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 StreetMix.net. 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.