Sometimes this whole space time continuum dilemma can turn into a real hassle. Such was the case this week as the Oklahoma Department of Transportation hosted a town hall meeting to update the community about potential changes to the downtown boulevard design.
State highway engineers were ready to blaze ahead in summer, 2012 with plans conceived in 1998. A grassroots protest burst up and challenged engineers’ assumptions that they could move ahead with plans to build an elevated highway that would replicate the cut-off of areas south of downtown, including the historic Farmers Public Market at 311 S Klein.
The feds were paying attention, city council members, most notably Ed Shadid, joined the protest, and within weeks highway engineers who were insisting the project had to proceed on schedule were allowing for a redesign to be considered.
Watch the video of Wednesday’s boulevard presentation.
One surprise came out of Wednesday’s public meeting – consideration of restoring the old downtown street grid as proposed and not building the boulevard at all between Western Avenue and Hudson Avenue. Paul Ryckbost, a former assistant city planner and an engineer (a rare combination in Oklahoma City), and Blair Humphreys, Executive Director of the Institute for Quality Communities at OU, were the first persons I heard pitch this idea. Paul blogged about it here.
Now you can see this concept, as plotted out by ODOT on Wednesday night, along with the three other concepts (click twice on an image to get full size:
The grid concept is intriguing. But there are some questions that I’m not sure anyone will raise publicly. So I’ll do it…
First: there’s a quiet little development being contemplated at the Stage Center site that likely will ultimately engulf the closed section of California Avenue on the block (now part of the arts campus) and other adjoining properties. This shortens California Avenue for use as a major arterial street.
Second: California Avenue is home to significant homeless shelter establishments. Are there any concerns about this mix?
Third: The MAPS 3 convention center, the new Core to Shore park and the new grand entrance to the Chesapeake Energy Arena are all planned and/or designed to interact with a new boulevard. Mayor Mick Cornett has been pushing the boulevard as the thread that pulls all this together. What happens if this thread goes away?
Fourth: At what point is there too much sacrifice of traffic capacity in the interest of pedestrian access?
I don’t know the answers. But I sure would love to listen to answers from both sides of this discussion.
Final thought: the new boulevard won’t open in 2014. Write it down now. Ditto for the Core to Shore park. And that, folks, is ok. The world won’t end. We will be OK. Over the last two decades, it’s the decisions that are rushed that end up being regretted the most.