It’s hard to picture getting around in Oklahoma City without a car, but Mayor Mick Cornett said he believes that will change. Cornett said the $130 million public transit piece of MAPS 3 is all about what the city can do to prepare for a future in which a car won’t be the only way to get around.
A streetcar system and a downtown transit hub linking buses, the streetcar and rail lines are the city’s first step toward that future, Cornett said.
Opening steps to railWhen the city surveyed residents in 2007 about what they’d like to see in MAPS 3, transit was the No. 1 suggestion by a wide margin. Leaving transit out of the $777 million MAPS 3 proposal wasn’t an option, but Cornett said transit means different things to different people. "The problem was making sure that whatever we did in the long term helped transit,” Cornett said. "You could make a mistake and try to do too many things or do something poorly and it could doom transit for the future.” The city participated in a years-long study that determined all the possible transit needs for the metro area. Among the suggestions were enhanced bus service, commuter rail, a streetcar and other options. The city has begun the process of going after federal transit money for commuter rail lines connecting downtown to Tinker Air Force Base as well as to both Edmond and Norman. The city is also pursuing the idea of high speed rail, which could connect it to Dallas, Tulsa, Kansas City and the rest of the country. Including commuter rail in MAPS 3 brings up problems, though. For one, such a system is incredibly expensive. Federal transit money can help, but nothing is guaranteed, and city leaders didn’t want to include projects in MAPS 3 that would require federal funds to complete. Ward 2 Councilman Sam Bowman said the streetcar and the downtown transit hub are a way to prepare the city for those bigger ideas. "I don’t see any of this without the transit hub,” Bowman said. "To me it is the most important piece of the MAPS initiative.”
Legitimate transitCornett said if people come to Oklahoma City on a rail line, they won’t have a car when they get here. "The idea is a very measured, a very logical and strategic first step, a downtown streetcar that we can use to get visitors to our attractions, get workers to their jobs and get the people who choose to live downtown the opportunity to live here without having a car,” Cornett said. Jeff Bezdek, who has lived downtown for nine years, is the chairman of the Modern Transit Project, a group that began advocating for a downtown streetcar before MAPS 3 was announced. Bezdek said he latched on to the idea when he went to Portland, Ore., on a business trip. "I experienced their fantastic streetcar system firsthand,” Bezdek said. Ongoing coverage: MAPS 3