Omaha’s first protected bike lane could get another shot at city funding with a proposed amendment to the city’s 2023 budget.
The Market-to-Midtown bike path was a major talking point during a Tuesday public hearing on the 2023 budget proposed by Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert. The mayor’s budget does not include funding for the bike path, which received widespread support at the hearing.
City Council Speaker Pete Festersen told the World-Herald he also wanted to see the lane become a permanent feature and intended to draft an amendment that would support the project beyond its pilot program. of 18 months.
The nearly 2-mile bike path, which runs along Harney Street from approximately 33rd Street to 10th Street, opened in July 2021 after a long effort to install a style of bike path that has become the safety standard in other communities.
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For now, the lane runs directly over Harney Street, separated from car and truck traffic and parked cars by a painted area with temporary bollards.
The pilot program was successful in increasing safety and usage of the bike in its first 12 months, according to Bike Walk Nebraska, one of the drivers of the pilot program. In its first six months, the route resulted in a 139% increase in cycle traffic along the corridor.
“The protected bike path has proven to be effective – as expected,” Festersen said. “We should pursue and fund a permanent project and coordinate this route with the potential light rail project.”
Council members tried to add money to permanently fund a protected cycle path last year, but they didn’t have the votes to override Stothert’s veto of the amendment.
Although the mayor is “hesitant to comment on an amendment she hasn’t seen”, Stothert told the World-Herald she would likely veto Festersen’s amendment if it is similar to the one introduced in the last year.
“We’re doing the pilot to see how it works. … There’s a lot of stuff we don’t know, and I’m not going to fund something that’s a pilot when the pilot isn’t even done yet,” he said. said Stothert.
If the mayor issued a veto, it would take at least five of the city council’s seven members to overrule it.
There’s also the possibility of a tram route on Harney Street to consider, Stothert said.
As proposed earlier this year, the city’s streetcar system would run on a 3-mile route running along Farnam and Harney Streets from 10th Street to 42nd Street and along 10th Street between Harney and Cass Streets.
Julie Harris, director of Bike Walk Nebraska, which launched the pilot program in partnership with Metro Smart Cities, raised questions about how the streetcar and bike path could coexist at a June city council meeting.
Bike Walk Nebraska is a supporter of the streetcar, which the group sees as a tool for pedestrian safety, Harris said.
“Every person who is on the tram, who comes to the city center or to the Blackstone district, is not someone who drives a car, who patrols to find a parking space and who is not looking for someone who rides a bike or walks,” Harris said.
But, Harris told council members she was concerned about how quickly the streetcar project was moving forward and asked that the bike path not be left out when making design decisions.
It is not yet clear how the two projects would fit into the same corridor. It is also not known exactly where the tram will run.
There are plans to put the tram on Harney, but there are also talks of putting it in both directions on a street like Farnam, Stothert said.
Jay Noddle, a local developer and chairman of the recently created Omaha Streetcar Authority, assured Harris in June that if the bike lane pilot project is successful, “we’re going to make sure the streetcar doesn’t hit the bikes.”
Data collected from the pilot so far shows that the Harney Street cycle route has been a success in recent months.
Using five portable counters, program organizers tracked the number of bikes, scooters and pedestrians using the bike lane.
Since the start of the pilot project, there has been an increase in bicycle and scooter traffic along the Harney Street corridor, with an expected decrease during the winter. But while the numbers were lower, usage remained consistent, bolstering the case that bike infrastructure is used year-round, even in Omaha, according to a report by Bike Walk Nebraska.
Heartland Bikeshare statistics revealed that bike usage at stations on the Market-to-Midtown corridor has increased by 69% since the start of the pilot.
As he gauges support from other city council members for a possible amendment, Festersen said he was “also pursuing other amendments that would also improve cycling and walking infrastructure in other locations.”
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