Larry Nichols, one of the most influential voices guiding downtown development, is preparing to oppose construction of a new streetcar system over concerns about noise and visual blight.
The $94 million streetcar was approved by voters as part of the 2009 MAPS 3 ballot, and campaign materials produced by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber at the time portrayed a system similar to the “modern streetcar” pioneered by Portland, Ore., and which is being studied by engineers hired by Oklahoma City.
The low-floor streetcars run on rails embedded in streets and share downtown traffic corridors with motorists.
The streetcars are powered by an overhead wiring system known as catenary wires that are held up by cantilevered poles that extend over the street. It's those wires that spurred Nichols' recent objections.
“I don't feel very good about them at all,” Nichols said when suggested routes were discussed at last week's Oklahoma City Urban Renewal meeting. “When you say streetcar, it depends on what kind of streetcar. If you're talking about these systems you see in older cities with overhead wires, I think that will make our city very ugly … If it involves cantilevered wires, there will be substantial opposition.”
Nichols, executive chairman of Devon Energy Corp. and chairman of the Urban Renewal Authority, attempted to strip out a route recommendation that was included in a MidTown Urban Renewal Plan.
The plan provides a list of steps to be followed for redevelopment of the neighborhood on the northwest fringe of downtown, but does not have any bearing on whether the streetcar system is constructed.
But Nichols, who is also on a committee guiding implement of the Project 180 makeover of downtown streets and public spaces, is an influential voice in matters relating to the redevelopment of the urban core.
Fellow Commissioner Jim Tolbert, who also owns property in Bricktown and the Central Business District, countered that the routes recommended in the MidTown plan are more focused on stimulating economic development.
“We're saying let's put it in areas where it will stimulate development,” Tolbert said. “That's a significant role for us to play. We're entering the debate with a suggestion.”
Nichols responded that some property owners along the eventual streetcar route may not want the tracks opposite their developments.
“Having the wrong sort of streetcar will not enhance development, it will impede it,” Nichols said. “We all have the same goal. But a noisy, ugly streetcar may be a detriment to some of these areas rather than an enhancement.”
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Having the wrong sort of streetcar will not enhance development, it will impede it. We all have the same goal. But a noisy ugly streetcar may be a detriment to some of these areas rather than an enhancement.”
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