Archive | Perspectives RSS feed for this section

Learning the Wrong Lessons

10 Jan

Derek Babb, Board Member and Bike Team Lead

Last week, I rode the Harney Street Cycle Track to see how well it was plowed after our recent snow storm. The previous day, I had seen Dear Evan Hansen at the Orpheum and there were several people parked in the bike lane, waiting to pick someone up. I loudly commented that you shouldn’t park there and my wife said, “He’s obviously waiting for someone.” I responded that there is no reason to be parked in the bike lane, even if it’s cold, even if you’ll only be a minute. 

All that background to say, we have so little here in Omaha that I feel like we constantly need to fight to maintain what we have, we constantly need to prove that we “deserve” the few painted bicycle gutters and the one “pilot” project protected bike lane we have.

Back to the snow. 

I went to as many public meetings as I could in the lead-up to the protected bike lane. I was there nearly 10 years ago when this lane was first proposed. I was there when we re-started the conversation. At every one of these public meetings, someone would ask, “What about when it snows?” The frustrating thing about that question is that it’s so lazy. Omaha is snowy for a few weeks out of the year. We have a baseball stadium that is only used for two weeks a year but I guess that is not the same.

We know that snow is a possible problem. We know that it is a top critique from people who would rather not have any bicycle infrastructure. We know that piles of snow in the bike lane will deter people from biking, further justification to people who claim “nobody ever uses the bike lanes.”

Last Monday, 48 hours after our snowstorm, I rode the Market to Midtown Bikeway to see how the snow had been cleared. The results were…spotty. 

Some patches were fully cleared, some businesses had cleared their driveways and pushed the snow into mounds in the bike lane, some places seemed to be untouched. There were also several other tire tracks in the snow, so it wasn’t just me (out to prove a point) riding in the bike lane. When I complained on Twitter, I received this response from Bike Walk Nebraska:

The thing that I keep thinking is, we are learning the wrong lessons. We know that people are going to use snow clearing issues as a blunt instrument to prevent future bike infrastructure. The goal needs to be a fully cleared bike lane as quickly (or ideally quicker) than the car lanes are cleared. We can’t afford to do a bad job and learn from that. We need to do an immaculate job and learn where we can be more efficient in the future.

Nobody is rooting for the success of this lane more than me. Mode Shift Omaha and other advocates have been trying to make this lane a reality for over a decade. We should have a network of connected, protected, safe bike lanes at this point. We have lost so much as a city through our inaction.

The good news is that Omaha is so far behind that there is no longer a need for pilot projects. We know what works, we have the benefit of being able to steal the good ideas from other cities and, rather than doing a study, simply implement those ideas here.

How do you clear snow? – Ask Minneapolis.

What about the cold? – See above. 

Will people ride where it’s hilly? – Ask Kansas City.

People don’t ride that much. – What happened in Des Moines when they added protected bike lanes? How about Lincoln?

Advocating in Omaha is exhausting. We have to fight to maintain what we have and it feels like actual permanent improvements are impossible. It’s been a long few years and I am tired. When do you stop shouting for basic infrastructure and move to a place that gets it?

In the meantime, I am upset with fellow advocates because the city isn’t even at the table. The city is doing nothing. The CIP is full of parking and road widening and Council Bluffs is embarrassing Omaha with their forward thinking and action on bike infrastructure. There are many lessons to be learned here, but I fear we are missing the most important ones.

Walking on Dodge

9 Jan
Our 2 minute video, a collaboration of MSO and the UNMC Munroe-Meyer Institute.

In 2020, Mode Shift Omaha Walkability Team documented conditions and wrote recommendations to improve the safety of Omahans during sidewalk closures. City council member Pete Festersen took the issue to the Public Works Committee, and the MSO Walkability Team presented policy recommendations to the Mayor’s Active Living Advisory Committee (ALAC) in January 2020. At that time, Omaha Public Works agreed to take the policy under consideration. They returned with a policy the very next month to share with ALAC. The policy is now being implemented and can be reviewed on the Omaha Public Works website. 

Each year in the United States approximately 6,000 pedestrians die in vehicle collisions. Additionally, thousands of pedestrians are hit and survive, but with tremendous economic and emotional costs. It is encouraging to know that when action is required, our community can be counted on to engage with each other to get the job done. 

But we asked ourselves what else must be done to create a walkable community? We began by conducting a study of the Dodge Street Sidewalks with the help of UNMC Munroe-Meyer Institute.  Enjoy our  2 minute film illustrating conditions and recommendations Walking On Dodge Street.  This week we share our film in the hopes that you will share it with your friends. Next week, we release the Dodge Street Sidewalk Assessment.  We look forward to sharing it and opening a much needed community dialogue about the condition of sidewalks in Omaha.

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.