The votes are in. The people have spoken.
And the winner of dubious distinction in a category called Worst Intersection in America is ... drumroll, please ...
A four-way intersection in Millard.
The 20-plus lanes that converge at 132nd Street, Millard Avenue, Industrial Road and L Street have put Omaha on the map — the map being Streetsblog, a nonprofit website that promotes driving less and walking more. (See the bottom three list here.)
In late January the blog asked for “Worst Intersection” submissions, then polled readers. A former Omahan living in Chicago and working on a master's degree in urban planning and policy nominated the intersection.
Close to 500 people responded, with about a third of them voting Omaha's Millard intersection the worst. It beat out seven others.
This was hardly scientific, Cleveland-based Streetsblog writer Angie Schmitt acknowledged.
But I had to find out: What is it like to cross the intersection's streets? Do the Omahans who live and work nearby consider the intersection “this sad excuse for a public space, featuring no crosswalks and only the faintest traces of a sidewalk,” as Schmitt described it?
I steered my green Subaru in the direction of Millard to find out. Everyone I talked to offered a different intersection as the worst.
“I grew up in D.C.,” said physical therapist Jane Richter. “This is nothing.”
“Go live in Houston for a while,” said audiologist Rachel Martindale, “and see what you think.”
Richter works for ProCare 3, on the northwest corner of the Worst Intersection in America. Martindale works in the same building for a business called R U Dizzy.
The traffic at this intersection is dizzying, especially to a midtowner accustomed to smaller intersections and more sidewalks.
Sidewalks are a big deal to the Streetsblog people.
They — or the lack of them at the Millard site — are the reason intersections in St. Louis and Savannah, Ga., and three others in Florida were runners-up.
The contest wasn't about how long your wait is at the light. Or how few cars can make it on the green arrow. Or the number of accidents.
|FROM THE NOTEBOOK|
Columnists Michael Kelly, Erin Grace and Matthew Hansen write about people, places and events around Omaha in their new blog, From the Notebook.
In fact, mechanics at the Sinclair station near the southeast corner said wrecks there were few. City data backs that up.
That, theorized Millardite Bret Friesz, is because the intersection is so busy that drivers are more aware.
“The more dangerous something looks,” Friesz said, “the more people pay attention.”
In this case, the danger is not to cars, it's to pedestrians.
So at 11:30 a.m. I set out to see how bad the Worst Intersection was and walk the walk. Sure, it wasn't rush hour, but it was busy enough.
I began at the southeast corner. I was stunned to see traffic-crossing buttons, and pushed like mad to head north.
I stood under a bank of traffic signals, grateful I didn't have a stroller or squirming children in tow. I counted four lanes on Millard Avenue to my left. Four lanes of L Street to my right.
The light flashed the neon guy — the symbol for walk — for a second. As soon as my foot stepped off the curb, the orange hand of danger flashed. So I ran to the median, then across five lanes of L Street to the Sam's Club corner.
No crosswalk across 132nd Street. So when the light turned green for westbound traffic, I looked for turning cars and dashed across the seven lanes of 132nd to the northwest corner.
Time to head south. It seemed safest to cross Industrial Road against the light. Still, I worried about right-turning vehicles that might hit me. When the light turned red, I sprinted across five lanes to the median. I waited for green, then sprinted across three more lanes to the southwest corner.
Then I crossed Millard Avenue and was almost back to where I had started.
The last stretch was easy: across a single lane of traffic turning east onto L Street.
Since my Frogger experiment had been so successful, I started across the last finger of traffic — realizing too late that cars didn't have to stop. A woman slowed anyway and waved me across.
I get the idea of walkability and, in theory, support it. But who would want to walk at this intersection?
“This is an ongoing debate with lots of people and groups that I work with,” said Todd Pfitzer, a city engineer in charge of traffic. “West Omaha was built around the automobile.”
Pfitzer agreed that the Worst Intersection in America is not a particularly dangerous one for cars.
And he reminded me that L Street/Industrial Road also has two other names: U.S. Highway 275 and Nebraska Highway 92. This area still is heavily industrial. The businesses sit back from the street. An imposing retaining wall props up the Sam's Club, requiring a long walk around for any pedestrians. It's not as if this is a corner of diners or coffee shops. Even the post office is hidden.
Would more sidewalks help?
Pfitzer answered with his own question: “A sidewalk to where?”
Streetsblog's "Worst Intersection"
View Streetsblog's "Worst Intersection" in a larger map