Center Street 'road diet' proposal causing controversy

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OMAHA, Neb. (WOWT) -- The Center Street Action Team is hoping to garner enough support to push the Mayor’s office toward allocating funds to narrow Center Street between 34th and 36th Street when that portion of Center St. is repaved.

The group met at Vis Major Brewery to sign postcards to mail to the mayor. They’re hoping for at least 200 signatures to ask Mayor Stothert to consider narrowing the five-lane street to three lanes.

The group is comprised of neighborhood surrounding the businesses near the intersection of 35th Street and Center St. It believes narrowing Center St. would make it safer for pedestrians and bring in more businesses nearby.

“There is a market for more development here and then possibly if development took off here, maybe the rest of Center Street would also get a little bit more development,” said Amelia Rosser, president of the Hanscom Park Neighborhood Association.

The group wants the road diet, as it’s called, to happen during the repaving project planned for the end of the year, which it said would help save the city some money.

“If it doesn’t happen now, the potential business owners that want to come in may no longer be interested,” Rosser said.

The project is years in the works, but the big push came after the city’s public works department published a study that recommended a road diet can be accommodated in the area.

“This road is too big for the traffic that’s going through, which makes it more unsafe,” Rosser said.

Right now, there are a few businesses who want to build or open up shop should the funds be allocated toward the project.

As the group signed postcards and told people more of their initiative, some members spoke to those who are opposed to the project. They believe three lanes would actually congest Center St. more and said it would push residents out of the neighborhood.

“We’re not going benefiting off of this. We’re going to be taxed for this. The improvement is going to hurt us overall,” Sarah Phipps said, who is against the road diet. “Improvement is good, but there’s a right way to do it and there’s a wrong way to do it. When you knock out the neighborhood to do it and the neighborhood is what makes us strong, when that strength is gone then people can’t afford to live in their own homes anymore.”

Phipps has lived in the neighborhood for 18 years. She said getting the city involved with the feel of the neighborhood would strip it of its essence that has made it to what it is now, which fellow neighbor Karl Rabbass agreed with.

“To me, I call it gentrification, but I don’t really think it needs anything. You’ve got Abellardo’s right across the street over here. You’ve got Richie’s Chicken. That’s all. I wouldn’t have moved here if it wasn’t for it being the way it was,” Rabbas said.

However, CTAT members said the essence of the project would do everything both Phipps and Rabbass want.

“A more vibrant, prosperous Omaha no matter what corner you’re in benefits everybody,” Rosser said.

The group has until January 30th to submit messages to the mayor’s office.

6 News contacted the Mayor’s office in reference to the public works study the action team makes reference to. City officials said the Mayor has received 100 emails in reference to the road diet and will respond to all emails by the end of the week.

The city added that the study “recommends that a road diet can be accommodated,” and that it is does not state it should be or will be accommodated.

For more information on the Center Street road diet proposal from the Center Street Action Team, visit their website.