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Omaha’s Blackstone District sees new traffic changes

Business owners in the Blackstone District say they're already seeing the impact.
Published: May. 17, 2022 at 4:36 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The City of Omaha is getting serious about pedestrian safety.

Traffic engineers are trying to figure out the right mix when it comes to cars and pedestrians getting along in the Blackstone District.

Usually starting at 4 p.m., the area at 40th and Farnam Street is busy with commuters heading home, but there are lane changes now in place to slow them down.

This change comes after two horrific crashes last year between pedestrians and cars.

In July one woman broke 22 bones, but she survived. Another woman struck in December did not. Since then, the city and those in the Blackstone District have been working on ways to make the area safer for everyone.

The latest move by the city takes away a lane of traffic. Farnam Street now comes with one lane in each direction with a dedicated turn lane in the middle.

Business owners are already seeing the difference.

“The turning lane is changing,” said business owner Chad Shoeman. “Overnight it’s getting people to slow down. They can’t stop in the middle of the road and dump people out because now they’re blocking traffic.”

Shoeman says he still sees people playing frogger, taking risks crossing Farnam and avoiding the crosswalks. He believes putting in a couple more traffic signals could help but doesn’t think that’s going to happen.

“It’s like human nature,” said Angie Eikenberry with Mode Shift. ”Some of the design will help, but you have to account that people are people.”

The city is getting serious about pedestrian safety in the Blackstone District.

Eikenberry plans to walk the district with a number of others Tuesday night to examine how the design impacts pedestrian traffic and what changes are still needed.

She says the Blackstone district still has narrow sidewalks.

“I walk this all the time and sometimes it gets so crowded, you’re forced to go around into the street.”

One thing that’s clear is the district keeps growing. Even food trucks are being moved around. There will also be a streetcar in four years.

Other changes to be tested are pedestrian islands in the center lane alone with curb extensions and more signs urging people to slow down and watch for people.

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