Farnam fight: Neighbors, city dispute over how to make Omaha street ‘two-way all-day’

Dundee-area residents holding meeting Monday night to discuss planned improvements that include round-abouts
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Published: Nov. 14, 2022 at 5:12 PM CST
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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) - The fight over turning Farnam Street “Two-way all-day” continues with a community meeting planned for Monday night.

Neighbors tell 6 News they plan to express concerns over adding roundabouts to the street with Omaha city councilmembers.

Turning Farnam Street between 46th and Dodge streets into a one-way road is something many neighbors have waited years for, and now it’s finally happening. But many neighbors aren’t happy with how it’s happening.

Currently, for four hours every day, Farnam Street becomes a one-way road, causing a host of problems according to many neighbors.

“The main thing is wrecks, I mean, there have been so many wrecks, not just at our street but at every corner,” said 40-year Dundee resident Linda Smith back in May, when plans for the street were first announced.

Earlier this year, the city of Omaha presented findings on a study of a stretch of Farnam Street, from 46th to Dodge streets. It showed that parts of Farnam have a crash rate that’s twice the city-wide rate. Many of those crashes happened during those four hours of one-way driving.

In August, city engineers recommended removing the street lights from 50th and 52nd streets, replacing them with roundabouts, and making the street two-way all-day. The recommendation came after several weeks of community input through public meetings and online surveys.

“Without a doubt, the leading feedback we’re hearing is whatever you do, you need to focus on safety, so that’s good, that’s always our number one priority as well, and that does give us some direction,” said City of Omaha traffic engineer Todd Pfitzer in May. “The data shows the problem and how to correct it. Roundabouts slow down traffic, reduce crashes and eliminate red light running.”

The goal of the roundabouts, Pfitzer says, is to slow down the nearly 14,000 to 16,000 rivers that drive on Farnam daily.

“I think I’ve had a lot of neighbors that have been frustrated with the lack of transparency in the process, the lack of understanding how the decision was made, why the decision was made,” said Dundee Memorial Park Association President John Ashford.

Monday night, the DMPA hosted a meeting with councilmembers Festersen and Begley to discuss their concerns over the roundabouts that city council will eventually vote on.

Ashford says they had a simple request for the city:

“All we’re asking was for it to be two-way all day for one year, a one-year pilot project, and if it works if it safe, great, it’s like every other street in town,” Ashford said. “If it doesn’t work, spend the $3 million in construction. But we simply, we’re asking the city for an opportunity to show that two-way all day is the simplest and best solution.”

At the neighborhood meeting concerns were raised over unnecessary spending, pedestrian safety, and cutting into property. Parents said they worry that without stoplights for walkers, crossing the street will be confusing and dangerous for all involved. Kids can often be found walking in that neighborhood.

Jim Elliston lives on the corner of 52nd and Farnam.

“How much of the property the roundabout would take? How close would traffic come to our house?” he said at the meeting.

In the past, Pfitzer has said this option isn’t plausible.

“As a transportation professional, based on 130 years of experience building roads, just taking the signs down is going to lead to crashes,” he said in April. “The left turns don’t align, you’re going to have sight distance restrictions, capacity issues, and we don’t want to try it for two years and have a lot of accidents to show for it, that’s not an acceptable option for a professional engineer.”

And Mayor Stothert also stood her ground. In a letter to the DMPA president she wrote in part, “roundabouts are the safest option and is the only option that will be considered.”

John Ashford says he believes the mayor’s office has too much power in these decisions.

“Even if councilman Festersen and Begley and the whole council gets on board and says we don’t want the roundabouts, they don’t have the power to do any more than vote yes or no,” Ashford said. “And if they vote no and the project is halted, then we’re back to having unsafe streets. So we feel like we’ve been put in a little bit of a pickle.”

That voting would happen in the design stage and again in the construction contract phase.

And in that scenario, resident Elliston said he wants his councilmen to vote no and pick no change at all.

“Given the ultimatum by the mayor, we’re either going to have roundabouts or nothing, I believe the best decision would be to do nothing.”