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A unanimous City Council agreed with the neighborhood supporters, and not the commuter advocates, that 13th Street should be converted from four lanes to a safer three-lane roadway from South Street to downtown.

After listening to more than 30 people ask the council to consider making the street safer for pedestrians, motorists and cyclists, even Councilman Roy Christensen voted against his own resolution that the city retain that mile of 13th Street as a four-lane street.

Instead, the city will be converting the street to three lanes — two travel lanes with a center turn lane — and bike lanes on either side.

"Tonight I heard residents give thoughtful and reasoned arguments and personal stories about the issues surrounding 13th Street," Christensen said. "I am willing to give this a try."

Councilwoman Cyndi Lamm, who had earlier wanted to delay a decision on the conversion, said she was "impressed and moved by the neighborhood testimony." But Lamm said she was also furious that the city took out a light at 13th and F streets that was damaged and not replaced.

It took something like putting in bike lanes for Public Works to put in crosswalks for children and others to cross the street safely, she said.

Councilwoman Leirion Gaylor Baird pointed to Monday's public hearing as the remarkable power of voices that helps legislative bodies make informed decisions. "It makes me feel proud of this process tonight," she said.

The council voted 6-0 in opposition to Christensen's resolution requiring the city to maintain a four-lane street. Councilwoman Jane Raybould was not at the meeting.

Advocates on both sides of the issue sent dozens of emails to the council and showed up in force Monday.

The Lincoln Independent Business Association drove the early discussion with a website that initially accused the city of making war on cars.

LIBA toned down the rhetoric after critics encouraged the business group to use facts, not cheap shots, in its fight to retain 13th Street as a four-lane thoroughfare for commuter traffic.

LIBA staffers were concerned that reducing the lanes would slow traffic and divert drivers to other arterials in the area.

With the rapid growth happening downtown, it doesn't make sense to make it even more challenging for vehicles, said Dustin Antonello, LIBA's policy and research director.

Road diets, a form of narrowing a roadway, have been tried and failed across the country, he said.

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"In Gainesville (Florida), Phoenix and Carolina Beach (North Carolina), government bodies are forced to ditch road diets and returned to the old configuration after receiving an avalanche of complaints from residents," he said.

Several dozen supporters of the change to three lanes spoke, including several who said the opposition was based on politics not safety.

There have been 167 accidents on the 1-mile stretch over the past five years. Converting to three lanes, with a center turn lane, could have prevented 54 of those crashes, based on a city study, said Amy Hochstetler, with the Near South Neighborhood Association.

A registered traffic engineer, Mike Malone, who is not a city staff member, told the council that three lanes work better and are safer than a four-lane undivided road.

And this street is in the "smart spot" based on traffic count. "No doubt it will work exceptionally well," he said.

Mayor Chris Beutler held a news conference last week urging the council to reject Christensen’s resolution and proceed with the street conversion.

A $150,000 private grant would pay for the conversion, plus LED street lights and ash tree removal and replacement in the neighborhood.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com

On Twitter @LJSNancyHicks.

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Reporter

Nancy Hicks reports on Lincoln city government, but she’s been following the leaders of local and state government for more than 40 years.

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