Wheeler Dealer Bicycles has been in business in Oklahoma City for more than 35 years, and owner Hal McKnight said he's never seen a surge in new bicyclists like he has the past two years.
"Many of them started riding last year when the economy took a downturn," McKnight said, "but many of them have found that their physical and mental well-being improved, so they've kept riding."
McKnight is also the chair of the Oklahoma City Trails Advisory Committee, a group that includes Ward 2 City Councilman Sam Bowman, Ward 3 Councilman Larry McAtee and several trails enthusiasts. The committee is attempting to generate support for the upcoming vote on MAPS 3, a proposal that McKnight said will greatly improve the bicycle friendliness of Oklahoma City. The vote on MAPS 3 is scheduled for Dec. 8.
Two of the eight proposals in the plan address multi-use trails and sidewalks. The trails proposal would create a contiguous network of trails around the metro, connecting existing trails to each other and to major venues, as well as connecting the metro's three major lakes: Overholser, Draper and Hefner. The finished route would add 57 new miles to connect trails for running, walking, biking and in-line skating, and would include safe crossing bridges over major arterial roads.
McKnight said the vote is important both for the overall health of Oklahoma City and for the city's future.
"Cities either evolve or dissolve," he said. "This is a step toward continuing the momentum the city created with MAPS 1 and 2. Not only does it continue to make Oklahoma City bicycle-friendly, but study after study shows that the availability of trails makes the overall mental and physical well-being of a city improve because people will use them when they're available. The trails in MAPS 3 will not sit unused."
Larry Ogle, assistant director of the Oklahoma City Parks and Recreation Department, said five trail projects are proposed in MAPS 3.
"Our primary goal is to connect the Oklahoma River trail to Lake Overholser," Ogle said. "The trail would pick up the river trail at its west end at Meridian and continue it west all the way to Overholser."
Four other trails would connect Lake Hefner to the river trails, construct a loop around Lake Draper, finish the loop around Lake Overholser and connect the airport trail to Earlywine trails. The trails would connect to existing trails and to others authorized in a 2007 bond issue.
Ogle said MAPS 3 would complete the long-term strategy for a trail that would create a loop around Oklahoma City begun in 1995 with the South Grand Boulevard Trail.
"There were other trails before that, but they weren't bond issues," he said. "The Hefner trails, for example, were funded with a combination of city funds, donations from Friends of Hefner Trails and Oklahoma City Beautiful, state highway funds and federal transportation enhancement grants."
The original MAPS helped create the trails along the Oklahoma River as part of the renovation of downtown and Bricktown. A 2000 bond issue funded five trails, including the newly opened Katy trail, which McKnight calls the prettiest trail in the metro. The North Grand Boulevard trail is currently under construction, and two others, Earlywine and Tinker/Draper, are in final design, with bidding to start shortly.
A 2007 bond issue will provide for two additional trails and a safe crossing on Northwest Expressway at Wilshire Boulevard. The two trails are the Deep Fork Greenway, which connects the North Grand trail to the National Cowboy and Western Heritage Museum, and the Central Oklahoma Greenway near the Fort Smith junction, which will connect the Katy trail to the Oklahoma River. Ogle said no funding has been sold on the 2007 bond issue at this point.
The trails in MAPS 3 will cost approximately $40 million, and McKnight said the money is an investment in Oklahoma City's health and growth.
"The money allows us to create a healthier city," he said. "We're going to pay one way or another, either health costs associated with poor health or by creating a healthier city. We all know that Oklahoma and Oklahoma City consistently score badly in health surveys. This could help change that."
Another issue in MAPS 3 that proponents hope will help the public health is the sidewalks proposal. The City of Oklahoma City commissioned a walkability analysis of downtown Oklahoma City by Speck & Associates, a Washington, D.C., city planning and architectural design firm. The Speck analysis, submitted in May 2009, pointed to walkability as one of the key contributors to overall physical health in American cities.
The report stated: "In the book 'Urban Sprawl and Public Health,' the epidemiologist authors compare more walkable cities with less walkable ones, and confirm that residents of less walkable environments face a measurably higher risk of "¦ decreased physical activity, obesity (suggested also by Oklahoma City's obesity ranking of 8th nationally), diabetes, especially childhood diabetes."
Kristy Yager, the public information officer for the City of Oklahoma City, said the city commissioned the Speck analysis because "we know that Oklahoma City needs to be more walkable." Yager said a new project will be launched next year to address Speck's recommendations.
The Speck report focuses almost exclusively on downtown and Bricktown, but the sidewalks in the MAPS 3 proposal are directed at a broader area. Whether that area will include the downtown or Bricktown area is still unknown, according to Dennis Clowers, Oklahoma City public works director.
"The proposal is for $10 million, which will construct 70 miles of sidewalk," Clowers said, "but we have not identified exactly where those sidewalks will be built."
Clowers said the city identified all the public buildings in the city, including police and fire stations, libraries and schools, and the goal is to connect all those building with a network of sidewalks.
"We plan on starting with major arterial streets, and we will be focusing on ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliance," he said. "Greg Horton
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