News » Metro

Oklahoma City hires consultant to assess lack of 'walkability'



Narrow Broadway to two lanes, said a nationally known planning consultant tapped by Mayor Mick Cornett to assess the city's profound lack of walkability.


Jeff Speck, an author and planner who runs Speck and Associates out of Washington, D.C., regularly addresses issues of walkability and said one way to have more pedestrians is to give the pedestrians more street.

"Despite all reports to contrary, there are a lot more people in your community who want to walk a lot more than they are able to," Speck said. "I take an approach that much of most cities is not walkable. It only takes a small core of truly excellent urbanism to create the beginning of a walking culture, to give a city a reputation for walkability."

Speck, who visited the city last week, said a big trouble spot is the E.K. Gaylord/Broadway corridor.

E.K. Gaylord, he said, is a short, heavily traveled freeway that scares pedestrians and bisects the city from itself. That issue will be hard to solve, Speck said.

He suggested, however, that where Gaylord connects to Broadway, near the site of the proposed Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce building, things can change.

"Gaylord, as it connects to the new highway, will remain a seam with heavy transportation on it," Speck said. "But by the time it gets to Broadway, about half of its cars will have peeled off. I'm going to be advocating for Broadway to change its configuration to a single lane in each direction rather than two lanes in each direction, and to do that with head-in parking."

The key to city development, Speck said, is to match efficient planning with appropriate resources. Much of those needed resources are in the private sector.

"The question is," Speck said, "what do we do first and how do we encourage the private sector? How do we plan in such a way that the private sector finds it in its interest to do the right thing next to the streets so we can make the streets excellent?"

His answer on Broadway: Give the developers and the downtown residents they hope to attract more parking, and give the pedestrians easier crossings.

But the answer for Gaylord? That's another story, Speck said. He hasn't an answer for it at this stage.

"Until it hits Broadway, Gaylord is always going to be a street for getting across, not getting along," he said. "The real challenge for Gaylord is to transition the crosswalk experience for crossing it. It's not lined by buildings in a way that would ever cause it to be a successful pedestrian street. I don't mind that it's a freeway up until it hits Broadway. But when it hits that Chamber site, it needs to change."

Oklahoma City planner Autumn Radle said Speck's insights come at an opportune time as the Movin' Around committee, responsible for studying and developing walkability, bikeability and other downtown transportation issues, submits its own proposals to the city.

Radle said Speck's initial assessments support most of the committee's findings developed over the last year. Those recommendations generally fall into four categories, Radle said:

Physical: These elements include designing new pedestrian features, like building more and better sidewalks, crosswalks and other features.Psychological: Downtown walking maps, walking tours and other efforts to promote walking culture in Oklahoma City. "Knowing where you are and how to get to where you need to go," Radle said.Safety: This can include longer traffic signals to enable walkers to fully cross a street, but also better lighting in pedestrian areas and better, more distinct crosswalks for both the walker and the driver. "Safety means better signals, crosswalks and whether I have to walk past that surface parking lot or that dark underpass," Radle said. She said that something like a robbery or assault is "highly unlikely "¦ but as soon as your mind starts going there, you've ruined your walk."Comfort and enjoyment: This can include better bench areas, trees and foliage, murals on large blank walls. "This seems like icing on the cake, but if we want to be successful we have to have that," she said.

Radle said the change eventually has to occur at a cultural level.

"Culturally, we've taught people that downtown is something to get into and out of instead of someplace to go slowly through. That's actually part five, to change the cultural attitudes about walking and driving," she said.

One person who will have to be convinced about the plan for Broadway is Melody Harwell, the owner of Coffee Slingers, 1015 N. Broadway. The shop faces the street near where Speck would begin the narrowing. While she might appreciate more pedestrians and doubling parking for her customers, she said she absolutely hates the idea of head-in parking in front of her cafe.

"No, I think we should keep our parallel parking. I think we should shrink (Broadway) and make a bike lane," Harwell said. "(Head-in) is horrible parking for cities. Not only are you backing out into traffic instead of going with traffic, but it creates hazards. Just think of Norman on Main. It's horrible to get out of there. It's horrible. Parallel parking is better. I think it's better for the driver and better for the biker." "Ben Fenwick

Latest in Metro

Add a comment