With so much change happening around Farnam Street, Adam Langdon says it’s also time to change one of the most perplexing traffic situations in Omaha: a neighborhood street lined with homes that turns into a one-way, rush-hour commuter route.
Langdon, the president of the Dundee-Memorial Park Association, is tired of seeing crashes and near misses when unknowing drivers go the wrong way during one-way hours.
Langdon says Farnam Street amounts to an alternative to Interstate 80 or Dodge Street.
“Our streets weren’t built for high car volumes or speed,” he wrote in the neighborhood newsletter. “The road is small. It’s confusing. It’s through a neighborhood. Accidents occur on a regular basis — and for what?”
Since 1958, the stretch of Farnam from Saddle Creek Road to Dodge Street has converted to a one-way street from 7 to 9 a.m. and 4 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Now Langdon is trying to persuade City of Omaha officials to return Farnam Street to a full-time two-way. He’s started an online petition and collected more than 225 signatures to help make his case.
He’s got the ear of the district’s City Council member, Chris Jerram, who has long wanted to eliminate the part-time one-way.
Jerram once thought it would be an easy fix, “simple as repainting the lines, flipping some signs ... and bam! We have a two-way street.”
He learned otherwise last year when the city turned Farnam to two-way through the popular Blackstone District from 36th to 42nd Streets. It cost more than $300,000 for traffic engineering studies, underground utility work and new traffic lights, and it required support from the business district.
City Traffic Engineer Murthy Koti said he hears the Dundee neighborhood’s concerns.
While some streets near schools go one-way at times and Dodge Street has a reversible center lane, the Farnam situation is unique, Koti said. He’s open to examining a change, but it may be hard to tackle right now, Koti said.
“As a responsible city staff, we have to make sure we’re evaluating the traffic operations and use a data-driven process,” Koti said. “We need to look at the problem holistically — you can’t look at this one corridor in a vacuum.
“But we do hear and understand the neighborhood’s concerns.”
A series of midtown developments could increase traffic along Farnam, making the matter more pressing.
The University of Nebraska Medical Center is expanding its campus with a new cancer research and treatment center. The med center also is looking at developing the old Omaha Steel Casting site at 46th and Farnam with housing, restaurants, stores and a hotel.
Another hotel opening in 2017 at 42nd and Farnam will replace the old Premier Bank branch and the S-curve nearby. Drivers will probably be able to go straight through the area on Farnam or take a new connection between Farnam and Harney Streets.
Two mass transit initiatives — the Bus Rapid Transit route on Dodge Street set to begin in 2018 and the proposed Farnam Street streetcar — also could change traffic patterns significantly, Koti said.
Pat Schneider, who has lived along the route for 22 years, said he begged the city 20 years ago to get rid of the one-way. He can point out the usual spots where cars end up after crashes during one-way hours.
“Name one other street in the city that does this,” Schneider said while trimming the bushes outside his home, which borders Farnam. “People can’t pay attention and follow the rules of the road in the first place, and then throw this in and you’ve got a bigger problem.”
A February crash in which a woman ran a red light at 52nd and Farnam at 5:30 p.m. left one person dead and others injured.
At Caffeine Dreams, one of the only retail businesses along the route, manager Becky Hackett said she often sees people get into crashes when they try to turn across one-way traffic.
“I think from a safety stance and the numbers of insurance claims made ... they shouldn’t have the one-way,” she said. “It’s a headache.”
Koti said he is concerned about the crashes and will look into dynamic electronic signs that alert drivers to the one-way configuration at the beginning of the route.
Jerram wrote in an email to Langdon that “if you’re game, the neighborhood is game (particularly those who live along Farnam) and there’s a willingness to cost share, I believe that will significantly improve our chances of making this a reality sooner rather than later.”
Langdon said he believes residents are willing to do so.
A traffic study would take at least six months and include time for neighborhood and public input, Koti said.
“Right now the challenge would be to get all the right people to weigh in on the study,” Koti said. “Some of those projects are fluid, so it’s hard to nail down.
“Timing-wise you’d like to see it happen sooner than later, but we need more info.”
Right now, there is little money to allocate to a project, Koti said. Putting it in the city’s six-year Capital Improvement Program could push the project back even longer, he said.
Langdon said he would like to the city to start having conversations with the neighborhood, UNMC and developers right now.
“What we have is a two-lane freeway as our neighbors have called it,” Langdon said. “The one way speeds up traffic through a neighborhood, and it’s dangerous and unsafe for our families, pedestrians and pets.”