Omaha’s first protected, on-street bike lane is officially open.
With that, Omaha started a test of whether the design is worth expanding to other streets and parts of the city.
As local bike advocates expressed their excitement, Mayor Jean Stothert cut the ribbon on the Market to Midtown Bikeway Wednesday.
The ceremony marked a welcome beginning for cyclists following a long effort to install that style of bike lane — which has become the standard for safety in other communities.
Still, the bikeway is only a pilot project that will run for 18 months, a sign that Omaha isn’t going as far as other cities in building protected bike lanes.
Now organizers behind the privately funded project will track usage and other data along the corridor, and they expect the statistics will support the bikeway.
Julie Harris, executive director of Bike Walk Nebraska, said she’s confident the data will reflect a lot of use and a safer stretch for drivers, pedestrians and bikeway users.
“I’m pretty confident that it will make the case for making it permanent,” said Harris, whose organization is partnering with an initiative called Metro Smart Cities to carry out the bikeway.
The nearly 2-mile bikeway will run along Harney Street from 10th Street to Dewey Park. The lane runs directly on Harney Street, separated from traffic and parked cars by a painted zone with temporary bollards.
Although the western portion out of midtown opened Wednesday, sections remain patchy toward the east as other construction continues through downtown.
Already, the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce is among those looking to expand the concept. In the chamber’s new 11-part regional transportation strategy, it specifically set a goal of adding 100 miles of new bike lanes throughout the region.
The City of Omaha also will be developing a master plan for bicycle and pedestrian projects to lay out specific projects for the city.
While the bikeway had a day in the sun and heat Wednesday, it faced a rough ride to implementation.
The idea first emerged under Mayor Jim Suttle’s administration 10 years ago, and Suttle included it in the city’s capital improvement plans.
Stothert’s administration later removed it from those plans, although it re-emerged as a trial effort — right before the pandemic hit.
Now the project is carrying on with support from an anonymous donor.
Stothert called the bikeway’s opening a big day and said she was happy to be there to cut the ribbon.
She said the project is important in helping to develop plans for future protected bikeways, although she specifically cited only the “possibility” of permanent bike infrastructure.
“It’s a great place for this pilot to take place,” Stothert said.
Scott Dobbe, executive director of Omaha by Design, encouraged people to give their feedback about the project — and to use the bikeway.
“None of this works without your input,” he said. “So I encourage you to get out there and ride.”