Omaha city council considers permanent funding, extension of protected bike lane pilot project

But with the announcement of the streetcar, the future of the bike lane is shifting.
If streetcars eventually start running in downtown Omaha it raises the question: will there still be a protected bike lane?
Published: Sep. 15, 2022 at 10:24 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - Next Tuesday, the Omaha City Council will consider a resolution, brought forward by council President Pete Festersen and councilmember Don Rowe, that would likely extend the Market to Midtown Bikeway pilot project and ensure funds for a future permanent bike lane.

“All this resolution says is ‘hey, we’re interested in multi-modal opportunities, we think a protected bike lane is a good idea, we should keep it in place until the streetcar gets resolved and figured out and look to make attempts to co-locate them or find complimentary routes where they could exist together, and the city should be a funding partner when that occurs,’” said Festersen when the topic was discussed at the September 13 council meeting.

The resolution urges the Omaha Streetcar Authority to help evaluate a co-located permanent protected bike lane on Harney Street, or along another east-west route.

“Everyone recognizes that there are several forms of transport that people rely on in the urban core — cars, busses, ORBT, bikes, feet, and soon, streetcars,” said Jay Noddle, President of the Omaha Streetcar Authority on Tuesday. “They’re all integral to a great transportation network in the core of any city.”

It also encourages the Public Works Department to work with organizations responsible for the bike lane, Bike Walk Nebraska and MetroSmart Cities, to evaluate the project and consider an extension, as well as secure funding for an extension and any future permanent project.

When the bike lane was completed and opened more than a year ago, the goal was to show that if you build it, they will come. And they have.

“Results from the six-month project evaluation showed a 140% increase in bicycle traffic on Harney,” said Julie Harris, Executive Director of Bike Walk Nebraska at Tuesday’s council meeting. “Data at the one-year mark in late July showed a decrease but consist use of the lane in the winter months as expected.”

Before the streetcar came into the picture, the plan would have been to make the protected bike lane a permanent one, using things like concrete barriers or curbs, instead of the temporary plastic bollards that are along the route now. The city council would have needed to vote to approve the permanent lane.

But with the announcement of the streetcar, the future of the bike lane is shifting.

“The issue now becomes where is the streetcar going to go, and how will that impact our route, so we just want to make sure this continues to be in the forefront, that it doesn’t get forgotten,” Harris told 6 News.

“A streetcar and a bike lane can coexist, there’s enough room on Harney for both to co-exist, now if that means the bike lane needs to move to the other side of the street to accommodate the streetcar, those types of questions we’re totally open to those conversations, we just want to make sure wherever it’s located, it’s done thoughtfully and not just trying to move the bikes out of the way, but rather that it gets people where they need to go in the most efficient and safe manner,” she adds.

“I think it’s very fair and safe to say that should the streetcar project be built, Farnam and Harney will be the main corridors,” Noddle told council members Tuesday.

If the evaluation shows that the two modes of transportation can both remain on Harney, Harris says it’s a win-win.

“The protected bike lane needs to be included in the overall design of Harney street should the streetcar route end up there. It will never be easier, it will never be cheaper than at that time than to construct the bike lane as we do the same time as the street car,” she said. “If the published costs estimates of the streetcar are accurate, a rough estimate to design and construct a permanently protected bike lane would be about 1% of the cost of the streetcar.”

Councilmembers including Festersen, Rowe, Harding, and Begley all expressed their support for the project to continue moving forward.