Oklahoma City moves quickly to make its downtown streets and sidewalks more pedestrian-friendly, author says

Walkable streets are key to the development of downtown.
by Steve Lackmeyer Published: March 7, 2013
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A: The engineers have yet to complete their design for the portion running through the heart of the downtown. I proposed a design for that section, along with a 10-step code that very clearly articulated the details that would distinguish this avenue from the highway that it could still very well become if designed around the typical criterion of smooth traffic flow. I'd be happy to share it! I was impressed by the commitment of the engineers in charge to do it right, but we won't know until we see it. I keep stressing that, the day this street comes on line, it will all be excess capacity in a system that is functioning perfectly well without it, so it needs to be designed around the criteria of livability, not volume. I'm not sure if I've won that argument.

Q: What, in your observation, is the biggest impediment to walkability yet to be addressed in downtown Oklahoma City?

A: If Project 180 and the boulevard are both well-executed, it will then be a question of how quickly developers can build attainable market-rate housing downtown to meet the demand that we know exists. Building downtown is more expensive than building on a greenfield out in the sprawl, and I'm hoping that the city will circle the wagons around making it reasonable profitable for more developers to get involved. I would also add that the Riverwalk is on the cusp of being a truly great place, but it would appear that some landowners are wrecking the game for everyone by not moving forward with development on their unsightly parking lots. Here comes the part where I cough into my hand and it sounds a lot like “Eminent Domain!”

Q: What shift, if any, have you noticed in discussion and prioritization of walkability since you first visited Oklahoma City in 2007?

A: Not to soft pedal it, but I have to say that OKCers seemed to be shockingly pro-walkability, even back then. Being named the “least walkable city in America” by Prevention Magazine seems to have done its job. The proof of the pudding for me was the Engineering Department's acceptance of the lane reductions we proposed for Project 180, and the one-way to two-way conversions. Their old-school transportation consultants said it would cause gridlock, and our progressive ones said it wouldn't, and they trusted us. In a city where the car has been king for so many years, that takes courage.

by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter and columnist who started his career at The Oklahoman in 1990. Since then, he has won numerous awards for his coverage, which included the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, the city's Metropolitan...
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