Omaha’s protected bike lane remains

Vivian Landis, Editor in Chief

In July of 2021, Omaha opened its first protected bike lane, which is referred to as the Market to Midtown Bikeway. Located along the south side of Harney Street, the lane runs from 10th Street all the way to Turner Boulevard.  

The two-way, two-mile lane resides between the curb and parallel parking spaces. The lane is secured by bollards, which are short posts used to divert traffic away from an area. 

The bike lane was made as part of an 18-month trial program. According to a letter addressed to the city council from Mayor Jean Stothert, the bike lane program has supplied city officials with data to help form an evaluation that would help make “future decisions about protected bikeways in our urban core.” 

One evaluation found that Harney Street and other east to west streets were the safest and most accessible to host bike lanes. 

When looking at data from September, the bike lane had an average of 100 bikers a day, and about 50,000 total trips since the lane opened.  

Despite the success of Market to Midtown Bikeway Stothert planned not to extend the program. She instead intended to let the program come to a close on September 30, the end of the 18-month trial.  

Advancing streetcar plans played a big role in her decision not to continue with the program. In the week of September 18 through the 22, the Omaha Streetcar Authority approved a route concept for a potential streetcar. A part of the route would run east along Harney Street. 

In her letter, Stothert cited streetcar accidents in Seattle to defend putting an end to the protected bike lanes. Bicyclists have been injured and even killed after bike tires get stuck in streetcar tracks.  

Although there are legitimate reasons to put an end to Market to Midtown Bikeway, many important officials were not cued into the decision.  

Julie Harris, the executive director of Bike Walk Nebraska, was not involved in the decision to put an end to the bike lane. Harris was excluded despite her organization being the one who pitched the idea for the bike lane in the first place.   

City council members, who were in unanimous support of the protected bike lane, were not cued in on the decision either.  

Upon hearing the news of the bike lane, dozens of cyclists gathered at Dewey Park on September 29 to show support for the Market to Midtown Bikeway. Just hours after the bicyclists’ protests, Stothert had news to share regarding the protected bike lane. 

“A private donor has agreed to completely fund and maintain the current bike way,” said Stothert in a Twitter statement.  

According to Stothert the protected bike lane will remain until construction for the streetcar begins. 

The bike lane will eventually be moved because the streetcar will reside on the south side of Harney Street. It will either be transferred to the north side of Harney or to another downtown location.