A request by Hanscom Park neighbors for the city to slow down speeding traffic on 32nd Avenue could lead to Omaha's first “cycle track,” a physically protected, two-way bike path that's part of a roadway.
Such a route could be built along 32nd Avenue from Woolworth Avenue to Wright Street, a stretch about four-fifths of a mile long that passes Hanscom Park and Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church and School.
That's if neighbors don't object too much, and if the City Council approves $80,000 in local funds to go with a $307,000 federal grant already in hand.
Omaha Public Works traffic engineers will float the idea at a Hanscom Park Neighborhood Association meeting Wednesday. Neighbors from the adjacent Field Club and Ford Birthsite associations also are being included. The meeting is set for 7 p.m. at Incommon Community Development, 1340 Park Ave.
The reaction that the concept receives could set the agenda for more formal public comment-gathering meetings required by the federal grant program.
“I'm for it,” said Jim Clements, president of the Hanscom Park Neighborhood Association. “Generally, people in the neighborhood are for it. ... Speeding (on 32nd Avenue) has been a long-standing issue.”
The project started with neighbors' complaints in 2007 about speeding, said Mike Battershell, chairman of the United Neighborhood Alliances of Omaha.
A city study confirmed the problem. The city in 2008 proposed building a roundabout intersection at 32nd Avenue and Gold Street, but neighbors objected.
They asked that the city consider other measures.
Public Works officials agreed with neighbors that 32nd Avenue, which used to connect commercial and industrial areas, is too large for its current role as a neighborhood street.
City Traffic Engineer Murthy Koti said adding bike lanes, or a cycle track, would provide a key connection for a 20-mile bike loop the city is trying to create for commuters and recreational riders.
Also, 32nd Avenue is about due for resurfacing, Koti said. Traffic engineers like to combine other road improvements with resurfacing. The city would spend $640,000 to resurface 32nd Avenue, with or without the cycle track, Koti said.
The city received a federal transportation enhancement grant in 2011 for the street.
Engineers have worked on a number of designs. Three weeks ago, City Councilman Chris Jerram went to neighborhood leaders and alternative transportation advocates with the concept of a cycle track, Battershell said. The project also would include expanding street corners to make intersections more narrow, thus making street crossings shorter.
“We believe that this would meet all the needs,” Battershell said.
That includes safer street crossing for children, he said.
The cycle track would be 10 to 16 feet wide along the west side of 32nd Avenue. There would be two lanes — one going north, one going south — for cyclists.
There would be a parking lane between the cycle track and the traffic lanes. A raised concrete median would separate the cycle track from the parking lane.
Cities across the country are increasingly installing such a configuration, said Julie Harris, active living manager for Live Well Omaha.
“It's not just the Portlands,” she said, referring to the city in Oregon.
Alternative transportation advocate Angela Eikenberry said studies show that protected bike lanes “increase property values, slow traffic” and make streets safer for everyone.
The city also has an alternative proposal of creating bike lanes on the street.
Formal public hearings could take place in December or January, Koti said.
Correction: An earlier version gave an incorrect date for the Hanscom Park Neighborhood Association meeting with traffic engineers. It is Wednesday.