72nd & Dodge is one of the most well-known intersections in the city. 81,000 people drive through this intersection daily and for the past several decades, they have driven past a dead or dying mall.
While almost any development at this location will be better than the current status, the redevelopment has the ability to bring real vibrancy to the heart of the city. Mode Shift Omaha is excited to see how our city can intensify the core areas and make walking, biking, and transit more accessible to more people through thoughtful and intentional design.
This Tuesday, Omaha’s City Council will vote to approve this $80M TIF request. We sent a list of suggestions to Lockwood as well as the Council (see below to download) and were grateful to have been invited to a conversation with the developers who were open to some of MSO’s suggestions. Now we’ll see if the City grants their request. If you’d like to speak to Council before they vote, go to the City Council Agenda here to register and read more. We’ll be there speaking in opposition, since we don’t think TIF is truly benefitting the public in a way that justifies this amount of our tax dollars.
Planning for people first
How does it feel to arrive at this space without a car? Based on the current plan, a person must cross 350 feet of parking before they get to the first shop. Pedestrians are further away than the worst available parking spot.
Rather than having all the car parking in one big surface lot, parking could be spread more throughout the development. A person on foot could come right to a shop, perhaps a convenience store, that sits along Dodge Street.
People on foot and using mobility aids should also be able to travel within the development safely. One simple way to accomplish this is raised pedestrian crossings. Raised crossings do two things: 1) they slow cars by acting as a speed bump and 2) they alert drivers to be courteous and aware of people crossing.
Another pedestrian-friendly design we would recommend is back-in angle parking where appropriate. This type of parking has been shown to be safer for all road users and further serves to slow through traffic. Lockwood said this was not possible but didn’t say why.
Invite the neighbors
This development has a residential neighborhood directly to the north. There are also new apartment complexes being built on the east side of 72nd on the site of the old furniture store as well as to the southwest. It is very likely that people will walk from these locations to the Crossroads development.
Connecting to people from the bus
72nd & Dodge is served by several bus routes. Omaha Metro routes 8, 18, 98 and most prominently, the ORBT Dodge route all converge at this intersection. All of the amenities described for people arriving on foot will entice people to arrive by bus.
- Paint crosswalks adjacent to the development.
- Improve sidewalks along 72nd and Dodge Streets.
- Provide seating areas throughout and well marked crossings within surface lots.
Connecting to people on bicycles
Many people will arrive at this location by bicycle if they are accommodated when they arrive. The Strava bicycle heat map below shows that very few people are biking in this area currently, likely because it is so hostile to people on bikes. We can also see from the heat map that there are many people biking in the surrounding areas, with the largest number of people on the Keystone trail to the West.
- Create safe streets within the development for people on bikes.
- Provide safe bike parking throughout the development.
- Provide bike lockers for long term parking for tenants.
- Build multiple locations for the Heartland BCycle bike share docks.
- Build safe connections between the development and the Keystone trail.
Transit Oriented Development
The city of Omaha has recently adopted a Transit Oriented Development (TOD) plan. The basic idea is to increase density of development near transit lines, particularly the ORBT line along Dodge, and build closer to the street. To accomplish this, the city can reduce restrictions on the zoning, allowing for multi-family units to be built without special variances. The other tool is to reduce the number of required parking spaces (and where they put said parking), owing to the thought that people could live car-free or car-lite with the amenity of nearby transit.
Tax Increment Financing (TIF)
For this project, the developer is asking for a record $80 million (for a single project) in tax increment financing from the city. While we disagree that this development requires such funding, it is clear that the city is going to award this money so we ask that the city make some demands in exchange.
Is TIF Worth It? (OWH) If you haven’t already read this article, do so now for a deeper understanding of TIF and how it works, or doesn’t’!
What the developer can do:
- Make the development more friendly to people on foot or on bicycle by not requesting waivers to sidewalks along Chicago.
- Use raised crosswalks throughout the development.
- Provide back-in angle parking.
- Re-orient the businesses along Dodge to welcome people riding the bus or arriving by foot.
- Provide plentiful bicycle parking throughout the development, close to retail and dining.
- Provide 2 Dero FixIt Stations within the development.
- Include Heartland BCycle in the planning and build space for their bike docks.
What the city can do:
- Improve pedestrian safety features such as painting crosswalks and stop lines adjacent to the property.
- Improve sidewalks around development.
- On the perimeter and throughout the property include 7 foot setbacks from traffic and include trees, bushes, and native plants.
- No further widening of the crossing area, specifically at 74th & Dodge where a double turn lane is proposed.
- Create safe connections between Keystone trail on both Dodge and Cass Streets.
- Designate Farnam as a well marked cycle route between 67th Ave. and 74th St. and to the Keystone on the west.
What the city should require:
- Affordable housing as part of the development.
- TOD framework for this site.
- Pedestrian-friendly features
- 11’ lanes (less than the current 12.5’ since it sounded like the city originally recommended narrower but they met in the middle at 12.5’)
Omaha is facing a housing crisis and the use of TIF is an important tool in building affordable housing. Omaha needs more housing in areas that are also served by good public transportation. We need to re-evaluate how we use TIF and determine if we are using this tool to build a city that will be prosperous going forward, or if we are giving money to developers without any expectations of creating more affordable housing? It’s also taking money away from schools and streets, forcing us to pass the recent $200M street bond and neglect the needs of our school children and teachers.
If the city is willing to give TIF to every project, without restriction, every developer will ask for this funding. We appreciate the work that the developers are doing and their willingness to incorporate some of our suggestions. In conversations, the developers have been thoughtful and considerate of the needs of people who don’t arrive by car but ultimately, their job is to make money. It is the job of the city to ensure each project works to make our city more equitable and sustainable, especially when using public funds.