Omaha unveils study on Farnam Street conversion at public meeting

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Published: Apr. 25, 2022 at 2:27 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Omaha city officials hear from residents on how they think a section of Farnam Street should be structured.

A public meeting on the “Two-Way All-Day” conversion study started at 5 p.m. Monday at UNO’s Barbara Weitz Community Engagement Center, located at 6400 University Drive South.

Omaha Public Works is trying to improve the section of Farnam from Dodge to 46th St. to make it safer for drivers and those who live in the area. They finished a study analyzing how feasible a permanent change would be and showed it off during the public meeting.

From 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., the stretch functions as an eastbound one-way street. Then from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., it’s a one-way heading west.

“I mean, this street is like no other,” says life-long resident Peter Manhart.

“It’s very dangerous to drive, people forget that it’s one way and they go the wrong way, and there’s a lot of near head-on collisions,” says Jim McGee, who has lived in the area for 40 years.

The five-year-long study of the mile-long stretch showed that Farnam between 46th and Dodge streets has a crash rate twice as high as the city-wide rate. It also showed that 58% of crashes in the area happen during the four hours where traffic is one-way.

Nicole Wheeler has lived a few doors down from the 50th and Farnam intersection for nine years. Problems during one-way traffic aren’t new to her.

“My kids almost got hit by a car that pulled up on the sidewalk one morning when it was faced with an oncoming car, so it was during the one-way traffic there was a car going the wrong way,” she says. “So to avoid a collision, it drove up on the sidewalk where my husband and kids were walking.”

“It’s the commuters that are not impacted, the commuters get to get out of work at 5 o’clock and drive on it every single day but me, my teenage daughters who are learning to drive, we have to deal with it five, six times a day cause we have to cross it five, six times a day,” Manhart says.

Ultimately, the study found that changing the stretch to a permanent two-way is feasible, but with certain changes.

“What was presented tonight is yes, it’s feasible, but, there are some changes that have to take place in order for that to work, primarily at the two signalized intersections at 50th and 52nd street,” says City of Omaha Traffic engineer Todd Pfitzer.

The study by an independent consulting company suggested three alternatives for the intersections at 50th and 52nd based on future traffic and safety for pedestrians and drivers in the area: adding traffic signals with left-turn lanes, adding traffic signals with left and right turn lanes, and roundabouts.

While study organizers say signalized intersections with turn lanes are the best option for traffic flow, they recommend roundabouts at both intersections as they’re proven to be the safest option for cars and pedestrians. They also say roundabouts are the cheapest option.

Monday evening, neighbors had mixed opinions about the options that were presented. Following the presentation, they shared their thoughts and opinions with City Councilmembers Pete Festersen and Danny Begley. Both have been long-time supporters of nixing the one-way.

“I am excited to see the roundabout as an option because traffic is really just too fast on Farnam street and I think the roundabout is the thing that will get cars actually slowed down,” says Wheeler.

“We don’t need additional construction to do this conversion,” McGee says.

“The idea that they want to add roundabouts or turn lanes, there are 168 hours in a week, and 148 hours it runs perfectly fine,” Manhart says. “[The one-way] started in the late 1950s when people at Mutual wanted to go to the last horse race at Aksarben, and it just doesn’t make sense anymore. So many more people live downtown, so many people work from home, it just doesn’t make any sense,” he adds.

Pfitzer says it’s not as simple as just taking the signage down, as many neighbors hoped would happen.

“As a transportation professional, based on 130 years of experience building roads, just taking the signs down is going to lead to crashes,” he says. “The left turns don’t align, you’re going to have sight distance restrictions, capacity issues, and we don’t want to try it for two years and have a lot of accidents to show for it, that’s not an acceptable option for a professional engineer.”

The city is hoping to hear feedback from the community but recognizes it will be hard to make a decision about what’s next.

“We met with the landowners that are immediately impacted before this meeting, and we didn’t get a consensus out of that group.,” Pfitzer says. “Several want roundabouts cause they’re the safest, several don’t want them cause they don’t want their yards impacted, that’s just from the people that live on those corners. I expect well get similar feedback from the public.”

To provide feedback of your own to the City of Omaha, click here. They’re accepting community feedback until May 9.

Watch the presentation

LIVE: Farnam Street two-way study

Officials are presenting a study about two-way traffic on Farnam Street.

Posted by 6 News WOWT on Monday, April 25, 2022

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