Oklahoma City Council debates future of boulevard

A debate on the future of the Oklahoma City Boulevard at Tuesday's council meeting showed that some council members still have concerns, but many consider the roadway's evolving design as evidence the city's public process is working.
BY MICHAEL KIMBALL mkimball@opubco.com Published: December 5, 2012
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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.”

Traffic numbers

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.

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