Pedestrian Safety Concerns at the Aksarben Transit Center

9 Feb

The new Askarben Transit Center is a recent realignment by Metro to get bus routes and transit centers closer to nodes of activity. Previously, this “transit center” was nothing more than two paired stops outside the Bergan Mercy hospital at 75th and Mercy Road. While the hospital is a major employment center, there really isn’t much else around of interest to a transit user who doesn’t work in the area. To the east, along Mercy Road, we have the growing Aksarben neighborhood — a burgeoning development of residential opportunities, commercial offices, entertainment, shopping and dining. The area has high density, diverse activity and is better served by a transit center that brings together five bus lines.

Currently the new transit center is, again, two paired stops across the street from one another on Mercy Road just west of 68th Street. This location, just west of Aksarben Village is withing easy walking distance of the development, but not positioned so that it would be affected by the many markets, events and concerts throughout the year when the community closes Mercy Road for pedestrians and exhibitors.

Mode Shift member, Cindy Tefft sent along the following observations and images.

North side services Metro Routes 11, 13, 15, 18, and 55. South Side services Route 15.

(L-R) The South side of Mercy, 68th Street, North Side of Mercy

Coming from 67th St., walking west toward the transit center, I saw the following conditions in the few minutes I was there. Cars coming down the hill go extremely fast heading east. Buses ares stopped in the furthest right hand lane of traffic, narrowing the road at times to 2 lanes. This will be very interesting in the summer during events. Would be good to see what it looks like during a.m and p.m. rush hours.

(L-R) Pedestrian crossing mid-block; Truck traffic commingled with buses; Buses, cars and pedestrians

In order to get to the South Transit Center you have to cross 4 lanes of traffic. One transit user says it isn’t too difficult but you have to time it just right. Since HDR opened their new headquarters, traffic has increased. The Keystone trail going under the Mercy Rd Bridge is closed, trail users have to cross Mercy Rd with no crossing signal or crosswalk. There are curb cutouts, 2 on each side of Mercy Rd. One at the corner of 68th south side and one on the north-side mid-block, the other where the trail crosses and is not at a corner. If you are walking east on the south side of Mercy Rd, you must cross the street in order to go over the bridge on a sidewalk to prevent walking in the street with the flow of traffic.

My take away is that this is an extremely dangerous situation for transit users, pedestrians, bicyclists and even motor vehicles.

Pictures: 11:50 a.m. Tues 2/5/2019 – Cindy Teftt

Current Conditions, Suggested Improvements

While Metro made an effort to avoid having pedestrians cross a busy street (all but one route connect at the north-side bus shelter) there are still users who will need to cross Mercy Rd. to make a connection to the east-bound 15, or catch one of the routes that begin heading west on Mercy. This creates a hazardous environment for people walking.

Current Conditions at 68th and Mercy
Click for Larger Image

As we move west on Mercy across Aksarben Drive, Mercy expands from three lanes to four. This creates a particularly dangerous situation for pedestrians, especially without any dedicated, on street walking infrastructure. In a four lane pedestrian crossing, the behavior of a person driving in one lane does not necessarily influence the drivers in the adjacent lanes.

For the safest environment, the roadway around the transit center would be narrowed to three lanes with one vehicle lane in each direction and a center lane that would act as a refuge for pedestrians crossing traffic in stages. The refuge lane (because there are no potential left turns in this stretch of roadway) could also have bollards warning drivers of pedestrian activity. The north/south crossing at the curb cuts should be marked with a cross walk and set-back stop bars. making clear that vehicles should give plenty of room for pedestrians to cross.

In an ideal world, a HAWK signal (High-intensity Activated crossWalK) would be installed to allow pedestrians to activate a right-of-way to cross to their connecting buses, even in high-vehicle-traffic periods.  All of these improvements would be at the discretion of the city’s Planning and Public Works departments.  We hope they will prioritize the comfort and safety of the most vulnerable of transportation system users over the speed and convenience  of people driving cars. 

We know that often infrastructure precedes demand. We trust the city to see the value in providing safe, inviting infrastructure for people walking and using mobility devices will encourage more people to use active transportation as their means of getting around our great city. If you would like to see changes at this intersection, or if you encounter other issues that affect the safety and comfort of people trying to use active transportation, please contact the Mayor’s Hotline (402) 444-5555.

Where are you going, MUD?

7 Feb

Out of the fog of the controversies of site selection, historic preservation, project management and public financing surrounding Douglas County’s proposed Juvenile Justice Center in Downtown Omaha a question adjacent to the project has yet to be answered. In a compromise deal, the original site to be acquired by eminent domain was spared when Metropolitan Utilities District agreed to sell their headquarters to Douglas County and relocate their operations to make way for the Juvenile Justice Center. Now, the remaining question is, where will MUD relocate?

One of the issues that has been of concern to Mode Shift Omaha from our founding is the problem of connecting where people live with where people work in an equitable fashion. When companies select a site for an employment center that does not account for people who cannot drive, for whatever reason, they unintentionally limit the pool of available employees, or require complicated, costly solutions that may or may not be sustainable.

As MUD’s headquarters is not only an employment center, but also a service center, the need for accessibility is two fold: both employees and customers should have full access to the facility. Whether the utility plans to build a new headquarters or lease office space in the interim, we hope that they will select a location that is accessible by active modes of transportation and by individuals with mobility limitations. To select a car-only location will erect a barrier between the utility and their customer-owners as well as limit their pool of qualified employees by adding access to private automobile transportation to the employment qualifications.

Please contact the board of directors and let them know you would like to see MUD select an accessible site for their headquarters in order that all Omahans will be able to take advantage of the employment opportunities and services MUD provides to the community.

Five Questions for Kim Schnitzer

14 Jan

Join us this Friday for our monthly coffee chat. We will be meeting up at 8 a.m. at the Scooters on 30th and Ames. This month, we talk with Kim Schnitzer, vocational coach, about the challenges her clients encounter accessing effective transportation. We asked her five questions . . .

1. What is your preferred mode of transportation?

My personal vehicle is my preferred mode of Transportation.  I live in Bellevue and there aren’t many affordable choices for public transportation that I qualify for, as most are based on disability.  I do use uber and lyft when my car needs service. They are good in a pinch, but are not sustainable, the total is about $40 per day by the time I drop my son off at school and pick him up.

2. What, in your opinion, is the greatest challenge to multi-modal transportation in Omaha?

It seems to me that the Omaha Transit system has operated on the premise “If people use the system we will expand”  that being said,  it is difficult for people to use a system that fails to provide access to huge areas of the city.  I think when we look at transit systems in cities of similar size, we can see that they are designed to move the workforce from their homes to their places of employment.  In Omaha there are huge gaps in the location of employers and the places were public transit goes.  This deficit has forced employers such as OTC, PayPal and Embassy Suites to work with other entities to provide affordable transportation to their work force. 

3. What, in your opinion, the the greatest multi-modal success in Omaha?

I think Metro has done a good job of keeping riding the bus affordable.  When compared with other Midwestern cities (Minneapolis, Chicago, Des Moines, Denver, Kansas City, Wichita)  the Metro bus passes are $ .50 to $3 less.  That may not seem like a huge difference, but many of my clients live on a fixed income of less than $1000 per month,  $ .50 can truly be a huge amount of money. 

4. How did you come to have an interest in transportation?

I work with individuals who are blind or visually impaired, most of them do not drive and rely on  public transportation.  These clients face real life challenges when trying to navigate the city for jobs and services.  I would like to advocate for a bus system that truly provides equal access to everyone in the city. 

5. If you could magically change one thing about the transportation systems in Omaha, without limit to budget or feasibility, what would it be?

I would love to see our transportation system more closely modeled after the Minneapolis/St. Paul area.  I love the light rail and how it works in conjunction with the bus system to expand and provide transportation all over the city.  I would love to see a system that provides efficient transportation from the northeast corridor of Omaha to the south west corridor and West Dodge