As part of the Omaha Safe Crossings project, one of the intersections Mode Shift Omaha has been focused on monitoring is 72 and Dodge Streets. This intersection is a major East/West and North/South thoroughfare so one of the busiest intersections in Omaha. At one time, this intersection had nice wide crosswalk markings and stop lines (indicating where cars should stop when the light is red), but these have long disappeared. Without these markings, motor vehicles typically stop for a red light far into the area meant for people walking across the street, making it unsafe, especially for those who are visually impaired.
About a year ago, advocates started making calls to the Mayor’s hotline and posting on the City Mobile App, asking for the crosswalks and stop lines at the intersection to be maintained—all to no avail. At a Mayor’s Town Hall last fall 2016, Cindy Tefft, a ModeShift member, asked the Mayor: if her main objective was Public Safety, why not maintain this intersection for pedestrian safety? Bob Stubbe, Public Works Director, answered the question and said the City only paints crosswalks east of 42 Street and around schools elsewhere (!). He also said the last pedestrian count for this intersection, done in April 2014, did not warrant maintaining the crosswalk. At that time, they counted 246 pedestrians using the intersection (this was before major changes made to bus routes last year and new businesses like Do Space opening).
This raised some questions for us:
- Why is the City only maintaining crosswalks east of 42 Street (or only near schools otherwise)? This seems problematic given the size of our city and its continued westward expansion.
- How many people need to be put at risk crossing the street before there are “enough”? What is the “enough” number exactly? 72 & Dodge certainly has relatively high pedestrian traffic.
- Which comes first—creating crossings where people feel safe so they will actually walk in the area or only creating a safe crossing when enough people are forced to walk in the area because they have no other choice, and must do so at their own risk?
When Cindy asked at the Town Hall last fall if a new count could be done, Mr. Stubbe agreed. The new count had yet to happen as of the end of last year. With another concerted effort in the last two months from Cindy, Do Space, Mode Shift, and other safety-conscious people asking for action on 72 & Dodge—including contacting the Mayor’s Hotline, Public Works, Traffic Engineering and City Council members whose districts are adjacent to the intersection (Pete Festersen to the North, Chris Jerram to the Southeast, and Franklin Thompson to the Southwest)—Traffic Engineering finally scheduled a count to be done this April 2017 (thank you Mike Gaughan).
In the meantime, this past week, Public Works Traffic Division also installed stop lines at the intersection (thanks to Edward)! It has made a huge difference in keeping the area cleared for people to walk or bike across. People in cars are mostly stopping at the lines. We have more work to do on this intersection, but are thankful that some safety concerns have been addressed. We are hoping to see crosswalks installed this spring for the improved safety of people walking and on bikes. We will continue to monitor the situation and investigate exactly what the criteria are for this crosswalk (and others) to be maintained.
Please take a moment to send a note of thanks to Council members Pete Festersen, Chris Jerram, and Franklin Thompson, as well as Steve Scarpello, Council Staff Assistant, and Edward in Traffic Engineering, for helping to bring about this first step to improving safety of this intersection.