car or the ability to drive. And when I walk about public transportation, that doesn’t mean only “more buses.” To my mind, that means we should be making our communities walkable, bike friendly, and safer for everyone by slowing traffic through residential areas.

The best place to push for this transformation toward cleaner transportation is at the local level. Local Zoning and Planning policies are the first step to make neighborhoods walkable and bike friendly. These solutions tie back into a clean energy strategy and taking care of the environment. After all, the cleanest energy is the energy you don’t need to use.

To get the message out to our communities, the group attending the conference are planning a Regional  Day of Action. We will be challenging public servants and business leader to use public transportation for one day. The day will emphasize the benefits and challenges that come with the current transit environment. This day of action will emphasize that communities must make the initial investment, is better, cleaner, healthier choices which will save them money and resources over time.

By Madeline Brush

Conference_Midwest





Omaha does not require transportation management plans, and it should

4 Apr

A friend of Mode Shift Omaha sent us the photograph below, with the accompanying text:

Photo credit: Farrah Grant

 This is the section on Dodge Street I was telling you about. Both sides of the sidewalk are closed so there is no pedestrian access. On the north side, a sign says “Sidewalk closed: Use other side”…

We have discussed in the past that this is not the norm in other cities of similar size. Other cities require that construction projects that alter or inhibit transportation access submit and execute a transportation management plan (TMP) that reroutes or otherwise accommodates the traffic that is being affected by the construction. Omaha has no such requirement. It never has.

This isn’t some recent decision or a cost cutting device of our fiscally conservative administration. Not requiring a TMP is how business has always been done in Omaha. Consequently, we run into situations where two concurrent projects can entirely eliminate pedestrian access to a major transportation corridor. Without sidewalk access, we eliminate people walking and people using public transportation as safe modes of transportation in the area — and this is on a major bus route near critical health and governmental resources.

With Omaha’s stated objective of becoming a Vision Zero city, it is important that city policies account for the safety of all traffic, not merely the convenience of vehicular traffic. Requiring developers to manage the traffic their projects interrupt is a good way to keep everyone accountable and safe, regardless of their mode of transportation. Continue reading