Jeff Speck, who first introduced himself to Oklahoma City by announcing "your codes are bad,” is back with a new message: the sidewalks and streets aren’t great, either. Speck, who was hired to look at how to improve pedestrian access downtown, is coming out with a report that suggests Oklahoma City must make a dramatic change if it wants to compete for tomorrow’s work force. "The jaw dropper for me is the city’s traffic count map,” Speck said. "If you walk the city, and you look at the streets, you would think because of the size of the streets that traffic is two to three times what is actually experienced. There is a shocking disconnect between the size and speediness of all of your downtown streets with a few rare exceptions.”
‘It’s ridiculous’Streets getting the most critical eye from Speck include Hudson Avenue between Reno Avenue and Robert S. Kerr Avenue. Those trying to cross the six-lane street Thursday included Henry Jerome, 34, who was on his way to the Oklahoma County Courthouse. "This is why I don’t come downtown,” Jerome said. "I thought parking would be bad, but it really wasn’t. But this street — it’s ridiculous. And all these one-way streets are scary. Why does it have to be this way?” According to Speck, it doesn’t. Speck showed the downtown street configurations to traffic engineers outside the state and their first response was to guess the street grid was set up for a downtown density and traffic volume comparable to Chicago or Manhattan. "They said this is a street network that will support three to four times the density it is handling,” Speck said. "Then you look at the traffic counts, and only a few carrying 10,000 a day. And 10,000 cars a day is easily handled by a two-lane road.” Speck cites three reasons the city should be more concerned about being pedestrian friendly: less traffic translates into cleaner air, and more walking promotes health and reduces health care costs, and a pedestrian-friendly community is high on the list of amenities sought by 20- and 30-year-olds as they look at where they want to live and work. "To be walkable, a street needs to be safe, comfortable and interesting,” Speck said. "You guys lose it at safe.”
Making progressSpeck applauds the city for making some progress in the interests of pedestrians, including the conversion of several downtown streets from one-way to two-way traffic. The city is wrapping up a study on how to improve downtown’s streets, sidewalks, lighting and other amenities. Speck will be presenting his full findings and recommendations to the city council on March 31, followed by a public presentation that night at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel. His audience will include Jane Jenkins, who started her new job this week as president of Downtown Oklahoma City Inc. and is regularly walking from her home at the Sieber Hotel Apartments and her office at the Oklahoma Tower. "It could be better, because there aren’t a lot of pedestrians yet downtown and so I’m not meeting enough people walking,” Jenkins said. "But it’s better than I thought. There are buttons for people to cross and the sidewalks are done well. But we could certainly use more pedestrians.” Jenkins also looks at Hudson Avenue and agrees it’s not very busy, but adds that actually makes it safer than it might appear. She agrees, however, the street needs more "buffers” to make it more pedestrian friendly. "We need to get people walking,” Jenkins said.
At a glancePublic presentation Urban Land Institute Oklahoma will host a public presentation by Jeff Speck 6 p.m. March 31 at the Skirvin Hilton hotel, 1 Park Ave. Speck is the former design director with the National Endowment for the Arts and is a principle of Speck & Associates LLC. In Washington, D.C. Speck is author of "Suburban Nation” and a leader in the "New Urbanism” movement. Admission to the presentation is free. For more information, contact Brenda Kelly ULI Oklahoma coordinator at 607-6801 or email: email@example.com.