Tag Archives: traffic

We Can’t Drive 55

May 24, 2017 by

I have a little pinback button with a red flag emblazoned with the words “Safety First.” It was produced in 1915 by the Nebraska Safety League, which seems to have been one of a number of grassroots efforts to improve public safety.

This was in response to the nationwide development of a group called the National Council for Industrial Safety, which initially focused on workplace safety, but expanded its scope in the next few years to include traffic and home concerns (changing its name to the National Safety Council).

About that time, Omaha’s city commissioner, John J. Ryder, visited New York and discovered something called the “American Museum of Safety,” which functioned, in part, to instruct school children about street safety. He was enamored with this idea and advocated for a local version.

Both recommendations came at the end of an era of almost unbridled carnage in the streets. To read the newspapers of the era, crossing the street sometimes sounded like a game of Frogger, with pedestrians dodging carriages, streetcars, automobiles, and runaway horses. Auto fatalities had skyrocketed—a total of 54 people had died in crashes in 1900, but by 1915 nearly 7,000 Americans had been killed on the roads.

The first talk of speed limits in Omaha seems to have occurred as far back as 1903, when an automobile ordinance was proposed. There weren’t many car owners in town, and they tended to be wealthy, and tended to get their way as a result. When the ordinance suggested a low speed limit of six-to-eight miles per hour, the car owners rebelled. Included among them was Gurdon Wattles, who made his fortune in transportation. He complained that cars only went two speeds, slow and fast, and slow was too slow to be much good, and fast was too fast for the speed limit. He suggested 12 miles per hour would be satisfactory.

They got their way, but almost immediately advances in auto technology rendered this limit moot. By 1905, cars were speeding around Omaha at 40 miles per hour, and police were complaining it was nearly impossible to enforce the limit—to tell a car’s speed, police had to watch a car travel from one area to the next and count seconds, and then do some quick math. In 1909, there was even a proposal to reduce the speed limit again, back down to six miles per hour, to discourage cars driving at dangerous speeds.

Instead, the speed limit crept upward. By 1911, it was 15 miles per hour. By the 1920s, with the advent of highways built specifically for automobiles, the maximum speed jumped to 25 miles per hour. By 1935, it was 35. And in 1969, speeds on the highways leapt to 60 miles per hour.

So it has been ever since, but for a brief period in the 1970s when, in response to spiking oil prices, there was a national maximum speed limit off 55 miles per hour, which proved unpopular enough for Sammy Hagar to enjoy chart success with a song titled “I Can’t Drive 55.”

The federal limits were repealed in 1995. Currently, the maximum speed limit in Nebraska is 75 miles per hour, a speed that Gurdon Wattles probably would have enjoyed.

This article was printed in the May/June edition of 60 Plus.

What a Load of Garbage

April 20, 2017 by

When you hear the words “garbage collection,” you might think of a truck rolling into the neighborhood and a couple of guys hopping off to pick up your waiting bin(s).

It turns out that the Omaha metro area is one of the last places in this country where trash is collected that way.

Omaha mayor Jean Stothert wrote in a March 2016 press release, “I feel like our current service is way outdated.”

Efforts to modernize have been underway for some time now, according to an email from Justin Vetsch, 30, the Omaha senior district manager for Waste Management. Waste Management is the company that handles the City of Omaha’s garbage collection services.

“Back in November of 2016, upon the city’s request, Waste Management implemented a pilot program which showcases what a modernized collection system would look like, with automated trucks and standardized 96-gallon carts for trash and recycle,” Vetsch says. “This pilot program will conclude in April. The feedback and comments that Waste Management has received from residents indicates the pilot area is going well.”

Mike Shrader, 57, is the owner/manager of Premier Waste Solutions, a private company servicing Sarpy County, northern Cass County, and western Douglas County. He has been in the waste-collection industry since 1975 and hopes the city’s new system works as well as it has for his company.

“The vast majority of municipalities across the country use some form of a carted system,” Shrader says. The old model of collection, in which employees rode on the back of the truck and picked up the trash, has not been viable since the 1990s. “It’s hard to find individuals who are willing to do that kind of work, week in, week out.”

The Shrader family, looking for a different model, was introduced to an automated pickup system in Arizona, in which the garbage trucks use mechanical arms to pick up 96-gallon carts. What used to be a two- or three-person job now only needs a driver, and the carts hold about three times as much waste as a residential garbage can and can be wheeled around instead of lifted.

With the exceptions of the city of Omaha, Bellevue, Carter Lake, and Ralston, every other community in the area is what Shrader called a “carted community,” though there’s a pilot program underway now in Bellevue that is similar to the one in Omaha.

Overhauling the system is expensive, Shrader says, which is why it has not happened yet, but changing to this automated system brings with it a number of advantages.

Safety

“Not only is it more efficient for the hauler, in a sense of one-man crews, it’s also safer,” Shrader says. “When we look at the injuries across the nation … it’s usually the second or third person that’s on the truck.”

Aesthetics

When everyone in the neighborhood has the same carts, Shrader and Vetsch say, it gives the neighborhoods a sense of uniformity.

“A modernized system would also include easy wheeling, and standardized covered carts with lids, which are more aesthetically pleasing to have lined down neighborhoods versus loose bags and individually selected cans,” Vetsch says.

Environment

If you have ever had your trash can tip over in a stiff wind, then you know it is a hassle to retrieve trash strewn about your curb and lawn.

“The lids are attached, and they’re on wheels,” Shrader says. “They do a better job of withstanding some of the wind.”

The carts will still fall if the wind is strong enough, but they have an easier time remaining upright, and the lids help make them more “critter-proof,” Shrader says.

Vetsch pointed out that having fewer trucks on the road is good for the environment as well.

“As part of the current pilot, Waste Management is collecting the recycling in 96-gallon carts every other week,” he says. “With recycling collection every other week, it reduces truck traffic in the city’s residential neighborhoods, along with reduced emissions from fewer vehicles.”

Recycling

“Going with a cart system for the recycling is probably the bigger plus,” Shrader says. “Not only do you have a lid on your recycling cart, but you have the capacity of 95 gallons versus 18.”

“In most cases, the ability to have a cart with a lid for recycling dramatically improves recycling participation, as a household may be currently limited due to the recycling bin’s size,” Vetsch says.

The future of Omaha’s garbage collection has yet to be determined, of course. Like any new system, Vetsch says, there will probably be a sense of hesitation.

“I really hope this pilot program works for them,” Shrader says. “It’s like coming out of the Dark Ages.

“If the city would accept that program, I think they’re going to be very, very happy with that for a long, long time.”

Visit wasteline.org for more information.

This article was printed in the Spring 2017 edition of B2B.