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!