Omaha’s first and only protected bike lane will be removed. At its Sept. 21 meeting the Metro Smart Cities advisory board decided not to permanently extend the Market-to-Midtown Bikeway, which began as a pilot project in April 2021, Metro Smart Cities partner Bike Walk Nebraska said in a press release.
Bike Walk Nebraska also announced it would cut ties with Metro Smart Cities, an organization tasked with piloting innovative transit ideas and co-chaired by Mayor Jean Stothert. Bike Walk Nebraska also said it was not invited to the Sept. 21 meeting after having been invited to every other one.
At the time of the project’s approval, Metro Smart Cities had agreed to cover the $250,000 cost of installing and maintaining the bikeway. The group, made up of regional corporate stakeholders and city officials, has been responsible for its maintenance until now. At that point, the City had the option of making the bikeway permanent and taking over its maintenance.
During its meeting on Sept. 20, the City Council unanimously adopted a resolution reaffirming its support for the bikeway. The resolution urged city officials to work with Bike Walk Nebraska and study an extension of the pilot, or potential new locations. The Reader recently reported that the bikeway showed positive results.
Both the bikeway and the route for a proposed streetcar go down Harney Street from 10th Street to Turner Boulevard. In a Sept. 22 press release addressing her veto of the council’s resolution, Stothert said it would be unsafe to have both a streetcar and a protected bike lane on the same street.
During public comment on the council’s resolution, Jay Noddle, the president of the Omaha Streetcar Authority, said he didn’t want the streetcar to replace the Bikeway. Julie Harris, the executive director of Bike Walk Nebraska, said Harney Street was the best location for the bikeway and that both routes could coexist along Harney Street.
Stothert’s press release also says the city is developing a bicycle and pedestrian master plan to integrate all bicycle facilities and make multimodal transit safer. She says the Market-to-Midtown pilot was just that, and that its 18-month life has provided enough data to inform future decisions about bike lanes in the urban core.
In its press release, Bike Walk Nebraska said future funding, which it estimates at $40,000 was a concern for the project. Bike Walk Nebraska said it has $38,930 in remaining project funds that could have been allocated to Metro Smart CIties.
In August, Bike Walk Nebraska released an evaluation of the bikeway that showed a 69% increase in the usage of bike share programs. The report said many of the challenges associated with maintaining the bikeway could have been addressed with a permanent installation.
According to the mayor’s Sept. 22 press release, Metro Smart Cities will be responsible for scheduling and paying for the removal of the bikeway’s bollards, the plastic barriers protecting bikers from car traffic. An exact timeframe for that work has not been determined, the release says.
The Reader contacted the Mayor’s Office for comment; her spokesperson is out of the office. Metro Smart Cities has also not responded to requests for comment.