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Rain or shine, professor rides bike to and from campus


Published: Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, April 10, 2012 10:04


Photo by Kelsey Stewart/The Gateway

UNO Communications professor Bruce Johansen (above) rides his bike to campus every day when weather allows.

Dr. Bruce Johansen, 62, hasn’t driven a car in more than 10 years.

While driving on the interstate in Indiana in 2001, Johansen blacked out. He slowly veered off the right hand side of the road.

“I could have easily been pinned by semis,” Johansen said. “The freeway was full of them.”

Johansen is an epileptic. After having a seizure, drivers are legally barred from getting behind the wheel from anywhere between three months and one year. Seizure-free for 10 years, Johansen is out of the legal window and has a driver’s license. However, Johansen’s preferred mode of transportation is a bicycle.

“I would be legally entitled to drive, but I haven’t because my wife does it,” Johansen said. “I use the bike in part because of that, although I used it before. This isn’t new.”

Johansen, a professor in the School of Communication at UNO, rides his bicycle in nearly every type of weather. Hot or cold, rain or shine. In certain conditions, like heavy rain or ice, Johansen can’t ride his bicycle. When he can’t ride, he walks.

“I can walk in anything,” he said, “except a tornado, I guess.”  

The bicycle has been Johansen’s main mode of transportation since he was 26 years old. As a reporter at the Seattle Times in the 1970s, Johansen needed a car as part of the job.

“You’d have to go somewhere and get there in a hurry,” Johansen said.

The following year, Johansen went back to school to get his Ph.D. in Seattle. He got rid of his car and began using a bicycle and public transportation.

Johansen continued to use a bicycle instead of a car when he moved to Omaha in the 1980s.

Johansen’s wife drives the one car the couple shares. Occasionally, she will pick Johansen up.

“If I’ve walked and I figure I’ve had my exercise, she’ll pick me up,” Johansen said.

He admits riding a bicycle has its challenges. Johansen said he has dealt with a lack of respect from drivers of cars and has even had to avoid being hit by cars.

Johansen was once faced with a dilemma--get hit by a car or avoid the car and hit ice. Johansen opted for the ice and fell, breaking his elbow.

Johansen has also had trouble with parking his bicycle on campus. When he started at UNO, he parked his bicycles outside. After having a couple of his bicycles stolen, he began parking his bicycle outside his office. Campus Security didn’t like the bicycle being indoors.

“I said, ‘What’s the issue? There are other wheeled objects in the building,” he said. ”There are mail carts. There are wheel chairs. You have no problem with those.’”  

Johansen continued parking his bicycle outside his office and eventually Campus Security stopped bothering him about it.

“I told them, I’m not going to ride my bike down the hall,” Johansen said.

His issue with campus security wasn’t the first time he’s had to stand up for his bicycling rights. Johansen was ticketed in Seattle for not going fast enough in traffic. He took the ticket to court and a judge ruled it illegitimate.

“Sometimes you have to fight for your rights,” Johansen said.

Bicycling provides its fair share of benefits too. Johansen finds he doesn’t have to deal with parking issues on campus. UNO parking lots are more crowded at certain times of day, making it difficult to find parking.

“I’ve witnessed people getting into fistfights over parking spots,” Johansen said.

Another benefit the bicycle brings to the table is free fuel. Riding a bicycle is a free alternative to paying for rising gas prices.

When gas prices are rising, strangers tell Johansen he’s made a wise choice.

“The price of fuel for a bike is incredibly stable--it’s free,” Johansen said. “It’s good and it burns calories.”

In addition to not having to pay for fuel, there are no negative repercussions for the environment.

One of cycling’s most well known benefits is exercise. Bicycling is a good option for anyone. Anyone can ride a bicycle, but with the distances many live from campus, people can only ride so fast and so far, Johansen said.

“You have to curtail your ambitions with being able to just hop in the car and go wherever,” Johansen said.

But for those who live near campus, bicycling is a viable option.

“If you can double up transportation with exercise, it’s a two-for-one,” Johansen said.

When Johansen rides, he does his best to stay off main streets and use side streets. If he has no alternative to using a busy street, he rides on the sidewalk.

“It’s a bad idea to get out in the middle of the street,” Johansen said. “In part, I think it’s because you go out there and hold them up. The second part is cultural. You’re in a car and you come up behind a person on a bike and the person’s rear end is staring right in your face.”

Bicycles can solve problems with exercise, money, parking and the environment.

“I think that cars are convenient,” Johansen said. “They’re easy to get from point to point. You get to exercise your freedom of choice, but otherwise, they’re a problem.”

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