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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 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

Dangerous but Fixable: Vote on Your Nominated Intersections

11 Mar

After our initial Advocacy in Action at 52nd and NW Radial, we asked the community to nominate the intersections they felt were dangerous but fixable. We got a bunch of responses. Folks throughout Omaha have identified areas where people walking or riding bikes find themselves at greater vulnerability. Take a look at the nominations below and then vote on which intersection you think Mode Shift Omaha (MSO) should tackle next.

The Intersection: 13th & Spring Lake Dr./Gifford Dr.

Why Is It Dangerous? No sidewalk west of 13th connecting to Spring Lake Park

What Can Be Done? Sidewalk/trail connection, adequate crosswalk striping

Nominated by: Anonymous

Notes from MSO: This intersection is also served by Metro Route 13. The absence of a sidewalk on Spring Lake makes the transit less accessible to nearby residences.

Continue reading