How do you roll to the poll?

1 Nov

In a recent public relations effort to publicize their low cost and no-cost rides to the polls (an admirable effort considering some of the barriers of distance being erected this election) the company has been touting the statistic that 15 million eligible voters did not vote in 2016 because of transportation issues. The actual quotation from their blog post is, “It is estimated that over 15 million people were registered but didn’t vote in 2016 because of transportation issues.” Hmmm. Passive voice. That’s never good. But there is a foot note.

Turns out, Lyft is extrapolating the number from a study of young voters conducted by the Center for Information Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (and organization whose mission and purpose conveniently create an acronym, CIRCLE) where in a large percentage of young, eligible voters cited a lack of transportation as their reason for not voting.

The issue of the barrier of distance is no stranger to Omaha Elections. In 2012, then Election Commissioner, Dave Phipps, closed 32% of the county’s polling places before public outcry forced him to reopen many of them. Mode Shift encourages all eligible voters to make a plan for getting to the polls for those planning on voting in person on election day. Whether you are going to walk, ride a bike, take a bus or ride in a car, it’s important that your voice be heard.

First, find your polling place at www.votedouglascounty.com

For those who need a ride to the polls, there are many organizations willing and able to coordinate a ride for you to get to the polls.

  • Black Votes Matter is providing rides to polls in North Omaha,  402-312-2891
  • Uber and Lyft are proving free or reduced rate rides to the poll
  • Heartland Workers Center 402-933-6095
  • Douglas County Democratic Party

If any other organizations are offering rides to the poll, please let us know and we will add you to the list. Most important: VOTE. We won’t elect the best representatives of our community if only some of us are making the choices.

Omaha at Human Scale: The Tale of a Bench

26 Oct

As we turn the corner into the final months of 2018, Mode Shift Omaha would like to invite the community to share their experiences of the city at “human scale.” This is in contrast to how much of the city is built and how most people experience moving through the environment: automotive scale. We will be highlighting joys and challenges of using active transportation modes in Omaha and the experience of encountering the environment at human scale. The first in the series if from Cindy Tefft, Mode Shift member and activist focused on the 72nd and Dodge area.

“The 72nd Street corridor, north and south of Dodge Street, is an area I traverse often either by walking, bicycling, or driving my car. I notice the bus benches in the area tend to collect litter.  Not being a frequent bus user, I have to imagine what it is like to be a person who either has no choice but to ride the bus, or does have the choice and uses the bus consistently.

“The litter surrounding these benches contributes to a perception of bus users as ‘trashy’ or of a lower class.  East of 42nd St there are more trash receptacles placed at bus stops.  West of 42nd, not so much.  One particularly difficult stop is 72nd and Pine where a few weeks ago I stopped to clean up what appeared to be a homeless person’s large plastic bag full of supplies that had been ground into the mud.  Depending on where the bus driver stopped, transit users had to walk over the trash to board the bus.  While I was picking up this muddy mess, (broken glass, books, pens, paper, etc) a bus pulled up, the driver actually got out and spoke to me.  He said it really upset him that people left trash like that.  I asked if he, as a driver, ever reported it to Metro and he said that he had but nothing ever got done.  This particular bus stop has a 55 gallon steel drum that I’ve placed near the bench which is used regularly.

Garbage and litter on the ground around a bus bench at 72nd and Maple.

“72nd and Maple Street  SE corner caught my eye recently and after several days of seeing the litter around that bus bench, I wondered what would it be like to be a transit user and having to sit amongst rotten food, alcohol containers, discarded duffle bags, many plastic bottles and cups of partially empty soda.  On a free day, I rode my bike to the stop along with bags and a trash picker and went to work.  I collected enough litter on that corner to fill a 55 gal bag and two 30 gal bags full.   Fortunately, a nearby business allowed me to use their dumpster.

“The trash and litter is something I’ve been working on for several years.  The bus bench company has had litter campaigns and will clean the benches if there is a problem.  Their position is that people just shouldn’t litter.  This is a more systemic problem than not littering.    The city will clean (to some degree) the area if they are called due to a complaint.  This process is reactionary only.  The City of Omaha Park Maintenance person says it is a gray area and when the bus bench contract comes up next year this may be part of the discussion.

Three full bags of garbage and litter collected by Cindy.

“In my investigation into who is responsible for keeping up the bus benches, I discovered the rent from the bus benches goes into the City of Omaha general fund and does not go specifically to the Parks Maintenance or any other city office.  There is no funding by any entity to work with bus stop littering.”

If you would like to contribute to the Omaha at Human Scale series, e-mail us at info@modeshiftomaha.org.

Five Questions for . . . the MCC Board District 2 Candidates

17 Oct

Metro Community College’s board is divided into specific geographies (as well as an at-large seat). District 2 covers much of Northeast Omaha, including the Fort Omaha Campus. MCC has been a leader in post-secondary institutions promoting Active Transportation. This Friday, October 19, at 8 a.m. we’ve invited the candidates for the District 2 board seat to be our guests at our monthly coffee chat. We’ll be meeting up at the Scooters in the corner of 30th and Ames Ave.

To get to know the candidates ahead of time, we asked them five questions . . .

Erin Feichtinger

1. What is your preferred mode of transportation?
Walking and my bike (thanks Bike Union!)

2. What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge to multi-modal transportation in Omaha?
We are a car-centered city – a fact reflected in the continued sprawl westward without the appropriate infrastructure to support it, introducing bonds expanding roads to hold more cars, prioritizing streets at the expense of sidewalks, and a lack of interest in the kind of urban density that would put employment centers close to where people live and to accessible transportation. All of this leads to a lack of awareness of multi-modal transportation and so, a lack of prioritization in the public will. It’s pretty frustrating.

3. What, in your opinion, the the greatest multi-modal success in Omaha?
Promoting active transportation in Omaha is a multi-layered issue that’s going to have to be addressed at several levels, so it’s hard to say what is the greatest success. The trail system is a massive and successful public infrastructure that I love to utilize. There are neighborhoods in the city that promote walkability and so, attracting people who like the idea of living close to where they work and where they play, and this is changing the conversation about transportation from “Let’s drive there” to, “Let’s walk up to…” (Dundee, Gifford Park, the Old Market, Benson, North 24th St., for example). Metro Area Transit has been receptive to community input about improving their services which has been a huge benefit to the people who need it most – like the #24 increasing its frequency to 15 minute intervals to serve communities who most need it to get to work and to social services. Really, though, the greatest success is the fact that this conversation about how to promote active transit is taking place at all, and that it’s having an impact across the spectrum – we have a bike lane on Leavenworth! Community bike shops! Rapid Bus Transit coming! Now we just need to fix the sidewalks to protect pedestrians all across the city.

4. How did you come to have an interest in transportation?
Growing up in West Omaha, not exactly a paragon of multi-modal transportation, I didn’t have a lot of exposure to questions of transportation. Then I moved to Chicago for school. Though everyone there has their frustrations with transit, the necessity and convenience of an effective multi-modal transportation infrastructure was thrown in sharp relief. I rode the train or the bus every day and it took me everywhere I could want to go. I rode my bike to and from school and work along the lake shore path, the north river trail, and the bike lanes all over the city. I walked everywhere I could. And what you start to realize is that when you’re not in a car, you experience the world and your community so much more intimately, and in Technicolor. Moving back home to Omaha, the lack of an effective and sprawling public transportation system was inconvenient, to say the least. The work I do every day, designing programs to help increase access to necessary social services for people who need them, cements even further how crucial it is to promote accessible and multi-modal transportation. It’s hard to tell someone to go to this particular place at this particular time if they don’t have access to a vehicle. The lack of access to transportation that is close to where people live and where they work and the services they need is a huge and unnecessary barrier.

5. If you could magically change one thing about the transportation systems in Omaha, without limit to budget or feasibility, what would it be
Increase the frequency of every bus route. Put in more visible bus signs that explain what bus is coming, the route, and its frequency. Provide training for every Omahan on how to ride and navigate public transportation free of charge, especially focusing on collaborating with social service agencies and the public schools. Increase the number of routes and make them go further west and to employment centers. Protected bike lanes. Education for drivers on how to share the road with cyclists and pedestrians. Protected sidewalks along busy roads like Dodge. ADA sidewalks EVERYWHERE.

My answers are a bit long – I just get really jazzed about this topic.

Brad Ashby

Declined to respond.