Already dealing with injuries at quarterback, Nebraska was down to its third-stringer Saturday against Indiana. But the bigger problem was a Hoosier offense that gave NU fits all day in the Huskers' 38-31 loss. Noah Vedral (right) started in place of Adrian Martinez, but his injury made way for freshman Luke McCaffrey.
In this new arrangement, Alex Liekhus will keep her car, even though she rarely uses it.
Will Greene and Jake Griggs will sell their cars because they, too, just don’t drive that much.
Together, the three co-workers and friends are going in on an experiment together — what they’re calling a car co-op. It won’t require them to drive any less; they already have geared their lifestyles away from needing a car.
The three plan to share Liekhus’ 2004 Volvo wagon.
“We really don’t need to be, all three of us, having our own car,” Greene said.
The three young professionals’ lifestyles run counter to Omaha’s car culture and reflect something of a shift in generational attitudes about driving. Omaha is showing signs that a segment of the population is taking steps away from the car — with others ready to make that move.
The World-Herald talked with some of this car-optional group of Omahans. They walk places, share a ride with a friend to work, ride bikes and scooters, bus more and simply move around the city in an entirely different way from Omaha’s traditional pattern.
Young Omahans aren’t exactly ditching the car in droves, despite the popular myth that millennials are killing car ownership with all their Ubering.
But the interest in a lifestyle that’s not so car-bound is strong enough that it’s shaping Omaha’s public discussion about transportation. Improving mass transit, building bike lanes, even ramping up urban redevelopment where a car isn’t so necessary — they’re all on Omaha’s horizon because local officials see a market for those changes.
Stephen Osberg, director of transportation development for the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, said he sees a spectrum of interests for how people want to get around, from the vast majority using a car to others wanting to vary their modes of transportation.
Osberg said the Omaha metro area needs to support people’s different interests if it wants to succeed as a region.
“Even if the automobile remains dominant, we still need to be offering options,” he said.
Liekhus, 28, said that for safety reasons, she never has been a fan of driving, and she wasn’t eager to get a driver’s license as a teen. As a young professional, she has positioned her lifestyle so daily use of a car isn’t necessary.
She works as the community manager at the Commerce Village coworking offices just south of the Old Market. She lives blocks away in the Dahlman neighborhood, allowing her to walk to work and back home.
“I tell everybody it’s my favorite part of my day,” Liekhus said.
Climate change also is on her mind. Liekhus said her transportation choices are important for reducing her carbon footprint.
She has owned her Volvo V70 — what she calls a practical, relatively fuel-efficient car — for three years. But she said she might drive it only twice a month, typically to get groceries.
She appreciates the financial benefits of driving less and says, “I’d never dream of having a car loan.”
Liekhus likes the health benefits of walking more and cycling often. She’s also a huge fan of scooters.
Liekhus works with Greene and Griggs at Commerce Village. Her two partners in the car co-op are employed by Bluestem Energy Solutions, which has offices there.
Greene, 29, lives in Hanscom Park, near 42nd and Center Streets. Though he still owns his Smart car — and has it up for sale — he takes a Metro bus to work and often walks the approximately 40 minutes home.
Griggs, also 29, lives off the 13th Street corridor and walks to work, finding that he can listen to a 12-minute TED talk on the way. He’s still making payments on his Nissan Pathfinder but is trying to sell it.
When he had a $200 car repair bill, Griggs said a switch came on in his mind.
“Why?” he said. “Why am I doing this? I don’t need to be doing this.”
The car-sharing idea started almost as a joke, Greene said, but has gotten serious. The three will have a written contract that spells out car use, responsibilities and shared costs.
Griggs said he expects that he’ll own a car again in his future. But for now, he said he’s more interested in things like the financial savings, health benefits and the appreciation he has gained about Omaha by interacting with it outside a car.
“It’s crazy where it all started and now where it’s at,” he said.
Dana Troia, 40, refuses to buy a car after living a car-free lifestyle in New York City. She grew up in west Omaha but now lives in the Old Market and works in midtown at Mutual of Omaha.
She often used to take an Uber to work, but now has a friend who drives her. She says she’s not a scooter rider, but she’s looking forward to the ORBT bus rapid transit line.
The idea of owning a car? “There’s just no point,” she said. “That and I like having more money than I used to.”
Ryan Wishart and his wife dropped down a car last year when he faced major car repairs.
In 2014, they moved to Omaha from Eugene, Oregon, a city that Wishart described as much better for multimodal transportation.
Wishart is an assistant professor of sociology at Creighton University. He chose to bike or occasionally bus to campus, saving the cost of a second car and taking a step to reduce his ecological footprint.
As a sociologist, Wishart said he sees that young people increasingly want to live in places where they don’t have to depend on a car.
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Wishart said he likes the idea of going carless. But he said that would present some difficulty in getting groceries, shopping at Costco or going for medical care, trips that sometimes are out west or where Omaha’s public transit would make it an all-day excursion.
For much of Omaha, the question might be, “Could your household do with one less car?” asked Daniel Lawse, chief century thinker for the sustainability consultant Verdis Group.
Lawse and his wife, Andrea, have one car, a Toyota Prius wagon, for their family of five living in the Gifford Park neighborhood near 33rd and California Streets.
A board member for Metro transit, Lawse sees walking as his primary mode of getting around, including walking kids to school. After that, he’ll take a bus or an electric Heartland B-cycle, maybe hop on a scooter, catch a ride with a colleague or friend and then finally fall back on an Uber or Lyft.
The car is something of a distant connection. He said he last filled his car with gas about a month ago.
Last week at the chamber’s Young Professionals Council State of Our City event, Lawse gave a talk on how far Omaha has come on transit and what more is possible. The week before that, he gave a presentation at a parking conference that challenged the popular notion that “everybody in Omaha drives.”
Lawse said he has witnessed the growing interest in alternative modes of transportation and thinks it will continue.
“I don’t see it slowing down,” he said. “Obviously, people will always drive in Omaha. The car will play a significant role in our transportation infrastructure.”
The Omaha chamber found a sizable potential for change when it surveyed people about transportation as part of its new ConnectGO initiative.
A survey of 383 people, most of whom were age 40 and under, found that 81% of respondents typically drive alone for their commute, while only 5% use public transit. If given the choice, 45% of respondents said they would use transit, while just 23% would drive alone.
Omaha’s next big test of the community’s interest will come next year with the start of Metro’s ORBT rapid bus line, which will run between Westroads and downtown.
Jason Rose, Metro’s outreach coordinator, said the public conversation locally around transit has changed dramatically in recent years. He sees a lot of support for the issue among young professionals.
Rose, 30, is in a single-vehicle household himself, with his wife, Molly, using the minivan. They have two kids with another on the way. Rose buses to work from South Omaha or sometimes runs or bikes to work.
Part of the ORBT’s goal, he said, is presenting a noticeably different, more prominent face to public transit, hopefully bringing it to the forefront of people’s minds.
“When you invest, when you see institutions invest in these programs … people are using them,” he said. “There’s an interest.”
Walter “Ted” Carter feels for undergraduates who splash around in a sea of uncertainty.
As a student at the U.S. Naval Academy 40 years ago, he was among those who found college much tougher than high school.
“I wasn’t the best student,” Carter, 60, said Friday evening. “You all have access to my transcripts.”
His Navy transcript indicates that he graduated 733rd out of 969 at Navy after being near the top of his class in a rural Rhode Island high school.
Many years later, he became superintendent of the prestigious Naval Academy for five years, ending three months ago. And now, the retired vice admiral is the sole finalist to lead the University of Nebraska system, which has institutions in Omaha, Lincoln, Kearney and Curtis.
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Carter, a decorated fighter-jet aviator, will spend the next 30 days touring Nebraska and speaking to groups in what is basically a one-month review period. After that, the NU Board of Regents will probably select him as NU’s next president.
As an undergraduate, he said Friday, he was immature and more interested in playing hockey and dating the woman who would become his wife, Lynda.
He said he believes in second chances.
Once he dug in, Carter’s ability shone. He earned about a 3.5 grade-point average in the Navy’s nuclear power program, a sort of master’s program.
Dawn Mollenkopf, an associate professor at the University of Nebraska at Kearney and a member of the presidential search committee, said she liked the genuine qualities about him.
That Navy transcript “makes him feel for the students who struggle,” she said.
She also liked a description he gave of his student years at Navy — a great place to be from but not a great place to be at.
Ultimately, whether leading Navy or Nebraska, Carter said, “We want our students to be happy.” They are “customers” — human beings, he said, not “products” that merely beef up enrollment and budgets. Students are also the best ambassadors for a school, he said.
“I want to see young people come here,” he said. Not just Nebraskans, but out-of-staters and international students, he said.
Carter said that as Navy’s top administrator, he appreciated the value of the institution’s academic excellence center because it helped students learn how to study.
He said he also supported increasing mental health services at Navy for students who struggled emotionally.
The Navy’s Class of 2019, an NU press release said, hit a record 90% four-year graduation rate, which is splendid by any measure. Navy is academically selective and competitive. The University of Nebraska-Lincoln, by comparison, had about a 43% four-year graduation rate as of last year.
Forbes magazine called the Naval Academy the nation’s best public university two years ago.
Carter said he also values diversity of all kinds, including ethnic, gender, religious and sexual orientation. Women make up 28% percent of the Naval Academy’s Class of 2023, and 40% of the student body are ethnic minorities. An NU press release said white men aren’t the majority at Navy for the first time in the academy’s 173 years.
He also said diversity should be evident in a university’s faculty, staff, leadership and coaching squads. The goal of diversity is “to make sure that we are the best that we can be,” he said.
Mollenkopf said that among other things, she and the search committee liked Carter’s blend of interest in details and the big picture. She also enjoyed his concept of leadership as “bottom-up, top-down and inside-out, as needed.”
He believes that leaders should use different styles, depending on the problem, rather than insisting that one approach be used all the time, she said.
Christine Copper, a Naval Academy faculty member since 1995, said that as the faculty representative to the NCAA, she traveled with Carter to many meetings and conferences.
He holds the American record for aircraft carrier plane landings (2,016), attended the Top Gun fighter pilot school, taught dozens of pilots to fly and commanded 20 ships and two nuclear-powered aircraft carriers.
But he didn’t lord his accomplishments over people, Copper said. He and his wife, who have two adult children, threw many functions and parties for faculty, students and others at their house, and never seemed ill at ease.
He is humble, funny and “just such a regular guy,” Copper said. He rarely needed notes for public speaking, she said, and he spoke extemporaneously Friday night.
Another friend of Carter’s, Bucknell University President John Bravman, said in an interview Friday that Carter’s “command authority comes not from his rank but his demeanor.” Bravman said Carter knows that “you lead not by giving orders, but you lead by commanding respect.”
One Internet video of Carter shows a cadet introducing him to an audience and telling them to rise. “Attention on deck!” the young man says.
Carter walks in. “OK, everybody,” he says. “Please sit down. That’s more than enough.”