The City of Omaha could have helped avoid controversy around removal of the Benson bike corral by simply reaching out to the community beforehand, some members of a mayor’s advisory committee said Thursday.

Mayor Jean Stothert’s Active Living Advisory Committee advises the mayor on such issues as healthy lifestyles, biking and pedestrian problems.

Thursday, the bike corral came under the committee’s purview, as the mayor sat in on the meeting.

The corral was the first and only one of its kind in Omaha. It took up a single parking spot outside the Omaha Bicycle Co. in Benson, but the shop went out of business. In December, the city removed the on-street bike rack without notice, angering local bicyclists.

Assistant Public Works Department Director Todd Pfitzer, who ordered the removal, equated the bike corral decision to creating a handicapped parking spot or a freight loading zone on a street or changing a food truck parking location.

Those come up in regular meetings of city officials on parking issues, Pfitzer said. “I don’t reach out to the community on any of those.”

BensonBikeCorral

In December, Public Works employees removed the bike corral, which took up one parking space in Benson, leading to protests by Omaha bicyclists.

But Ben Turner, a local bike advocate and an advisory committee member, said the city couldn’t just remove the bike corral and assume no one would care.

“It’s been there six years,” he said.

Andy Wessel, a committee member who works with the Douglas County Health Department, said he was surprised that the city didn’t run the removal past the committee. Wessel said the city would have done better by reaching out beforehand to the committee, the bicycling community and the Benson Business Improvement District.

Stothert defended the city not seeking input, saying, “A lot of issues come up with the city all the time.”

Stothert also chided cycling advocates who protested the corral’s removal, saying they should “do something productive” by bringing their concerns to the committee.

A handful of corral supporters did attend Thursday’s meeting out of concern over the issue. They weren’t allowed to speak .

Asked about that afterward, Stothert said it wasn’t her meeting to run and wasn’t a public meeting under open meetings laws.

Sarah Johnson, who owned the Benson bike shop, responded to The World-Herald: “I think that public meetings without time allotted for public input are hilarious.”

The committee’s chairman, Mark Stursma, said he asked that the issue be placed on the group’s meeting agenda. Stursma, who is the planning director for the City of Papillion, said the meeting was not the forum to debate who’s right and who’s wrong on the issue.

Before the meeting, Stothert also said the bike corral is not coming back. She told The World-Herald: “It’s not a matter of if we’re going to put it back in. We’re not going to put it back in. That’s the long and short of it.”

Johnson said the issue now is the way the city chooses to work against its citizens.

She said the city didn’t understand the symbolism behind the bike corral and its unique place in Omaha.

“We could be working together,” she said. “This does not need to be a fight.”

World-Herald staff writer Aaron Sanderford contributed to this report.


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