A years-long effort to make Automobile Alley a less hostile place for pedestrians became a reality over the weekend as contractors eliminated a rarely used fifth center turn lane and created about two dozen angled parking spaces.
Sitting in Coffee Slingers at 1015 N Broadway during rush hour Monday, I saw no chaos, no confusion, no major traffic back-ups. I did see, however, people enjoying an easier walk across the narrower street and a very changed appearance.
The arguments for elimination of a traffic lane and switch from parallel to angled parking were based on the idea that such a realignment would calm traffic and provide more parking spaces desperately needed by the growing number of retailers along Broadway.
What I’m not quite sure many expected was how paint — that’s all we’re really talking about — would dramatically alter the character of Automobile Alley.
Broadway has always had tremendous potential as an urban district and is filled with old buildings with great storefront windows that once showcased Packards, Cadillacs, Buicks and Chevrolets. But the wide street created a superfast thoroughfare that far exceeded the 30 mph speed limit.
Some great retailers and restaurants have filled up those storefronts in the past few years, but the lack of parking threatened to end Broadway’s potential as a retail corridor before it really got started. But retailers including Plenty Mercantile, Rawhide and others kept faith that the district would succeed in working with City Hall to create the much needed change to angled parking spaces and a narrower road.
From what I saw Monday, the parking situation is just right now for retail on Broadway. But other surprises awaited me. The headquarters of the Oklahoma City Community Foundation always appeared to be disconnected from the street, even though it was built up to the sidewalk and in accordance with downtown urban design standards. I can’t quite explain it, but just the addition of angled spaces in front of the building erases that disconnect.
Likewise, the street as a whole takes on much more of an appearance of an old fashioned downtown business district. Instead of being a thoroughfare in and out of downtown, Automobile Alley takes on the vibe of a slightly wider version of Broadway in downtown Edmond.
City engineers, long hostile to such changes, have shown a greater willingness over the past couple of years to balance the needs of pedestrians and drivers. After more than a decade of delays, city engineers last year converted all downtown streets from one-way to two-way streets. City Hall, meanwhile, has adapted to the increased interest in food trucks and in shutting down streets for monthly festivals.
As proven this week along Automobile Alley, public infrastructure and street design does matter when it comes to redevelopment of the urban core. The transformation of Automobile Alley, however, took several years to become a reality. Similar make-overs are being called for in Bricktown and along Uptown NW 23 — and those areas will prove to be doubly challenging, and even more immediately needed — as Oklahoma City continues its transformation into a vibrant, 21st century city.