Michael Andersen, Green Lane Project staff writer
In May, Lincoln will start constructing Nebraska's first protected bike lanes. Image: Crandall Arambula.
Of all the U.S. cities building protected bike lanes, here's one that always seems to turn heads: Lincoln, Neb.
But the popularity of this project isn't a mystery in Lincoln itself. It's being built with the support of real estate developers who see it as an asset Nebraskans want.
In May, Nebraska's state capital and second-largest city (population 265,000) plans to start installing a three-quarter-mile, two-way protected lane on N Street, running east and west through its downtown. It'll be the first protected bike lane west of Minneapolis, north of Austin and east of Denver — and, if early renderings are accurate, it'll be one of the best-looking bike lanes in the country.
With bright green colored crossings and seven blocks of planted medians that will double as storm drainage, the $1.7 million project is part of Lincoln's effort to capitalize on its increasingly desirable downtown.
At another point in Lincoln's history, removing auto parking and travel lanes to make more room for bikes might have seemed like a sure-fire way to drive away business. But today, developers are eagerly investing millions along the planned bikeway — even adjusting their own plans to accommodate it.
Part of downtown greening plan
A city rendering of N Street at 14th.
"It should be a really attractive facility," said Robin Wilcox of Alta Planning and Design, the project's lead consultant. "Their mayor is very interested in greening up downtown."
Beyond the planted medians, which were envisioned by Lincoln Downtown Plan creator Crandall Arambula, parts of the protected couplet will be separated from car traffic by curbs or parked cars. Every intersection will include dedicated bike signals in both directions.
"Lincoln is a great cycling city to begin with," said Ernie Castillo, the city's project manager. "This facility is going to offer a great opportunity for downtown workers, students to get to the Univeristy of Nebraska and a couple of smaller college campuses."
The city is making room for the 12-foot-wide bike lane and five-to-nine foot stormwater facility by removing one of the street's three auto-sized travel lanes and converting metered diagonal parking to metered parallel parking on parts of the stretch.
N Street at 12th today. Image: Google Street View.
Near the bike lanes' west end, a former parking lot at 11th and M streets is gettng a new $46.5 million five-story building that'll house 550 Husker students. At the project's west end at 21st and N, a former auto dealership will become a $27.6 million row house project with retail.
Both developers "really welcomed the cycle track," Castillo said. The 11th Street developer even agreed not to request driveway access off N Street, simplifying the street's redesign.
"What we're marketing is urban living with some space," said Fred Hoppe, co-developer of the 21st Street project. "We have designed and conceptualized the project pretty much for mobiles and Millennials. … What we're trying to pick up as optimum residents is those people who don't want to use their car unless they're driving to Omaha or going to the mall."
Planted median will help pay for project
The bike lane has also drawn support from the Great Plains Trails Network, a local recreational biking group that helped line up $200,000 in private contributions to the project (including $10,000 from PeopleForBikes). It'll create a comfortable link between two key regional paths: the Jamaica North Trail to the west and Billy Wolff Trail to the east.
Hoppe, the developer, said the Billy Wolff trail access is a major factor in his team's decision to market the 21st Street development to bike users.
The project has also received $267,000 from local watershed management funds, to support the green drainage median; more than half a million in tax increment funds from the new developments; and $680,000 from other local sources.
Angela Eikenberry of Omaha-based advocacy group Mode Shift said she hopes the Lincoln project will help Nebraska officials warm to the possibilities of protected lanes.
"If they make it happen, maybe we can make it happen in Omaha," she said.
Wilcox, the N Street design consultant, said that at a meeting she attended, Lincoln residents seemed eager to use the route for both transportation and recreation.
"A lot of people were talking about, 'This would be a great place for me to bike with my family on the weekend,'" she said. "'We can actually get to places downtown, and I feel comfortable biking with my kids.'"
The Green Lane Project is a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets. You can follow us on Twitter or Facebook or sign up for our weekly news digest about protected bike lanes. Story tip? Write [email protected]