SENIOR ONLINE REPORTER
Disclaimer: The following inaccuracies have been edited: In paragraph 3, removed COVID statement from original sentence “While recovering from surgery in 2020, Johnson also had to recover from COVID-19 before she was well enough to announce running for candidacy,” as Johnson did not have COVID. In paragraph 7, “(the City of Omaha)” replaces original “(Mode Shift.)”
Mode Shift Omaha’s founding member Sarah Johnson was inspired to run for the Omaha City Council District 1 seat to be a direct representative to her constituents.
“He [Pete Festersen] stopped returning my emails anytime I would ask about issues regarding police brutality or racism,” Johnson said. “It was a catalyst for a lot of change, and you can’t sit and just do nothing.”
Johnson owned a bike and coffee shop called the Omaha Bicycle Co. from 2012 to 2019 before it was closed due to health issues at the end of 2019. Johnson also recovered from surgery in 2020.
As the founder of Mode Shift Omaha which started in 2011, Johnson’s campaign focuses on the importance of sustainable transportation beyond the city’s car dependency.
“First of all, I think it’s important just to acknowledge that owning a car is really expensive and some people don’t have the physical or financial ability to own and drive a car for every trip they need to take,” Johnson said. “Through my work with Mode Shift Omaha, we have plans, the data, and the support of the community with people acknowledging that it’s a problem and what it seems to be lacking is political willpower.”
Johnson has spoken in front of the Omaha City Council on many issues, especially raising speed limits, which can increase the likelihood of fatal car accidents and widening the roads, increasing traffic.
“We (the City of Omaha) just hired a Vision Zero Coordinator currently working in the Public Works department, who ideally will be helping to solve some of these high crash areas,” Johnson said.
Johnson hopes to classify sidewalks as a ‘mode of transportation’ and redefine them as a part of the transportation network, which will require the same treatment as the streets including snow removal and sidewalk renovations to increase mobility. One of the issues involve renewing curb ramps to make the American Disabilities Act requirement for accessibility in public areas including wheelchairs, walkers, and motorized scooters.
“It’s very important because mobility is greatly impacted when we neglect sidewalks. Able-bodied people may be able to hop over snow banks and we might get snow in our shoes, which is not great, but it would completely shut down mobility for those who are not able to,” Johnson said. “Part of implementing the definition of sidewalls is that it’s not just a hunk of concrete between a building and a street, it’s part of the mobility network.”
Johnson planned to meet with the City Council to speak against the blanket ban removal of electric bikes on trails in Omaha because of the complaints of bike riders going too fast on trails.
“I stood up and said ‘Okay, let’s not ban e-bikes but encourage people to use bikes,” Johnson said. “I used to own a bike shop and there’s plenty of national data to show that bike sales are on the rise. Bikes are a perfect solution to a lot of issues we run into with transportation.”
Along with making transportation one of her top priorities, Johnson also likes to focus on addressing police brutality and racial disparities by advocating for a strong civilian oversight committee to check and balance law enforcement.
“We need to build trust and part of that is listening to the community that was protesting the streets this year, like we heard some very specific demands,” Johnson said. “What we really need to do is to look at the root cause of those issues. Hungriness and homelessness should not be criminalized.”
As a City Council Member, Johnson stresses the importance of managing city budget and prioritize affordable housing
“I’m not sure that we need to be spending millions of dollars on new cruisers and cages inside of cruisers when we have hungry people. I think it’s just a matter of being more intentional with the way we spend our resources,” Johnson said.
As an independent candidate, Johnson said that party politics often get in the way of the progress instead of listening to the community.
“A lot of us realized how we are ready to change the status quo in Omaha because we have so much potential and just not enough progress,” Johnson said. “So I’m interested in getting in there and making some change happen because we have the data and we have some plans that we just need the political willpower to actually see some of this through.
To get involved with City Council District 1 Candidate Sarah Johnson’s campaign, visit her website or email.