Maybe it shouldn’t be a complete surprise that the vision above – what was promised as part of Project 180, what the city council dictated should happen, what the downtown community asked for – is now fading away before it ever became a reality. I’ve heard repeatedly from those at City Hall with engineering backgrounds that they think the emphasis on walkability has gone too far, that traffic flow is being sacrificed.
When this section of Walker Avenue was recently completed, it was reopened without the parking spots, and only the dedicated bike lanes were visible. This led to confusion by motorists who thought it was still a four lane wide road. There was no education program started yet about the new bike lanes.
Then, this last week, the permanent white striping for the dedicated bike lanes were converted to broken stripes – essentially making them shared lanes with vehicles, defeating the one of the fundamental objectives of Project 180.
I spoke to Public Works Director Eric Wenger about this action, and he stated it was in response to police not knowing whether to ticket motorists who were crossing the solid white stripe and what he called “blocks long” traffic back-ups on Walker Avenue during morning rush hour. I’ve not seen such back-ups myself, nor have I heard any complaints about Walker having traffic problems.
What I do know is that this was a decision taken by public works without going through the Devon Implementation Committee that oversees Project 180, or the city council or the traffic commission.
Wenger states that the bike lanes will be reconsidered if traffic counts get to a point that allow for them to be restored. But if one listens to Jeff Speck, the walkability consultant and author hired by city in preparing Project 180, this goes against all logic in which he argues that traffic increases to what the road is designed for – meaning, if you design a road for 10,000 vehicles a day, traffic will grow to 10,000 vehicles a day, and if for 20,000, then it grows to 20,000. This discussion is not new to Oklahoma City – it came up during the debate over the new downtown boulevard and you can read my blogging about it here.
I reminded Wenger of this argument, to which he responded that sometimes development along streets causes that growth, and it’s not just the road design itself.
This is the second time I’ve observed an effort by the Public Works Department attempting to make a significant change to the Project 180 timeline or program. Last year, you might recall, Wenger initially indicated the full conversion of downtown streets from one way to two way traffic would be delayed indefinitely. After some further questioning and scrutiny, the cited complications in completing the conversion disappeared, and the conversions were essentially completed last month. Read my blog post about this previous discussion here.
Jeff Speck, who recently visited OKC to sign his book “Walkable City,” is watching this discussion and had this to say on Twitter:
— Jeff Speck (@JeffSpeckAICP) March 13, 2013