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Omaha City Council hears debate over hours for parks and trails

Posted at 6:20 PM, Jun 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-16 10:38:49-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) - Are trails a form of transportation? That's the question that was raised at city council Tuesday afternoon.

Right now, Omaha city parks and the trails that connect them are closed from 11 p.m. until 5 a.m.

In the rules that Director of Parks and Recreation Matthew Kalcevich presented to the city council Tuesday, that rule would have stayed in place.

But several community members spoke against the ordinance.

"Trails are transportation and recreation," said Sarah Johnson, a local biking advocate who often works with Mode Shift Omaha.

They say that if the city is trying to encourage more people to use bikes as a form of transportation, that the city should not be putting restrictions on where those bikes are used.

They say just as streets do not have hours, neither should the trails.

They also worry about how this rule is being enforced.

“When it's up to OPD’s discretion how to enforce this, we know that there is a disproportionate amount of Black and brown community members who are going to be impacted," Johnson told the council on Tuesday.

Kalcevich says opening the trails 24 hours a day isn’t as simple as it sounds. They have to think about maintenance, how it will impact the other cities that connect to these trails, and safety concerns.

“Homeowners near those trails and their expectation about how there would be interaction, or activity or involvement on the trails at those times, again, at this point where that hasn’t been promoted as something that would be allowed," Kalcevich said.

The council seems to have been receptive to these ideas and asked Kalcevich to come back in two weeks with an amendment to the rule that would make transportation an exception to the limited hours.

"I’m anxious and excited to get together with those groups and talk more about the specifics and layering in some of the things we would ensure are in the right spot operationally and from an administrative standpoint so things really can exist in the best way possible," Kalcevich said.

Johnson says they’ve already worked to allow E-Bikes and E-Scooters on the trail and believes they can come to an agreement.

"That was a beautiful example of what happens when the city and the community work together to really have a holistic understanding of what the trails are used for," Johnson said.

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