Omaha’s first protected bike lane nears completion
OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Drivers on Harney Street near Midtown Crossing may look a little different — that’s because the city’s first protected bike lane is being installed.
The lane, which is a pilot project that will last for over a year, comes after years of advocating and planning.
“This idea has been on the books for over 10 years really, it’s something that has been proposed and is kind of a wish list item and we’re really making it happen,” said Julie Harris, executive director of Bike Walk Nebraska, one of the organizations who helped with the bike lane’s planning and design.
The lane, the Midtown to Market Bikeway, connects Midtown Crossing to the Old Market. It runs along Harney Street, beginning just west of Turner Boulevard and ending at 10th Street. It will be used for both bikes and scooters.
Harris said the lane is the gold standard and new best practice for accessibility and safety.
“The bike lane will be protected by parallel parking, and that will make it much safer for people riding,” she said. “It will encourage more people to ride because they will feel that extra protection, and we know that when people feel safer that is when they’ll get out and ride.
There’s also a reason why Harney Street was chosen for the pilot project.
“It has lots of lanes of traffic, it has more lanes on the street than the amount of traffic that it carries, so taking one lane and making it a protected lane for bikes won’t affect the amount of traffic that already comes down Harney,” Harris said.
The new protected lane means more accessibility to bikes, too.
“The plan that we have in place, as far as bike-share goes, is to have two bike-share stations on the bikeway — three of them are in right now, one is being installed Thursday and one will be installed next month,” said Benny Foltz, executive director of Heartland BCycle.
Foltz says the new lane’s safety features are major ones.
“When people ride our bikes, we provide them with surveys, right? And the No. 1 reason on these surveys why people are not riding bikes, is safety,” he said. “Hands down that’s the No. 1 reason.”
Foltz and Harris are hopeful the new lane will change that, and that it will introduce a whole new demographic of people to ride through the city.
“First, I want to see data that supports the bikeway is getting used, and then use that data to replicate it across the city.”
In total, the bike lane costs $250,000 and is funded by Metro Smart Cities. The organization seeks to create solutions to transportation challenges and accessibility in Omaha.
The lane will have counters installed, to keep track of the number of riders who use it. Metro Smart Cities will conduct surveys that will examine ridership behavior, traffic impacts, and whether the lane is used enough to warrant creating more lanes on a larger scale across Omaha.
The group is also in charge of maintaining the lane, including snow removal during winter. And it wants feedback from people who use the lane.
The pilot project will conclude in September 2022.
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