Sunday, October 19, 2014

Won't You Take Me To... Bricktown!

Bricktown is a big deal in OKC. The district was actually one of the first things we knew about here. When we found out we were coming to Oklahoma City for John to have his job interview, John's program director (and former director of the Oklahoma DOT) immediately recommended that we check out Bricktown during our stay. Said stay was too short for any thorough exploration; we drove into town in the late evening, chucked our luggage into our hotel room, and headed out for a quick dinner. Because it had been suggested to us, we found Bricktown, parked, and proceeded to walk around.

Compared with how quiet the rest of the city was on a Thursday evening, Bricktown was positively bustling with people and activity. We loved walking along the canal and watching the ducks' antics, and we were impressed with the design of the public space. There were plenty of restaurants to choose from, and we chose Red Pin Restaurant and Bowling Lounge. Enjoying our delicious burgers outside and people-watching was the perfect way to blow off a little steam after being cooped up in the rental car all day, and it gave John a welcome distraction from his pre-interview jitters. We came away from that dinner thinking hey, we could totally live here, and hoping that John would get the job.

Eating at Red Pin during our first time in Oklahoma City!
Well, we all know how his interview turned out, because here we are. Although we've expanded our reach into many other districts, Bricktown does hold a special place in our hearts as our intro to OKC. Now that we've been here over a year, we'd like to finally do a post to talk about it. We have actually been hesitant to do a post on Bricktown because, in all honestly, as much as we love some parts of it, we also have some beef with it. So here we go - our real-talk rating of Bricktown.

Things we love about Bricktown:

1. Promotes walkability: Probably our favorite thing about Bricktown is that it forces people to walk! And by extension, it instills an appreciation of walkable urban places in people who might not otherwise care. Because, let's face it, the fun of Bricktown is the hustle and bustle - it's the fact that it is a place to be and be seen. The walkable design is what separates it from, say, a strip mall.

A welcome sight - lots of people walking!
2. Helped revive downtown: As downtown OKC residents, I know we owe a debt of gratitude to Bricktown for reviving what was - by all accounts I've heard - a dead downtown for many years. Bricktown (and the MAPS sales tax) seems to have been the catalyst, development-wise, that changed it all, and transformed downtown OKC into a destination rather than an area to avoid outside of work hours. For that we say bravo, Bricktown; you done good.

3. Adult and family attractions: One of the most difficult balances to strike within an urban district is that of adult-only and family-friendly things to do. Bricktown is rare in that it achieves just that balance. There are bars and clubs for adults, the movie theatre, bowling, the baseball field, shopping, and fun attractions like the water taxi that are appropriate for grown-ups and kids, and yet there's no definitive tilt toward one vibe or the other. It all just coexists seamlessly, and that's no small feat.

Bricktown Ballpark - and carriage rides!
4. Brings people downtown who might not come otherwise: When we're walking down the street in Bricktown on a Saturday night, we can often overhear passersby talking about where they came from that evening - and it's usually not OKC. It's really great that Bricktown is an attraction that brings people to the city - people who might not otherwise come. 

5. Community gathering space: Not only is there a lot to eat, drink, purchase, and experience in Bricktown, but it also serves as a place for people to simply gather, whether it's for a concert, a march, or just for fun. The importance of community gathering spaces for civic wellbeing cannot be overstated, OKC residents (and surrounding residents) have this area to just go and be with others, whether it's for a common purpose or just a Saturday night.

6. The canal: It would be so easy to just slap up a bunch of sidewalks and retail/restaurant spaces and call it an entertainment district, but it's something else entirely to go the extra mile and build a water feature like the canal. The designers of Bricktown could have taken the easy way out, but they didn't, and now we have a distinctive and enviable downtown feature. It's pleasant no matter if you're just walking alongside, watching the ducks, or taking a water taxi ride. The canal really sets Bricktown apart from other districts like it. I had heard of the San Antonio canal and was excited to see Oklahoma City had one of its own!

A water taxi tour in progress.
7. Now we've got to brag on some of our favorite places in Bricktown;

- Skinny Slim's - We've been living here for over a year, and we've visited a number of bars, but at this point, Skinny Slim's is our go-to and has been for awhile. Located in Bricktown, it's not too far from our home - it's an easy walk. The cozy setting, the low-key vibe, the excellent beer selection, and the great patio are all reasons why we keep going back to Skinny's. Even when it's a little crowded (which isn't difficult in such a small space), it still feels kind of homey.

A rare moment when the bar is empty.
- Red Pin Restaurant and Bowling Lounge - Like I said earlier, this is the first restaurant we ever tried in Oklahoma City, and for that reason, we'll always love it. Well, that reason, and also the delicious burgers! Not to mention, having a bowling alley downtown is such a nice amenity. Who doesn't want to bowl a game or two while enjoying a cold Coop Native Amber?

- Hot Dog OKC - I don't know if you know this, but hot dogs are kind of a big deal with Carless In OKC. John, especially, loves a good chili dog, and we love being able to get a late-night fix after a trip to Skinny Slim's or on our way home from a movie. The owners are super nice and always pleasant to talk to. All in all, we love Hot Dog OKC.

- Harkins Theatre - I never thought I'd be saying this, but this is a really great movie theatre. I haven't had such a good time going to the movie since about 1996, but such is the magic of Harkins Theatre, and more specifically, Cine Capri, which is one particular theatre there. We're the kind of people who pretty much exclusively watch dramas on Netflix, yet we look for excuses to go to a movie in Cine Capri. I really don't even know why it's so good, other than it's huge and the speakers are really loud - oh, and a person comes out to announce the movie before it starts - but it makes going to the movies fun again. We absolutely loved seeing Catching Fire and Guardians of the Galaxy there, and you can bet you'll see us there for Mockingjay Part 1.

We love you, Harkins Theatre

And now for the things we don't love about Bricktown:

1. It's a little heavy on chain restaurants - Bricktown, you've got a good thing going on, but you know what would make you even better? A little more local flair in your offerings. I could go to Hooters, Starbucks, and IHOP literally anywhere. At least the Bricktown Sonic is a little different in that it's a sit-down establishment, instead of the same drive-in we see everywhere. It would do Bricktown some good to have some kind of incentives for more local businesses to open in the district. I love the ones that are already there - let's keep that going!

2. The curfew - Listen, I get why there's a curfew for teenagers. But when I'm out having fun, it's a little bit of a buzzkill to watch the cops rounding up teenagers at the strike of 11:00. Maybe I just feel for the kids who are just hanging out with friends - I mean it's not like they're going to be smoking crack in front of Sonic or anything - but I wish the police could find a less "the man" way to enforce the curfew.

3. Tapwerks - Oh, Tapwerks. We wanted so badly to like you. In fact, you were the first bar we went to once we moved here. "I love this old building!" we said. "Look at this extensive beer list!" we said. "Is that sign in Comic Sans?!" we said. And then we were charged a cover, to get into a BAR without live music. And then we were served lukewarm, flat beer. Hey, maybe that one was a fluke. Nope, it sure wasn't. Lukewarm, flat beer, over and over again. And then there's that whole "two-finger head" rule you have on your draft beers, which pretty much means that you get to charge for a full pint but only serve 12 ounces. Your food is actually surprisingly good; there is the potential for this to be a great bar if a few key issues were addressed. If nothing else, at least chill your glasses.

They've changed this, but at one point, they had a Comic Sans sign!
Thanks to the things we like, and in spite of the things we don't, Bricktown is overall a great asset to Oklahoma City, and I'm glad to have such easy access to it. 

Make sure to catch our weekly segment on KOSU on Thursday mornings at 7:35am! Tune in at 91.7 FM or listen online at Follow us on Twitter at @CarlessInOKC for reminders to tune in. Make sure to tweet and tell us what you think!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

On Simplification and Fluid Beliefs

Some people think that what we're about here at Carless In OKC is simply this: ANTI-CAR. Which, I mean, we kind of are? But only for us, at this current point in our lives. We've never claimed that living without a car is the be-all, end-all answer to life's problems for everyone. Even when I claimed that ditching your car is an all-in-one radical act, the point I was making wasn't that every single person needs to get rid of their cars. No matter how indignant we are about the problems that come along with car ownership, we always qualify our claims with a challenge to simply be less dependent on cars. 

Is this what people think of us?
The big problem, as I see it, is the system. It's not the car itself, really. It's the urban-suburban model of living which keeps the status quo at a cozy 2.5 cars per household with a long commute to work. The problem is that for many, if not most, families, the idea of even cutting down to one car seems insurmountable and improbable. When it's common for people to live far away from their jobs as well as from their grocery store and their children's schools, with few viable public transit or walkability options, if any - and they're doing this because of the economic benefit of cheaper suburban housing costs - it's not as much a choice that people are making. It's more like the default mode borne out of a perceived necessity. 

I say it's a perceived necessity because it's not exactly a real necessity in many cases. We've talked about the cost of owning a car, which we've established as being an enormous monthly and yearly expense. While the cost of housing in suburban areas may be lower, when you remove all (or even some) of the costs of car ownership, that can offset the sometimes-higher cost of urban life. Your transportation costs can drop considerably when your work, school, and necessities are accessible by public transit or on foot. Even if you choose to retain one car, you're still slashing that average yearly cost of car ownership by over half. 

The reason I'm thinking about this is because I recently read The Summit Seeker, by ultramarathoner Vanessa Runs, which I highly recommend. Vanessa talks about her life as a modern nomad - after feeling stifled by her desk job for years, she took a leap of faith one day and changed her life completely. After quitting her job, Vanessa packed up and moved to San Diego from Canada with no job, no money, and no real plan other than to do the two things she loves most: write and run. Eventually Vanessa met her partner, Shacky, and the two of them got rid of most of their belongings, bought an RV, and now they travel around with their cat and dog, running in and volunteering at races, exploring trails, writing, and having fun. 

Vanessa Runs during one of her adventures.
I started thinking about Vanessa's current lifestyle and while, yes, she does own an RV and therefore drives a good bit, I wouldn't say that her lifestyle is at odds with my philosophy. For me, it's ultimately about simplification and a rejection of a pervasive system that aims keep us trapped in our cars, isolated from our neighbors, and in debt pretty much forever. Vanessa and Shacky do drive a vehicle, yes, but they've also managed to buck the status quo in their own way. They've eliminated a lot of bills that come with traditional home ownership and they make a living off of their passions. Their lifestyle is not extravagant, but they are very happy. 

The point I'm making here is that contrary to what some may believe, I am not just anti-car or anti-driving. If that were the case, I'd have a serious conflict of interest going on when we rent a Timecar to go grocery shopping each week, or when we call an Uber to catch a ride to and from a friend's house who lives a little bit far away. You've got to do what you've got to do, and it's not always possible to adhere to a strict ideology, especially when that ideology relies heavily on excellent access to public transit and a safe, widespread system of sidewalks and bike lanes. Not all of us live in places that provide us with that ideal situation. 

What we ultimately want to achieve with this blog is to prove that it's entirely possible to live without a car - or with less dependence on cars - in Oklahoma City, or places like it that aren't exactly equipped with all the alternative transportation bells and whistles. People have literally said to my face that you have to have a car to live here, but John and I are living proof that that's simply not true. However, rejecting the system and shedding your unnecessary encumbrances doesn't look the same for everyone, and I'm 100% okay with that. All I want is for people to really look at their lives and why they do the things that they do, and make the decisions for themselves, rather than just falling into what they've always seen being done. Your version could be ditching your car, dropping down to owning only one car, or it could be a little more out of left field: quitting your job, selling your house, and taking your RV right out of suburbia and into the great wide open. It's your life and your journey, and I want you to embrace it the best way you know how. 

Make sure to catch our weekly segment on KOSU on Thursday mornings at 7:35am! Tune in at 91.7 FM or listen online at Follow us on Twitter at @CarlessInOKC for reminders to tune in. Make sure to tweet and tell us what you think!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

There and Back Again - The Katy Trail

The Katy Trail, located in northeast Oklahoma City, is a hidden gem. Measuring just under 7.5 miles in length, it's an out-and-back type of trail that follows NE 4th Street and then an abandoned train track north toward the Adventure District, eventually ending at a trailhead around NE 50th Street.

On Sunday, we decided to take our bikes and check it out for ourselves. This was a convenient way for us to take Elizabeth's new road bike out for a spin, and also to see a part of the city that we hadn't seen yet.

Bridge over NE 10th Street
We’re going to list some of our likes, dislikes, and observations about the Katy Trail.


1. Now,  if there is one thing that has struck us about OKC, it's that we've never been to a flatter place in our lives. Not so on the Katy Trail, and when you’re on a bicycle, you become keenly aware of the topography.  For the most part, this trail is flat, but there are several long, uphill portions. What we like is that the climbs are evenly spread; that is, that neither direction is hillier than the other. It's a challenge both ways!

2. We were pleasantly surprised to find that the Katy Trail leads to quite a few attractions. Some of them, we already knew about, like the Zoo, the Zoo Amphitheatre, the Science Museum, and Remington Park, but we discovered several other entertainment destinations on this ride. We rode by the Firefighter Museum, with its enormous and alarming statue, and the Oklahoma Railway Museum, which boasts a collection of vintage train engines, cars, and cabooses ("this is special!"), neither of which we had any idea existed until then. The trail winds through two golf courses, and passes by a perfect picnic spot!

Huge statue outside of the Firefighter Museum

3. Another unexpected feature of the Katy Trail is how pretty it is. While some sections of the trail are simply multi-use sidewalks by roads, other segments carve through lush woods and fields dusted with wildflowers. In some areas, we were surrounded by nature and able to experience some quiet, even in the midst of the city. In some other areas, however... well, that takes us to our first dislike.

An especially scenic portion of the trail

1. Nothing disturbs the peacefulness of a bike ride through the woods quite like the neverending roaring racket of the interstate. On a significant portion of the trail, the path flanks interstate 35, one of the most-traveled highways in the region. This shatters the ambiance and has the potential to be somewhat dangerous as people of all ages breathe in the air pollutants and particulate matter emanating from the interstate like Pigpen’s dirt cloud on Peanuts. Maybe it would be a good idea to plant some more trees along the roadway as a visual, aural, and air quality buffer.

2. The section along NE 4th Street is not only just a five-foot wide sidewalk, it's poorly maintained, and cars are parked across it in places. This doesn't make for a very safe or enjoyable ride, when you're having to dodge bus stops, broken glass, parked vehicles, and knobby plants that have grown through the sidewalk cracks. If this segment were designed as a 10-foot wide multi-use path, like the portion up by the Zoo, it would be a great improvement. No matter how wide you build it, if you’re not keeping it up, then your riders won’t be satisfied.

Of course, by all means, go ahead and park there. In the middle of the trail.

3. Crossing Lincoln is a nightmare. This isn't actually part of the Katy Trail, but for us, it's on the way to the trailhead. The intersection is no less than seven lanes across, with a traffic light that not only lasts barely enough time to cross at full speed on a bicycle, but does not recognize cyclists waiting for the light to change. There are actually “bike route" signs on either side of this intersection on NE 4th, so this is almost embarrassingly bad. Another easy fix; guess we’ll call the Action Center.


1. It's good to see a nice amenity in a part of the city which tends to be underserved, though we only ran into one other person on our entire 15-mile trip on the trail. How can we engage more people who live in the proximity?

This beautiful tree caught our eye.
2. There's a great opportunity for the Katy Trail to continue on Grand Boulevard through Nichols Hills to connect with the Hefner Trail. Additionally, with an extension through Bricktown to connect to the River Trails, as well as the project underway to connect Lake Overholser to the River Trails, a large city-wide loop would be completed.

The turnaround - now we get to ride alllll the way back!

Overall, we enjoyed our ride and plan to do it regularly. Now that autumn has begun, the trees are bound to be beautiful. We even had the idea to organize a group ride to a concert at the Zoo Amphitheatre sometime! If you're cyclist in OKC, you definitely need to try out the Katy Trail if you haven’t already.

Make sure to catch our next segment on KOSU 91.7 FM tomorrow morning (Thursday 9/25) at 7:35am! Follow us on Twitter at @CarlessInOKC for reminders to tune in. Make sure to tweet and tell us what you think!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

All The Leaves Are Brown - Carlessness In Every Season

Hello, everyone! As of September 25th, we will have been living here in OKC for a full year! Now that we've experienced all four seasons of being carless, I'd like to talk about the specific challenges and advantages each new time of year brings.


We moved here in the fall, and that was our first experience with being carless. At that point in time, we were mainly walking to get to the places we needed to go. Here in OKC, fall is mostly what we were used to in Georgia: i.e. it's pretty much still summer, with cooler mornings. What we weren't used to is the phenomenon of being hot and cold at the same time - you know, when the sun is shining brightly, so it's hot out in the open, but the wind is cold, and it's chilly when you walk into the shade or when the breeze is strong. It presents quite a conundrum when we're trying to be prepared for the elements, as it pretty much doesn't matter what we wear, we're going to be uncomfortable at some point during the trip. When I think about fall in OKC, I think about all the times John and I were sweating while shivering, trying to figure out how to layer more and delayer at the same time. I'm sure I looked like a weirdo all the times I trudged along, stripped down to a t-shirt but still clutching my scarf around my neck and wearing a knit hat. And here we are - the season of hot-and-cold-at-the-same-time is upon us again! 

Beautiful fall weather at Myriad Gardens.


Winter in OKC was a total trip for us. We're not only used to milder winter temperatures in Georgia, but we're also used to driving through that mild weather. We knew we were in for a whole new ball game with being carless in the wintertime, but our expectations were definitely surpassed. Coming from a place where a little mild snowfall happens, oh, maybe once a year (which is evidenced by how prepared Georgia is for accumulation), we were totally amazed by the amount of snow and ice we experienced last winter. That said, you would think it would have been a challenge for us to keep warm, but that came fairly easily. Get pelted a couple of times with 20 mph winds in 20 degree weather and you'll quickly figure out that you need to put on thermal underwear and double up on socks. Once we got the layering under control, we were pretty good to go. It's weirdly fun in its own way, being carless in the winter - going out in snowy weather feels like an adventure, and I'm actually looking forward to it this year. Watch out for me - I'll be the girl with two hats and two scarves on. 

A Christmas Story.

Spring in OKC is a lot like fall in OKC, except with more rain and scarier storms. We thankfully didn't experience anything life-threatening this past spring, but we did our best to be prepared for it. Other than the potential for tornadoes, spring is generally pleasant if a little bit unpredictable. As with any time of year, it's good to read the weather reports and be prepared with an umbrella and layers. We started riding bikes this past spring as well, which made an already lovely season even more enjoyable after the winter of the polar vortex. 

Spring frolicking.


When we first moved here, a lot of people told us to watch out for the summer heat, and I have to admit, we kind of laughed in their faces. We come from GEORGIA, we boomed; the DEEP SOUTH, if you're unfamiliar, where summer means swimming through 100% humidity with a cloud of gnats flying around your head. *We've got this*, we scoffed. And while the humidity in OKC doesn't come close to what we grew up with, I have to say, the heat itself did surprise us. We're used to hills and shade trees, both of which go a long way to alleviate the scorching heat, as well as cool breezes, which are surprisingly scarce in the summer here. In Oklahoma, HOT WIND is a very real phenomenon, and as it turns out, a breeze isn't always a blessing on a blistering day. We learned just how hot it can feel out here on the flat, treeless prairie, especially when each gust of wind may as well have come out of a hairdryer. That said, we adapted pretty well. We learned to accept a little more sweat into our daily lives, and how to dress for maximum coolness. Furthermore, we learned that when the high is 100, you just don't go out in the middle of the day if you can help it. Timing is everything. 

Cycling on a summer evening, because otherwise we'd probably die of heat exhaustion.
Here's to our next cycle of seasons in OKC! 

Make sure to catch our segment on KOSU 91.7 FM tomorrow morning (Thursday 9/18) at 7:35am! We'll be on next Thursday at the same time as well. Follow us on Twitter at @CarlessInOKC for reminders to tune in. Make sure to tweet and tell us what you think!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Our Three Least Favorite Times To Be Carless In OKC

Hello, everyone! Our goal here at Carless In OKC is to show everyone that it's possible to live without a car, even in a city without good walkability or extensive public transit options. We've been carless for almost a year now, and I would definitely say that we're succeeding

However. As positive and dedicated as we are, there are a few aspects of daily life that are surprisingly difficult with a carless lifestyle. It's not necessarily what you would think, and these are, for the most part, specific to Oklahoma City. 

1. Banking

Banking has been a problem for us since day one. Neither of the banks we used in Georgia are in Oklahoma City, so we had to open new accounts here. Determined to avoid the big banks, we chose a credit union upon our arrival, and while we're happy with their service in general, we made that choice before we decided to go carless. We've been dealing with a bank that is not only not very close to our home, but isn't even located on a bus line, and that is only open during business hours. We would probably switch banks, but that would mean we'd have to take time off during the workday and then rent a Timecar to get there, and so far, we've been unwilling to do the former just to change banks. 

Our view. So many banks that we can't even use.
I never imagined that banking, of all things, would be such a problem. Maybe I've always been spoiled, but I'm used to extended hours, Saturday banking, and a branch on every corner. And living downtown, where we can literally see at least 4 banking headquarters from our living room window, it seems ridiculous that we can't even use one of those banks. They're located mere blocks away from our apartment, but they're only open when we're at work, Monday through Friday, which renders them useless to us. That's the paradox of living in downtown Oklahoma City - in most places, downtown is where the action is. Here, however, when everyone goes back home to the suburbs after 5:00pm, everything closes. Sure, we have some great restaurants, but those of us who live downtown are left without access to some basic goods and services, like banking and...

2. Grocery Shopping

Forgive me if I'm beating a dead horse here, but it's ridiculous to me that there's not a walkable, full-service grocery store in or near downtown Oklahoma City. That's not to say that there aren't any grocery options, but I don't feel that I'm being overly nitpicky to say that they don't fulfill my needs. I love Native Roots, and I shop there regularly, but they don't carry everything that I buy on a weekly basis. Homeland is also located somewhat nearby, but I prefer a wider selection of organic foods. And since it's located about a mile away, it's just far enough of a trek to make carrying groceries home a pain, but also just close enough to make taking a cab seem like a waste. We used to solve this by walking to the store, and then taking a cab home with all of our purchases. 

Then came Timecar. Once we discovered this service, we were then able to make our weekly trip out to Sprouts or Whole Foods with relative ease. As much as we love Timecar, though, we shouldn't have to go to 63rd and May to get groceries. Downtown (or more likely, Midtown) Oklahoma City needs a smaller-format, full-service grocery store, period. It's not like they don't exist elsewhere. Trader Joe's or Earth Fare, where are you?

Earth Fare - the best store. I want it here so badly.
3. Nature

I'll be honest: I know we're a little spoiled. Before we moved, our home in Georgia was surrounded by woods. Our backyard actually connected with the hiking trails of the State Botanical Gardens. We were living in the midst of the great outdoors, and our house was only a couple of miles from downtown Athens. Pretty much anywhere in Georgia, you have the feeling that nature could take back over within a couple of years if given the chance; the flora seems to be barely contained. Even when I lived in Atlanta, I never felt like I was that far from nature. 

Another concession I'll make is that we're kind of comparing apples to oranges with the outdoors experience there versus here. Flat, grassy prairie will never feel the same as the hilly, tree-covered Piedmont region that we grew up with. Therefore, when we start craving nature, part of us is looking for the Deep South experience we're used to, and it's harder to get that here. Trying to achieve that without a car, we've learned, is not easy. 

Last weekend, for example, we wanted to go check out the Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge. Like we always do, we researched the best way to get there. No bus route stops there, of course, but neither does one even get close enough for us to ride the bus with our bikes and then cycle the rest of the way. It's possible, I'm sure, but in this heat, it didn't seem like a viable or pleasant option. Not to mention, I'd be afraid to ride on the roads that far out from downtown - I doubt that it's very safe for cyclists. Again, of course it's possible, but the bottom line to me is that the transit system fails if it doesn't take people to recreation areas. There's not a Lake Hefner stop - the closest you can get to Hefner on the bus is about a half mile to a mile - nor is there a stop for Lake Overholser itself or Lake Draper. These recreation areas are pretty much only accessible by car, which I don't think is very good public health policy. 

Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge
There are plenty of parks that are on bus routes, yes. The Oklahoma River Trails are located close to downtown and have great connectivity with Bricktown, but at least on the north side, the sidewalk and bike lane access is inconsistent. Again, it's possible to reach them on foot or by bike, but those paths are poorly marked and/or maintained in many areas, and it sends a clear message that pedestrian and bike access to the trails is not a priority. 

I was a lot more accepting of this situation until our trip to Portland, Oregon. Before that trip, I had never personally used such an effective array of transportation options, and I was thrilled by just how much we were able to do without a rental car while we were in the city - including taking a bus directly to a wilderness trailhead, taking a 7 mile hike which passed multiple bus stops at road crossings in the middle of the woods, and then being able to hop onto the MAX light rail at the end of the trail to head back into the city. Now I just feel indignant that I have to work so hard to experience the outdoors. 

Ah, Portland: Ride a bus to the middle of a hike if you want.
None of these issues is severe enough to deter us from our car-free mission, but we'd be lying if we said everything we do is a cakewalk. We live in a place where we have to make it work, because we want to, and these are the three areas where making it work is a mild, yet consistent, annoyance. One reason why it's frustrating is because this state of affairs is so counter to our ideals. We support walkability and alternative transportation options because we want accessibility for everyone, regardless of where they live and how they choose to travel. 

Tune in to KOSU 91.7 FM and listen for us on the radio in the coming weeks, as we begin a series of radio segments about the blog. We don't have a set time yet, but follow us on Twitter at @CarlessInOKC and when we find out, we'll let you know when to listen. Hope you enjoy!

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

How To Beat The Summer Heat Without A Car

Summer is in full force, which means very high temperatures in Oklahoma City. Now, I know there’s always someone who lives in a hotter place (trust me, I’ve lived in Georgia most of my life) but no matter who lives in the hottest area of the world, this post offers tips for what has worked for us in beating this summer heat on foot or by bicycle.

First thing is first: You’re going to sweat. You can regulate it to some degree with the tips below, but it’s not likely you’ll be able to avoid it, so figure out what works best for you.

1. Stay hydrated!
Everyone knows the importance of this one. Dehydration has many symptoms that you should be aware of: Increased thirst, Dry mouth and swollen tongue, weakness, dizziness, palpitations (feeling that the heart is jumping or pounding), confusion, sluggishness, fainting, inability to sweat, and decreased urine output (WebMD). If you are experiencing any of these while outdoors, immediately seek water; this is your body telling you that something is dangerously wrong, so listen up! Don’t wait until you feel these symptoms to start drinking water. Drink water before you go walking or biking, and bring along the largest water bottle you can easily carry. A general rule of thumb is to consume 1 cup of water every mile (15 to 20 minutes) in addition to 16 oz. before you go out. Gatorade or something similar after a long walk or bike ride will help to replenish electrolytes.
This may be a little overboard...

2. Wear suitable clothes!
I walk to work in the morning, then back home for lunch, back to work after lunch, and back home after work. The temperature in the morning is always manageable, but around lunchtime and 5:00pm it’s typically very hot. Since I’m dressed business casual, I don’t have a lot of options to reduce the impact of the heat on me. What I can do is wear light colored shirts that reflect the sunlight rather than absorb it, and wearing a hat can provide a little shade for your face and neck. When not dressed for work you can wear sporty clothes that wick sweat from your body, and avoid cotton socks that may get damp and cause blisters on your feet. Breathable shoes are great as well. And, of course, wear sunscreen. You also always have the option to change clothes at work (and shower if you’re employer provides this option). Read about this from our friends over at BikeOKC.
These are knitted shoes -- very breathable!

3. Plan your route to be as pedestrian-friendly as possible!
Take the time to prepare your route to include as much shade as possible. While there is no rule of thumb about the difference in temperature between direct sunlight and shade, shade is your best friend on a long walk during the summertime. So, plan the shortest route you can that you know has vegetative cover. This can be pretty difficult in OKC, due to a lack of street trees. I suggest going through older neighborhoods where there are older trees along the streets and in people’s yards. You can still get sunburned if it’s overcast outside, and you likely won’t have a totally shaded route, so wear sunscreen.

These street trees provide ample shade; a perfect place for walking or biking when it's hot out.

4. Plan your walks around the daily temperature cycle!
If possible, take your walks in the morning and evening to avoid the heat of the mid-day. The angle of the sun will cast longer shadows at these times of day, giving you a greater amount of shade.

Even the President deals with the heat. It's okay to sweat, just be prepared like Obama!

5. Be aware of air conditions!
This applies to heat and air quality. The summer heat and humidity create conditions that increase ground-level Ozone (O3), which is harmful to humans and animals, potentially causing respiratory problems, particularly for young children, the elderly, and people with chronic diseases. Ozone is a by-product of motor vehicle emissions, and in Oklahoma City, very little mitigation has occurred. Oklahoma City will likely be considered a non-attainment area by the EPA in the next couple of years, which will cause stricter regulation to be taken to improve air quality. You can do your part to avoid this by driving less, making sure your vehicle is performing properly, and taking public transit when feasible. We’ll do a full post on air quality in the future.

Cough Cough

As always, being prepared is the best way to mitigate the negative risks associated with being carless. Whether the weather is very hot or very cold, making sure to take the necessary preparatory steps to ensure your comfort and safety will keep you happy. 

There are plenty of other strategies to beat the heat that we didn’t mention, so leave your tips and tricks in the comments!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Waking Up From The American Dream - Suburbanization, Public Transit, and Racial Segregation

Here at Carless In OKC, it's probably fairly obvious that we are not fans of suburban sprawl. The suburbs themselves are not inherently harmful or offensive; it's what they represent, the circumstances from which they grow and thrive, that are problematic. The history of U.S. suburbs is quite insidious, and it's good for everyone to know why they developed in the first place. Other factors contributed to suburbanization, such as the rise of the automobile, the post-WW2 economic boom, and the growth of the U.S. interstate highway system, but it is undeniable that racism and classism played a considerable role in how our current urban/suburban model of living has developed. 

You've probably heard the term white flight before, but in case you're unfamiliar with it, I'll define it here. White flight is a term that is used to describe the vast migration of mostly middle- and upper-class whites from increasingly racially mixed urban regions to racially homogeneous suburban areas. The term "white flight" is somewhat of a misnomer because it implies that whites left the area immediately upon the arrival of minorities into their neighborhoods, but that's not exactly how it went. Yes, there were some who packed up and got out of Dodge the moment they saw (or thought they saw) a non-white person move in on their street, but there were many more who stayed, at least for awhile, and defended "their turf" using various unsavory and unethical methods.

Over the following years during this post-WW2 period there were many practices and institutions in place that served the purpose of preserving the homogeneity of the white urban neighborhoods. Redlining, named for the lines on a map that denoted unfavorable (read: predominantly non-white) areas, involved denying or charging more for services like banking and insurance for residents or businesses within those areas. Institutionalized mortgage discrimination enabled its sinister companion, contract sellers, who preyed on would-be black homeowners by collecting payments on a home and not relinquishing the deed until the contract was paid in full. This effectively stripped the "homeowner" of the ability to build equity while simultaneously saddling him with all the responsibilities of home ownership, along with the looming possibility of being put out on the street in the case of a single late payment.

These practices, along with racially restrictive covenants and violence and intimidation, disenfranchised and discouraged minorities from owning homes or living in certain areas. This cycle went on for at least a couple of decades, most notably in cities like DetroitChicago, and St. Louis, until they fell (or were legally forced) out of practice. The damage, however, had already been done throughout the years of quasi-segregational practices, and when the smoke cleared, by the 1980s, urban and suburban areas were, for the most part, heavily divided along racial lines. (To read more about this time in American history and how it still affects us today, I highly recommend this incredible piece by Ta'Nahisi Coates.)

Since then, there are many metropolitan areas where the public transit situation has deteriorated and consequently reinforced these racial and socioeconomic divisions. In Atlanta, for example, proposed extensions of the local rail system (MARTA) into the surrounding counties have been defeated again and again, despite the fact that Atlanta suffers from notorious traffic congestion and would greatly benefit from expanded public transit for commuters. Why would these municipalities knowingly reject a plan that would relieve one of the biggest problems of the region? Many say - and there's considerable evidence to support this idea - that it's the same old white flight song and dance; namely, that affluent whites who live in the suburban counties don't want to extend public transit to their areas for fear of poor minorities from the inner city gaining access to their precious exclusive neighborhoods. Fearmongering around this idea is widespread; for years, opponents of public transit have spread lies about increased crime and decreased property values that are sure to follow the expansion of service into the Metro Atlanta suburbs, and unfortunately, many have bought into these lies.

Furthermore, a stigma has grown around public transit in many cities, not just the ones with firmly defined urban/suburban racial and socioeconomic regions. Public transit such as commuter rails and buses were once viable transportation options for everyone, but as negative ideas about public transit have spread in some areas, ridership has decreased among those who have the choice to drive. As a result, those left on the buses and trains are the groups who don't have the choice. As this ridership demographic shifts, so does the opinion of what it means to take public transit. This is why, in certain cities, those who utilize public transit are pitied or labeled as less fortunate, regardless of their actual circumstances, and this discourages many people from taking public transportation. Using public transit has become a stigmatized activity in places like Oklahoma City, and as long as this is the case, problems with racial diversity and transportation will, at best, remain stagnant, if not worsen. 
I am not trying to say that everyone who lives in the suburbs is racist, just like pointing out that white people benefit from privilege and institutionalized racism isn't the same thing as saying that every white person is a racist. This is a commentary on the societal systems that have been in place for many years and how they have informed our current state. The way to move forward is to raise awareness and to be open to ways that we can mitigate these conditions for the betterment of everyone's way of life. The first step, to me, is to approach city planning with an open mind - as far as I'm concerned, that's an entirely reasonable order, with the potential for revolutionary effects.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Sincerest Form Of Flattery - Lessons Learned In Portland, Oregon

In our last post, we talked about our fabulous vacation to Portland (and Bend) Oregon, and what we experienced while using the superb array of transportation options there. Here, I'd like to cover what we saw as takeaways from those experiences - the lessons that we think would be helpful here in OKC as we expand our alternative transportation infrastructure.

1. One little tidbit we picked up in Portland is streetcar sponsorships. The Embark buses obviously already sell print advertisements and bus wraps on the outside, which brings in revenue, but the Portland Streetcar went a step further: the "voice" that announces stops inside the vehicle would add, "The Portland Streetcar: Brought to you by (insert company name here)." I'm sure a local company would love to pay to get that exposure, maybe even enough to help close the funding gap that's keeping Embark from providing evening and Sunday service on all routes. Just a thought.
The MAX pulling up to Pioneer Courthouse Square
2. The pedestrian infrastructure in Portland is extremely conducive to walking as a way of getting around. There are sidewalks and crosswalks everywhere, along with automatic walk signals. How does this differ from normal walk signals? Automatic signals don't have a button that has to be pushed to activate the signal; when the traffic light turns green, the pedestrian signals in that direction immediately switch to "walk." It's important psychologically to not have to "ask permission" to cross at an intersection as a pedestrian. This simple change makes a pedestrian feel welcome and included, rather than alienated. I can't tell you how many times John and I have come up to an intersection in OKC just as the light changed, but because we pushed the crossing button at just that moment, we didn't get the walk signal. It's frustrating and demoralizing; and worse of all, since we usually just go ahead and cross (after checking to see if cars are turning across the crosswalk), if we happened to be struck by a car, we would bear the liability because the walk signal wasn't on. We shouldn't have to wait through an entire traffic light cycle just because we arrived a second too late to hit the button, and we should also have some legal protection if we get hit by a car when lawfully and reasonably crossing the street at a crosswalk. 

Another great feature of Portland pedestrian crossings: the "walk" signal stays on - not blinking, but steady - for a LONG time. There's none of this getting the "walk" signal for 5 seconds (not even enough time to cross the road in most places), then blinking "don't walk" for 10 seconds. Again, this is another subtle difference that makes a pedestrian feel welcome and protected.

Walking across the Burnside Bridge - note the car lanes, sidewalks, AND bike lanes.
Sunset view from the streetcar - yet another way to get around in Portland.
3. Similarly, the bike infrastructure in Portland is supportive of cyclists. To some extent, it's as simple as having lots of bike racks available all over the city. We also found that bike lanes are nearly universal; if there is a main road, there's a bike lane on it, period. Even when we headed out of town on our way to Bend, we were still seeing bike lanes at around 200th Street and beyond. This was an area that you could barely call the city anymore, bordering on woodsy. And better yet, people were still USING the bike lanes at that point. With bike and pedestrian infrastructure, there really is a level of "if you build it, they will come" that plays into it. From a public health standpoint, this is a no-brainer: want a healthier, more fit population? Provide your citizens with ways to walk, cycle, and move more, and they will use it; everybody wins.

Part of the Riverfront Bike Trail

View from the Riverfront Bike Trail
4. In that same vein, another big asset in Portland is the connectivity of public transit to hiking and biking trails, and how this plays into the overall connectivity of the city. As I said in our last post, we were able to take a bus out to a wilderness hiking trail and then hike in the forest for 7.2 miles. At multiple points during our hike, we could have hopped onto a bus (there were bus stops out there) and gone home, and when we reached the end of the trail, we were able to get on the MAX light rail train and head back into downtown Portland. Between the extensive bike lanes, the various bus and MAX routes, and the many miles of hiking trails, we could conceivably walk, bike, and hike all over the city, anywhere we choose. This is helpful to John and me as people who choose not to own a car, but it's also a great option for anyone who wants to get out and move more rather than driving. OKC is already working on extending and improving bike trail connectivity, and I'm here to say that we need to keep doing exactly that! I've seen the future and it's totally worth it.

Finished hiking? Just catch a bus back home!

Finished hiking? You also have the option of taking the MAX light rail.

The Washington Park underground MAX light rail station at the end of our hike through Forest Park.
The point here isn't to dump on OKC. Portland has its own issues, like the skyrocketing homeless population (to be fair, however, this is not because Portland repeatedly fails its most vulnerable citizens; the situation is quite the opposite. And while we enjoyed our riverfront bike ride on Thursday morning, John and I both had to admit that we definitely prefer the river trails in Oklahoma City - they're much easier to navigate. The reason we're talking about this is because evidence shows an upward trend of young people moving into walkable cities, and if Oklahoma City wants to continue to attract that demographic, it will have to keep making changes that align with that culture. So far, OKC has been doing many things right, but there's still a lot of potential for improvement. I've seen a great deal of community pride and excitement since moving to OKC, so I have faith that the city can continue to grow in a way that will make us the kind of place that other cities aspire to be be like.