Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Tale of Two Friends

Remember when you were a 6th grader?  You were finally old enough to start navigating the world more independently.  In fact, you were probably a seasoned pro at navigating around your world by now: riding to school, riding to ball practice, riding to your friend's house.  You were jumping curbs, exploring allies, creating shortcuts. (You're smiling just thinking about it, aren't you?!)

Last night, my 6th grader and her buddy hung out at our house after school to work on some math homework.  Her mom dropped her off with her bike, knowing that my kids like to ride.  They got their homework done and rode up to the elementary school to ride home with my 4th grader.  When it was time to take her friend home, it only made sense to use bikes...after all, her house is only about 2 miles away by car, and I wasn't going to drive her and her bike home on such a nice evening.

In an ideal world, with a fully connected trail around Standing Bear Lake  (OR- on street bike facilities along 144th, north of Fort) and grid streets rather than cul-de-sacs, our easy peasy 2ish miles route would have been:  
   In fact, this almost the same route that we rode...except that there is no shoulder at all along this section of 144th Street, and I'm not familiar enough with her friend's cycling ability to be comfortable riding on the street with her, so we took our chance riding the bumpy, weedy goat path worn along the east edge of the street.  My daughter's friend ended up pushing her bike in this area, and had my daughter not just finished a summer of mountain bike riding, she likely would not have had the ability to ride this section, either.  There was just enough traffic along 144th to add to this nerve-racking experience.  We also had to detour about a half mile out of the way to get into her cul-de-sac, even though we could see her house plain as day from the intersection of 144th/Fort.

I guess I could have let the girls ride by themselves...I mean, there is a lake with a perfectly wonderful trail that goes (mostly) around it... 

Um, I'm sorry...did you say 7 MILES??  Yep, the 2 mile route turns into 7 miles if you want to take the trail and the safe street crossing on Fort Street at the pedestrian signal.  (And this also assumes that my comfort zone is OK with them crossing 144th Street without a signal ...less busy here, to be fair... to get to the Standing Bear Lake trailhead.)  There has to be a better way, right?  

Well, sort of.  It is shorter (3ish miles), but the girls are left to fend for themselves trying to cross 40mph Fort Street with no signal.  Not so much. 

This is just one of many, many examples that we could point to that all of us have encountered.  In the words of my former boss, Paula: "Well, what are you gonna do about it?" 

Advocate for Safe Routes to School.
Continue to ride my bike whenever and wherever I can and politley answer the bizzare questions people ask me about why and how I just did what I did.

And personally:  I'm going to continue to annoy my friends with seemingly meaningless Facebook and Twitter posts every time I ride the bus to show them that people in West Omaha can and DO ride the bus.  :)

What are YOU gonna do about it?


Anne and Mike said...

Nice post. I ride this part of town often and feel the same frustration you mention. I certainly would not ride on 144th Street with a novice or young rider. I would love to see "smarter" routes created throughout the city. While the additional miles the other route creates might take you out of the way, it would be considerably safer. With that said, it would be great to not have to go out of your way to get somewhere. The third route you posted would be shorter but with some difficult hills in those neighborhoods it's not the best option for all cycling levels. I really would like to see the city connect it's neighborhoods with signed "sharrows" or "bike boulevards" The investment wouldn't be a fortune to mark streets or provide signage. I'm sure with the help of cyclists throughout the city we could connect all points from West Omaha to South Omaha and points inbetween. Just share your route information and combine that data with transportation data to create a master plan. Your story is a perfect example of how difficult it can be for a family or person to ride your bicycle, even a short distance in this town. Better safer routes will encourage more people to get out on there bikes. I would also suggest to the city that they concentrate there efforts city wide, and not just the downtown corridor.

Don Kuhns said...

I agree the area could use some improvements particularly on 144th.

Next time tell the kids to use the route in your 3rd map, but cross 144th at Fort St., ride down the hill and hit the trail that goes through the empty wetland area southwest of Standing Bear. It's a pretty fun trail with one small but steep hill.

john said...

They REALLY need signs reminding drivers to yield to cyclists along the trail on 144th. I occasionally go out there for something different and am always surprised at the people that simply ignore the stop signs at trail crossings. I was nearly hit twice last year by motorists failing to yield at an intersection when THEY had the stop sign. Because of drivers attitudes out west I mainly stay in and around my much safer south Omaha area. I may get yelled at or stuff thrown at me, but they at least almost always yield.

Mike said...

On the 144th Trail, or any other trail that crosses intersections you really need to pay extra attention. I can count an equally large amount of cyclist that just plow through these same intersections without regard for traffic. I'm not sure of the traffic or pedestrian laws in that sense, maybe someone can chime in? I would suggest exercising extreme caution though, as it is more like a large sidewalk as opposed to a "bicycle" trail. I also don't believe "almost always" is any better than your idea of west O stopping or yielding. Until all of Omaha becomes more bicycle friendly, I don't think it matters the part of town your in. I also happen to live in South O and commute to West O everyday, so I'm familiar with both areas.

Don Kuhns said...

I suspect that to most drivers, streetside rec trails are just another sidewalk. Don't expect them to behave any different. It's pretty well documented that sidewalk riders are even more invisible to motorists than street riders are. Sidewalk riding requires care and diligence, but personally I find it less stressful than street riding.

AOJules said...

Hopefully the 144th Street widening project will address the safety concerns of the sidepath street crossings. From what I remember from the public meeting, there will be more thought as to the placement of the stop signs in relation to the trail crossing. Also, they will be eliminating the landscaping at the street crossings that looks great but really obstructs the sight lines of motorists and trail users alike.

I also use this sidepath on my route to work and agree that it is less nerve racking than shoulder-less 144th Street...except for the crossing over Dodge: I will take my chances in traffic from FNB Parkway to Norton Drive (even crossing over to make a left turn into Boystown) rather than attempt to nagivate the funky mini islands and curb cuts and weird angles on the sidepath!!