MSO Board’s Statement on Harney Street Bikeway Removal

27 Sep

September 26th, 2022

Mode Shift joins local Omaha multimodal organizations and advocates in expressing frustration and disappointment over the removal of the Market-to-Midtown Bikeway after a successful pilot period. 

The bikeway pilot was successful and accomplishes multiple city goals; removal wastes philanthropic dollars. 

Since the start of the bikeway pilot in July 2021, the bikeway has seen over 50,000 riders amounting to over one hundred cyclists per day. Groups like Bike Walk Nebraska, Heartland Bcycle and others have spent countless hours analyzing data from the pilot, which shows that despite being the only protected bikeway in downtown Omaha (bike infrastructure is more effective when there is a complex network), ridership on the bikway flourished. We highly criticize Mayor Stothert’s statement that “we need to analyze the data we got from our pilot.” The data has been analyzed and shows a need for this infrastructure in our urban core. Additionally, this project is a top-ranked project in the Transportation Element of the Omaha Master Plan of 2011.

Protected bike lanes support a myriad of goals we have as a community. The City of Omaha has a commitment to achieve Vision Zero, or to have zero deaths in our streets, which the mayor committed to in 2017. Several studies point to younger Americans wanting to drive less than their parent’s generation; protected bike lanes help support these younger residents and can reduce brain drain. Omaha will be releasing a climate action plan RFP soon; bicycling is a carbon neutral form of transit. 

Using funds given to Metro’s Smart Cities for the bikeway pilot to remove the bikeway (to the tune of $91,000) instead of extending the project while plans for the streetcar are finalized ($40,000 per year) is a bad financial choice. The streetcar is expected to begin construction in 2024

Harney is the urban core’s best option for a bikeway, despite streetcar addition. 

Bike Walk Nebraska, charged along with Metro Smart Cities, by the City Council with evaluating the project has concluded that Harney is the only viable east-west pathway for a separated cycle track in the urban core, which is the area Tuesday’s city Council Resolution called for a permanent bikeway in. Given that Farnam and Harney routes carry almost half of east-west cycling trips, likely due to their topography and connectivity between destinations, and a lack of viable alternatives, removing the pilot without a viable replacement is more likely to increase traffic injuries rather than decrease them as the city’s Vision Zero commitment calls for.

The Mayor references a lawsuit in Seattle where cyclists have been injured or killed after bike tires got stuck in streetcar tracks. This incident occurred where no physical barrier exists between the lane and streetcar track. This is exactly why protected infrastructure is needed 

Adding the streetcar to Harney presents some challenges for bicyclist safety, which is why vision zero design elements should be included early in design conversations. Ryan Wishart writes in his article on streetcar compatibility with the bikeway that, “the original 2011 vision for the cycle track is very similar to Vision Zero best practices” and points towards the peer-reviewed scientific literature on the efficacy of design on Vision Zero principles:

‘Protected intersections [ that direct two-stage left turns ], cycle tracks and designated rail rights of way all follow the Swedish “Vision Zero” transport safety principle: acknowledging the inevitability of human error and providing route designs that minimize its consequences…They would prevent most of the track-involved injury scenarios observed in this study.’ (Teschke et al 2016, p.8-9).

Such design based on Vision Zero principles on Harney becomes even more important in the context of the lack of sufficient space for it on the other main, and historically even busier cycling route: Farnam.”

Separated infrastructure saves cyclist’s lives. 

Removing the bikeway reduces the safety of cyclists traveling on Harney. In the U.S, 44 cyclists are killed per billion kilometer traveled by bike nationwide. In countries where bike traffic is commonly protected from car traffic like in Denmark, this number decreases to 14.6 deaths. Protected bikeways reduce injuries and save lives. 

Decisions about the design of our city should be made collaboratively, not behind closed doors. 

Closing the Smart Cities meetings to the public and preventing Bike Walk Nebraska from participating in the pivotal conversation about the Bikeway last week is a breach of trust for all philanthropic organizations in Omaha. If citizens cannot comment on or be involved in decisions around public infrastructure, non profit organizations who have provided funds should at minimum be included. The way the Mayor and Public Works handled this decision is an atrocity, and we are outraged.

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