City of Omaha gathering data on pedestrian safety pilot project in Blackstone district

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Published: Jul. 13, 2022 at 10:01 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - After several devastating pedestrian collisions in the popular Blackstone district, drivers are adjusting to the changes that have been implemented in the corridor.

Two months ago, the City of Omaha’s Public Works Department implemented several new changes that will eventually be made permanent in an effort to improve pedestrian safety.

“Pedestrians can cross, customers can cross either side of the street, not feel like they’re playing Frogger,” says Blackstone’s business improvement district President Jim Farho.

The changes include narrower driving lanes and wider parking stalls. The middle westbound driving lane was changed to a center turn lane.

The city also added more signage, painted crosswalks and islands for pedestrians to wait in as they’re crossing.

“People actually stop, they really don’t have to but they do now, that’s the environment we want, friendly, safe to walk around, go to wherever you need to, you don’t have to worry that you’re in danger crossing the street,” Farho says.

But are the changes actually working in the eyes of traffic engineers? They say it’s a little too soon to tell.

“When you make a change, whether its a red flag above a speed limit sign or stop sign, or a new flashing light or something that says your speed is, people will pay attention to that, it’s new, its different,” City Engineer Todd Pfitzer said. “It will change their behavior for a short period of time, whether or not it make a permanent change takes time to evaluate, so we need about six months of data to learn that.”

Pfitzer says the department is however conducting studies and gathering data.

Their biggest priority is measuring changes in speed, but there are many others they’re watching, too.

“We’ll watch behavior, are people rushing to get across the street or are they walking at a normal pace, do they feel like they have the time to get across, where are they crossing, see if some of the changes have put the pedestrians in a safer place where they can see the cars better, where the cars can see them,” Pfitzer says.

After six months, they’ll evaluate all the gathered data, and could potentially make new adjustments to the corridor.

Any permanent changes will take some time, however, because the city is still waiting for approval on the streetcar that would likely run through the district.

The Blackstone BID is also developing a survey they will distribute to residents and eventually pedestrians to get imput and opinions.

“We wanna hear more of the community feedback to us, are we doing the right thing or not? we think so, but we gotta make sure,” Farho says.

And despite the changes, Pfitzer has a reminder for the community.

“People still need to pay attention, drivers and pedestrians. When one or both of those two groups are not paying attention, the best laid plans can fail.”

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