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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.

Omaha at Human Scale: Transit dependence requires dependable transit

11 Dec
Interior of a Metro Bus

Madeline Brush is a member of the Mode Shift Board of Directors.

I am legally blind, meaning I cannot drive a car. I depend on Metro Transit to get around Omaha.  I usually take the #15, to go to Midtown Crossing. When I get to 32nd and Farnam, I get a coffee, or grab some Chinese food. It is unfortunate that the route frequency is only every 30 minutes — if it’s on schedule. Since I have limited vision, it is difficult for me to read the street signs. Public transportation is great and affordable, but I wish all the bus drivers would announce the numbered streets. Some of them do, especially if I tell them where I need to get off the bus. Sometimes they forget when it is a longer bus ride.

Madeline

The second bus that I take often is the #2 on Dodge street.  My mom and siblings live near the route, so it is easy for me to catch the bus downtown and get off  at UNO. From there I can walk to see my family. I know to request a stop when I see the
the green pedestrian bridge near UNO.  I go to Dundee often. I can get off at 50th and Dodge and walk to my favorite businesses. 

I am excited for ORBT, Metro’s Bus Rapid Transit or the  BRT. I will be able to pay with my smartphone, and the new buses will have an automatic audible announcement  the upcoming stops.

Route 2 to Westroads

I have heard from a few bus riders that their bus is not dependable. I tell them to call or email Metro — they want to hear from the public if the service isn’t working. Metro is making improvements to the system with new bus shelters and buses and more technology to connect passengers. As someone who depends on the bus, I am grateful Omaha is investing in public transportation.

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.