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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

Advocacy in Action Follow Up at 52nd and Radial

4 Dec

Following Mode Shift’s recent videos and action about the issues with the intersection at 52nd Street and Northwest Radial Highway, the City has:

  • Started to paint the crosswalk. The next scheduled painting was Spring 2018, so it’s good to see some action now.
  • Initiated a change to the pedestrian signal system. Thanks to Bryan Guy, at Omaha Public Works for taking the time to look at the signal and reply to one of the signal issues.

Crosswalk Painting on November 21

This is good news. Once we know the extent of the City’s action, we will recap which issues are still open, and engage the City to discuss them.

In the meantime, here is a email sent to Carrie Murphy, Omaha’s Deputy Chief of Staff by Faith. Faith and her family attended the evening advocacy on November 14, and summarizes the events so well, that her email is worth sharing:

Hello Carrie, Thank you for your reply.

I know the mayor is busy, and I appreciate the staff’s attention. I would like to respond to several points made in this press release:

Perhaps the crosswalks are painted twice a year; perhaps they are painted 4, 5, or 6 times a year. In the end, however, the crosswalks are barely visible year-round. I am at that intersection at least twice a week year round and daily in the summer and you can barely ever see the paint. I will be happy to send pictures, but you can go there yourself or you can look at the photo published today in the World-Herald, which shows minimal paint. If they are being painted, they clearly need to be painted more often or more effectively.

As the Mode Shift video pointed out, crossing 52nd on the north is terrifying because there’s no clear line for the cars to stop. When I have my daughter in her stroller, we usually have to cross behind cars because they are pulled so far into the intersection. The same is true for the west side of the intersection, where cars regularly stop so far into the intersection that we end up crossing behind them. When we are able to cross in front of stopped cars, it is on me as the pedestrian to make glaring eye contact with each motorist in the hopes that they see me, because they’re certainly not looking for me. Continue reading