Always a hot topic, bike lanes came up again recently during the Omaha mayoral race. The World-Herald invited Carlos Morales, the City of Omaha’s bike/pedestrian coordinator, to answer questions Thursday on Omaha.com. The whole chat is online at Omaha.com. Here are some excerpts from that conversation:
Reader: About every third bicycle ride I take on Omaha streets involves some type of road-rage incident involving a motorist, despite my following the traffic laws. Are there any plans to do more to educate Omaha drivers about the rights cyclists have (e.g., public service announcements, an awareness campaign, etc.)?
Morales: Bike safety: We are going to be hosting several bike education classes throughout the summer. Activate Omaha is taking the lead, but we will be hosting adult safety education classes. These serve as good reminders of sharing the road. I would check out Activate Omaha’s Facebook page. Also, we are hosting kid classes for our Open Streets Omaha events. The first one is taking place April 28 in Aksarben Village. For more info, go here: www.openstreetsomaha.org.
Reader: Mr. Morales, we appreciate the classes, but the problem is that only cyclists and children attend these courses. What is needed is more general public announcements that go out to non-cyclists so they are aware of the 3-foot law and other safety issues. (The law requires motorists to leave a 3-foot clearance when passing cyclists, pedestrians and people using electric scooters — editor.)
Morales: Excellent point. I agree with you, but we have seen that the more people are out there riding, the safer it becomes for everyone. Think Minneapolis, Portland ... .
Reader: I’m not a biker, but I definitely recognize the personal and environmental aspects. That being said, I’m less than thrilled when inconvenienced by someone on a bicycle. I’ve always wondered — why do cyclists choose to slow rush-hour traffic down on a major street when there is an empty bike trail 20 feet away? (I’m talking to you, guy traveling south on 168th Street each morning.) I also would like to see more responsible riding — specifically not choosing when to move in and out of traffic to pass cars and run red lights. Thanks.
Reader: As a cyclist, I have to echo those comments. It drives me crazy when cyclists ride through red lights when there’s active cross-traffic and otherwise generally ignore the rules of the road. It makes the rest of us look bad!
Morales: Sometimes there are issues with sidepaths, sidewalks, etc. that are not easily seen by car. On weekends I sometimes ride up past NP Dodge Park, and last summer when the trail was closed, I had to ride on the street. From a vehicle perspective, the trail looked fine, but from the bike, you could see the sludge of mud, gravel, etc., making the trail unusable. I would suggest that we all have a responsibility out there on the roads and would suggest that more people take advantage of our FREE bike safety classes, even if you do not bike a lot, to learn what to pay attention to out in the street.
Reader: I want to thank you for completing the West Papio Trail all the way to Millard Avenue. But I have heard several complaints that my neighborhood is still blocked off from the trail. I live at 136th and W Streets. If you could extend it to the Discovery Park soccer complex, that would open up a whole new neighborhood. Many families will not take their kids to the trail because of having to cross Millard Avenue and Q Street. Any thoughts on just getting to the soccer complex?
Morales: That project is in the works. The Papio NRD, City of Omaha and Papillion are currently working on plans for that.
Reader: East/west paths from beyond 90th Street to downtown are needed. Even finishing the upper west to lower west Papio Trail would help — any timeline on that?
Morales: At this time we do not have a timeline. I can say that it is getting more difficult to find funding as our region is getting less and less dollars, but the needs are greater and greater each year.
Omaha World-Herald: Carlos, I rode around downtown-area bike lanes, including Leavenworth Street, for a combined three hours or so when it looked like spring was coming. It was pretty lonely in the lanes — I only saw two other cyclists in the Leavenworth lane, and a couple on 16th Street. How much do people use the lanes?
Morales: Sometimes the lanes are empty, just like the streets are sometimes empty. I think during commute hours we tend to see more people riding, especially Burt Street. Although I love the Leavenworth lanes, they are really not fully connected. We have two blocks of lanes out by 52nd Street and then nothing until 31st Street. I truly believe in connecting and making a network. Having said that, the idea for this fall is to take a snapshot count of people riding and walking. We will organize and conduct bike counts in early September.
OWH: What’s the bigger idea with bike lanes and biking/hiking trails in Omaha? Where are we going, and how close are we to getting there?
Morales: The big picture is to make and connect trails, bike lanes and all facilities to make our streets safer for everyone. We all live in this great city, and we all need to do our part. For drivers, this might mean driving the speed limit. For cyclists, this might mean stopping at all stop signs and lights. Although it seems like progress takes forever, we have a ton going on and a ton more in the works. Our transit system is improving, our trails are getting connected, and more bike facilities are beginning to pop up. Watch out, Portland.