Monday, July 19, 2010

The Underwood and Overhill Expressway

Today, like not a few days, I had the opportunity to pedal from midtown Omaha to the Missouri River and back to midtown. Along the way, my mind wandered to a car trip I need to make tomorrow--from midtown way out to far, far southwest Omaha. I may even drive on the West Dodge Expressway.

Which got me thinking. The purpose of the WDE is to reduce congestion at Omaha's busiest intersection (114th & Dodge) and generally ease the commute from Central to West Omaha and beyond. Maybe I'm still suffering the aftershocks of watching "Beyond the Motor City" the other night, but building stronger, faster, higher automobile-only expressways to the suburbs seems so 20th century to me. Shouldn't we be more focused on multi-modal transportation options that interweave Omahans together, rather than car-exclusive chutes that fling us further apart?

And, I don't know what the final cost of the WDE was, but a quick Google search shows it was budgeted for $100 million. Compare that to the cost to complete the initial 20 miles of bike lanes now underway: $600,000. And that wasn't even paid for by the City (i.e., by us)--all the funding came from grants and donations.

Which brings me to the Underwood and Overhill Expressway. One of the major objections I hear from folks reluctant to start bicycling more in Omaha is that the city is so hilly! Riding around it nearly every day, I can't argue with that one. For instance, coming west out of downtown north of Dodge, once you ascend to the top of the hill on 40th, you're plunged back down into the valley of Saddle Creek. Then up again to the summit at 50th, then down again to Happy Hollow. Then up a third time to Fairacres/64th-ish. We might as well name all the storied peaks, like in Le Tour--but instead of Tourmalet, Alpe d'Huez, and Galibier, how about (all with proper French accent, please) Cathedral, Dundee, and Vieux Riche (Old Money)?

But I digress--back to the Underwood and Overhill Expressway. Imagine a connecting bike/ped pathway near California/Underwood streets that erased the dips between these HC peaks and made the trip from 40th to 50th to 64th a coast-able level grade! Perhaps something ala the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge over the Missouri--a graceful, suspended, elevated ribbon of commuting and recreational cyclists and pedestrians. Suddenly, one of the major impediments to cycling in Omaha is greatly diminished, all the while encouraging development in the heart of the city.

How much would it cost? Well, the best figure I found for the Bob Kerrey bridge is $22 million. Triple that to make 3 sections, and you get $66 million--still only 2/3 the cost of the WDE--leaving $34 million left over for other multi-modal transportation projects (assuming you were trying to match the cost of the WDE, of course). A bargain!

Now, I'm not going to the City Council with my Underwood and Overhill Expressway idea yet (it could use some fleshing out and the cost estimates are a bit, um, back of the envelope, let's say), but the Omaha metropolitan area has clearly found funding for transportation and infrastructure projects it deems worthy in the past, and chances are that trend will continue. Omaha has made significant strides in encouraging bicycle and pedestrian traffic with its trails system, the 20-mile bike lane plan, and some great new plans currently in development. Now's the time to come together to think big and creatively on what we want Omaha to be and how transportation and infrastructure help make that possible. Now's our chance to make Omaha a more livable community.

A few links:

And a link to a previous OmahaBikes blog entry with a longer link list:


erik said...

omaha hills aren't too bad, it's more a question of whether the roads are accommodating and safe enough that someone feels like they have some wobble room on the ascent without being run over. that answer, in most cases, is no. slow the cars, it's easy enough, and invest that 64 million in clean and attractive light rail.

AOJules said...

I have named those hills already, but they involve expletives that I should probably not post. :)

That being said, I have become a big proponent of the "stay as close to the top of the hill for as long as possible" strategy when picking bike routes. You can't avoid 'em, but you can go a couple of blocks out of your way here and there to decrease the expletives.

Steve said...

I read somewhere that the San Francisco commuter maps use intensity of color to indicate the steepness of hills on bicycle routes. Dark red is super steep while pale pink is flat. Maybe we could do something like that here with the next edition of our maps. It could help us ride the ridges.

erik said...

here's a link to the front of the map steve mentioned.

Jeff said...

I started commuting on the shortest route to work, 156 and east on Pacific to 60, then Levanworth to the Harriman. Google maps added 4-6 miles onto the route by going I, F, Grover and Vinton, but took a lot of the steep hills out. Traffic is lower also, except for a short jaunt on 72nd. But if we could get UP to share right of way with a bike path.....