Slowing down Blackstone

13 Apr

Four years ago I moved to Omaha from Portland mostly sight unseen.

I decided the Blackstone district looked like the best place to land.

You see, I gave up my car when I moved to Portland and didn’t want to go back. 

Blackstone seemed to be extremely walkable, had several bus lines near it, and wasn’t too far from where I would be working. 

It wasn’t long before I got my reality check: that walkable street came with a narrow sidewalk and three lanes of traffic hightailing it at 45+ despite the 30mph (double check this number) speed limit.

Yes, technically I could walk along it and even get to work fairly easily, but not comfortably- especially compared to the streets I was used to walking in Portland.

I quickly found every time I crossed the street I needed to triple or even quadruple check no drivers were turning my way, even though I had the right of way. I pulled the flashing red light off my bike and added it to my backpack in hopes drivers would pay mor attention to me . Even then, I couldn’t begin to tell you the number of times a person driving a car nearly hit me while I was crossing the street. In a crosswalk. With the green light.

Monday Omaha city officials made some moves they say should force drivers to slow down in the main Blackstone strip.

Official plans from the City of Omaha for 39th and Farnam

Here’s the biggest part I can see:

Right now, there are two lanes for westbound traffic on Farnam between 36th and 40th. 

One of those lanes, according to city officials, will soon be used solely for left turns and a place for pedestrians to land while they wait to get to the other side of Farnam. 

The announcement came with a slew of other things: the remaining east and westbound lanes will be narrowed and parking “lanes” will be widened. 

The measures the city announced for people not in cars were glossed over quite a bit more. 

Essentially there will be a few mock curb cutouts for those walking so there’s less of a stretch of active street to cross. 

Officials also said some additional curb markings are coming to specific intersections (double check which ones these are), but they didn’t say exactly what people could expect or how they expect them to better serve the more vulnerable users of Blackstone. 

Right now this is being considered a pilot project. 

But I’ll say, while listening to the news conference live and listening again and again to make sure I heard correctly, it sounds more like a moveable temporary measure while the city waits for the tools necessary to make things permanent. 

Yes, the city engineer refused to put a timeframe on the “pilot”, but that’s actually what gives me hope. 

Most of these projects we’ve heard about have a specific timeframe for data collection and then a “we’ll see” attitude from there.  

In this case, the “pilot” is slated to last until the materials and plans for the permanent materials arrive, that is if city officials are to be believed. 

“Quote from Pfitzer on why they’re putting in temporary measures”

For now pedestrians and drivers will have to rely on paint plus bollards/posts to create a space that encourages drivers to slow down and gives more space to walkers. 

According to Pfitzer, we should see these moves as soon as next month. 

Hopefully, these additions to Blackstone will prove to the city there’s value in paying attention to everyone’s needs, not just drivers’. 

And, hopefully, that spreads beyond Omaha’s entertainment districts. 

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