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Pedestrian Safety Concerns at the Aksarben Transit Center

9 Feb

The new Askarben Transit Center is a recent realignment by Metro to get bus routes and transit centers closer to nodes of activity. Previously, this “transit center” was nothing more than two paired stops outside the Bergan Mercy hospital at 75th and Mercy Road. While the hospital is a major employment center, there really isn’t much else around of interest to a transit user who doesn’t work in the area. To the east, along Mercy Road, we have the growing Aksarben neighborhood — a burgeoning development of residential opportunities, commercial offices, entertainment, shopping and dining. The area has high density, diverse activity and is better served by a transit center that brings together five bus lines.

Currently the new transit center is, again, two paired stops across the street from one another on Mercy Road just west of 68th Street. This location, just west of Aksarben Village is withing easy walking distance of the development, but not positioned so that it would be affected by the many markets, events and concerts throughout the year when the community closes Mercy Road for pedestrians and exhibitors.

Mode Shift member, Cindy Tefft sent along the following observations and images.

North side services Metro Routes 11, 13, 15, 18, and 55. South Side services Route 15.

(L-R) The South side of Mercy, 68th Street, North Side of Mercy

Coming from 67th St., walking west toward the transit center, I saw the following conditions in the few minutes I was there. Cars coming down the hill go extremely fast heading east. Buses ares stopped in the furthest right hand lane of traffic, narrowing the road at times to 2 lanes. This will be very interesting in the summer during events. Would be good to see what it looks like during a.m and p.m. rush hours.

(L-R) Pedestrian crossing mid-block; Truck traffic commingled with buses; Buses, cars and pedestrians

In order to get to the South Transit Center you have to cross 4 lanes of traffic. One transit user says it isn’t too difficult but you have to time it just right. Since HDR opened their new headquarters, traffic has increased. The Keystone trail going under the Mercy Rd Bridge is closed, trail users have to cross Mercy Rd with no crossing signal or crosswalk. There are curb cutouts, 2 on each side of Mercy Rd. One at the corner of 68th south side and one on the north-side mid-block, the other where the trail crosses and is not at a corner. If you are walking east on the south side of Mercy Rd, you must cross the street in order to go over the bridge on a sidewalk to prevent walking in the street with the flow of traffic.

My take away is that this is an extremely dangerous situation for transit users, pedestrians, bicyclists and even motor vehicles.

Pictures: 11:50 a.m. Tues 2/5/2019 – Cindy Teftt

Current Conditions, Suggested Improvements

While Metro made an effort to avoid having pedestrians cross a busy street (all but one route connect at the north-side bus shelter) there are still users who will need to cross Mercy Rd. to make a connection to the east-bound 15, or catch one of the routes that begin heading west on Mercy. This creates a hazardous environment for people walking.

Current Conditions at 68th and Mercy
Click for Larger Image

As we move west on Mercy across Aksarben Drive, Mercy expands from three lanes to four. This creates a particularly dangerous situation for pedestrians, especially without any dedicated, on street walking infrastructure. In a four lane pedestrian crossing, the behavior of a person driving in one lane does not necessarily influence the drivers in the adjacent lanes.

For the safest environment, the roadway around the transit center would be narrowed to three lanes with one vehicle lane in each direction and a center lane that would act as a refuge for pedestrians crossing traffic in stages. The refuge lane (because there are no potential left turns in this stretch of roadway) could also have bollards warning drivers of pedestrian activity. The north/south crossing at the curb cuts should be marked with a cross walk and set-back stop bars. making clear that vehicles should give plenty of room for pedestrians to cross.

In an ideal world, a HAWK signal (High-intensity Activated crossWalK) would be installed to allow pedestrians to activate a right-of-way to cross to their connecting buses, even in high-vehicle-traffic periods.  All of these improvements would be at the discretion of the city’s Planning and Public Works departments.  We hope they will prioritize the comfort and safety of the most vulnerable of transportation system users over the speed and convenience  of people driving cars. 

We know that often infrastructure precedes demand. We trust the city to see the value in providing safe, inviting infrastructure for people walking and using mobility devices will encourage more people to use active transportation as their means of getting around our great city. If you would like to see changes at this intersection, or if you encounter other issues that affect the safety and comfort of people trying to use active transportation, please contact the Mayor’s Hotline (402) 444-5555.

Where are you going, MUD?

7 Feb

Out of the fog of the controversies of site selection, historic preservation, project management and public financing surrounding Douglas County’s proposed Juvenile Justice Center in Downtown Omaha a question adjacent to the project has yet to be answered. In a compromise deal, the original site to be acquired by eminent domain was spared when Metropolitan Utilities District agreed to sell their headquarters to Douglas County and relocate their operations to make way for the Juvenile Justice Center. Now, the remaining question is, where will MUD relocate?

One of the issues that has been of concern to Mode Shift Omaha from our founding is the problem of connecting where people live with where people work in an equitable fashion. When companies select a site for an employment center that does not account for people who cannot drive, for whatever reason, they unintentionally limit the pool of available employees, or require complicated, costly solutions that may or may not be sustainable.

As MUD’s headquarters is not only an employment center, but also a service center, the need for accessibility is two fold: both employees and customers should have full access to the facility. Whether the utility plans to build a new headquarters or lease office space in the interim, we hope that they will select a location that is accessible by active modes of transportation and by individuals with mobility limitations. To select a car-only location will erect a barrier between the utility and their customer-owners as well as limit their pool of qualified employees by adding access to private automobile transportation to the employment qualifications.

Please contact the board of directors and let them know you would like to see MUD select an accessible site for their headquarters in order that all Omahans will be able to take advantage of the employment opportunities and services MUD provides to the community.

Omaha at Human Scale: Working Parent and Transit

2 Jan

This will be the final edition of this run of Omaha at Human Scale. We look forward to 2019 being a year of activity and activism for Mode Shift Omaha.

Nicole Wheeler is Vice Chair of the Mode Shift Board of Directors.

As a working parent, I am always running from work to school to someone’s evening activity. I spend my days working in advertising at Hudl and my husband, Ted, and I operate a roving bookstore, Dundee Book Company, in our free time. When I moved from my job at Yahoo in West Omaha to the downtown Hudl office, one of the many perks in making the job change was that I would finally be able to take the bus to work. I have  been interested in the effects of climate change since I was a child and the fact that I couldn’t take the biggest step of limiting my driving had always bothered me. Being able to make this change was something that allowed me to live true to my personal values and show my children how to do so as well.

Ted at the Bus Stop

Ted is a writer and works from home and is able to walk our kids to school each day. The number 2 bus is in close proximity to our home. The times when Ted is out of town for extended periods of time really puts our bus riding to the test. If the children are at different locations, pick up and drop off become a long planned journey with several stops. These trips serve as a great teaching moment, when I can show my kids that they can navigate the city via bus and teach them how to do so on their own. We also run errands together on the bus, which is a great lesson in only buying things you need and things that you really want to carry home.

Our days typically start with Ted walking the kids to school, while I take the bus downtown. We leave around the same time, walk a few blocks together and part ways where I head for the bus and everyone else heads for the school. The kids usually stay for clubs or after-school care, as our jobs go until 5 or 6 pm. If I need to pick them up, I take the bus one stop further than normal and can be at the school in a few minutes walk time. From there, we can walk home via the Dodge St. subway/underpass, lugging backpacks and musical instruments the few blocks it takes to get there. Having to carry all of that home really highlights how much stuff kids are carrying around all day long. The walk home is a great time to decompress and have a conversation about everyone’s days.

Waiting patiently for the bus

For other parents who would like to try and take the bus, I would suggest first, waiting until the time is right in your life. If it doesn’t work for you with small babies, then give yourself a break and wait until it does. Secondly, see if you can switch your mode once or twice a week. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing and taking the bus even a few times a week can alleviate an enormous amount of commuting-driven stress. I’ve met very few parents who wouldn’t love 30 minutes to themselves and the bus is a great chance to get that.

Back on the Bus!

I’m happiest getting around Omaha by bus and I would rather move to a city with more public transit than have to rely on a car again, but none of this would work for me without a spouse who works close to our children’s school; a flexible, supportive employer; a good supply of quality base layer clothing and a lot of sunscreen. I’m privileged to have all those things and I’ve met many wonderful people on the bus who don’t have any other choice but to rely on the bus – with or without that same support. Our system works for me, but as we continue to mature it, I hope that it can work for everyone.