Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Search Is On: Let's Find The Worst Bus Stop in OKC! - Contender #1

Hello everyone! I hope you're all having a great Thanksgiving! Here at Carless HQ, we've been relaxing and sleeping off the huge meal that we ate earlier today.

I've had the idea floating around in my head for awhile that I'd like to start posting photos of awful OKC bus stops as a way to raise awareness about the dismal state of bus stops here in the city. As the resident bus transit expert, I've seen a lot of bus stops here in Oklahoma City, and a lot of them are a pretty disappointing sight to behold. About a week ago, I snapped this photo near the intersection of NW 10th Street and Western Avenue.

The photo doesn't even do justice to this bus stop's true awfulness - click on the picture to get the full effect. In real life, it stopped John and me in our tracks. The bench is pretty much completely unusable. OKC bus stop benches are never an exercise in comfort or hospitality, but this one really steps up the rickety game. First of all, this is an uphill street, so it's already sitting at an angle, since it's aligned parallel to the road rather than at the customary angle, which would alleviate a bit of the slope. Next, bring your attention to the seat slats: they're all warped, splintered, and resting on different levels. Look at the exposed nail! Who knew that a tetanus shot would be a prerequisite for using a bus stop? I don't think anyone would attempt to sit here, which I would usually say is the entire point of the seat being so awful - to ensure as much visibility for the back billboard ad space without the obstruction of a seat occupant - but the even the advertisement is in disrepair. It's all peeled off and obviously hasn't been changed or tended to in months. Get it together, people. If you're going to run an ad-space-under-the-guise-of-bus-stops racket, at least do it right and keep those ads looking sharp.

Let's not forget to mention the huge amount of litter on the ground in front of the stop. That's not really the fault of the bus stop itself as much as the people walking or standing by, but the trash certainly doesn't help the overall aesthetics of the stop.

Is this the worst bus stop in OKC? It's pretty wretched, but I'm reasonably confident that it isn't the worst, so let's keep looking! Do you know of a particularly awful OKC bus stop? Comment and let us know, or better yet, snap a picture and share it with us!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Elizabeth's Trip To Work - Carless Rating #5

Good news, everyone: As of a week ago, I am an employee of the State of Oklahoma! The Carless Couple are now both employed. Looks like the ordeal of carless interviewing was a success!

I’ve been working for a full week now, and I have – of course – been taking the OKC Metro bus to and from work each day. Overall, it’s been a success, but I have hit a few snags.

Bus Commute to Elizabeth's Work: 15/25

The trek to work each day has been consistent and reliable. I get on the bus at the transit center at 7:15; it has, for the most part, arrived on time. The great thing is, the bus arrives at my destination around 7:40-7:45, so I have just the right amount of wiggle room in case the bus is late to the transit center. It’s not so early as to be annoying, but not so late as to make me too nervous if the bus shows up about 5 minutes late, which did happen once this past week. Luckily, the driver wasn’t messing around; she picked up passengers and got moving within about a minute of the usual pull-off time, so by the time all was said and done, the bus was only about 1 minute later than it would have usually been. I was very grateful for her efficiency!

Another big plus for my bus commute to work is that there is a bus stop directly in front of my building and another bus stop more or less across the street, so I don’t have to walk too far between my building and the bus stop either coming to or going from work. The pedestrian infrastructure in the area is another story – the bus may drop off directly in front of my building, but there are no sidewalks and a pretty sizable lawn between the building and the bus stop that I have to cross. It’s either trek across the sloping lawn, or backtrack down the road (on the curb – no sidewalks) to get to the driveway and walk up it. I usually choose the lawn, but if the grass were very wet or muddy, I imagine that I would take the driveway option.

Leaving work to come home is more stressful, and the lack of pedestrian infrastructure in the area is mainly to blame. First, there’s the lawn I have to cross, and as the return bus stop is a tad further down the road than right across the street, I have to walk on the grass/curb to get to where I cross the street to get to the bus stop. Then, I get to dash across four lanes of traffic with no crosswalks anywhere to be seen! Fortunately, it’s not a terribly busy road. The traffic on NE Martin Luther King is definitely consistent but I have been able to cross each time without feeling like I had to take any kind of unreasonable risk; the visibility is fair in both directions.

The bus stop, though… it’s not the best.

There’s the obvious lack of sidewalk, for starters. There’s also the ubiquitous borderline-unusable bench seat that is nothing more than a glorified ad space – they’re always sitting at some weird angle, aren't they? I almost feel like the builders put a level on the seat planks and then make sure that bubble is off to the side. Surely the earth in Oklahoma City is not shifting this much. We don’t live in a bubbling prehistoric miasma. I mean, it IS just an excuse to provide ad space; why would they want the bus stop benches to be comfortable? The feeling you get on an OKC bus stop bench is either that you’re sitting on a really hard wooden recliner or tipping over the top of the first hill on a rickety old roller coaster.

One of the worst things about OKC bus stops is that there is usually no kind of shelter. I would say that maybe 10% of them have a covering at all. Usually this isn't a big problem personally, as I tend to be well-prepared for my travels (on time to the bus stop, appropriately dressed, carrying umbrella if needed), but this lack is keenly felt here at this bus stop, where I have to wait a bit for the bus after work. This past week in particular was a time when a shelter would have been appreciated – I stupidly forgot my umbrella and had to wait over 20 minutes in the freezing rain before my bus arrived. I don’t usually have to wait that long, but our department was released early on Friday because of the inclement weather, so I wasn't at the bus stop at my usual time.

The pick-up time on my return trip home has been a bit of a pain. According to my route schedule, the estimated pick-up time for my stop in the afternoon is around 4:50pm. The actual pick-up time varied pretty widely this week, but it seems like there’s a fairly consistent 15-minute window of time within which I can plan on catching the bus home. As long as I am prepared every day with a coat, hat, and gloves and an umbrella (and some rain boots, once I find some – there were NONE at Target this weekend, can you believe that?), I should be okay. I also need thermal underwear. I learned quickly this week that the blustery wintertime in OKC requires thermal underwear, so I picked some up this weekend.

My other issue with the commute to and from work has less to do with the transit system or pedestrian infrastructure and more to do with the way people tend to view public transit. I really like my coworkers so far, but they’ve been a little weird about my bus travel. Don’t get me wrong; they’ve been very accommodating about it – my boss even told me that if I needed to arrive or leave early or late to make sure I could catch the bus, that we could work out a modified schedule for me. This gesture was ultimately unnecessary but I very much appreciated that she extended the offer. The problem is that people treat me like I’m less fortunate because I ride the bus, and this really, really bothers me. When John and I tell people that we’re living without a car, they are always confused, and their confusion turns to outright befuddlement when we tell them that our carlessness is largely by choice. 

My coworkers have reacted in much the same way, and I’ve already grown tired of trying to explain why we choose not to drive a car. Even more than that, I’m sick of trying to explain why it’s really okay: We live directly across the street from the transit center, I don’t mind waiting a little while for a bus, I always make sure to be prepared for the weather, so on and so forth. I've always known that there is a considerable amount of public transit stigma in many parts of the US, but I knew it in a more abstract way. Now this stigma is slapping me in the face every day. I struggle with this more than I care to admit; the idea of being pitied upsets me, especially when it’s for a condition (a voluntary condition, even!) that I don’t feel warrants any sort of sympathy or condolences.

The more I have to tell people that it’s really okay that I ride the bus to work, the more discouraged I feel about the future of walkability and alternative transportation. If people don’t view alternate forms of transportation as actual alternatives, then the whole system doesn't work. If a municipality works very hard and puts lots of resources into building up great programs like Complete Streets, but nobody who wouldn't have already used alternative forms of transportation makes use of the expanded options, what has truly been accomplished? I would like to believe that the concept of Complete Streets operates under a sort of “if you build it, they will come” system, but the more I hear from people who exclusively drive cars, the more I doubt that. To me, the big question then becomes: how do we make alternative forms of transportation attractive as true alternatives?

I know that John and I will both talk a lot more about this idea in the future here on Carless In OKC, but those are the feelings that have been stirring in me after this first week of work. With all that being said, let’s get to the walkability rating!

At a distance of around 5 miles, this trip gets an F on our walkability scale, but since public transit allows me to only walk about half a mile, which would be an A, I’ll rate it a B overall.

The pedestrian infrastructure on this trip does not rank well. The area around my work has zero sidewalks and no crosswalks, but the walk to the transit center by my home is very pedestrian-friendly. I’ll rate it a D overall.

The transportation options are not terrible here, but not great. The area has car access and great bus access, but, again, no sidewalks/crosswalks for pedestrians, and no bike lanes. I would think this area to be a pretty terrifying area to cycle, but I actually saw a lone cyclist the other day. He was wearing a full kit, though, so I don’t think he represents the average cycling commuter – he is probably very, very used to riding his bike on traffic-ridden roads with no separate bike lane. I’ll rate the trip a C in transportation options.

The land use in this area is pretty abysmal. It’s mainly one- or two-level government buildings set on large tracts of land for no apparent reason. I saw a state trooper playing outside with a police dog the other day, but there’s no formal K-9 training area that I can see, so I don’t think that the departments located there truly warrant the acres of lawn upon which these buildings are located.  There are no stores or restaurants within reasonable walking distance, although my department has the courtesy to provide an employee cafeteria for those who don’t bring their lunch but also don’t want to get in their car during their lunch break. I’ll rate this a D in land use.

It’s been a very overcast week, so I’ll try not to let that color my opinion of the atmosphere too much, but when you’re considering government buildings against a grey sky, it’s hard not to think it’s a little dismal. However, the lawn behind the buildings is quite pretty; it’s hilly, there are some scattered trees, and further back, woods. This is all visible from the employee cafeteria dining room and makes for an enjoyable view if you’re eating down there. Across the street, it’s not very nice, though. The return bus stop is surrounded by litter against a backdrop of a chain link fence that separates the shoulder of the road from a scrappy wooded area. The entire area does feel safe overall, mostly because of the fact that it’s crawling with state troopers. I’ll rate the atmosphere a B.

With a B, a D, a C, a D, and a B, my trip to work scores 15 out of 25. I can’t complain very much at all – I am able to get to work on time and with minimal hassle, and my commute home is a little less tranquil but certainly do-able. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

This is a Great Idea! Sidewalk Sid: My Streetcar Route Suggestion for Oklahoma City

Sidewalk Sid: My Streetcar Route Suggestion for Oklahoma City: *Rebuilding this post. So I will be adding content again slowly, but with more detail.  Stay tuned. Background: There has been a lot o...

Complete Streets - What Are They? Who's Going to Use Them? How Should They Be Implemented?

Something I do in my work is to look at the concept of Complete Streets and how it might be implemented into the context of Oklahoma City. Complete Streets is the concept of making roads that are equitable for all modes of transportation; cars, bikes, pedestrians, public transit, freight, etc. In addition to this, Complete Streets strives towards appropriate place-making such that street upgrades are not a blanket solution for all areas of a city, but are tailor-made to enhance the character and usage of a place. Complete Streets policies have been authored, adopted, and implemented all around the country, and Oklahoma City is working towards this goal as well.

Philosophically, I’m a big fan of Complete Streets as a method of improving the lives of everyone in the city. However, I do worry that adding bike lanes and sidewalks (I can’t believe we have to add SIDEWALKS in so many places) will not be enough to make the investment something that impacts the majority of Oklahoma City citizens’ lives. We have to create a culture that appreciates walkability, bicycling as a means of transportation rather than solely exercise, and areas that are vibrant, small-scale places with character.

 Local planners, such as Blair Humphreys have been planning the future of one street in particular, Western Avenue. It’s no wonder that it’s a popular street for upgrading as it stretches further to the north and south of the city than nearly any other street. Western could become the non-automobile transportation spine that provides access to east-west streets throughout the city. Western changes character in many different areas, so there is no single silver bullet change that could be implemented to be effective the entire length of the road: In downtown there are four car-traffic lanes, intermittent sidewalks, no bike lanes, and spotty land use ranging from commercial to gas stations (Figures 1 & 2); around N. 45th Street you see a totally different character, with 2 car lanes, 2 better-defined sidewalks, (still no bike lanes), and a diverse mix of retail, commercial, and residential (Figures 3 & 4); further north you enter suburbia, and Western is stripped to two lanes of car-traffic and nothing else (Figures 5&6).

Figure 1 - Downtown Section View

Figure 2 - Downtown Plan View

Figure 3 - Urban (non-Downtown) Section View

Figure 4 Urban (non-Downtown) Plan View

Figure 5 Sub-Urban Section View

Figure 6 Sub-Urban Plan View

I’m working on Complete Streets examples at work to improve these areas, including different scenarios based upon the amount of money that would be invested in the projects. For now, take a look at the drawings below that were created on This is the same section of Western in the Downtown area as the previous pictures, but with the spacing reorganized to provide multi-modal usage. The 4-lane street has been diminished to a 3-lane street with a center turning lane; bike lanes have been added to both sides; a sidewalk has been added to the eastern side of the street; and none of this would require tearing up pavement. The initial width of the street is maintained, but the lines on the street have been re-painted. Obviously, paint costs money, but approaching streets in this fashion could help make the implementation of Complete Streets in Oklahoma City affordable, and would be a good selling point for those worried about the cost of upgrading.



Adding the center turn-lane would actually make traffic more efficient as no travel lanes are blocked when someone wants to turn left, and the ADT of Western does not require so many lanes, particularly in the downtown area. This design already functions in other areas of Oklahoma City, the downtown and elsewhere, and is being promoted by the Complete Streets Coalition that came to speak with City and County officials and staff last week.

Lastly, to come back to the concept of creating a culture around alternative modes of transportation, I think that it the most effective way to implement Complete Streets would be to begin in districts that already see a lot of people: your Plaza Districts, Paseo Arts District, Stockyard City, etc. In addition, upgrading the streets between these districts to make a network of Complete Streets would create a network of bike lanes and sidewalks so that people could bike to and from the different districts. From there constructing sub-networks that connect to different sites around the city would create an organic system of complete streets that becomes easier and easier to fill in.

The City has allocated a good amount of money to the initiative of improving the transportation infrastructure of the city, and it is imperative that it serve everyone: from those who are currently underserved by the system, to those who have the choice of driving – we need a total buy-in from the community to make this a successful endeavor.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Grocery Shopping -- Carless Rating #4

One of the more daunting tasks of being carless is ensuring that you have access to groceries. More specifically, it is important to have access to healthy foodstuffs. A person can survive off of junk food, but at the expense of their health, and thusly convenient stores are not sufficient outlets for food purchase. You need vegetables, fruit, meats, dairy, etc. Everything you’ve learned since you first saw the food pyramid (whether or not the proportions are correct) needs to be attainable within a reasonable area. There isn’t a full-service grocery store in the immediate downtown area of Oklahoma City, but there are options that are close-by.

Grocery Shopping Walk: 20/25

Affordability has been very important for our grocery shopping since we moved here at the end of September; there are a lot of costs in moving and furnishing an apartment. Luckily, the Homeland grocery store at 18th Street and Classen meets all of our needs in terms of access to healthy foods at an affordable price. Homeland isn’t the closest store with produce and meats (that would be Native Roots in Deep Deuce) but it is a very nice balance of product and price. It is around 1.5 miles from our apartment building, which is about a 25-minute walk at our pace, and the walk goes through some of the more beautiful and interesting areas of the city. For an able-bodied person this route is completely manageable. But, at this distance, it would not qualify for a true urban grocery shopping experience.

For a grocery experience to be truly urban, it is necessary to be able to walk to the store, buy groceries, and carry them back home. This limits the amount of groceries you can purchase during a single trip to the store, but because of the convenience, it is not an issue to visit your local grocer several times a week. When I lived in Paris for 9 months during my study abroad program in 2008-9 this was how grocery shopping was conducted. I would walk down the street, probably no more than a half-mile to the Fran Prix grocery 3 or 4 times a week and purchase what I needed to make dinner for a couple of days, and try to stock up on lunch, breakfast, and snack stuff. Not only was I able to walk to the grocery store in Paris, but I could also ride the tram system if I didn’t want to walk back with a bunch of groceries in my hands. Many people own rolling grocery carts that allow them to travel more easily with their purchases.  The benefit of this style of grocery shopping (other than what I’ve already mentioned) is that you are able to purchase and consume food at its freshest level because you are not holding food in the freezer for days or weeks on end. I’d imagine that this creates a higher demand for quality fresh foods, which in turn leads grocers to stocking and sourcing the freshest quality products.

When a grocery store moves into the downtown area of OKC, this would be the way I would grocery shop again. But, as it stands now, the Homeland is just far enough away that it’s not reasonable to walk there more than one time each week, and by that time we need more groceries than we can comfortably carry back home.  We often call a taxi to take us home, and because our transportation expenses are so low, spending between $8 and $10 for a weekly taxi ride is still wildly more affordable than taking on a car payment, car insurance payments, fuel costs, and maintenance costs. There are several taxi services in Oklahoma City, but we use Yellow Cab exclusively because of their courteous service and the quality of their taxis. Thunder Cab have been very rude to us, and they are not good at fulfilling their end of the service agreement. One instance in particular: We called for a cab before we checked out of the store, and the driver said he would be there in 15 to 20 minutes. We get outside in 10 minutes to wait, and 20 minutes rolls by, and Beth noticed she had missed a call when we were bagging our groceries inside the loud grocery store… it was the taxi driver. So we called the driver, and he said he had gotten there early and we weren’t there, so he left! And then he wouldn’t come back to pick us up… needless to say, we will not be using their services.

So, let’s rate the carless journey to and from the Homeland from our perspective, that of a weekly shopper:

At a distance of 1.4 miles, this trip is on the lower end of a B on our scale.

The pedestrian infrastructure varies along the way, and generally gets less amenable the closer you get to Homeland. In particular, Harn Park in Heritage Hills has very little accessibility for people with disabilities, and the intersection of Western and Classen can be dangerous. From downtown, through midtown, and up to around 15th Street, though, the sidewalk infrastructure is very good. I’ll give it a C.

There are many different ways to get to and from the grocery store, but they all are contingent upon outside factors. Biking and walking become difficult when you have lots of groceries; the bus system doesn’t run on Sundays, limiting its usefulness; but cars and taxis are convenient at all times. Today we saw a guy riding an adult-sized tricycle with a basket for carrying groceries between the back two wheels, and it seemed like a pretty useful way of transporting groceries without a car. I’ll give this a C since proper planning could make it easy.

The land use choices along the way to Homeland are some of the best in Oklahoma City. Passing through the trendy Hudson district is pleasant. The Midtown Plaza is on the way, which is home to many local restaurants, shops, bars, and offices. Heritage Hills is a gorgeous neighborhood, and Harn Park is very pretty. This gets a solid A.

The atmosphere is also very nice along the whole distance, and only makes me somewhat uneasy when walking along Classen Drive. I will give this an A as well.

So that is 2 As, 1 B, and 2 Cs, for a total score of 20 out of 25. I look forward to a full-service grocery store moving into the downtown area for convenience, but for now, Homeland and Native Roots provide Beth and me with 99% of the products we need to eat well and live happily. 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Transit Meltdown: The Aftermath

In the last post, John wrote about our bogus journey to buy a mattress. That was last Thursday night, so we had the entire weekend to deal with the aftermath, which I'm going to tell you about now.

On Thursday night, we left our precious new mattress at Big Lots to be contended with later. We had more options than we would usually have with a new piece of furniture, as far as needing to get the furniture to our home and how to achieve that while being carless. As John said before, Big Lots offers furniture delivery for a flat rate of $60, which would usually have been our only viable option, but they will also hold furniture to be picked up later. That was actually an option for us with this furniture purchase, because John's dad was coming to visit us the following day! We realized that we could have Big Lots hold the mattress and box spring for us and then return the following evening with John's dad, and more importantly, John's dad's car, to pick it up and bring it home.

As the theme of the weekend was "nothing goes as expected," this, of course, was not to be.

John's dad, Scott, arrived on Friday with a big carload of our belongings. That was the main purpose of this trip: to bring us a good bit of the possessions we left behind in Georgia when we moved to OKC. Being able to visit with us, albeit briefly, was just a nice bonus. Scott arrived around 1:00 PM, so John was still at work for the rest of the afternoon. I welcomed Scott to our home and then we decided to unload the boxes from his car.

John and I love our apartment, but our building tends to make bad first impressions. The day we arrived, the power in the building went out and stayed out for a full night and a large part of the next day. We live on the 19th floor, so this was quite an inconvenience, as the elevators weren't working and we had to climb 19 flights of stairs any time we left our apartment.

We expected something similarly lame to happen when John's dad arrived, and we were not disappointed; a new tenant was (allegedly) moving in that very afternoon and had taken the sole loading cart. I say that this new tenant was "allegedly" moving in because although he or she had arrived, reserved the freight elevator for the afternoon, and disappeared with the loading cart, we never saw him or her, and neither had anyone at the front desk, as they informed us when we inquired about using the cart. I don't know if the new tenant had arrived and then immediately left to run errands instead of unloading their belongings without letting the front desk know, but either way, it was a very inconvenient time to have the loading cart go missing.

Scott and I begrudgingly began unloading boxes from his car one or two at a time each (depending on how heavy they were), carrying them into the building, riding the elevator to the 19th floor, and depositing them in the apartment, intermittently taking short breaks to recuperate. I had not worked out that day because I was cleaning in anticipation of my father-in-law's visit, but I inadvertently got my strength training in by carrying heavy boxes for three hours, so the situation was fortuitous in that way, I guess.

The fun doesn't stop there. For all of those readers who aren't Oklahomans, here's a fun fact for you: OKC is windy as HELL. Friday was a particularly blustery day, with isolated gusts reaching well over 40 mph. John's dad was parked across the street from our apartment building and at one point, the wind straight-up blew a box out of his arms and onto the street. We could barely stand up straight in this wind, much less when we were encumbered with heavy boxes. (Increased resistance for my strength training? I have no idea what I'm talking about.)

Scott started to worry that we wouldn't be able to get our mattress home that night. His smallish SUV was not quite roomy enough to fit the mattress inside, so we were planning to strap it down on top of the vehicle, but the howling prairie winds were starting to make that plan look like an impossibility. I repeatedly assured him that although OKC is super-windy, I had noticed that the wind died down by the evening on most days, and we'd probably be safe to bring the mattress home later that evening.

I really wanted that mattress.

Also, I was totally wrong. The wind continued to blast full-force through the city after John got home from work that afternoon, so we revised our plan for the night: dinner first, mattress pickup second. We were hoping that eating an early dinner would not only buy us enough time that the wind would weaken by the time we headed to Big Lots, but also help us to beat the dinner rush. Wrong again, because our dinner plan was to show John's dad an authentic (and delicious) piece of Oklahoma City history, and apparently everyone else in the city had the same idea: The Cattlemen's Steakhouse.

The Cattlemen's Steakhouse is over 100 years old, and home to former President George H.W. Bush's preferred T-bone steak. If there's one thing - literally only one thing - I would trust that man about, it's steak. It turns out that I am correct in that sentiment, because John and I have eaten there twice now, once for breakfast, and then for dinner, and it's been SUPER DELICIOUS both times. We are a steak-loving couple, and we love the Cattlemen's Steakhouse. Our dinner there with John's dad did not disappoint; we stuffed ourselves with perfectly cooked sirloin steaks and baked potatoes, and tried their house beer, Double Deuce, which was shockingly good.

We waddled back to the car and headed to Big Lots to deal with the mattress situation. It had become abundantly obvious that we were not going to be picking it up and taking it home, because the gales of wind had not subsided anywhere near enough to make anyone feel comfortable strapping a mattress on top of a car and driving with it. John and Scott arranged for the mattress delivery and we headed back home.

John's dad headed out early the next morning to drive back to Georgia. We saw him off, walked down to (the delicious and locally roasted!) Elemental Coffee for a decaf for me, and then we settled in to wait for the mattress to arrive. The delivery window was "noon to 3:00," and sure enough, the delivery men did not arrive until about 2:50pm. Don't get me wrong, I'm thankful that they at least arrived within the promised window, but we had also waited around that entire time. To quote our bus stop friend from the last entry, I got things to be.

The mattress delivery in and of itself was a pain, yet mercifully brief. The usual protocol for furniture delivery at our apartment building involves delivery trucks driving around to a back loading area which opens into the back door of the freight elevator, but the freight elevator was not available, as it turned out. Surprise, surprise: the same chucklehead who had reserved the freight elevator the day before "to move" and then didn't use it, had reserved it again. We had to coax the delivery men to park across the street and carry the mattress & box spring across the street and into the normal elevator, all while listening to constant lame chatter and vaguely sexist jokes from the main delivery man. Thankfully, it was an easy job and they were out of our lives pretty quickly.

And then... THEN, we were free. Free to lie on our wonderful comfy new mattress for the next two days, with short departures to go eat Thai food at Thai Kitchen (our favorite restaurant with a walkability rating of approximately 1 billion, but we'll do a formal rating and review of that one in another post), pick beer at Broadway Wine Merchants (awesome craft beer selection and equally awesome walkability rating), and for dinner and bowling at Redpin in Bricktown.

See how happy I am?

This mattress is absolutely amazing. We are both so happy with it! After sleeping on an air mattress for about a month and a half, the mattress feels utterly decadent. We had decided to buy at Big Lots to be economical but we are definitely pleasantly surprised with the quality and comfort we got with this purchase.

There's not really a carless rating involved with this post; the ground covered here, so to speak, is the same route/place that John rated in the last post. The troubles we had with getting our mattress to our home were not necessarily specific to being carless. I wrote this post as a wrap-up and to let you all know how the mattress adventure turned out. Thankfully, it has a very happy - and comfy - ending!

Stay tuned - upcoming posts on Carless in OKC include our Veteran's Day Shopping Catastrophe (or, Why It's Important To Read Numbers Properly) and my rating of my latest carless interviewing jaunt.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Transit Meltdown- Carless Rating #3: 63rd and May Avenue

The last 5 days have been full of trials for Beth and me; mostly stemming from not having an automobile. All were met with success, but that’s not to say having a car wouldn’t have made our weekend much more convenient. What is becoming abundantly clear in this experiment is the need for improved access to amenities in our daily lives, as well as improved infrastructure for accessing said amenities.

Sometimes you can prepare for a carless trip across town and have all the details ironed out; but the chaotic entropy of the universe oozes all over your plans and forces you to be able to change plans at a moment’s notice. One thing we needed desperately to make our apartment feel more like a home was a good mattress. Up until now we’ve been using a very nice air mattress I borrowed from one of my very gracious co-workers that replaced our camping mattress we were able to fit in our luggage that we brought from Georgia. We haven’t been getting very good sleep, and it has been affecting our energy levels throughout the days. So, Thursday, Beth decided would be “Mattress Day”.

I got off work an hour early since I worked an extra hour earlier in the week, and we were going to catch the bus, Line 7, out to 63rd Street and May to go to Big Lots and purchase a mattress. Well, we ended up missing the bus we had planned to take at 4:15, but that shouldn’t have been an issue as another bus on the 7 line was arriving at the downtown transit center at 5:00pm. Beth and I got to the bus station with our bus fare in hand at 4:45 and sat down to wait for the bus. There were several other people waiting for our bus – a diverse group of all different ages and races. 5:00pm rolls around and the bus hasn’t shown up. This isn’t too surprising, it being rush hour and all, so we all sit patiently. 5:15 comes and goes, and everyone is getting beginning to get anxious or downright annoyed. It’s now 5:25 and the bus still isn’t there. I think one woman summed up the feeling of everyone, however uncouthly, with her frustrated exclamation, “God Damn it! I got things to be!” It was a funny moment amidst an air of growing frustration.

Finally, at 5:30, a bus whose marquee read “Going Home” pulls into the station, immediately followed by a bus with “Number 7” on the marquee. The driver of the “Going Home” bus was actually the number 7 bus that didn’t show up at 5:00, and had somehow fallen a half-hour behind schedule. She had no reason to have the “Going Home” marquee indicated, but none of the people waiting had any patience for her incompetency and boarded the second number 7 bus which could not pull into the station fully, half hanging out in the road, due to this very late bus. This was very frustrating, and clearly represented a dangerous liability for the Metro Transit system as people boarding a bus in a street are at risk for being hit by other vehicles.

Finally we get on the bus and on our way to the 63rd and May. Everyone on the bus was enjoying our bus driver’s animated frustration and humor regarding the driver of the previous bus, and we all had a very pleasant ride being able to bond over a common crisis.

After about a 30-minute ride Beth and I dismounted the bus at the bus stop in front of the Big Lots. This bus stop, sadly, is typical for Oklahoma bus stops. A lone bench, with three 2x4s for a seat and an advertisement for a back, sitting on a grassy shoulder with no sidewalk is just about the bare minimum a transit system can provide for its riders. What’s interesting is that COTPA (Central Oklahoma Transit and Parking Authority) doesn’t actually provide the majority of the bus stops in the city. That is contracted out to an advertisement company that owns billboards in the city. The company seems to think that they are doing the city a service by providing these benches for bus stops, but it’s clear what the real motivation is. The bus benches are miniature billboards. The owners have an incentive to make the benches as unusable as possible so as to not obscure the signs on the backing. There is rarely any shelter and often no access for the disabled. It is a sad state of affairs that must be fixed if COTPA plans to have transit system worth anything. I can think of no better way to bolster the transit system and increase ridership than by improving the conditions of bus stops around this city.

Beth and I found a mattress we liked and purchased it. Big Lots will deliver furniture for a flat rate of $60, and will also hold furniture at their store for you to pick up later, which makes purchasing furniture without a car very manageable. The staff was very helpful and friendly. Also in the shopping center is an Akin’s Health Food store where Beth was able to get chocolate soy milk, which you can’t get anywhere in the downtown area, not even Native Roots!

After eating a fast-food dinner while we waited for the bus, our adventure began again. We caught the line 7 bus heading back to downtown, and it was the last bus of the night. It was the same driver we had coming out to Big Lots and she was still talking to people on the bus about how much the previous bus driver had thrown off the route schedule. Many people were upset about how their plans for the evening were disrupted because of these issues. It just goes to show how important it is for a transit system to be well-monitored and staffed with competent, responsible drivers. The ripple effect of this one driver’s inability to be on schedule and follow protocol affected hundreds of Oklahoma City citizens.

The way that it affected us was particularly bad. Because this was the last bus of the night, it was not en route to return to the downtown transit center, but was heading south on Pennsylvania Avenue back to the bus depot. We only found this out as we boarded the bus. The driver was able to take us as far as 10th Street and Penn, which we accepted because it was a much shorter distance to travel than where we presently were. 10th and Penn is about 1.5 miles away from our apartment, and is a quickly growing neighborhood. As we came to find out, however, it is still very rough around the edges and was legitimately scary to walk through after dark. I would not recommend anyone do this. We stayed on the well-lit 10th Street all the way to Classen, turned south, and then east on 5th Street back to our apartment. It was cold, somewhat frightening, and an overall pain in the ass that could have all been avoided had the one bus driver not ruined it for everyone.

Thursday night was an adventure that I won’t soon forget, and I’m very glad I had my brave and beautiful wife to go through it with, but I think it might be better to plan for trips of this length to be weekend activities that we can accomplish before nightfall.

The distance to Big Lots from our home is about 7 miles, which took around 30 minutes on the bus, which scores an outright F on our scale, but we only had to walk about a mile and a half in total, which would be a B. Given the fact that we had not planned on walking any substantial distance at all, I’m giving this a D.

The pedestrian and transit infrastructure on this journey varied in different locations. For the evening I don’t think I can give the transit system anything higher than a D. We did get where we were going, but we did not get back from where we were going, and the bus stop was down-right depressing. At Big Lots there were very few elements of walkability. The walk from 10th and Penn was very walkable though, with sidewalks the entire way home. Regardless, I don’t feel comfortable giving anything higher than a D for this journey.

In terms of transportation options to and around 63rd and May Avenue, the transit system failed to function correctly, there is a significant lack of pedestrian infrastructure, and there are no bike lanes. This location is only convenient to reach by motor vehicle. Again, I’m going to go with a D, because the transit system doesn’t always suck.

The land use choices in the 63rd and May area are not terrible, if a bit corporate. As a retail hub there is a wealth of things to choose from, though the region may be suffering a decline. It’s hard to say whether the few vacancies in the numerous strip malls are the beginning of a trend or a temporary thing. While there are better areas to shop in the city, there were many people at the various stores. I’ll give it a C.

The atmosphere of this whole evening ebbed from a downright disaster, to a pleasant shopping experience, to a fearful trek home. It was definitely stimulating, but to encounter major inconvenience that puts you in a place where you’re fearful for your well-being is not an acceptable outcome of a car-less journey. The only real redeeming atmosphere was the helpful Big Lots staff. I’m going to give this a D.

So that’s four Ds and one C for a score of 9 out of a possible 25. I think this trip could have scored much higher if the transit system were better controlled. That said, there is a great need for improvements in the pedestrian infrastructure on 63rd and May. The number one thing that I see that needs to change is that the busses should finish their routes back at the transit center downtown before heading to the depot for the night so as not to strand downtowners in dangerous areas. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Carless Interviewing - Carless Rating #2: Elizabeth Goes To The Capitol

Yesterday, John talked about his walk to work and gave an introduction to being prepared for pedestrian excursions. Considerations like sensible footwear and proper layering are all well and good for normal walks, but most of that goes out the window when you face another monster: job interviews... carless job interviews, that is.

Currently, John is our breadwinner and I am the stay-at-home house- and cat-keeper. Because of this, I do most of the errands during the day, which I love, because it gives me many opportunities do some solo exploring of our new city. I usually explore on foot, but many times, my errands require that I take public transit. I've become fairly comfortable with the bus system here in Oklahoma City. I've heard a lot of nay-saying about its reliability, but in my experience, buses have generally arrived on-time and on-schedule. As someone who has never used much public transit, I've been pleased to find that the bus routes are fairly easy to navigate, which is great because I was pretty intimidated at first. Now I feel like an old pro! It also helps that the OKC Metro Transit Center is literally our next door neighbor.

This is the OKC Metro Transit Center. You see that white building in the top right corner? That's our apartment building. Convenient, right?

That's not to say that there aren't some considerable negatives to bus transit. 99% of the other bus patrons are kind, polite, and generally agreeable people with whom I feel very comfortable sharing my travels. The other 1% tend to be... well, crazy people. The ones who have really loud conversations with other bus riders about their crack-smoking habit. The ones who have no sense of personal boundaries, and insist on talking to you until you take your headphones out of your ears to ask, "what?" Because, you know, I didn't have my headphones in for a reason; namely, as a body language cue to keep from having to talk to strangers. There was the time a guy vomited on the bus. To be fair, he threw up in the little trash can and then immediately got off the bus, but no matter what, that is a germophobe's worst nightmare. I immediately wanted to smear hand sanitizer all over my body, which I guess would have put me right into that 1% bus rider category of "crazy people" as well.

So, to get back to my carless rating, yesterday I had a job interview. My interview took place very near the Oklahoma State Capitol, which is about 3 miles away from our apartment. Under normal circumstances, this could potentially be an on-foot trip, but seeing as it was for an interview, I decided to take the bus. No problem there; I found the best route to take (bus 18), figured out what time I would need to catch the bus in order to make it to the interview on time, and checked the map so I'd know which way to walk toward my destination once I got off the bus.

The difficult part had to do with my actual person. Since I was headed to a job interview, I needed to wear a professional outfit, so for me, that meant a dress and these shoes:

They're not 4-inch stilettos by a long shot, but considering that I was going to need to do some walking between the bus and my destination during this trip, they were an inconvenience. Under normal (i.e. "having a car") circumstances, I would have worn flats for the drive and then just put on my heels for the walk from the parking lot, but that was, of course, not an option here.

The weather was also pretty chilly yesterday, so I had to wear my big puffy coat so I wouldn't freeze while waiting for or walking to the bus. This is another item that I would usually have stashed in my car in the parking lot while interviewing, but I had to take it in with me, which felt a little awkward. It's all okay, though, because I found the building pretty easily - it wasn't very far from the bus stop, only a couple of blocks - and my interview went very well, despite having my puffy coat in tow.

After the interview, my difficulties began. According to my route schedule, I was supposed to only have to wait about 10 minutes for the next scheduled bus to come through, which turned into about 45-50 minutes. I think that a bus was missing from the route on this particular day, which usually wouldn't have bothered me, but since I was interviewing, I took my "sensible, business-like purse" instead of my usual "huge tote bag" and therefore had to forgo taking a book with me. Wah, wah, I know, but I'm a big reader, and when I have to wait around, I like reading.

While I was sitting at the bus stop waiting, my biggest problem with this excursion began: good old-fashioned street harassment! During my 45-minute wait, I was repeatedly catcalled and honked at by men in cars that were driving by. This isn't usually as much of an issue when I'm out, because on normal daily errands I'm wearing comfortable clothes like jeans and sweaters - not that that's a total deterrent, because street harassers aren't ultimately concerned with what you're wearing, they just feel the need to objectify a woman. I always experience some form of street harassment when I travel alone; that is just the sad reality of women's lives. However, there is an undeniable correlation between the amount and frequency of street harassment that happens when I'm wearing clothing that's more revealing, like a dress, which I was yesterday because of my interview; therefore, the harassment was increased from its usual level.

By the time the bus arrived, I was pretty grumpy from being hollered at by men for 45 minutes. I was happy just to sit in the warmth for the long ride back to the transit center, so imagine my confusion and disdain when, about 20 minutes later, I was told by the bus driver that I would need to "scan my pass again" for "the ride back." Um, what? For one thing, I didn't have a pass, but I was too confused to argue, so I just got out more money for another bus fare and made my way to the machine. The driver looked at my fare money questioningly, and I told him that I didn't have a pass, but I would pay again if that was what I needed to do. He then explained that I probably didn't know this, but since there were "outbound" and "inbound" routes, I was supposed to pay again to come back in. This made no sense because I thought the bus route was one big loop, and I had paid to get back on it when I got on the bus after the interview. I also didn't think I was the only person who had been on the bus since I had gotten on, so I wasn't sure why I was being (seemingly) arbitrarily chosen to pay again. Ultimately, he told me he would let me go this time without paying, but it didn't ease my confusion at all. I scoured the OKC Metro website last night for some information about this mysterious inbound fare, but I found nothing to explain it. I've never had another bus driver try to do that, so I'm chalking it up to a weird misunderstanding.

Finally, I was home, and I was able to kick off those high heels and eat a grilled cheese sandwich. It was a really, really delicious grilled cheese sandwich.

Now for the rating of this excursion:

The distance on this trip is a little convoluted because of the public transit aspect of it; the distance from our home is 3 miles (a D grade), but I didn't have to walk 3 miles. I walked more like a mile to a mile and a half once the trip was all done, which would be a B rating. I think I'll split the difference, and give it a C rating for distance.

The pedestrian infrastructure on this trip is, again, not a straightforward rating. However, the transit center and the bus itself are both very ADA-friendly; in addition, the main road on which the bus stop was located for my destination has very nice, well-maintained sidewalks. The road I had to walk on to get to my interview had no sidewalks whatsoever, and I had to walk on the side of the road. In heels. Overall grade: C.

Transportation options: Hey, that's the one place where this trip did well. This area is accessible by car, by bus, and less easily but still possible, by walking. There aren't any bike lanes in the area of the interview, so I'll give it a B.

The land use of the area in question also scores decently. The area around the state capitol is beautiful (I mean, the state capitol building is right there), well-maintained, and feels very safe. However, the area is not very densely developed, so it's a bit sprawly. I'll give it a B.

The atmosphere of this trip FAILS because I have no patience for street harassment. That would have in itself been a fatal blow to the atmosphere rating, but the misunderstanding with the bus driver regarding my fare didn't help either. F for atmosphere.

The overall grade for this trip is a 15 out of a possible 25. It was definitely do-able, and if I were in a situation where I needed to make the trip regularly (as in, I got a job in that area), I'm fairly confident that the kinks would be worked out to make it a convenient trip.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Be Prepared - Carless Rating #1: John's Walk to Work

Be prepared. Being carless means you’ll need to have everything you need for your trip on your person, since you won’t be able to stash things in your car when you go somewhere. But being prepared isn’t just about what you carry with you; it’s also about how you dress. I’ve only lived in OKC for a little over a month, and I’ve experienced the full range of weather – this city goes from hot, to cold, to hot and cold at the same time (hot sun and freezing wind), dry, to humid, all in the matter of a week. Dressing in layers is fine if you have a destination where you can shed your outer layers, but carrying excess clothing around on a long walk can be a hassle. Then what about shoes? You need to know where you’ll be walking, and if you’re unsure of the terrain, it’s best to put on running shoes just in case the pedestrian infrastructure isn’t very good. Are you going to take public transit somewhere? Better have cash on hand or a bus pass. Taxi? Cash. Bicycle? Lock. Always be prepared, or you’re going to have a bad time.

JOHN's WALK to WORK: 21/25 
From The Regency (Red Star) to 420 W. Main St. (Green Star)                                  

                 The Walk


                     The Regency                                      420 W. Main St.

The first walk I’m going to score is my walk to work. I walk to work every day. ½-mile to work in the morning, ½-mile back for lunch, ½-mile back to work, and then ½-mile back home at 5:00pm. At this distance I don’t have to worry too much about what shoes I’m wearing. I carry a bag with me that has what I need for work, as well as a hat, gloves, and an umbrella just in case the weather turns on me during the day. Downtown OKC is a great place to live if you’re a city government worker because everything is centrally located. The majority of my co-workers have more than 30-minute commutes, and often it takes more time for them to find a parking spot and walk to the office than it does for me to just walk from my front door. The sidewalks are good, and traffic is only really bad right before 8:00am and right after 5:00pm. Each of these ratings will have scores in 5 categories: Distance, pedestrian access, atmosphere, transportation options, and land use. (These may change in future ratings). The scores will be added up to give a total out of a possible 25 points (5 As would be 25 points; 5 Fs would be 5 points)

The distance falls within the A grade of my distance score.

     The pedestrian infrastructure is well-maintained and has great access for the disabled. An A.

     The atmosphere is so-so due to some rough characters around the bus station across the street from my building, but mostly people are well-behaved. Something unique to this walk in the mornings is the giant swarms of Grackle birds. I’m not exaggerating when I say there are thousands of them roosting and flying around, which can make the walk somewhat perilous. It’s really something the city should take care of.  All things considered, I’ll give it a C.

     There are plenty of transportation options – People walk, ride bikes, drive their cars and take public transit. Definitely an A.

     There are several restaurants and convenient stores along the way, but there are also many surface parking lots and vacant buildings. C.

     So that’s 3 As and 2 Cs. If an A = 5 points and C = 3, then that gives this walk a score of 21 out of a possible 25. It’s a very manageable trek, and I’m fortunate to have such good access to my place of business!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Introducing: The Carless Couple

You might be wondering: Who are you? Why are you Carless in OKC?

Don't worry, we have answers - and reasons. Allow us to introduce ourselves.

I'm Elizabeth, and my counterpart is John, my husband. We are newlyweds who are also newly-moved to OKC, all the way from Athens, Georgia.

John and I share similarly unwalkable origins. I grew up in the vast sprawl of metro Atlanta, Georgia, which is arguably the definitive car-centric suburban landscape. My house was a quarter-mile from my elementary school and yet my mom dropped my brother and me off and picked us up each day. In all fairness, this had a lot to do with my mother's overprotective nature; however, this short distance had no sidewalks, and the road was mostly flanked by steep hills or sloping embankments. Growing up, I never walked from place to place. I was barely aware of the concept; save for the small (less than 10) group of kids from the neighborhood that was immediately adjacent to the elementary school, I did not know a single person who walked as a form of transportation. It was the suburbs, of course; everyone drove a car.

John grew up in Macon, Georgia, in a turn-of-the-century neighborhood that at least had sidewalks. Those sidewalks, however, were merely the conduit between neighboring friends' houses rather than major or viable transportation thoroughfares. Macon, as a former urban hub, has more existing and potential walkability in places like the downtown area, but there is a prevailing present-day suburban mindset which of course equals cars... lots of cars.

John and I both eventually ended up in Athens, Georgia, which is a famous little college town where we met and fell in love. John was getting his master's degree in environmental planning and design from the University of Georgia; his education, combined with the fact that we became heavily involved with community activism around the development of our city, provided a constant background to our relationship which revolved around a shared interest in how cities are planned.

Fast forward to late summer 2013: John and I were about to be married, and he received a job offer to be a planner with the City of Oklahoma City. We were suddenly faced with not only the monumental event of surviving our imminent wedding, but also planning and executing a move to Oklahoma City within about two weeks after that wedding. After considering all of our options, we eventually decided to leave both of our (old and quickly failing) cars with our parents and fly to Oklahoma City to begin our new life together.

On September 25, 2013, we stepped off the plane in OKC with three large suitcases and two very annoyed cats. We had a rental car for a few days while we got settled in, and we had every intention of purchasing a car as soon as we could. Buying a car, however, is tedious and overwhelming business, and as we became more comfortable navigating our surrounding area on foot, the idea of buying an automobile became less and less appealing.

Our apartment, as we've said before, is very close to downtown Oklahoma City and is located within what we consider walking distance to quite a few amenities like restaurants, specialty retail, museums, pubs/bars, and parks, to name a few. On the other hand, some amenities, like grocery shopping and general retail, did not seem to be immediately accessible to us, so it became a bit of a challenge for us to figure out how to comfortably and efficiently run necessary errands such as bi-weekly grocery trips. We liked the idea of rising to that challenge because living without a car fits with our ideals of a sustainable, healthy lifestyle - not only for us, but for the earth and future generations.

One major purpose of this blog is to tell the story of our adventures and misadventures with living a carless lifestyle in OKC. As we navigate the city around us on foot (and by public transit), we are not only negotiating a way of living that is new to us, but we are also discovering the joys, pains, quirks, and nuances of our new home. We hope that you'll enjoy sharing the journey with us.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Walkability - Our Definition

Walkability, as defined by Steve Alley in his Walking Scoping Paper of February 2005, is “the extent to which the built environment is walking friendly.” -- A vague, yet obvious definition. What may be less obvious is the subject for whom the built environment is friendly or not friendly. Everyone has specific needs when it comes to mobility, and it is best to provide access for the lowest common denominator, and for those who require special consideration. This is why ADA-accessibility is so important for the design of walkable infrastructure – sidewalks and other pedestrian infrastructure that are designed to be easy to use for those with disabilities will be usable by all pedestrians.

In Oklahoma City there is a huge range of sidewalk quality, from wide sidewalks with sloped crosswalk cuts, all the way to streets with no sidewalks and little to no thought given to anyone other than motorists. For someone like me or my wife, getting around on foot is not very problematic, but can be inconvenient in areas that have poor pedestrian infrastructure. Our personal limitations for walking are not typical, but represent a high-end level of accessibility. Our comfortable range in terms of distance maxes out at 3.5 miles in one direction (basically a one-hour walk), making a single trip a 7-mile journey. This is by no means preferable and tends to be the limit of our physical exertion in a given day; perhaps a bit further if split into more than one trip over the course of the day.

We live in the Regency Tower on NW 5th Street (marked by the red star on the maps), and the map below shows buffers of our comfortable range ranked on the familiar A to F scale. This is just a general categorization of areas we can walk to in terms of walkability, and many other factors come into play; such as the quality of the sidewalks, the intensity of car traffic, the safety of intersection crossings, land use, and more. The concentric circles are not an accurate measure of distance in any direction other than the cardinal directions, and this is because Oklahoma City's street grid has very view diagonal streets; so, something that is 3.5 miles away on foot to the northeast, may only be 2 miles away as the crow flies! 

Because we are on the high-end of walking ability, it should be reasonable that the majority of people’s comfortable treks will be encompassed by our range of travel. We hope that this will give insight as to what the potential for walkability can be, while giving those with lesser walking ability the same value by letting them choose their own comfort scale.

Sunday, November 3, 2013


This is a blog dedicated to exploring life in Oklahoma City from the perspective of a pedestrian living in the downtown area. Our goal is to document the plausibility of being carless in a city that to most people seems only to be manageable with the assistance of a motor vehicle. We will document our challenges, triumphs, likes, dislikes, rankings of aspects of daily life, and serve as a sort of clearinghouse for all activities that we would consider "walkable" from the downtown.