The Life And Death Of The Market-To-Midtown Bikeway

24 Oct

by Brian Knoelk

If you build it, they will come.

The stated goals of the Market-To-Midtown bikeway pilot project was to see an increase in the level of bicycle ridership, including bikeshares and scooters; and see an increase in the perception of safety and comfort level of riders and vehicular traffic alike; and aimed to promote multi-modal transportation options and public safety.

In the first year of the Harney Street Bike Lane, sometimes referred to as the Market-to-Midtown Bikeway, the bicycle traffic along the route increased about one-third, while bikeshare use along the route increased 69%. The Bikeway was on target to beat pre-pandemic ridership, but fell short of pandemic ridership highs. The number is also affected by the work-from-home transition that many downtown employees have gone through. [Market-to-Midtown Bikeway: 12-Month Evaluation from Bike Walk Nebraska]

While it is clear that the bikeway saw an increase in usage and greater discussion among residents about its need, the City of Omaha has decided to not extend the pilot project beyond the first termination date of September 30th, 2022.

On September 22nd, Bike Walk Nebraska revealed that they had not been invited to the latest Metro Smart Cities Advisory Board meeting, though they had been to every meeting previously. “Bike Walk Nebraska brought the Bikeway project and the entirety of the funding to MSC to facilitate a successful example of a public/private partnership. Mayor Stothert attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony voicing her appreciation and support of such a partnership.” Considering this, Bike Walk Nebraska has terminated their partnership with Metro Smart Cities, effective immediately.

Also on September 22nd, the City of Omaha’s Mayor’s Office released their statement, saying “We are 100% committed to protected bikeways,” said Mayor Stothert. “The pilot provided significant data to proceed with the evaluation and future decisions about protected bikeways in our urban core.  The evaluation process will consider Harney Street and other east-west streets to determine the safest, most accessible location to build a permanently protected bikeway.”

A satellite map with a red line drawn from east to west along Harney in Omaha, Nebraska. The red line starts with the descriptor "Midtown" and ends with the label "downtown"

Birth Of The Market-To-Midtown Bikeway

The Harney Street bike lane travels east-west from 10th Street to Dewey Ave, which is about 32nd Street, for a total of 1.5 miles. Block by block designs can be found in the City Council approval PDF.

Discussions about such a bike lane go back to 2011, particularly by members of Mode Shift Omaha, a multi-modal transit advocacy organization.

In April 2021, Omaha City Council approved a protected bike lane pilot (PDF), which included a signed agreement between the City of Omaha and Metro Smart Cities. The pilot project was expected to cost $250k, which Metro Smart Cities would cover, including maintenance and snow removal.

Ribbon cutting for the MTM Bikeway was on July 28th, 2021.

During the 2022 budget hearing process, City Councillor Festersen put forth an amendment for a bike and pedestrian master plan and called for the bikeway to be made permanent. This passed the Council, however Mayor Jean Stothert vetoed that, stating “The Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan has not been developed yet. Just two days ago, the Council approved a resolution to work with the Metropolitan Area Planning Agency to begin development in 2022. Until this plan is completed, evaluated, and approved, we cannot know if the recommendations will include capital improvements, therefore it should not be added to the CIP.” At the August 24th City Council meeting, the Council failed to override the mayor’s veto 3-4, along east-west lines.

Death Of The Market-To-Midtown Bikeway

On September 20th, 2022, City Council voted 6-0 to further support the bikeway, the resolution urges city officials to work with Bike Walk Nebraska and study an extension of the pilot. On September 22nd, 2022, Bike Walk Nebraska announced that they learned the protected bike lane would not receive an extension to the pilot program.

Tearing up the pilot program knowing that in a year or so Harney would be torn up again for the Streetcar is just a huge miscalculation on the City’s part. They should leave it until Streetcar construction starts.

A group of cyclists ride down Harney outside the protected bike lane as a form of protest

On September 29th, a large gathering of bicyclists and mult-modal users gathered at the west terminus of the bikeway for one last protest against a petty and spiteful mayor.

A large group of people, many wearing bicycle helmets stand in Dewey Park

That same evening, the mayor of Omaha announced that the bikeway would not be gutted so soon after all. Thanks to a donor, the bikeway could stay until the streetcar construction begins later in 2023.

A group of people stand in front of Omaha's city hall with a TV camera crew observing

We await the next chapter in the slow death of the Market-To-Midtown Bikeway. The proposed streetcar is very likely to be built and very likely on Harney Street.

Though there have been many calls to co-locate the two systems on Harney, the designs for the streetcar are still being drawn up. The bikeway is thus at the mercy of the streetcar. Multi-modal advocates at Mode Shift Omaha and throughout the city will continue to push for a great design that moves Omaha forward.

Two young women speak, the one on the left is wearing a bicycle helmet, the one on the right has a microphone in her hand. A man in a hat and black shirt stands in the background

Sources

KMTV 9/28/22: ‘We’re about 20 years behind’: Improving bike and pedestrian safety in the City of Omaha

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