Omaha bike lane partner withdraws from collaboration after pilot project terminated

After just over a year on the road, Omaha's only protected bike lane will soon be removed.
Published: Sep. 22, 2022 at 3:19 PM CDT
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - About a year after the bike lanes were installed as part of a city mobility pilot project, Omaha has decided to terminate the project.

Bike Walk Nebraska announced Thursday it was immediately ending its partnership with Metro Smart Cities after the organization was informed the Market-to-Midtown Bikeway pilot project would conclude at the end of the month.

The organization said it was informed Wednesday by Mayor Jean Stothert and Public Works Director Bob Stubbe that the mobility program, set to expire Sept. 30, wouldn’t be extended “despite unanimous passing of the city council referendum and apparent success on all previously established performance measures,” according to a release from BWN.

The decision was reportedly made at Wednesday’s Metro Smart Cities advisory board meeting.

Bike Walk Nebraska Executive Director Julie Harris tells 6 News the decision to end the pilot project was a conversation they were left out of.

“We have been at all the Metro Smart Cities advisory meetings since we brought this project to metro smart cities, and yesterday’s meeting was the first one we were not invited to,” Harris said.

Harris says the process was broken when they weren’t invited to take part in the Wednesday meeting.

“That’s why we’re disappointed, this was the project that we brought to the city, we brought all the funding, we did all of the work and at the end of the day we were excluded from those crucial conversations that they had about the fate of the project.”

According to an online update from the mayor’s office, which confirms the project’s end date, MSC would be “responsible for scheduling and paying for the removal of the bikeway bollards, but a timeframe for that work has not been determined.”

“The city of Omaha is seriously committed to all modes of transportation in the city of Omaha, including protected bike lanes in the downtown urban core,” Mayor Stothert said in a meeting with media members on Wednesday.

“We got a lot of information from that pilot, it hasn’t been analyzed yet so we still need to do that,” she added. “What we do know is that it is a huge challenge if you try to run a bikeway along with the streetcar.”

Stothert cited that it has proven to be an issue in other cities, too.

“Seattle, Washington tried to run their streetcar along with their bikeway and there had been 12 lawsuits filed against the city, there had been injuries and deaths of bikes, basically when they get their wheels caught in the tracks, so that’s something that we don’t want,” Stothert said.

Harris says the two can exist together, and when Harney Street is torn up for the streetcar’s construction, it will never be cheaper and more efficient to build the permanent bike lane, too.

“As of now, the streetcar will run right through the middle of our urban core, and even if there’s not a bike lane on that same street, there will be people on bikes, people pushing strollers, using assisted mobility devices, people on scooters who will be crossing those lanes so not putting a bike lane does not at all change the fact that we need to build it to be safe for anyone,” Harris said.

Tuesday, the City Council unanimously passed a resolution from Council President Pete Festersen and Councilman Don Rowe to encourage Public Works and Metro Smart Cities to extend the pilot project.

Residents of Omaha, we urge you to join us in our call for answers and clarification from Mayor Stothert & the Public...

Posted by Bike Walk Nebraska on Thursday, September 22, 2022

Despite the announcement, made in correlation with the latest update on Omaha’s Climate Action Plan, the city remains “100% committed to protected bikeways,” the mayor’s update states.

Still, it came as a bit of a surprise after the project seemed to be gaining momentum with city officials.

While the bike lane initially confused Omaha drivers after its installation last summer, BWN Executive Director Julie Harris told the council at its Sept. 13 meeting that “results from the six-month project evaluation showed a 140% increase in bicycle traffic on Harney.”

In its release Thursday, BWN said the organization wasn’t invited to Wednesday’s Metro Smart Cities meeting, where they said the decision was made, despite providing funds to support the MSC initiative.

“In this spirit of partnership, BWN allowed MSC to use a portion of the funding BWN provided to create a website now serving all of its current and future pilot projects,” the Bike Walk Nebraska release states. “...The Mayor and Public Works Director reportedly voiced concern over the budget to maintain the Bikeway if the pilot period was extended an additional 18 months (estimated at $40,000). Bike Walk Nebraska has $38,930 in remaining project funds not provided to MSC which could be used for these costs. This could have been clarified at the meeting had BWN been in attendance.”

Bike Walk Nebraska statement excerpt

The Bike Walk Nebraska release also had a message for city officials:

“BWN calls on Mayor Stothert and the Public Works Director to clarify their intentions for the Bikeway and share their budgetary calculations and concerns voiced in the MSC meeting with BWN, the funders of this project.”

This is a developing story. Stay with 6 News for updates.