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'This needs to be prioritized': Advocates ask city to get serious about stopping pedestrian deaths

Posted at 10:08 PM, Jan 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-20 16:27:24-05

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) - UPDATE 1/20/22 — Less than a month into a new year, two pedestrians are dead in Omaha, and the city's 5-year-old vision to eliminate these tragedies is still in development.

Last Monday, Sheryl Bringleson died after being hit by a driver as she crossed the street near 30th and Kansas. Three days later, Christian Baeurle died after being hit by a driver while crossing Ames Ave.

These two crashes, come on the heels of two other pedestrian deaths that happened just in December. That same month, there was a hit-and-run that seriously injured a 64-year-old and 70-year-old.

Sarah Johnson with ModeShift Omaha says it's time for the city to stop studying pedestrian safety, and start making it a reality.

“We’re not hoping for some beautification project," Johnson said. "We’re hoping for people to be alive tomorrow. This isn’t something that is just a cute project that we’ll get to when we get to. This needs to be prioritized because it is a life and death situation.”

Last year in total, five people in Omaha lost their lives in pedestrian vs. driver crashes.

Between 2015 and 2019, 33 pedestrians in Douglas County were killed in traffic crashes. There were also 223 serious injuries to pedestrians and bikers.

During that time, Omaha’s Vision Zero plan began. The program launched in Omaha in 2017 aims to reduce traffic deaths to zero.

Jeffrey Reissleman, the city traffic engineer, declined an interview with KMTV, but he said in an email to us that the Vision Zero program is still in development. Right now they are coordinating with prospective firms to develop an action plan.

“There has been an uptick in pedestrian-related crashes in the last two months," Reissleman wrote. "There is no particular reason for this that we can attribute to. Each reported pedestrian-related crash is reviewed by city personnel, whether fatal, injury, or non-injury. All of them are uniquely different and rarely share a single cause.”

Johnson said there are identifiable reasons it can be unsafe to travel on foot and on bike.

“Most of the serious injury and fatality crashes happen at intersections," Johnson said. "So to me what that means is, we need to make sure that pedestrians have extra time to walk across intersections, need to have robust infrastructure at intersections for pedestrians, and again it makes all road users safe.”

She wants an update on what the city is doing.

Reissleman said the city is doing some things in Blackstone, where 20-year-old Kaitlyn Vanessen was hit in December before dying at the hospital.

"Thus far the City has removed the pedestrian push buttons, changed signal operation to a fixed time (ped phase always comes on), and have extended general pedestrian warning signage in the area," Reissleman said. "We have also met with OPPD and requested that they update all street lighting on Farnam through Blackstone to new LED lighting."

Next week temporary speed feedback signs will be installed in the area.

The city is also working with the Blackstone Business Improvement District to develop plans to convert the center lane of Farnam to a two-way center left-turn lane and to explore pedestrian crossing options.

"These lane modifications and pedestrian crossing features will require consistent warm weather to implement," Reissleman said. "That is tentatively scheduled to happen before the end of May."

Long-term plans for the area are to bring in the curbs to create more sidewalk space and narrower travel lanes. This would also create curb extensions at the intersections to reduce pedestrian crossing distances and slow vehicle speeds.

Johnson agrees that Blackstone is a problem area and said speed, narrow sidewalks, limited signaled crossing sections, and alcohol all play a part in making the area potentially dangerous for pedestrians.

She added that there is one way people can make it safer for pedestrians to travel right now. Shoveling your sidewalk could prevent someone from walking in the street or crossing outside crosswalks.

UPDATE:
After this original story aired on Wednesday night, Omaha Police answered KMTV's request for information about another pedestrian-involved crash that occurred on Tuesday evening in Little Bohemia.

According to the report, a pedestrian was crossing North 13th St. outside of the crosswalk when they were struck. The driver who struck the pedestrian was changing lanes and did not see the walker according to the report.

The pedestrian was taken to UNMC with serious injuries. No citations were given at the time the report was filed.

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