Omaha traffic study recommends roundabouts on Farnam Street

Traffic study claims roundabouts are safest way to permanently switch Farnam to a two-way
The City of Omaha plans to change the flow of Farnam Street.
Published: Aug. 16, 2022 at 1:05 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The City of Omaha is considering roundabouts to solve traffic problems on Farnam Street’s two-way conversion.

According to a release from Mayor Jean Stothert’s Office, a recent traffic study reveals several problem areas on Farnam Street. The road has several intersections with higher crash rates compared to the city’s average.

Farnam Street is a unique road in Omaha. It has been a key commuter route that can be confusing because it changes to a one-way street in the morning and evening.

It used to be Omaha’s main street - a two-way road through the historic Dundee neighborhood.

Since 1958, four hours of every day is reserved for one-way traffic. Two hours in the morning for the morning commute into Omaha and two hours in the evening for drivers to head home west.

That’s about to end.

An engineering study recommends Farnam be converted to two-way traffic permanently, with traffic signals removed in favor of two roundabouts - one at 50th and one at 52nd.

City officials have previously looked into changing Farnam Street to be two-way all day. Before doing that, officials needed to look at traffic data and find the best way to make the change.

The study, conducted by Felsburg Holt & Ullevig (FHU), looked at traffic data between 2015-2020. It examined crashes, speed, signals and traffic volume.

According to the study, four intersections on Farnam between Dodge and Saddle Creek had much higher crash rates - nearly double the average rate in Omaha.

Between 2015 and 2020, those four intersections saw 173 crashes combined.

  • Saddle Creek Road and Farnam had 77 crashes.
  • 50th Street and Farnam had 35 crashes.
  • Happy Hollow Blvd and Farnam had 36 crashes.
  • 52nd and Farnam had 25 crashes.

The speed limit in the study area is 30 mph.

The study also showed that the majority of crashes at the 50th and 52nd Street intersections were caused by red light runners.

Intersections would need to be changed to accommodate the increased traffic when the road switches to two-way all day.

City officials say two roundabouts at the intersections on 50th and 52nd would be a safe solution.

“This is simply about safety, for all users of the road and the surrounding neighborhoods,” said City Engineer Todd Pfitzer. “The data shows the problem and how to correct it. Roundabouts slow down traffic, reduce crashes and eliminate red light running.”

Pfitzer says feedback on the plan shows the public wants to see safety improvements.

“The public feedback came back and said if you are going to do something, do something to improve safety.”

The idea is that the roundabouts at the two intersections – where each sees between 14,000 and 16,000 drivers a day – will slow them down.

And if there is a crash, it won’t come with the severity of red light runners speeding through the intersection and slamming into someone.

According to the Nebraska Department of Transportation, roundabouts can potentially reduce injury accidents by as much as 75% and fatal accidents by 90%.

Study organizers also looked at other methods, such as adding new dedicated turning lanes, but they say those recommendations don’t provide as much safety as a roundabout.

Mayor Jean Stothert says she supports the study’s recommendations.

“Omaha is a Vision Zero City,” Stothert said. “The Farnam Street project is a perfect application of the Vizion Zero principles, to reduce and eventually eliminate traffic deaths.”

Vizion Zero is a concept several major cities have recently implemented, with the goal being to end all traffic-related deaths.

This isn’t the first time Omaha has converted an intersection into a roundabout. According to to Keep Omaha Moving, the intersection at 42nd and Q saw a reduction in crashes after it was converted.

However, not everyone who has a stake in the project is happy to see roundabouts.

Roundabout construction would likely take up a few feet of homeowners’ properties at both 50th and 52nd Streets.

The Dundee Memorial Park Association (DMPA), a volunteer neighborhood association that represents people living from Saddle Creed Road to JE George Blvd and Leavenworth Street to Western Ave, says they started a public safety campaign six years ago to change Farnam Street.

They wanted to see Farnam changed to a two-way permanently without extra construction.

“We are disappointed that we couldn’t have shown the city that two-way without roundabouts could have worked with virtually no cost to taxpayers and we lament the fact that our neighbors could lose property as a result of construction, but ultimately support the city’s desire to make Farnam safer,” a release from DMPA said.

DMPA also says they are concerned about pedestrian safety without traffic control lights at the roundabouts.

“We will continue to advocate for safe crosswalks within these new roundabouts and hope the city makes the investment in signage and lighting necessary to make the roundabouts safe and an aesthetic fit in historical Dundee.”

Some residents also aren’t thrilled to hear about roundabouts.

“We hear accidents all the time,” said area resident Ward Peters. “Especially at 52nd street. We have friends who have been in accidents. We would love for it to be one way, each way all the time. But personally, I’m not sure I’m in favor of the roundabouts. I don’t think they’re necessary at those locations. The roundabouts are effective at Elmwood. I think there will be so much traffic backing up if they put the roundabouts in.”

The study also says bus stops, pedestrian crosswalks and bicycle facilities might also need to be changed to accommodate the permanent switch to two-way.

The debate over Farnam Street has been happening for years, leaving some to ask ‘why now?’

Part of it is that the city now has a clearer picture of what UNMC is doing with its expansion around Saddle Creek and Farnam – in addition to the streetcar route.

With the recommended changes, the Farnam Street conversion will likely cost $1.75 million, according to the study. The funding is included in the City’s Capital Improvement Program.

If the city council approves of the design changes, then construction would begin and finish sometime in 2024. The design phase would begin this year and construction would be estimated to start in 2024.

Residents along the area and anyone who signed in at a public meeting about the project will receive additional information in the mail.

Omaha Farnam Street Conversion Supplemental Information
Omaha Farnam Street Conversion Supplemental Information(Keep Omaha Moving)

Read the full traffic study:

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