Tag Archives: omaha

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!

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!

Making Decisions

Once Omaha’s Complete Streets Policy is in place, how will the city Planning and Public Works Departments make decisions on street design. One only has to move throughout the city (by any means) to know that there will be ample opportunity to put the policy into practice. But who will the decision makers design for?

If they look at current usage of the roadways to decide on walking/biking infrastructure, I fear that we will be doomed to more of what we now have: corridors designed with the automobile as priority. In my opinion (such that it is,) they should quit looking at the past. Furthermore, they shouldn’t design for the future; instead they should take the opportunity to design the future, a different concept altogether. I suspect that comment may need some explanation.

If the Planning Department designs for the future, they will look back at historical data and trends, extrapolate expected numbers, then adjust them actuarily to come up with what they feel will be the future use. The problem with this approach is that it is based solely on the past and will, therefore, continue to elevate the use of private automobiles over other means of transport. Hence, roads will be widened, parking added, and other transport options left to share what may remain (if anything.) In other words, more of the same on a grander scale.

However, if the planners instead utilize their education, knowledge, experience, but most importantly their imaginations, they can redesign our cities as more pleasant, enjoyable places to work, live, and play. Consider a concept I like to call Complete Neighborhoods. Currently, we look at neighborhoods as a collection of homes contained within the same area, borders defined often by busy streets. Imagine instead a neighborhood that contained not only homes, but also included businesses that provided central services: grocery store, drug store, hardware store. Those places we often need at least once a week all located within a mile or two (easy walking or biking distance) from home. Those places not needed as often, such as clothes, beauty or barber shops and entertainment, could be located another mile or two (still bikeable) out, with public transit granting access to those who don’t want to ride. Delivery services could provide a means for getting those big ticket items home. Workplaces (for those not employed in these shops) and green spaces could be intermixed throughout. These concepts are found in the book “A Pattern Language” which should be on the shelf of every designer in my opinion.

Allow me to state that I am not promoting a full-city teardown and starting from scratch. Instead, let’s look at current zoning laws and change them to allow these ideas as redevelopment occurs. In Omaha, we already see the desire for such development in areas like the Crossroads Mall, where it appears the zoning and bureaucracy have come together to stifle the creative thinking that Omaha will need as more folks see the opportunities that our city provides now and, hopefully, will provide into the future.

Think creatively!

Roll on!

Learning What I Don’t Know

For a while now, I’ve wanted to add to my cycling advocate resume by becoming a League of American Bicyclist Certified League Instructor (LCI). I’d take the Traffic Skills 101 class WAAAY back in 2013, and decided that the next step was LCI. There had been a class offered immediately after the TS101 class I took, but there was also a “meeting of the minds” of the cycling community from which came the rebirth of Omaha Bikes. I made the choice (and would do so again today) to attend that meeting and take the class the next time it was offered in Omaha. Little did I know that it would be 3-1/2 years later.

After rejoining the League (not sure how that lapsed), Laura and I both registered for the class, took the assessment, and got ready to spend a weekend with like-minded folks. Unfortunately, Laura came down sick, so I attended alone.

Friday evening, I took my seat along with the other LCI candidates. I knew many of them either personally or through reputation. There were even a couple from that long ago. TSI class. We covered the syllabus, and learned some basic teaching techniques. We also received our final presentation project assignments. Off to the races!

The next two days were filled with projects, drills, assessments and tests (I won’t bore you with descriptions). Finally on Sunday, we got the word on whether we were now qualified to teach.

I suspect that most everyone passed. However, I was given some remedial work to do on Avoidance Drills. Once I practice and demonstrate to another LCI that I have mastered them, I’ll receive my certification. In the evaluations I received from the  other candidates, I learned that one of my presentation/teaching weaknesses is student engagement. Basically, I come across as “teaching at” rather than “teaching to.”

Which got me wondering: Do I come across the same way on my little blog? I know there are not (yet) a ton of you reading my entries, but for those that do: am I coming across as “preachy?” If I am, what suggestions would you make to help me to better engage with you, the reader. Please let me know.

With that, I’ll leave you to enjoy what appears to be a magnificent Spring day. Get out there and breathe it all in. Until next time…

Roll on!

Stand up; Resist!

As everyone is aware, the climate out of DC has definitely changed. No, this is not the result of CO2, methane or any of the myriad other greenhouse gases we continue to spew into our atmosphere; that’s a DIFFERENT kind of hot air. No, I’m talking about our newly minted President, Donald J. Trump (henceforth referred to as DJT.) Barely two months into his tenure at the White House, DJT has already alienated many of our allies, undone years of environmental progress, and (assisted by his Republican Congress) stated to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

Now he’s released his budget. With the exception of the military, pretty much every other facet of government will have drastic cuts to their budget. Since this blog is about transportation, let’s focus in on that area.

You will recall that during his campaign, DJT emphasized the need to repair, replace and maintain the nation’s infrastructure. However, his proposed budget shows no sign of that thinking. According to The Hill,  he’d like to cut the DOT budget by 13%. His budget eliminated the TIGER grants and TIF funding that many states, cities and locales have relied upon to develop alternative transportation infrastructure. Furthermore, it eliminates funding for Amtrak and for the Essential Air Service program, both of which are vital to small rural towns and areas. Guess the only infrastructure he’s really interested in is a wall between the US and Mexico. Yeah, I know he said that Mexico will pay for the wall, but what DJT isn’t telling you is that that payment will come in the form of tariffs on Mexican goods, which translates into higher costs for those producers who will understandably pass on those costs to us, the consumer. So who’s REALLY paying for that wall?

The good news is this is a budget proposal. It has to be passed by Congress before it becomes a fact. And while some within his own party are saying “No” right now, the vote isn’t actually being taken yet. Let your legislators in DC know where you stand. Tell them what you want. If we work together, we just may win. But if we stand quietly, we most assuredly lose.

Roll on!

Tools for Omaha Commuters (and Others)

Thought I’d share a couple of things that I hope will make life easier for people who bike in Omaha.

First, a map I’ve been working on and adding to. Those of you who know me are aware of the map I created (and continue to curate) showing the Fixit repair stations in the Omaha region. I started this map back in 2014 and it has seen some use. Hopefully, the fixit stations have as well. I had been thinking of what things might also be of use to Omaha cyclists and realized that one of the questions I have before setting out is “Where’s the closest parking to my destination?” So I started working on adding that to the map as well.

With some help from Omaha Bikes and the city’s Planning Dept., I got my hands on a file of all of the city-installed bike racks in Omaha. There’s quite a few of them! After some quick searching and finagling, I was able to import it into the map. You can see the results here. It’s much easier to see/read on a PC than on your phone, but it is still usable. FixitOmahaI’m still playing with a couple of ideas with icons, data, etc., so keep checking back.

(UPDATE: I’ve created a Google Form so that you can report a bike rack or Fixit Station that is missing on the map. Just click here, fill in the form, and I’ll take care of the rest.)

(UPDATE 2: B-Cycle bike share stations have been added. Also, sometime next week, I hope to be adding (with help from the Planning Dept.) the formally recognized bike commuter routes.)

(UPDATE 3: The Planning Dept. came through, not only with the promised commuter routes, but also with the trails in the city. I’ve added them to the map. I think I’m done for the time being. If you have suggestions, please put them in the comments section.)

Since my map is a bit cumbersome to use on a smart phone, I started looking for other solutions, and I found one! The Bicycle Parking Project gives an opportunity to download their bicycle parking app for either iPhone or Android. I sent the above mentioned data file to the developer, and he graciously added the bike racks in Omaha to his database. It’s also incredibly easy to add new racks to it; just take a picture of the rack through the app and send it. You can see that’s what I did for the bike parking at Natural Grocers on Dodge. Bulk loaded racks are yellow, and those added by individuals are blue. You’ll note the button “Park Here.” If you select a rack and click on the Park Here, it will turn green; you can walk away and be able to easily remember where you left your bike. I’ll also be reviewing the map in this app periodically to see where new racks have been added and update the above map.

NtGrocRack

Hopefully, folks will find these little tools useful. If you can think of other information that you think would work, let me know, and I’ll see what’s possible.

Roll on!