What Will It Take?

I’m starting to get a bit frustrated about multi-modal progress in Omaha. While the city administration seems to react positively to concerns and ideas, in practice they don’t seem to get it. Here’s a few examples of the mayor and her minions not quite “getting it.”

In 2016, Omaha was recognized as having one of the better Complete Streets policies in the country. Admittedly, our policy is pretty decent on paper, but there doesn’t feel like a lot of effort or thought backing it up. At a forum during the mayoral campaign, I asked Mayor Stothert about Complete Streets implementation in a recently announced development project. If I understood her answer correctly (and I’m pretty sure I did,) she said that because the development would only affect two or three blocks of the road it didn’t make sense to follow the policy. Her thinking was that those two blocks wouldn’t lead to or from anywhere. Following that logic, Complete Streets would not be implemented ANYWHERE unless the entire length of the road was developed at once. While I’d love to see that happen, I know that’s not practical. The only way Omaha will end up with a Complete Streets network is if it’s piecemealed together, taking advantage of ALL development/redevelopment opportunities.

My second example is 63rd St. You will remember this thoroughfare from my posts on Plungergate. For a five block (1/4 mile) stretch, this residential street widens to allow for bike lanes on both sides and parking on the east side. Unfortunately, the lanes are only striped and (from what I’ve observed) use of the curbside parking is minimal. This extra width entices motor vehicle drivers to accelerate to highway speeds, and many of them do. This makes what should be a quiet peaceful street next to Aksarben Village a de facto drag strip, menacing pedestrians crossing and cyclists riding the street.

At a neighborhood meeting, the “solution” suggested by Public Works was to remove the bike lanes and allow parking on both sides of the street. This suggestion fails for several reasons. First of all, if streetside parking is not being utilized on the one side already allowed, why would it be used on both sides? The road is still wide, even the hint of narrowing provided by the bike lane is removed, so what will cause the NASCAR wannabe’s to drive reasonably? I don’t see it either. In my opinion, what should have been suggested is a Complete Streets/Protected Bike Lane treatment that… Oh wait! That flies in the face of the mayor’s forum response to me. Carry on! I doubt that the proposed roundabout is going to appreciably affect the safety of vulnerable road users.

My last example today is the widening of 120th St. In reviewing the Environmental Assessment, it appears that they plan on connecting the Papio Trail to the trail system in Tranquility Park. Great idea! No really, it is! However, the detail shows the connection being made north of West Maple up near Old Maple. While the city’s GIS data shows that the trail does reach that far currently, the reality is that it ends in Heflinger Park, south of West Maple. What are the plans to extend the trail northward to meet its soon to be created link to Tranquility? If there are no such plans, I have to wonder: did anyone from the city actually look at the trail, or did they just assume the GIS data was correct?

Now the mayor has a new buzz word to deal with: Vision Zero. I understand that she’ll be tasking ALAC with reviewing other policies and developing one for Omaha. I hope ALAC will take the time to recognize that the goals of Vision Zero can be best reached by rigorous application of the Complete Streets policy. Further, that such application needs to start now and not wait for the completion of the Complete Streets manual. After all, the tenets of Complete Streets can be found in the nine policy documents already adopted by various entities within Omaha.

Roll on!

Plunger Aftermath

More on “Plungergate!”

A couple of weeks since our little protected bike lane demonstration, and we’re still getting comments on it. When I went to the dentist last Monday, the dentist and two of the hygienists/assistants asked me if I had been in the paper or on the news. After telling them the purpose and how we did it (with names withheld to protect the “innocent”) they proclaimed us heroes of the cycling community. Doesn’t hurt that the doc and at least of the assistants are cyclists.

63rd_Shirley

There’s also been a bit of semi-official reaction to the demonstration. Apparently, at the May meeting of the Mayor’s Active Living Advisory Committee, there was an agenda item titled “Guerilla Bicycle Facilities on 63rd Street.” While the minutes/notes of the meeting have yet to be published, I’ve heard that the group was of two sides: one side wanted to condemn the action, while the other suggested letting it pass. I look forward to reading the notes to see what (if anything) good will come of it.

The residents of the 63rd & Shirley neighborhood haven’t let it go yet, either. A Facebook page has been started to continue pointing out the dangers of that intersection and the speeding traffic on 63rd. At least one local station has continued coverage of the issue.

I don’t know what will come of this long-term. I do know that there hasn’t been this much attention paid to ped/bike infrastructure since the firing of Omaha’s “Bike Czar” (I hate that term) in the early throes of the Stothert administration. If folks continue to talk and react, and if they promote change where it’s needed, then I count the action as a success.

Roll on!

Keeping the Flow

You’ll recall that last week I wrote about the 63rd & Shirley intersection and its problems with traffic. Well, this week something was done about it, albeit in an unusual way.

In an effort to draw attention to the issues on this stretch of road, a group of cyclists decided to demonstrate the benefits of a protected bike lane. The plan for the project was to delineate the painted lanes already there and measure traffic speed and behavior over a 36 hour period. The delineation tool of choice: bathroom plungers.

Yep, you read that right: the plunger. A tool commonly used to remove clogs in drains was going to be used by this group to improve overall flow through the neighborhood. This “method” of tactical urbanism has been used before, most recently in Wichita KS. The group gathered the plungers (120 of them) and other supplies, and laid out their plan. This plan included meeting with members of the neighborhood who were also concerned that the city might remove the existing lanes (which, as I point out last week, would be pointless.)

This past Monday morning, under cover of full daylight, a small group of these guerilla advocates swooped down on the blocks where the bike lanes waited. Working quickly and stealthily (or as stealthily as one can under the morning sun), they completed their task around 10:30am. After taking a few car speed readings, they departed and waited for reaction.

 

Plungers for Safer Aksarben

(Photo from Omaha World Herald)

Reaction came shortly after lunch when, as spokesman for the group, I got my first call from the media (KMTV News.) Riding my trusty Trucker to the site, I found that the city had already removed our project. The reporter from KMTV confirmed that Public Works had just finished pulling up the plungers and left, which meant that our demonstration was over in less than four hours (not the 36 we had hoped for.) At this point I figured that this would be our one and only interview.

Fortunately, I was wrong. Laura came to pick me up (to go out for dinner,) and while we were talking to a couple of cyclists who happened by about the project, KETV showed up. While that interview was happening, WOWT came along to finish up the major networks trifecta (sorry Fox; I still don’t count you as major.) Pell Duvall, the Executive Director of Omaha Bikes, made an appearance and offered a counterpoint to our project. Finally, as we drove away, the Omaha World Herald called for a quick interview. Media coverage complete.

Since then, the story has been share on social media. Other news organizations have picked it up and, most importantly, people are talking about it. Even though its life was short, Plungers for a Safer Aksarben has started folks thinking about new ways to view transportation infrastructure. Sure, there are the stalwart naysayers (particularly on in Public Works) who say that there’s no place in Omaha for protected bike lanes. But there’s just as many, if not more who see the value in providing safer transportation options for all.

Will this be the last of our tactical urbanism efforts? I don’t know, but probably not. If we see another opportunity to raise awareness, we’ll take it. I’ve provided links below my signoff to some of the stories about PSA. Until next time…

Roll on!

http://www.omaha.com/news/metro/advocates-glue-toilet-plungers-onto-omaha-street-to-show-what/article_7e9cff18-8aa4-5884-a6f3-d038a6e5a9c9.html

https://www.google.com/amp/amp.ketv.com/article/cyclists-place-plungers-in-street-to-call-for-safer-bike-lanes/9658438

http://www.wowt.com/content/news/Organizers-place-plungers-to-prove-a-point-422383283.html

https://nextcity.org/daily/entry/omaha-toilet-plunger-bike-lane

http://www.yaktrinews.com/news/national-news/cyclists-place-plungers-on-bike-lanes-to-make-statement/501167662

On Improved Street Design

The folks who live around 63rd and Shirley have been having issues with traffic speeding down 63rd. There have also been a number of accidents at this particular intersection. During a meeting, a representative from Omaha’s Public Works Department suggested putting a roundabout in the intersection as a traffic calming device.

During the meeting, he also made the statement that the bike lanes where the part of why traffic sped along this stretch of road. Initially, I was tempted to reject this premise out of hand, but on visiting the site realized that he was correct to a small degree. With parking only allowed on one side of the street and bile lanes on both sides, the available roadbed is probably wider than most. Combine that with the straight road, the perception is that the traffic can travel faster than desired (or posted.)

His solution: remove the bike lanes. The fallacy is that the roadbed will maintain its width. Even if parking was then permitted on both sides, I haven’t seen much parking on road in the times I’ve been there. Perhaps, if traffic calming is the goal, another look at the design is needed.

Instead of simple painted bike lanes, suppose a bikeway protected by extruded concrete or bollards was installed. Further, on the side where parking is allowed, what if the bike lane were placed between the parked cars and the sidewalk. Now the roadbed available to cars is effectively narrowed and traffic is (or should be) slowed. Granted, such an approach would cost a bit more but could be priceless in preventing injury or worse. Furthermore, such a design (with its more than perceived higher safety level) could entice even more riders onto the street where their increased numbers would make them more visible to motorists and slow traffic even more.

Perhaps the only thing that needs to be ripped out for safer roads is the thinking in the Public Works Department. Just saying.

Roll on!

Bike Month(?)

MaypoleMonday is May 1, and while some might celebrate the occasion by dancing around a pole with ribbons, those of us who pedal recognize it for what it truly is: the start of Bike Month. Started and  sponsored by the League of bikemonthAmerican Bicyclists, it should be 31 days full of two (or three) wheeled events, reaching a crescendo during Bike to Work Week where all the commuting warriors of the road receive our praise and adulation.

A Google search of events nearby proved disheartening. Apparently, in Omaha Bike Month will be more whimper than WOW. Even looking at the website for Omaha Bikes was a disappointment. Here’s what I did find.

Bike to Work Week will be May 15 – 19. The annual Mayors’ Ride will be on May 18th, followed by a Handlebar Happy Hour (the only event with the Omaha Bikes brand I found.) The ride will start at the Bob Kerry Bridge at 5:00pm.

The only recognition of Bike to Work Day that my search revealed was a Commuter Appreciation Station that will be hosted by the good folks at Omaha Bicycle Company. They’ll be at 1700 Country Club Avenue, so stop by if your route takes you that way. I’m sure there will be others but I couldn’t find them advertised.

Not sure if it was coincidental or planned, but on May 5 the Bike for Sight Ride heads out from Miller’s Landing. More info at http://bikeforsight.org.

The Omaha Commuter Challenge also kicks off on May 1, so log your biking, transit, and walking miles.

Don’t forget the National Bike Challenge. This year a Strava account is a requirement. Not a fan of Strava so I’ll likely sit this one out.

One event noticeably missing from this year’s lineup: Cyclofemme.cyclofemme If it truly is missing, I hope it makes a return next year as it is a great vehicle for promoting gender equity in cycling.

If I’m correct in this (and I sincerely hope I’m not), the entire celebration of Bike Month will be compressed into two days in Omaha. If I’m wrong and you know of other planned events, please let me know in the comments. I really, truly want to be wrong. At any rate, I hope I’ll see you on the roads and trails around town, not just in May but year-round. Until then…

UPDATES:
5/3/17 – Two more Commuter Appreciation Stations have surfaced:
Trek Bicycle Stores will be at Aksarben Village near the Keystone Trail
Alley, Poyner, Macchietto Architecture at their offices, 1516 Cuming St.

Omaha Bikes has a contest going following their Positivity theme. Details on their website.

5/4/17- A couple more stations:
Bellevue Bicycle Club – behind Culver’s in Bellevue
RDG Planning & Design – 10th & Farnum

5/17/17 – Bellevue Bicycle Club’s Ride of Silence

Roll on!

Bits && Pieces

Last week I took the bus to meet Laura at Metro’s South Campus. While waiting at a transfer stop, I observed three separate cars jump the curb while making a right turn. Good indication that something more needs to be done in design of our streets to make them safer for people who walk or bike.

Had the opportunity to hear Chuck Barohn of Strong Towns speak at the Sustainability Launchpad. Lots of good ideas, but in some ways he takes more of a market approach in forming his arguments rather than a people approach. Still, an informative discussion.

image

image L.P.

Today is Earth Day. I remember the first one, way back in 1970. While I appreciate the celebration of our planet, it concerns me that the other 364 days of the year aren’t focused on the same things. We need to be protecting Mother Earth EVERY day. At any rate, we’ll be rolling out of here on our bikes in a little while to go see what’s new in the community. Perhaps even taking part in the March for Science this evening.

Short post, but as always…

Roll on!