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Questions to Ponder as Streetcar Routes are Unveiled

by Steve Lackmeyer Modified: June 28, 2013 at 7:35 am •  Published: June 26, 2013

Advocates of the MAPS 3 streetcar system say today is an important milestone in the planning of the streetcar system, and I can’t see how anyone would argue with that.
At 3:30 p.m. today at 420 W Main, consultants will unveil what they think are the best routes to follow.
Sources tell me that the consultants are sticking to their initial recommendations that the route be a couplet, essentially cutting the potential length of the system and creating a very long circle with a couple of jogs into MidTown and Bricktown.
Yesterday, I asked about the performance of earlier consultants for various city projects. Paul Ryckbost brings a unique perspective as both a former engineer at public works and an assistant city planner (he now works in the private sector).
Here are his answers on yesterday’s questions:
- The Bricktown Strategic Plan was originally to be done by a very well respected firm in the real estate/market analysis field of urban redevelopment. However, the product they provided OKC in draft form was very formulaic and not a planning document. It was a PowerPoint presentation all about market analysis. Furthermore, they appeared to skip gathering any local input (didn’t interview stakeholders, etc.), so the City decided to close out that contract and move on. The resulting Bricktown Strategic Plan, led by AJ Kirkpatrick, then with the Planning Dept’s Urban Redevelopment Division, took a new approach. Multiple stakeholder interviews were completed to gain input. Staff worked very hard to produce a plan that contained history, current conditions and future trends. It also included images of what could happen in east Bricktown; something that the City thought they’d receive in the original study from the consultant, but that never appeared.

- The Downtown Streetscape Master Plan is currently referenced in Downtown and Bricktown design codes as a guiding document and is often referred to by staff when applicable. It was not utilized in Project 180 due to the nature of other public involvement, and, to be fair, I don’t think the Master Plan anticipated such a massive undertaking that would transform such a large area in a short amount of time. The plan itself covers an area much larger than Project 180, so when, and if, other streets are redone outside that area, it could be useful. Personally, my biggest complaint is that it only requires 5’ minimum sidewalks on most downtown streets – I prefer at least 8’ to provide more walking area and street amenities.

- I do not have much personal knowledge about Core to Shore and its specific planning consultant, but I can say this: Oklahoma has very few professional consulting planners (especially AICP – American Institute of Certified Planners). Therefore, any large plan often has to be done by out-of-town firms that may not have a good handle on local conditions, politics, involvement, etc., which can lead to adoption and follow-through issues down the road.

All this leads me to repeat what I’ve said before: the consultants aren’t always right, and question, question, question.

During the Urban Land Institute trip to Kansas City, I heard from professional rail transit planners who were very familiar with the project in Oklahoma City and they predicted a couplet system here will be a disaster, that it won’t draw the ridership it will need to survive, and will confuse potential customers. They urge a clear linear service that hits as many critical masses as possible.

Now here’s one more bit of insight to consider, and this is from the Center for Transportation Excellence conference recently held in Atlanta. First, remember that if the city goes with a couplet design, that pretty much, as sources tell it to me, rules out a connection to the Oklahoma Health Center, home to more than 30,000 students, doctors and scientists. It’s a college and hospital complex combined into one.
So that goes unserved. And yet according to the “Bosses for Buses” study by Good Jobs First, hospitals and colleges are among the heaviest users of public transit. The study also goes into great detail how partnerships and sponsorships are struck in various cities to make these transit lines a reality.
Has such a discussion taken place in Oklahoma City as part of route determination? How much discussion has taken place with stakeholders throughout the urban core? Yes, there were early public meetings. I attended those meetings. But much of that involved education of how such systems work, and how various routes can work.

Ultimately, this decision will be made by the city council. The question is, are they paying attention and asking questions, or will they assume that all work needing to be done will be taken care of by the MAPS 3 transit subcommittee?

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by Steve Lackmeyer
Business Reporter
Steve Lackmeyer is a reporter, columnist and author 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...
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