Despite some lingering concerns about some assumptions used in recommending a design for the future Oklahoma City Boulevard, many city council members Tuesday hailed its evolving design process as an example of the government listening to residents' concerns.
A relatively light agenda for Tuesday's Oklahoma City Council meeting meant a substantial part of the morning focused on reaction to Monday night's presentation regarding the design of the boulevard's western end, which will cross a complicated series of intersections near downtown.
Consultants detailed plans Monday for what some people consider to be a compromise between designs that prioritize the boulevard's role as a redevelopment magnet and its role as a commuter mover.
Councilman Ed Shadid opened the discussion by advocating for increased openness about why consultants and city officials are using the numbers and assumptions they are in constructing traffic flow prediction models for design recommendations. But as each council member weighed in on the matter in turn, an increasing amount of focus was put on the idea that the slower, narrower boulevard planned now is already evidence of officials listening to a chorus of observers who warned it would be too fast and too broad.
“If we stop right now, more people are pleased with what we've done than would have been had we not had this dialogue,” Councilman Pete White said. “This is the best example I can think of dialogue that really impacted something. I don't necessarily think that dialogue is finished.”
Shadid often voices thoughts on the boulevard similar to those who favor a slow, narrow and flat parkway that's fully integrated into the existing traffic grid and friendly to foot traffic, bicyclists and redevelopment. He reiterated Tuesday that he wants the city to take a closer look at the computer models used by consultants to evaluate various design proposals.
“We are making a decision that's going to have consequences for decades ... and a very significant factor in our decision making is this computer model, this traffic model simulation,” Shadid said. “I would ask that we make public what computer model we're using (and) all the inputs that we're putting in. Explain the methodology to the public.”
Shadid pointed out that some design proposals deemed unable to handle the heavy traffic predicted in the area could prove to be preferable if fewer vehicles than consultants say they expect ultimately use the road, and city residents should know more about why the traffic predictions are what they are before making a decision.
But other council members, notably Gary Marrs, focused on the boulevard's role in the overall traffic network. The new route of Interstate 40 was planned based on the assumption the boulevard would eventually help people get in and out of downtown, and commuters have already griped that the fewer entrances and exits on the new freeway has complicated their drive.
Marrs noted the city is hoping for more business development downtown in future years, along with the coveted residential development.
“It's not that we're ignoring anything that's going on, but we still have to create a system that gets people into and out of this metropolitan area that we not only have created but that we still continue to create,” Marrs said. “I think to disregard the boulevard as a key factor in ultimately how the new I-40 operates is a mistake.”
White and Pat Ryan were among council members who took care to point out the changing nature of the boulevard already. Preliminary designs called for a roadway more like the Northwest Expressway, but the newest designs are for a four-lane road with at least some street-side parking, landscaping and improvements to aid pedestrians.
Other designs are friendlier still to pedestrians and cyclists and development, while some are obviously intended with traffic movement as the primary concern.
The reason why consultants and city engineers label the current recommended design as a compromise is because the western end of the boulevard features a raised roadway only at an overpass above Western Avenue, not for a much longer stretch as previously planned.
And though discussions are ongoing, Ryan suggested that advocates on both sides should get used to the idea of a compromise design.
“It's going to be a compromise. We won't solve the problems 100 percent in either direction, but it's going to be somewhere down the middle hopefully, and we'll get something that works,” Ryan said.
The boulevard, scheduled for completion in 2014, will follow the path of the old Crosstown Expressway.
Civic leaders intend for it to be a scenic gateway into downtown as well as a commuter's route to and from work, and cornerstone for civic projects like the MAPS 3 convention center and urban park will be along its borders.
There are more public meetings planned between now and the spring, when the city will likely make a recommendation on the design to the state Transportation Department, which will forward it to federal transportation authorities for final approval. And the continuing talks are what people like White are counting on to fine tune the boulevard's design.
“This is a victory for us as a city that we've gone through this process and made positive changes thus far, and I think we need to just stay the course,” White said.