FUTURE exit signs on Interstate 40 will point the way to Oklahoma City Boulevard, the design for which remains incomplete. Pointing the way toward the best design would be a sign that says “Alternative A.”
The Oklahoma City Council will consider options for the boulevard at its Jan. 8 meeting. This is the next big step in a process that began with plans to relocate I-40 through downtown.
The freeway realignment itself had alternative routes, each of them with something in its favor, each controversial in its own way. The “winning” design displeased fans of restoring Union Station to its former glory; the roadway took part of the rail yard. Still, it was the best of the competing designs. Alternative A is the best of competing designs for the boulevard. It offers the most sensible approach to getting motorists to and from I-40.
When the new freeway opened a year ago, drivers were upset with the relative scarcity of ramps. The design was part of a plan that took the future boulevard into account. The old I-40 was an elevated eyesore that had long passed its sell-by date. The boulevard is to be built at grade level on the old freeway's footprint.
Or mostly at grade level. The boulevard wouldn't cross Western Avenue at street level. Instead, it would bridge it. Otherwise, motorists will take the old I-40 route at eye level with the streetscape. Alternative B would route Western onto a bridge over the new boulevard. Two other alternatives eliminate bridging but require complicated and overly broad intersections or traffic circles.
Alternative A is the most traffic-friendly, pedestrian-friendly of the competing designs. It has the best potential for encouraging development in the area. Motorists approaching from the west would exit I-40 well ahead of downtown but have no traffic lights until reaching Reno Avenue, just east of Classen Boulevard. Segments of Classen south and north of the old interstate would no longer be linked, which is necessary to manage traffic involving the proximity of Western, Classen, Reno and Exchange Avenue.
Nevertheless, complaints will be voiced that the design breaks a promise for a boulevard with no elevated sections. But the last thing downtown needs is intersections resembling the one at NW 63 and Northwest Expressway. Or traffic circles that are unfamiliar to Oklahoma drivers and would be unable to handle future traffic volume.
The boulevard's original concept was for a six-lane thoroughfare. This has been altered to four lanes, to make it more pedestrian friendly. The central section of the boulevard has yet to be designed, but planners envision a roadway with a speed limit of 25 miles per hour. The outer sections on the east and the west would have higher speed limits.
What the council will consider next month is the controversial western section. Alternative A satisfies the need for relatively high-speed access without surrendering too much of the pedestrian element to the motorized component. It avoids having three major intersections (Western, Classen, Reno) in proximity. Although it doesn't eliminate elevation of the new roadway, it minimizes it.
Congruent with designs for the boulevard are plans for a convention center. Like the adjacent arena, the convention center will generate heavy traffic at specific times. This must be taken into account, along with the vision to create a beautiful boulevard through the heart of the city, a roadway that draws pedestrians rather than repels them.
We must get this right. Council members should take the on-ramp leading to Alternative A.