Friday, November 13, 2009

Who's road is it?

Earlier today we posted a link to an Omaha World Herald article. That article has over 51 comments on it so far. Some of the discussion has been heated.  But for the most part the responses from Omahans, that use bikes for transportation needs, have been very calm and level headed. We decided to jump in and provide a bit of feedback as well. Our response is below.

Streets are designed to get PEOPLE (and stuff) from point A to point B. In the United States, the average person has chosen to use an automobile on those streets to get from A to B. In fact, most US cities are designed in such a way that people are almost required to use an automobile to cover the large distances from A to B. This is a city DESIGN CHOICE and not a necessity. The way the average US city is designed has encouraged the wide spread use of some sort of “fast transport” to get from A to B in a reasonable amount of time (Urban Sprawl comes to mind).

The fact is, that there are other ways to design a city AND much more efficient ways of getting from A to B. The bike is just one of those more efficient methods. When a city is designed correctly, cars don’t have to travel at 55+ mph to get from A to B in a reasonable amount of time. In fact, in a properly designed city, the average person lives within a few miles of almost all of the destinations they might want to visit in a typical day. At that point riding a bike or walking becomes more feasible. But that’s not CURRENTLY how Omaha is designed.

That being said, the people in Omaha that choose a bike to help them get from A to B will sometimes need to share these high-speed roads to get where they are going. Don’t think for a moment that they WANT to ride with high-speed automobile traffic, but sometimes they need to. Bikes are nothing special. Bikes are just a tool, that some of us use, to get from point A to point B. Bikes do belong on the road, and with proper facilities on Omaha’s shared streets, everyone will get along just fine. Right now, Omaha is just in the beginning stages of adding those facilities that will help bikes and automobiles co-exist. In the coming years, we will see more bikes riding in Omaha for transportation/utilitarian reasons. As the facilities improve, it will be less difficult for automobile traffic to coexist with bike traffic. Until that time, please be considerate and pass bikes with care, because we are just people, like you, using Omaha streets to get from A to B.

Also, a challenge to those of us that are already riding bikes on Omaha streets for transportation/utilitarian/health/recreation reasons. Please obey ALL traffic laws. Don’t be the 1% that gives the other 99% a bad image.


The D said...

Well said Bob.

Biker Bob said...

Thanks... I'm still waiting for that post to show up on the comments of the article.

erik said...

omaha is 30+ years behind the curve. it'll either make huge strides to fix the problem, or become a wasteland of suburban slums when peak oil takes hold.

too bad the rich people who choose to live in such a way will simply gentrify the current slums and push the continually marginalized out of the city center.

Biker Bob said...

It is what it is, but that doesn't mean we can't change it.

Omaha WILL come around. Fixing the suburban issue will take time, but it can be done.

erik said...

i'm afraid the suburban form uniquely precludes personal interaction that grounds communities with mutual respect (in this case, of modeshares).

it is what it is, indeed. but let's identify the root issue, which has everything to do with the built environment that has been encouraged to take hold.

HalfFull said...

Why so grumpy erik...if you don't even live here anymore? We are hopeful that the work of organizations like Activate Omaha and their volunteers will change things around. The City of Omaha and it's employees aren't as backwards as you seem to believe. They want to do the right thing...but the voices of the motorists are numerous and loud. I don't believe that they will change their minds any quicker than you will become a positive it goes both ways.
I think many level headed things have been said to fight the are not helping with your angry and insulting voice.

Don Kuhns said...

I wonder, how many of those cyclists who have been yelled at for slowing down traffic treat pedestrians and children the same way on the trails?

Some bikers seem to think they are so awesome that slowing down for possible hazards is beneath their dignity. Though they complain about others, it is they who are putting themselves and others in danger. As the fastest things on the trails, it is our responsibility to watch carefully for any possible hazards and slow down when the need arises.

dale said...

The root issue? If you want to talk philosophy or theology of the human condition, that is for another blog.

You sound like someone who's read a lot, maybe studied a lot, and spends a lot of time talking and thinking with others who think like you because when you try and communicate with those outside your mindset, you sound like you're talking out your arse.

Your attitude, language, and condescension inhibit valuable discussion.

omahabike said...

This conversation is important! In the Midwest, as much as in America, as much as anywhere in the world, we are innovators of the future. I believe our shocking cultural history in Omaha is testament to that. Our sprawl issue will be an opportunity, not a liability. As an architect I appreciate the power of our built environment. However, just as buildings cannot make us better people (no matter how well-designed!), planners and politics do not control our health as a community. Honest conversations and the bridging of social capital are the positive change agents we need. Keep the conversations going and befriend an avowed motorist! And if you live in the 'suburbs,' consider staring a business close to home!

The D said...

Erik: Your comments are spot on as always. Those who are not familiar with the tone of your approach may mis-judge. I believe we need more fire behind our words and actions and less passiveness. It's times like these we need to be loud and aggressive.

Keep the conversations going.

erik said...

talking about transit-oriented development as superior to suburban sprawl is neither a considertaion of the "philosophy of the human condition" or talking out my "arse."

it's a dialogue fundamental to city planning across the world, and a dialogue which has been opened in dozens of cities across our country. the problem won't be solved until we address the root problem, and that is the way we allow our city to be designed.

i was born and raised in omaha, and intend to return. contributing to the discourse here is in my best interest, and i'm neither lashing out nor angry at anything other than the rampant miseducation of drivers in my community--the root of that is the way we live in omaha.

It is NOT an insult to say that suburban form is horribly messed up and inefficient. if we could acknowledge that, new design paradigms could be introduced -- it only happens through dialogue.

i'm sorry some of you felt that i was being somehow insulting, but that is far from the case -- it's nobody's fault other than the planners and city officials who sold our development out to the highest bidder and paid zero attention to discussions on oil and climate which reach back to the fifties.

erik said...

if you won't listen to my opinion, then look to activate omaha who inserts this at the bottom of their discussion concerning getting people into active modes.

"It will take a massive awareness campaign ... and a thrust on enhancing the built environment to support active living."

again, you're not against capitalism or anything like it if you question how we develop our built environment.

those accountable for our current morass should be held as such. the city has allow omaha to follow outdated for the 1970s traffic engineering paradigms, they have sold inadequately zoned land to uncaring land developers who sprawl mcmansions left and right in an abandonment of good land-use principles, they have watched cyclists and pedestrians struggle on our streets and done nothing.

there is culpability here, whether intended or done of laziness, we need to challenge our planners, designers, and developers to do better instead of thanking them for token gestures (like some bike lanes) and subsequently ending the conversation.

Biker Bob said...

Thanks for the input everyone. Again, I think we are all trying to go in the same direction. The why's and how's at this stage tend to differ a bit. We are all different people with different experiences and motivations.

"i'm afraid the suburban form uniquely precludes personal interaction that grounds communities with mutual respect "

Erik made the above statement. I agree with it completely. Humans were designed (or evolved if that is the wording you prefer) to be social. We crave relationships. Unfortunately, our communities have devolved in such a way, that it is difficult to fill that void in relationships. My opinion is that this is why digital community options are so pupular right now.

Anyways, thanks again everyone for all the input.

munsoned said...

Reading some of the comments on the original Omaha World Herald piece makes me want to move out of the midwest. But then I read the comments on the early version of a story about a cyclist being run over and killed by 2 motorists in Portland, OR. Portland is supposed to be a cycling mecca, however, the blatant hate for cyclists on the road is apparently everywhere.

It's just so frustrating, to us who know how great cycling is for the environment and our own personal health, that the majority can't or won't see the benefits.

dale said...

erik "it is what it is, indeed. but let's identify the root issue, which has everything to do with the built environment that has been encouraged to take hold."

I did misunderstand you. I coupled this with your "screw the planners and developers" elsewhere and my own perception of money and bribes slanting planners and city code. The root of corruption is sin in my world view, hence "human condition". My bad.

"too bad the rich people who choose to live in such a way will simply gentrify the current slums and push the continually marginalized out of the city center."

Maybe I'm oversensitive but you seem to continually alienate the powers that be: planners (government), the rich. The government feeds off (taxes) the capital and jobs the rich bring in so the rich have influence.

If we are going to influence change, we have to dialogue with those in power - government and the rich. If they said derogatory things about you in every conversation, wouldn't that inflame emotions and descrease constructive dialogue? It does for me.

"and i'm neither lashing out nor angry at anything other than the rampant miseducation of drivers in my community--the root of that is the way we live in omaha."

Obviously, I disagree with you "neither lashing out nor angry" with only the miseducation of drivers. Maybe I'm misinterpreting your statements above and in both topics but taken together, you seem to have lied here.

"i'm sorry some of you felt that i was being somehow insulting, but that is far from the case -- it's nobody's fault other than the planners and city officials who sold our development out to the highest bidder and paid zero attention to discussions on oil and climate which reach back to the fifties."

You are insulting to the city planners and developers. Again I don't think it was only their "fault".

I would like to dialogue with you, but you push my buttons on disrespect towards others, burning bridges with those in power we need to dialogue with, and not being able to see it.

Maybe if you stopped laying blame every other paragraph and just dialogued on where should Omaha go from where we're at? what kind of changes should be made? how can we get there? - we could save some bandwidth for moving the discussion forward?

erik said...

Ok. Three things omaha could work on to move forward, these are demonstrably powerful steps done in other regions or cities;

1) set a green-belt to limit further development until infill could occur to the extent that it raised the average density of residential units per acre at 7 -- 7 being the "magic number" at which transit becomes economically viable and can sustain itself in a dignified fashion (verses the current situation of plastic bubbles poorly maintained isolated on arterials served by an infrequent bus system that is sometimes slower than simply walking across town)

2) form-based coding instead of big box friendly single use coding, to encourage mixed uses and to support affordable housing throughout the city for the workers who often are the ones forced to endure the indignity of trying to get around without a car in a car-reliant city

3) pursue Level of Service reform, we need to move beyond outdated models of traffic congestion control -- current efforts on our roads are about increasing the flow and ease of driving. Traffic should take a backseat until the needs of all road users are met. That's a hard one, as it makes the traffic engineers squirm, but it's going on right now in California and has been passed elsewhere. Until that happens, a traffic engineer will always be able to come in and squash efforts for significant traffic calming and active transport accommodation through means like bike lanes. So long as our city allows congestion management agencies to used demonstably incorrect models to justify the further widening and arterialization of our roads, we won't get anywhere (literally and metaphorically). Level of Service reform opens the door for putting bike lanes on streets like those arterial routes out west where people rip down streets at 60mph+. Streets near neighborhoods should not be allowed to become highways, and highways should be outside the city domain.

Many more good directions are out there, but those are three significant methods for encouraging healthy development and healthier communities.

erik said...

And, to change those areas we must hold those accountable accountable. That's the planners, designers, engineers, and developers who let our city grow like a maze of wildly inefficient cul-de-sacs instead of the healthy forms it should have taken. Blame is important if we are to know where to direct change -- that's alienating to some, but without it I don't know how you're going to put pressure in an effective political fashion (wishing/hoping only gets you so far and the issues must be addressed now if we hope to thrive in the future).

Cars won't be the solution, no amount of technology gets around the fact that our planet has limited resources -- even for things like battery creation. We must improve the efficiency of our suburban form by huge degrees if we want to continue to have any quality of life after oil. (Here's a short article concerning the limits to lithium, and how there isn't enough to replace the cars we have now on the road--not to mention the fact that the world is adding millions/day to the mess -- )

dale said...

1) along with the green belt is keeping 100-150'(?) of land on each side of the papillion creeks coded for parks, water runoff filtering, no building development. From Papillion Watershed committee.

1,2) density of 7+ units per acre. This requires townhomes or multistory condos and apartments.

Form-based instead of single box? Does this mean one building with residential, retail, business, and other uses?

3) Are complete streets part of the answer here?

This year, I bought and read "Design manual for bicycle traffic" from the Netherlands. First aquaintance with the actual planning of making it more difficult/expensive for cars to get around so bicycles become more efficient transport.

I support gas tax to bring fuel up to $4/gal with money to build multimodal transportation.

I am learning about the issues. I realize the urban sprawl design is unsustainable economically and environmentally. But the social engineering slams against my laissez faire upbringing.

erik said...

1)It's great that papillion passed a greenbelt! We need more cities to get on board, so that can be expanded to a regional level to protect our environments.

2) 7+ units/acre in a mixed neighborhood only means a mixed neighborhood -- that can all be in flux, but seven/acre is the proverbial magic number to have not just bikeable, but walkable, communities. Ultimately, whether you walk, bike, or wheelchair, that's the sort of city we want (higher density recommendations are out there, but seven is the most conservative/reasonable I've read).

3)Level of Service makes Complete Streets possible. Right now, I'm working with the East Bay Bicycle Coalition and studying the impact of a recent introduction by the metropolitan transportation commission of a routine accommodation checklist to be filled out before any project. This is a simple 3 page document which a project sponsor must complete, and it asks questions about what sort of bike/ped accommodations are being made in a given project. It's a great move, and part of the larger stated mission of the MTC to promote complete streets, but LOS considerations often win out over ever the most significant bike/ped needs because they allow traffic engineers to override the needs of bike/ped for the benefit of seconds improved in driving. It's a huge point of tension out here right now, but there is reform on the table that will stop the prioritization of auto level of service -- forcing the considerations of routine accommodation to be just as important. That was definitely a revelation for me--just how much we shortchange our cities for the sake of questionable equations (inspired by liquid dynamics, and more recently by gas dynamics).

I really think a great text on the topic is Andres Duany's "Suburban Nation: the Rise of Sprawl and the decline of the American Dream."

Before I take any more flak about politics, let it be known that this fellow does design work for places like disney resorts -- he's very much of the mind that the market will support this forms, and that our communities and economies will both ultimately flourish in a way they simply cannot under the currently dominant sprawl model.

I'll put the link up again, though I recommended it earlier today too.

It's really a concise and thorough introduction to many of the issues that I can only hope to begin to touch on given my limited knowledge and experience. It extends a thread through many other works of the past 30-40 years in planning theory and makes it all accessible.

If I can digress, I started biking just 4 years ago after I first read my roommate's copy which he had on our coffee table. It's really inspiring.

One more quick point though, we current use social engineering to subsidize sprawl -- gas taxes/vehicle taxes would have to double or quadruple to begin to cover the cost of extending miles of pavement to low density communities which do not generate the funds. One study cited in Duanes's text showed that in a given development, each suburban owner only covered about 5,000 of the 10,000 dollars needed to build road infrastructure per home in the given development -- the rest of the money came from tax money generated in the dense urban core.

It's the reason our streets are so potholed, there's not a reasonable way to get enough money to maintain them to the standard you see in Europe (where the roads are often funded through gas taxes which make gasoline cost a fair price relative to its impact--about 8 dollars/gallon).

Anyway, the book is great--I'm not that good at getting this stuff packed into comment sections on blogs. (Though strangely today I feel game for some writing, so I'm glad this came up it's been enjoyable for me).

I'm excited about the potentials in Omaha, and think the momentum can be tipped in our favor!

erik said...

Here's the SF bike coalition's discussion of Level of Service as it exists in CA. Something similar almost certainly exists in Omaha, but I haven't done the research out there before.

LOS Reform discussed on streetsblog;

If/When this happens, it will be huge and promises a seachange from the sprawl which dominates CA. Portland does something similar, and has recently expanded into "green" streets which encorporate environmental controls to boot--they're too spiffy.

Anyway, it's 1am out here on a saturday night so I'm toasting you all a good night.

dale said...

Thanks for the great input, Erik, with your interaction in the Bay area, and the source about SF LOS and Andres Duany's "Suburban Nation". I will add the book to my library and sounds like will be passing it around the Bike Omaha group.

I started biking cement trails in '02, mtb'ing since '03, road bike in '05, and commuting regularly since '07. Tim W., a full time commuter, non car owner, inspired me to see transportation from the seat of a bike.

The D said...

Seeing this open debate and sharing of ideas makes me smile.

Biker Bob said...

For those of you that may be interested, the following books are available from the Omaha publick Library:

"Suburban nation : the rise of sprawl and the decline of the American Dream" by Duany, Andres.


"Pedaling revolution : how cyclists are changing American cities" by Mapes, Jeff.

This has been a great conversation and should prove to be a good resource moving forward.

GetActive said...

I have a borrowed copy of Pedaling Revolution that I won't be able to get to until December 14th...if someone would like to borrow and have back to me by then :) Let me know!

erik said...

Thanks for the positive feedback.

Finally, I am sorry to those initially offended by my comments--I had been sent a link to the OWH article and the whole thing really angered me. Sometimes my efforts to comment take the form of quips and not well-formed thoughts. It's such a huge issue, it's hard to qualify and still have time left over!