OMAHA — A new ordinance is set to go into effect that would see dozens of Omaha street medians closed to pedestrians — including panhandlers.

Medians would close in mid-November after the Omaha City Council passed an ordinance Oct. 24 to prohibit pedestrians from using some medians.

The measure was proposed by Mayor Jean Stothert following rising complaints about median panhandlers begging for money from passing cars, usually at intersections.

The ordinance doesn't mention panhandlers, in an effort to head off criticisms that the effort restricts the free-speech rights of panhandlers. Instead, the ordinance is billed as a safety issue for both pedestrians and drivers.

"This is about the safety of everyone in the city," Councilwoman Aimee Melton said.

Councilman Vinny Palermo voted against the measure, saying it won't address the poverty that is the underlying problem, nor will it move panhandlers off street corners.

"We're not solving the actual problem at hand," Palermo said.

The ordinance will apply to medians near the city's busiest areas. While it goes into effect in mid-November, it will be enforced only after signs are posted at individual intersections.

Affected medians are those that are narrow, on streets with high traffic counts or on streets with high speeds. The ordinance wouldn't apply to sidewalks, street corners or medians that don't meet the criteria spelled out in the proposal.

Assistant Public Works Director Todd Pfitzer said the department will start prioritizing the list soon.

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