Safety, Street Design|

Mode Shift was saddened and concerned about the comments from opponents to the proposed Farnam roundabouts on Tuesday, April 4th. The outpouring of opposition resulted in the roundabouts being voted down 7-0 by City Council, with no opportunity to revisit the infrastructure proposition in the future. Based on Council testimony and information from the Mayor’s Office, it is unlikely Farnam Street will ever be two-ways as a result. (Though Mode Shift is gathering support for 2-way on Farnam with the roundabouts in a petition with hopes this can be revisited in the future.)

Mode Shift missed an opportunity to get out in front of this issue and educate neighbors in Dundee on the benefits of roundabouts in residential, walkable neighborhoods. We were in good company, but are hopeful that by working with other nonprofit and City partners, people in Omaha can receive factual information about the benefits of a wide variety of Vision Zero infrastructure. 

Farnam isn’t going to be two-ways because the Dundee Memorial Park Neighborhood Association prioritized misinformation above the safety of their residents. There are a lot, a LOT of streets that could use traffic and pedestrian infrastructure. Our City has spent so many resources: money, time, consultants, and studies on Farnam Street, and Mode Shift is excited to look ahead to what other areas of Omaha can be prioritized to receive this type of attention. 

Let’s dispel some myths. 

Myth: Roundabouts lead to more crashes. 

Fact: In the United States, traffic signals converted to roundabouts have found reductions in injury crashes of 72-80% and reductions in all crashes 35-47%. Testifiers at the City Council meeting on Tuesday referenced the Crown Point roundabout conversion that saw an increase in crashes the year after installation; many of these were crashes where cars ran into the roundabout infrastructure. Crashes that occur on Farnam today are mostly t-bone crashes with a high injury rate. Even multi-lane roundabouts cut injury crashes by 15%.

Myth: Roundabouts aren’t safe for pedestrians and cyclists. 

Fact: Crosswalks throughout the roundabouts are ADA accessible, and rather than having to cross multiple lanes of traffic at once, refuge islands actually shorten the risk of the pedestrian (City Council recording from April 4th, timestamp 3:31:06). Keeping pedestrian crossings on the outskirts of the roundabouts can actually improve visibility of pedestrians as it allows drivers to focus on pedestrians first, and then on cars merging, rather than both at the same time in a typical signal intersection. 

According to NHTSA data, ten pedestrians/cyclists have been killed at any of America’s 8,800 roundabouts. Even if a roundabout doesn’t reduce crashes for people who use these modes, it will almost certainly cut deaths and serious injuries because motorists are forced to slow down to a safe speed. 

Myth: Emergency services cannot move through roundabouts, or are slowed down by them.

Fact: Public Works stated in the City Council meeting on April 4th that the Chief of the Fire Department wrote a letter verifying the roundabouts can be navigated by emergency vehicles (City Council recording from April 4th, timestamp 3:31:06). 

Myth: Snow plows cannot navigate roundabouts. 

Fact: Snow is cleared of all existing roundabouts in the City of Omaha (City Council recording from April 4th, timestamp 3:31:06).

Myth: Roundabouts threaten the historic nature of neighborhoods. 

Opinion: This is a line of argument used by many people and organizations who are against change,  including NIMBYs (Not in My Backyard), because there is no data that can be countered; it is a matter of opinion and taste. Roundabouts are common in historic neighborhoods across the country and by slowing traffic, make it easier for residents and visitors to enjoy the historic architecture and landscaping. Take this roundabout in Boston:

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