Omaha presents pedestrian safety pilot project for Blackstone District

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Published: Apr. 11, 2022 at 11:18 AM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - After a string of pedestrian accidents in the Blackstone District, Omaha is taking steps to improve safety in the historic neighborhood.

Several Omaha officials presented a new pedestrian safety pilot program aimed at combatting pedestrian incidents on Farnam Street from 36th to 40th streets.

Omaha Mayor Stothert, the Blackstone Business Improvement District, City Engineer Todd Pfitzer, and District 3 Councilman Danny Begley attended the presentation.

“These changes are 100% about improving public safety which is our number one responsibility,” Mayor Stothert said.

“This is a great day in Blackstone,” Councilman Begley added.

The pilot project will begin to be implemented next month, and the city will test a series of features to find out what works best, and will evaluate what will also work with the streetcar that will likely pass through the corridor.

“We’ll be putting bollards in which will effectively narrow the through driving lanes and widen the parking lanes and this accomplishes a number of things, a narrower lane will naturally cause a car driver to slow down a bit,” said Pfitzer during the presentation.

The inner westbobund lane from 36th to 40th streets will become a left turn lane only, making just one lane of through traffic in each direction. That will create a median in the center lane for pedestrians to wait at.

“That’s going to be delineated by bollards where people can stop, it’s a safe zone so to speak, they can go half way across the street, look the other way and continue when it’s safe to go that direction,” Pfitzer said. “So, these are some of the things that you’re going to see implemented here in the very near future with Public Works to create a safer environment for pedestrians.”

These changes will be in addition to more minor adjustments to the area that were added in January. Eventually, the city says these changes will become permanent with curbs and concrete. It’s a plan that’s been in the works for several months.

“We don’t want to wait for it, we want to put something in today that makes it safer and slows traffic and makes it safer for pedestrians so this will go away eventually when the permanent streetscape comes in,” Pfitzer says.

One person was killed and two others were injured in separate incidents in the Blackstone District over the past year.

Monday, the parents of Kaitlyn Van Essen told 6 News they’re glad to finally see changes. Van Essen was hit and killed by an alleged drunk driver while crossing at 38th and Farnam streets in December.

“I’m very sorry it had to happen after the death of our daughter Kaitlyn, but we feel good about the changes that were announced today, I feel good that they are starting the project immediately,” Jess Van Essen, Kaitlyn’s mother, said.

“Kaitlyn was an amazing soul, she had a laugh that could light up any room she was in. That day took a lot of joy away from a lot of people, but she definitely lives on in our heart.”

Monday announcement comes too late for the Van Essens, but they’re hopeful it will see success.

“The words mean little to me right now, I actually want to see it in place and see how it slows everybody down,” Jess says.

“It’s an exciting day, I appreciate the city including me in this process,” said Lindsey Cavlovic.

She was severely hurt in a pedestrian hit-and-run last summer while crossing in Blackstone. She underwent several surgeries and weeks of rehab for 22 broken bones.

Since then, she’s been a vocal advocate for change in the district, working closely with Councilman Begley and the Blackstone District. She tells 6 News she wishes the changes could have happened sooner, but nonetheless, it’s progress.

“I don’t know what else had to happen for them to make a change but I’m glad that they finally are so that nothing like this happens to anyone again.”

Cavlovic thanks Councilman Begley for working tirelessly to ensure the City stepped up to meet the needs and wants of community members in his district.

“We’re super excited,” said Chad Shoeman, who works with Bar 39, Renos Karaoke, Little Ricky’s Rooftop Bar and more.

“Pedestrians, which are our livelihood, our friends, our family, they come first and come to enjoy this neighborhood, families going to Coneflower, adults coming out drinking, having dinner, dancing, they deserve safety and we’re super excited about this program.”

City officials present a plan to improve safety in Omaha's Blackstone District

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