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Sunday Evening Stroll

March 30, 2015

Christa and the girls are in Texas for the week visiting family. This means that I can catch up on sleep and do some things that I might not have time to do.

Sunday evening, I parked the car in Automobile Alley just after sunset and took an evening stroll through Midtown/Auto Alley. Now, I know Sunday nights aren’t the nights that you’d expect activity, but nowadays you’d think there would be people about, especially when the temperature was a beautiful 73.

I was wrong.

The major activity nodes in Midtown and Auto Alley were bustling, but there was little to no activity elsewhere. Walking the area felt like a wasteland. It’s an eerie feeling. I passed about 4 people in my hour spent walking (7:45 – 8: 45 pm). One was leaving the Bleu Garten area with a Bible in his hand (I assume after evening at Frontline). Another was smoking a ciggarette at the OSHA housing at 9th & Robinson, and the other was a couple that appeared to be visitors (I saw them taking photos and studying the Spokies station at 9th & Broadway).

The only other people I saw were specifically headed from their activity node to their cars – leaving Bleu Garten, leaving The Garage and leaving Fassler Hall/Dust Bowl.

Maybe it’s because we’re a bit walled off in Lincoln Terrace, and I don’t get out as much as I used to, but the lack of public activity was striking to me. Midtown/Downtown still has quite a long way to go to have a truly active street life. We are still generally in a drive point-to-point mode in this area – drive from your apartment/house to a parking lot and walk as short a distance as possible. I did see a few people on bikes, but they were generally road bikes, not cruisers…

The full occupancy of the Metropolitan, the Edge and the Lift will help add population density, but when you look at map, they are generally on the outside of the district. OKC will need to improve the walk/bike infrastructure between these living areas and the activity areas to help build a true walkable experience.

Another note, certain streets in this area still need pedestrian lighting improvements. NW 8th between Broadway and Robinson in particular felt dark – this street will be a critical connection for OCU Law students to head over to Hideaway & other establishments in Auto Alley when they need a study break. N Robinson between 10th & 11th also felt extremely dark – Frontline’s decorative lanterns were on along 10th, but not along Robinson. Also, when Packard’s is closed, the corner really feels empty and dark.

All that said, OKC has come a LONG way since I moved here 10 years ago this June. It is absolutely amazing how much change we’ve seen in the core, and amazing knowing how much is coming and could come.

   

 

I Support Alternative D – My Comments to ODOT

May 21, 2014

The following text is what I submitted to ODOT et al (Mayor, Councilman, FHWA). I didn’t spent as much time on the comments as I would have liked, but hopefully my points get through.

Thank you for accepting my comments regarding the proposed Crosstown Boulevard. I fully support Alternate D, as I believe it will most adequately support future development in downtown Oklahoma City. Alternate C is a minimally acceptable option, but in its current form is extremely limiting in its development potential and in promoting or encouraging multi-modal use. Alternatives A and B should not receive any consideration from ODOT, The City of Oklahoma City or FHWA as they do not promote development or multi-modal use.

I have the following comments about the process and the methods by which ODOT appears to support Alternative C:

First, the public comment period for this Alternative analysis is too short. Two weeks is too short to garner appropriate input on such an important piece of Oklahoma City’s future.

Second, the only public meeting for the Alternative analysis was ill-timed during a Wednesday evening on which many people attend churches and the Thunder were having a playoff game. Additionally, this meeting was held as an open house, with no information provided prior to the meeting for people to become educated to ask questions.

Third, no information was provided publicly regarding traffic studies and other engineering and planning input into the final four Alternatives. People that were able to attend the open house (see point above) were able to ask such questions, but those who could not attend were not able to. The only information I’ve seen was provided via The Oklahoman.

I have the following comments about the ranking system and choice of preferred Alternative:

First, the scoring asserts that Alternative D does not meet local planning preferences but that Alternative C does fully. This is a false assumption that should have been vetted through Oklahoma City’s Planning Department and possibly the Planning Commission and City Council. The Core to Shore plan is a guiding document and is not intended to be set in stone, so to speak. It contains conceptual renderings that are intended to show the spirit of the City’s goals. Furthermore, one of the goals of the plan was to increase development potential in this area once I-40 was moved. Alternatives A, B and C do NOT meet this goal. The only Alternative that fully meets this is Alternative D, because it leaves the most developable land free.

Second, the traffic counts, provided only through the media, indicate that initially ODOT projected 58,000 vehicles per day the day it would open, and then 94,000 vehicles per day by 2040. The Oklahoman reports that ODOT now suggests 13,000 vehicles per day the day it would open and then 27,850 vehicles per day in 2040? If these lower projections are accurate, it fully reinforces that the existing grid pattern can easily handle the vehicle load. Per FHWA and other studies, an appropriately designed three lane (1 lane of travel each direction with center turn lane) can handle upwards of 20,000 vehicles per day (some even reporting 24,000 vehicles per day works efficiently). The area around the old Crosstown (the proposed Crosstown Boulevard area) can easily absorb these vehicle counts.

Third, the assumption that Oklahoma City needs a through-boulevard is an incorrect assumption even from a traffic engineering standpoint. The point of this boulevard (Alternative D, the grid) should be the delivery of people to and from downtown, rather than that of creating a thoroughfare. Oklahoma City does not need an I-40 bypass through downtown/Core to Shore; if necessary, the grid could easily supply this need.

Finally, given whatever Alternative is chosen, it should be designed to the standards of the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), not to the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) standards (aka the Green Book). NACTO’s standards, known as the Urban Street Design Guide, have been adopted by numerous city, county and even state bodies across the United States and are the most appropriate standards for street design in an urban area.

In summary, I believe Alternative D will provide the City and State with the largest return on its investment in the long term. Alternative D will leave the most developable land and allow the streets to be built, or rebuilt, to much more multi-modal standards. The southern downtown/Core to Shore area needs to be walkable, bike-able and transit-friendly, on top of allowing vehicular access.

Thank you for taking the time to accept my public comments.

Without a permanent trust fund, Amtrak could go to the dogs | Railway Age

November 25, 2013

Without a permanent trust fund, Amtrak could go to the dogs | Railway Age.

The opening paragraph is wonderful (read the entire thing though!):

Ever present is former House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.)—now just a T&I Committee member—whose shtick is an enduring impersonation of an annoying hemorrhoid, as he perpetually interrupts Amtrak officers from running the railroad to absorb his screeches over the profit margin of a ham sandwich and glass of wine aboard Amtrak.

We need to reject calls to shift all funding for long-distance Amtrak to the states, and we need to continue support of passenger rail transportation. The amount spent on rail, even the amount request, pales in comparison to the amount thrown to roads.

Urban Chickens!

November 20, 2013

Quick update!

The urban agriculture ordinance passed Planning Commission last month and is headed to City Council soon. The tentative schedule is laid out below:

  • Introduction: December 3 (assumed date)
  • Second hearing: December 17 – a hearing intended specifically to allow for public discussion.
  • Final hearing: December 31 – generally the up or down vote on an ordinance.
The Neighborhood Alliance, a group with which I’ve been involved, and on whose Board/staff I have many friends, published the following text via email:
Public Hearing on Urban Agriculture in Oklahoma City

This ordinance addresses: Community Gardens, Composting, Home Gardens, Urban Farming, Roof Gardens, Greenhouses, Hoop Houses and Rainwater Harvesting.
The ordinance also allows backyard chickens with the following restrictions:
Parcels that are less than one acre may house up to six chickens, no roosters, a coop is required, chickens must have access to the outdoors, may be located in a fenced back or side yard only and no outdoor slaughtering is allowed.

Personally, I do not like that they pulled chickens out specifically. If there was one area where I thought people might raise too much of a stink and sink part, or all, of the ordinance, it was the chicken issue. Properly cared for chickens are not loud and will be beneficial to those urban residents that choose to have them. Roosters, yes, they are loud, and they are NOT permitted in the ordinance.

A sticking point, and one on which I agree, is that code enforcement at the City is already stretched, and generally works on a complaint-only basis. This means that, unless a code enforcement officer is in a Weed and Seed area with extra funding, they only respond to submitted complaints, and ONLY from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm. Many people will complain that roosters and bad conditions may not be noticeable during those times.

A workable solution, in my opinion, is to keep the ordinance as written, and look for additional funding to support code enforcement overtime to work on neighborhood-scale issues in the evenings, or some other arrangement by which we can expand code enforcement’s effectiveness.

The Future of Urban Agriculture in OKC

October 9, 2013

SEE EDIT NOTE AT BOTTOM ABOUT NEXT STEP

When I left my job at The City of Oklahoma City, staff had made various forays into reviewing zoning regulations regarding urban agriculture. Euclidean zoning, by its nature, generally causes zoning practitioners to err on the side of caution – if something isn’t explicitly permitted, then it’s not allowed. At the very least, if something is questionable, it becomes bogged down in the red tape of government review. Therefore, when it comes to urban agriculture and its various elements, if it’s not explicitly permitted in OKC’s zoning code, it’s not allowed.

This week, while doing my regular browsing of OKC’s City Council and Planning Commission agendas, I noticed that OKC staff was bringing a rather large urban agriculture ordinance to Planning Commission for first hearing. The ordinance is more than just permitting home gardens, hoop houses and even greenhouses in all parts of the City. It allows chickens on lots less than one acre, roof gardens and rainwater harvesting. This is a great step forward to allowing, even encouraging, urban farming and related endeavors by residents of OKC.

The drive to be a healthier community is rooted in the physical environment. Our reliance on the automobile and the limited walkability that we have designed around that lifestyle, has greatly reduced the healthy of our City and the nation. Furthermore, the refined, processed and non-fresh food that most of us consume contributes to our overall lack of health. An increase in home gardens, hoop houses, greenhouses and urban farms would do wonders for our collective health. Additionally, raising one’s own food (and eggs) could also lead to less spending on food overall. The ordinance is not limited to homeowners – it appears to be written to allow and encourage restaurants and the like to grow more of their own food. The allowance for roof gardens, hoop gardens and greenhouses feels particularly useful for this.

To read the staff report and the proposed ordinance for yourself, go here: http://www.okc.gov/AgendaPub/meeting.aspx?cabinet=published_meetings&docid=55920 (Item 29).

A few specific notes: First, the item that I predict will be the most controversial is the allowance for up to 6 chickens per home on lots less than 1 acre. It shouldn’t be controversial, the conditions attached to the use require that each chicken have 4 square feet of living space in the coop and 8 square feet outside the coop. Additionally, the structure must obey all setback rules and be at least 10 feet from a property line. Finally, they must be hens – no roosters, which are what cause the noise that people associate with chickens. I hope this part goes through – it will certainly need the verbal and written support of the residents of OKC.

Second, the ordinance surprised me in that it specifically deals with compost. I’ll be honest that I hadn’t ever thought that compost would be a legal issue, that it wasn’t already permitted. However, reading the ordinance I can see that people needed to distinguish between compost and trash. So, if you compost at home and don’t already keep the compost in a bin or related enclosure, you need to get ready to comply.

Third, I’m pleased that the ordinance specifically codifies and allows rainwater harvesting. Collecting what rainwater we can will lead to slightly less usage overall, and will assist in irrigation. Garden plants should also do better, because rainwater is (freer) of the chemicals introduced in the drinking water treatment process.

If you support this ordinance, please write your Planning Commissioner and City Council person (as well as those that aren’t yours).

Believe it or not, I don’t have a dog in this fight, so to speak. I live in Lincoln Terrace, and our zoning is controlled by the State of Oklahoma. Any change to the City’s zoning has no bearing on our neighborhood (until we dissolve the State’s zoning control – that’s another story).

Oklahoma City Planning Commission meets Thursday Oct. 24, at 1:30pm on the third floor of City Hall for the 2nd and final PC hearing. Then it’s on to City Council. Read a good blog update from Dave Cathey here: http://newsok.com/looking-for-fowl-in-all-the-wrong-places-urban-chickens-need-your-help/article/3896757?custom_click=rss

A Vision for North Lincoln Blvd

August 20, 2013

We bought a home in Lincoln Terrace in July of 2012; we moved in in March of 2013. Living in this area has provided me with a great opportunity to explore my urban planning dreams and ideas. For today’s lunchtime blog post, I’d like to share a small glimpse of what I’m thinking about.

I would love to see light rail some day in Oklahoma City. I think N. Lincoln would be a perfect place to run a line from downtown to the northeast. I need to spend time drafting my ideas and comparing them to other people’s and to the Fixed Guideway Study that OKC has already done. Today’s post includes just a glimpse of what could be if light rail was built along this corridor.

N. Lincoln is currently a 6 (wide) lane expressway from NE 4th all the way to NE 50th Street. Traffic counts range from 26,000 ADT just north of 4th to 14,000 ADT just north of 13th to 20,000 ADT just south of NE 50th Street. FHWA guidance indicates that most streets less than 20,000 ADT are eligible for Road Diets, whereby a 4-lane or 6-lane road is reduced to 1 lane each direction with a center turn lane and bike lanes, or some variations. Therefore, except for a few select locations, N Lincoln meets guidance that says it should be 3 lanes total, not 3 lanes in each direction.

The image below is from the fantastic new site StreetMix.net. Street Mix helps you easily visualize a street section – you can use it to look at current vs. future, the what-if scenarios of planning. I love it.

N. Lincoln Blvd today (at approximately NE 16th Street):

N Lincoln Blvd - Current

Notice how wide the lane widths currently are – I walked them off yesterday, and they appear to be 15′ each. Street Mix is so kind as to say “This segment might be too wide”.

Now, let’s take a look at a “what could be” scenario.

N Lincoln Blvd - Future

Using the same right-of-way width, I’ve added separated light rail (with island boarding and alighting), kept two lanes of traffic each way, and also added a separated bike lane on each side. On-street parking isn’t noted because, at least in this area, all of the existing homes front the side streets. That would change elsewhere. This specific section can’t be done exactly like this south of 13th, because the median disappears, but you can get the feeling of what could be done. As part of my light rail analysis I hope to be able to do this type of Street Mix scenario for a variety of areas around OKC.

What can you dream up with Street Mix? Show me!

Branding a Bland Holland

August 12, 2013

Time for another lunchtime post. Today’s topic: Bland branding and my hometown. As a point of order, if you follow my blog, I apologize for being all of the map with my topics. I have so many varying interests, I couldn’t keep myself to posting about one certain thing on a blog.

I grew up in Holland, Michigan, on the shores of Lake Macatawa and Lake Michigan. For a very interesting, and fresh, summary of what my hometown area is like, head on over to The Atlantic and their American Futures special series. Holland is the first city that James Fallows is visiting (updates started Sunday, 11 August 2013.

Perusing through his first posts, I noticed that James hit on something that I have complained about on Twitter in the past. He put the following one-liner in his notes about the flight path he chose (flying a small aircraft to visit the cities for this series): “Tulip City Airport (which now has some more boring generic name) in Holland, MI.

I completely agree with the “more boring generic name” for Tulip City Airport, now known as West Michigan Regional Airport. The new name was adopted in 2011 after Zeeland and Park Township came together (after voting) with Holland to form a new airport authority (read the Sentinel’s wrap-up). The new name has no more geographic meaning to it than it did before; I would argue that the new name has even less meaning. To an outsider, West Michigan could be Grand Rapids, it could be South Haven, Grand Haven, Muskegon, Ludington, or even Traverse City. At least Tulip City conveyed the sense that it was related to Holland, which is on the west side of Michigan.

Similarly, the once aptly-named Holland Area Chamber of Commerce (with the simple logo, below) also decided to rename itself. What did they choose? West Coast Chamber; yet another broad and bland brand. The new logo has no basis to tell you which region this applies to – west coast of what? It doesn’t reference any of the history or geography of the area, and certainly doesn’t enforce any type of regional identity.

OriginalLOGO_FINAL

 

 

New (and not improved)

holland-chamber-member-logo_1-300x225

I don’t know the history of either branding effort. I do know if if they surveyed business experts, or, if they did, what the survey results are. My only guess is that some people’s feathers were ruffled that Zeeland doesn’t get full bill, or Holland or Park Townships are being ignored, so someone felt like a re-branding was needed to keep people happy. If so, that’s unfortunate and unnecessary.

I do know that, amongst various people I’ve talked to, mainly Millennials, that they enjoyed the original names and don’t agree, at all, with the new branding efforts. Regional identity and cultural association are very important to the younger generations. To me, the blanding of these brands leads to a “better than crappy makes us happy” (thanks Steve) type of feeling. No one can hate the new brands, but they certainly don’t excite anyone.

Bring back my Tulip City and the Holland Area Chamber (or at least be more thoughtful about the immediate regional identity)! Be proud of Holland and its region. Don’t shy away from the history and culture that makes people aware of this area.

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