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OKC become more pedestrian-friendly as sidewalks project makes progress

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Construction is complete for the sidewalks around U.S. Grant High School on Pennsylvania Avenue in the southern quadrant. - LAURA EASTES
  • Laura Eastes
  • Construction is complete for the sidewalks around U.S. Grant High School on Pennsylvania Avenue in the southern quadrant.

It didn’t take long for officials to view the ongoing MAPS 3 Sidewalks project as a success.

In some cases, hours after contractors moved orange construction cones, pedestrians traveled along the newly created paths, more safely accessing parts of the city.

“People were walking, walking their dogs or pushing strollers,” explained David Todd, MAPS project manager, about the immediate walkway use. “I think the sidewalks have been very beneficial everywhere and for many reasons.”

Providing sidewalks is a basic city service, but before Oklahoma City voters approved a 2009 sales tax initiative planned to improve the quality of life through eight distinct programs, sidewalk construction wasn’t a common sight in the metro.

City leaders took action on the project after the completion of the 2012 master plan, which focused on areas along the arterial streets. The plan, which identified between 25 to 36 miles of new sidewalks, guided city leaders in determining the next areas to pave.

Some notably busy sectors, such as Pennsylvania Avenue in the city’s southern quadrant, now safely usher pedestrians along paved walkways, as opposed to walkers weaving in and around parking lots, streets and grassy areas to get to their destination.

With an increase in pedestrian and cycle travel, the City of Oklahoma City launched a campaign to stress that drivers need to be more mindful of pedestrian and cyclist safety. It’s called Watch for Me OKC, and city leaders unveiled the education program near the intersection of SW 59th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, viewed as one of the city’s most dangerous intersections and now home to new sidewalk infrastructure.

“We’ve gone decades not seeing a lot of pedestrians walking our major corridors,” Mayor Mick Cornett said at an Oct. 12 Watch for Me OKC media event. “Now, we are seeing that’s picked up, and thankfully, it has made us a more pedestrian-friendly community.”

With 2008 grant funding from the Oklahoma Department of Transportation, city staff designed the awareness initiative, traditionally geared toward drivers and cyclists, to include pedestrians as it expanded its message to encompass modes of travel, said Dennis Blind, a member of the city’s planning department.

Much of the campaign is centered around “common sense” safety tips, such as pedestrians utilizing crosswalks, drivers staying out of bike lanes and cyclists performing hand signals while moving through traffic. Watch for Me OKC includes a website, okc.gov/watchforme; brochures and handouts; youth safety programing events; and three demonstration lanes.

To create demonstration lanes, city crews will restripe roads to bring bike lanes to areas with a growing number of cyclists. One such area is at N. Walker Avenue from NW Sixth to NW 10th streets. The three-lane road will be restriped on each side to add protective lanes. Next to the lanes is existing sidewalk. Other impacted streets are N. Shartel Avenue from NW 13th Street to Sheridan Avenue and NW Fourth Street from Western to Broadway avenues.

“The best education tool is to implement something and have people experience it,” Blind said of the demo lanes. “There are things we need to do when we walk, cycle or drive. We’ve got to watch out for everybody.”

Demonstration lanes will open in late winter, and construction of MAPS 3 sidewalks will continue through 2016.

Print Headline: Paving lanes, Oklahoma City takes steps to become more walker- and cyclist-friendly.

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