Omaha transportation planners are considering a makeover of Harney Street through downtown and midtown to turn it into a useful route for pedestrians and bicyclists.
And one traffic lane for cars could find itself on the outs.
The project is just conceptual at this point, but it has gained traction during the city's development of a new Omaha transportation master plan.
The downtown segment of the so-called Harney Street Bikeway rated No. 1 in a ranking of 266 possible street, trail or other transportation projects.
Plans call for giving over one lane of automobile traffic to a trail, which would have its own designated lanes for walking and biking. The street is three or four lanes now, and by taking away one lane, that would leave two or three lanes for vehicles.
The concept is more involved than the on-street bike lanes installed on some city streets. Instead of just striping a bike lane, Harney Street would have a trail set off by a landscaped median.
Derek Miller, the city's transportation planner, said the project would promote "active transportation" and connect the high-profile areas of downtown, Midtown Crossing and the University of Nebraska Medical Center.
Though parts of that one-way eastbound route contain significant development, Miller said the project would make the underutilized areas in between more viable for economic development.
"It's kind of showcasing what we can do," Miller said.
The city's transportation master plan is trying to encourage alternatives for allowing people to get around, not just building more and wider streets. The plan, which the City Council will vote on next year, also aims to make better use of the city's existing street system while trying to attract more people to live in established parts of Omaha.
Talk of a Harney Street project first emerged from a workshop on the city's transportation plan.
The concept follows the model of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail, an urban bike and walking trail that connects the city's cultural districts and its major downtown arts, sports and entertainment venues. The 7.5-mile route, which was funded through $62.5 million in government grants and private donations, has been praised for stamping Indianapolis as a progressive, innovative city.
In Omaha, early conceptual plans tout the possibility of creating the "Harney Cultural Trail," allowing people to see "the heart of Omaha, by foot or bike." Connecting routes could lead to South Omaha, the Henry Doorly Zoo, Durham Museum, north downtown, TD Ameritrade Park, CenturyLink Center, Joslyn Art Museum, Creighton University and north Omaha.
In its early stages, the project is winning fans.
Kevin Flatowicz-Farmer, a member of the ModeShift Omaha group that promotes transportation alternatives, said the project would provide an important east-west connection into downtown and provide a highly visible route to promote active transportation.
He said the route would put bicycling and walking on par with driving a car.
"People are being invited onto the street on their bicycles, they're being invited onto the street on foot," Flatowicz-Farmer said.
He said the changes also should not disrupt automobile traffic, because the street can handle many more cars than actually use it.
After completing the full transportation master plan, the city wants to study the Harney Street concept further. But Miller said that study, looking at design details and the impact on area properties, probably wouldn't start until 2013.
Determining the project's cost would be another part of that study. Miller didn't have an early estimate on the potential cost, although he said generally it could cost several million dollars.
The transportation plan's project list contains six segments to fully develop the Harney trail: 10th to 24th Streets; 24th to 42nd Streets; 42nd to 48th Streets through UNMC; and branches north up 24th Street to the Joslyn; north up 13th Street and then east on Capitol Avenue; and north up 13th Street and east on Cass Street.
How quickly the project moves to construction largely depends on funding.
If the city were to use federal funds, it would take years to go through that funding process, Miller said. It's possible, he said, that the city could try to raise private funds for the project and build it in phases.
Contact the writer: 402-444-1128, email@example.com, twitter.com/jeffreyrobb