The Public Space
May 20, 2015
By Ken Mayer
I am not a child. I am a grown man. Moreover, an old one at that. However, I often get treated like a child. In many places, but most often when I’m on my bike. I’ve been honked at, told to ride on the sidewalk and treated to certain hand gestures not used in polite company.
I’ve ridden the streets of Omaha for over 40 years as an adult, and it isn’t getting any easier. Drivers continue to see me as a nuisance. I’m apparently disrupting their passionate desire to arrive at their destination 30 seconds sooner. Or, perhaps I’m in their path and putting down the cell phone or latte to actually attend to the task of operating heavy equipment is just too much trouble.
I am not a child. I have just as much right to be traveling on a public street, on my bike, as anybody else using any other street legal conveyance.
It would appear that our legislators down in Lincoln think I’m a child as well. Under current state law, if I ride my bike into an intersection, with the traffic signal green, even one on a bike path, I am unprotected. In order to have other vehicles yield the right of way, I have to get off my bike and walk across the intersection, even where there are traffic lights or signs.
This is naïve when it comes to children and flat out ridiculous for adults.
Legislative Bill 39 proposed changes that would afford better protection for bike riders on both trails and highways. Sorry kids, LB 39 never made it out of committee.
Then LB 641 was introduced with similar language, also specifically protecting cyclists. Sorry again, the bill passed with an amendment that removed bicycles from the list of protected conveyances. Maybe you kids should just ride your bikes in the driveway.
I think it’s time for us riders to take back the streets.
One way to do that is to participate in the development of strategy for bikeways. Last month, the Metro Area Planning Agency (MAPA) released a draft Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan that’s available for review at http://heartland2050.org/heartland-connection/plan-reports/. The plan has some important features that deserve attention and input. In my opinion, one of the most important of the plan’s goals is connectedness. Safe, easily accessible and comfortable trails, sidewalks and bike paths are relatively useless if you can’t get there from here. Just like the bus system, key nodes of commerce, recreation and other activity need to be connected by bikeways.
Another sensible idea in the plan considers Omaha’s hilly terrain by using a climbing bike lane on steep two-way streets on the uphill side. This is commonly done on two-lane highways throughout the nation to give slower traffic like trucks an out and faster traffic the opportunity to pass.
One idea I didn’t see in the plan is an old practice that is receiving attention in some transportation circles. It’s the “scatter” or “scramble” intersection. In areas of high pedestrian and bicycle traffic, like business districts, all the traffic lights turn red. Bikes and pedestrians can then scatter or scramble through the intersection, even on the diagonal if need be. This would require suspending the right turn on red rule, a practice that has always been very dangerous to both cyclists and pedestrians.
And while we’re at it, let’s ban the practice of drivers attempting to direct traffic from inside their cars. I know they are trying to be polite, but I’d rather not be invited to violate perfectly good traffic laws while I’m walking or bicycling. Do not wave me on, or you risk getting one of those impolite hand gestures.
MAPA is encouraging public comments on the plan. The deadline for written submissions is May 29th, 2015. Email your comments to email@example.com.
Now is the time to make your needs for safe and useful bikeways known.
The Public Space
Ken Mayer is a freelance writer, photographer, consultant and adjunct faculty member at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. He has served on the boards of The Nebraska Choral Arts Society, Downtown Omaha Inc. and Landmark’s Inc. Mr. Mayer has been a consultant and volunteer for Omaha by Design since 2002.