Friday, May 27, 2011

From Omaha to Denver

January 2011 I moved from Omaha, Nebraska to Denver, Colorado to pursue a Master’s degree from the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. Upon my move to a city that offers  various forms of public transportation (i.e. Light Rail, Bus & Bicycle Systems) I have chosen to live a carless (note CARless—not CAREless) lifestyle after my 2000 Chevy Blazer committed suicide this past fall. It is almost impossible to live in Omaha without relying on automobile transport as this city is the epitome of urban sprawl but this is not to say I’m a hater of the “Good Life” O-town city, I admire Omaha and think anyone would be fortunate to live here…so long as you have a car that is.
Omaha is however undergoing a transformation (well a NEW transformation—Omaha is constantly under construction), particularly with regard to its bicycle transportation system. In 2010, Carlos Morales was hired by the city to fulfill the position of bike coordinator and tasked with improving Omaha’s bicycle network. This is partly why I have chosen to study at DU and travel to Amsterdam this summer as it is my dream to someday return to Omaha and help it become a more sustainable city—particularly aiding in its transportation sector. It is my intention to observe and learn from Denver’s and Amsterdam’s use of alternate forms of transportation so that I may someday be able to apply these to my hometown city.
Last week, DU’s spring semester officially ended and I am proud to say that I successfully commuted from my apartment to campus (a round-trip total of 10 miles) every single day of class (Monday-Thursday). You’re right, this admission is slightly self-indulgent--but so what? This is a goal I set out for myself and was one not easily achieved—if you think it is, I recommend you trying it out for yourself…actually that’s kind of my point. I hope you will all try commuting by bicycle, at least once, some point in your life—it’s not the easiest but is truly an enriching experience. Now, admittedly, I did not ride my bicycle, all 10 miles, every day I commuted to school—but, before you roll your eyes at me, hear me out.
I moved from Omaha, Nebraska—the Westside of Omaha where parents move as far away from the city in order to ensure a bubble like safety barrier for their families. On the Westside (well in most of Omaha I suppose for that matter) you will rarely see cyclists in the streets—the odds of this are comparable to witnessing a Bigfoot crossing. Bikes remain on sidewalks and Omaha has done a fairly good job at laying an extensive network of sidewalks that connect with various neighborhoods and city parks. The only problem is that these sidewalks do not provide the most efficient way of getting around town—especially if you’re looking to commute throughout the city by bicycle.
Before moving to Denver, I spent my summers commuting to work on bike (a fairly easy 4 mile round-trip commute—I say "fairly" because, contrary to what you might know about Nebraska, Omaha is quite hilly and its summer heat is known for getting the best of visiting Texans in town for the College World Series) and avoided riding in the street as much as possible—I think I road, at most, a 600 foot stretch of road that had no sidewalk in order to get to work—which, even then, I was self-conscious of angering drivers. Yes that’s right, you veteran cyclists—have your laughs, I was one of those “sissy” bikers who found security only when riding on a sidewalk (you should see me now though). I am not and will not be embarrassed if you think of me as a “sissy” for my former riding habits. Omaha drivers know very little about biking laws—or the fact that riders are supposed to be treated like motor vehicles—and it has very few biking lanes (out west). The lack of public knowledge and bike lanes has made Omaha into a very unfriendly biking city—though, as I pointed out, it is on its way to improving—and is why I thought sidewalks provided the safest routes for bicycles. But, after living in Denver for 5 months, I have come to learn that this opinion is utterly wrong. SIDEWALKS ARE DANGEROUS!! You should avoid riding your bike on a sidewalk as much as possible and here's why... (continued in Part II from Omaha to Denver)  

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