Vision Zero & Blackstone

14 Dec

Six months ago there was a devastating hit and run in Blackstone, but gratefully the woman involved in that crash survived, requiring months of rehab due to the 22 broken bones she suffered. December 4th, a young woman wasn’t as lucky; she was killed by a drunk driver at 38th & Farnam while attempting to cross the street. Now Mode Shift Omaha is planning a Walk With Us (event details will be posted at ModeShiftOmaha.org by December 20th) to highlight the dangerous speeding issues in the area and push for immediate safety improvements. We can not wait until the end of 2023 when the Blackstone proposed streetscape project is scheduled to finish. 

“I’m just frustrated that nothing has been done because it’s been myself, I know a man who got hit a year before me, and now Kaitlyn. Three young people’s lives completely changed and nothing is done about it.” Lindsey Cavlovic, the survivor of the June Blackstone crash, told WOWT recently.

We share Lindsey’s frustration, especially in light of the City of Omaha’s commitment to Vision Zero and the lack of specific actions to improve road safety. Vision Zero is the goal of zero deaths or serious injuries on our streets taken by cities around the world, and Omaha hired Jeff Sobczyk as our first Vision Zero Coordinator in December 2020, solidifying our commitment to this important program. Mode Shift Omaha is excited to work with the City on Vision Zero initiatives, and we hosted the Mr. Sobczyk at our May membership meeting. However, we have heard very little from him since then. This is the 36th death on our streets this year due to unchecked road violence, so we reached out to him. We also reached out to Councilor Begley, the Blackstone BID, and the PW Department inquiring about immediate changes. 

Labeled "A New Vision for Safety" this blue background graphic compares traditional and Vision Zero approaches to road safety. Under the "Traditional Approach" column it states: 
"Traffic deaths are inevitable
Perfect human behavior
Prevent collisions
Individual responsibility
Saving lives is expensive"
Under the "Vision Zero" column it reads,
"Traffic deaths are preventable
Integrate human failing in approach
Prevent fatal and severe crashes
Systems approach
Saving lives is not expensive"

Gratefully, Mr. Sobczyk was available for a phone call and he explained that he’s more of a “suggestion maker” than a “decision maker” and that there is no funding for his suggestions currently. When asked about installing mid-intersection signage he said the Traffic Engineers have told him that such improvements would “create a false sense of security for pedestrians” which is upsetting. When we spoke with the Blackstone BID, we learned that they were told the same thing by the Public Works Department. This Streetsblog article shows that it’s information from a seriously flawed 1970s study.

Sobczyk did say that they would be considering a lighting study, since it’s a very dark corridor at night, as well as some possible visual improvements at 38th & Farnam. The timing of the pedestrian signals was also discussed and we were assured that the lights were “functioning properly” at the time of the crash. When we asked about the timeline for these improvements he said 2-6 weeks so we’ll be tracking the progress.  

KETV dug into Vision Zero too and discovered the same thing. “Right now, he said there’s no funding specifically for Vision Zero. He hopes his action plan will change that and lead to a team effort like the task force that no longer exists.”

In recent years, Farnam Street has transformed into a truly urban street and continues to do so as a result of new development and redevelopment. The City of Omaha must recognize that Farnam Street’s purpose has evolved past pure auto-mobility. Blackstone in particular has a heavy presence of commercial establishments along Farnam including entertainment, dining, and nightlife, and with these land uses comes the reasonable expectation that many people will need to cross the street. However, this assumption has not been built into the design of the street.

We cannot accept any more traffic-related deaths or serious injuries on the streets of Omaha. In this regard, we call upon Mayor Stothert, Vision Zero Coordinator Jeff Sobczyk, all members of the City Council, and the Public Works Department to recognize that the epidemic of traffic violence in Omaha is entirely preventable, on Farnam and citywide, and act with urgency to add funding and implement changes in street design to promote the safety of all who travel around the city. 

An example of a rectangular rapid flashing beacon or RRFB which is a bright yellow crossing arrow with lights.

A number of relatively inexpensive and quick solutions exist to increase the visibility of pedestrians, including painted “zebra” style crosswalks, rectangular rapid flashing beacons (RRFBs), and high intensity activated crosswalk signals (a.k.a. HAWK signals).

We urge the city to install these or similar treatments at points where pedestrians can reasonably be expected to cross Farnam Street (unsignalized intersections and common mid-block crossings). These treatments are well documented for improving safety and are supported by street design guides published by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO). At existing signalized intersections, we urge the city to reduce the time it takes for a walk signal to appear after a person presses the crosswalk button or remove the “beg buttons” entirely and change the light timing to prioritize safe pedestrian crossing. Lastly, we ask that the City work to quickly redesign and implement traffic-calming changes and lower speed limits on Farnam and other city streets that data indicates have high rates of traffic fatalities.

We can not wait any longer. This dangerous and busy corridor has done enough unchecked damage to the community. The city must act swiftly to put safety first.

One Response to “Vision Zero & Blackstone”

  1. ctefft@mac.com December 14, 2021 at 6:26 pm #

    Minneapolis has 8+ ‘Quick Build’ projects through their Vision Zero work. Dare I say they also have a Bike/Ped coordinator?

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