North Omaha-living, Papillion-working Phil Rivera gets to his job on two wheels.

He bikes a 15-mile route that takes him through city streets and neighborhoods, under Interstate bridges, past landmarks and along trails, including one that brings him practically to the back doorstep of Greenstreet Cycles.

This should tell you three things. First, Phil’s fit. That ride takes at least 45 minutes, and the 29-year-old is planning to do it even in winter because his wife, who works in Lincoln, needs their only car. Second, biking to work three suburbs away is possible because of a trail system that might be invisible to the rest of us sedentary mortals settling for 84th Street as our route into Papillion on four wheels. Third, location, location, location.

Greenstreet Cycles’ owner Ben Swan is an avowed lover of Old Buildings and Old Neighborhoods who just bought a house in northeast Omaha’s Bemis Park and owns businesses with wife Eryn Swan in the 24th and Harney area. In downtown Papillion, Swan saw a golden opportunity: The stretch of Washington Street (Papillion-speak for 84th Street) where he put his second shop has a historic feel, which scratches his old-things itch.

It has a good retail demographic, which scratches Swan’s business itch.

And it sits between two sections of the West Papio Trail — the eastward West Papio that winds past beautiful Halleck Park with its ample fields and fountain ponds, and the about-to-be-opened westward stretch that will follow an old railroad line from La Vista near 108th and Giles into downtown Millard near 132nd and Q.

“Greenstreet’s location is ideal,” said Trenton Albers, communications manager for the city.

And, yes, Greenstreet is already seeing more green on this street.

Sales at the Papillion shop, which opened in April, are way ahead of projections, which Swan attributed the city’s quaint downtown and “awesome demographics.” The median household income in Papillion is $77,000, about 50 percent higher than Omaha’s. Wife Eryn, who runs Wag, a pet grooming and day care business in downtown Omaha, said she’s thrilled that their suburban business is in a former church and theater that is 70 years old.

Not only is the bike shop in downtown Papillion on a major trail, Swan said, but it’s “a stone’s throw away” from Halleck Park and future Papillion Landing, two of the city’s major recreation spaces. Two more, Walnut Creek and Prairie Queen, are not far. And right across the street from Greenstreet is City Park, which hosts an array of community events.

This is not news to the 30,000 people who live in and around Papillion.

But to Omahans, who seem peculiarly parochial on matters of geography, this quaint, park-and-trail-filled part of the larger metropolitan area might seem like foreign territory. When I met Rivera at Greenstreet’s downtown shop, his co-worker blanched and said that before the second store had opened, he didn’t even know Papillion “existed.”

Phil, however, a longtime cyclist, knew the territory. In Sarpy County, he said, cyclists like to park their cars at the Culver’s in Bellevue’s Twin Creek area and hop on trails that run alongside the Big Papillion and Papillion Creeks. Within Papillion itself are 17 city parks, 19 miles of recreational trails and three sports complexes. That adds up to 1,033 acres of recreational green space — about a quarter of the city’s geography.

Though Papillion’s history stretches back more than a century to its origins as a railroad town in 1870, it is a quickly growing suburb, and newcomers want access to trails and parks. It’s a lot easier to place trails in suburbs and newer developments than in old cities built on a grid.

Phil steers clear of 84th Street, one of the main routes into Papillion from Omaha. The stretch from Omaha to Nebraska Highway 370 is a state highway that carries a lot of cars. Vehicle traffic is likely to increase as La Vista’s new City Centre development$235 million worth of apartments, shops, entertainment venues and a lake — comes online on the east side of 84th Street.

But the development’s design — which will also include trails — combined with a La Vista-led effort to take over 84th Street regulation from the state ought to streamline car traffic, offer cyclists more options and improve the overall appearance, said La Vista Mayor Doug Kindig.

Right now, Phil steers his Specialized Diverge bike out of harm’s way on that busy street. He sticks to his route:

Going home, he heads east from the bike shop on East Lincoln Street. Past Papio Fun Park. Onto the West Papio Trail. Under the 72nd Street viaduct. To that Culver’s in Bellevue. Then — depending on the wind — hops off the trail and rides on a gravel road, across Cornhusker Highway, along Cedar Island Road, across Chandler Road, along Babe Gomez Avenue in South Omaha.

He rides under Q Street trying to avoid meatpacking streets. He takes 36th Street north onto the Field Club Trail until a split at 39th Street where he pedals to 40th, rides through the University of Nebraska Medical Center campus, crosses Dodge at the light and continues north on 40th until he hits Hamilton. Then west to 45th Street. Then north to his street, Franklin. Then, finally, west to home.

“Patience, patience, patience,” he said of that ride.

So how will he do it in the winter?

“I haven’t figured that one out yet,” he said, pausing to reflect. Then: “Just bundle up more and take extra time.”


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Metro columnist

Columnist Erin Grace has covered a variety of beats since she started at The World-Herald in 1998 — from education to City Hall and from the city's western suburbs to its inner-city neighborhoods. Follow her on Twitter @ErinGraceOWH. Phone: 402-444-1136.

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