Consultants on Monday touted a design recommendation for part of the Oklahoma City Boulevard as the best mix of friendliness to traffic and development, but a wave of local residents voiced skepticism that the plan will provide the grand, revitalizing parkway that many envisioned.
Oklahoma City officials and officials from Stantec, a consulting firm, presented their recommended design for a complicated western section of the boulevard at a public meeting Monday at the Coca-Cola Bricktown Events Center. Stantec has been retained by the city to study the section where the boulevard will cross Reno and Western avenues and Classen Boulevard.
The recommendation is to construct an overpass above Western, which would be joined by new construction with Classen where the roads meet the boulevard.
But after the consultants presented a series of animations and drawings that focused primarily on the traffic impacts of the various designs, many of the roughly 400 people who attended the meeting voiced their reservations about the entire design process.
“We seem to have given up on slowing this down and making this (boulevard) a friendly place for people to live,” said Sean Cummings, owner of Sean Cummings' Irish Pub and an Oklahoma City resident.
Stantec consultants and Oklahoma City Public Works Director Eric Wenger defended the recommended design, saying the plan minimizes the length of an above-grade roadway and is friendlier to pedestrians than other designs.
Consultants made their recommendation based on a variety of criteria, including how easy the boulevard would be for drivers and pedestrians and cyclists to navigate, along with how it affects traffic.
Stantec's Bill Farris said other designs suffered when being evaluated because of things such as extra-wide intersections, or because traffic would be likely to stack up at different points of access to the boulevard.
Stantec predicts the recommended design will also help to correct traffic inefficiencies on surrounding streets and provides an opportunity to create a scenic entrance into downtown.
“It provides integration into the surrounding traffic network,” he said, adding that redevelopment opportunities are also ripe. “Fundamentally, we have the opportunity to change the image and character of the corridor and provide a greatly enhanced arrival experience into the city.”
Almost everyone who spoke during the question-and-answer session at the end of the meeting advocated for a slow, narrow roadway at ground level, integrated as much as possible into the existing grid.
People like Cummings exhorted city officials to take their time and ensure that the boulevard is designed to revitalize downtown and not to be a primary traffic mover.
At past meetings, people have advocated for a broader, faster boulevard to prioritize getting commuters in and out of downtown. But those voices were largely absent from Monday's meeting.
The city, consultants and the state Transportation Department officials will review feedback submitted after the meeting, along with feedback on other issues related to the boulevard. Oklahoma City eventually will submit a plan to the Transportation Department, likely in the spring, for ultimate approval by federal transportation officials.
Oklahoma City Boulevard will follow the route of the old Crosstown Expressway bridge and traverse downtown and lead to Bricktown, and it's intended by civic leaders to be a magnet for development. The MAPS 3 convention center and urban park, and cornerstone civic development projects, will be along its border.