Change is coming. Change is here. Oklahoma City has a Mayor just over one year into his first term and three new council members just took office (1/3 was actually appointed and then won election, if we’re being nitpicks). Edmond will be elected a new Mayor and new council members. A generational and community-building shift is happening. Along with these political changes are coming structural changes in the way we build, and live in, cities and suburbs. People are walking, biking, scootering (is that a thing?) and using transit more, and subsequently more attention is being paid to the infrastructure that enables (or inhibits, depending on the circumstance) this non-automobile mobility.
OKC urban design twitter (yeah, it’s a thing) has been up in arms as of late in relation to the lack of appropriate physical infrastructure in Oklahoma City, and in the urban core in particular. I do not disagree with any of the overall complaints – inadequate or nonexistent area lighting, no bike lanes, etc. – but I do think it absolves a main culprit of much of the carnage: inattentive, negligent, and/or vindictive automobile operators. We cannot ignore that people are driving around in multi-thousand pound metal boxes that are designed to protect the people inside, not the people outside. Drivers need to be held more responsible for their actions, and more people need to internalize the responsibility they take on when they step behind the wheel.
A recent study indicated that 31% of people surveyed (in Australia) “rated cyclists as less than human” (emphasis added). 31%! Auto drivers are mentally dehumanizing cyclists and non-drivers, and it is taking a physical toll on human life. In a somewhat related realm, drivers just do not pay attention. This thread from Matt Johnson (@Tracktwentynine), illustrates that, even in the presence of appropriate pedestrian infrastructure, it is inattentive drivers that can cause harm (click on the tweet and follow the informative thread).
[A slight aside related to the Netherlands. I’ve read that the Dutch are among the happiest drivers, and they also have an extremely low bicycle-vehicle crash rate, especially compared to the U.S. The assumed reason is that 1.) they have great, separated infrastructure in many places, and 2.) almost everyone cycles, so when they do drive, they understand what to look for. (I’m writing this quickly, so I haven’t pulled my sourcing on this; hopefully I’ll get a chance to go back and source to real studies here).]
Until we get a handle (locally, statewide, and nationally) on driver behavior, it’s going to be tough to fix the current epidemic of increasing pedestrian and cyclist deaths. HOWEVER, that does not mean we can’t do some things to change for the better. Here’s a list of things I think OKC and its surrounding communities can do relatively quickly and cheaply (some requiring more political will than others, admittedly):
- Ban ALL right turn on red in the urban core and other commercial, walkable districts.
- Change all downtown traffic lights with pedestrian signals to automatically initiate the walk cycle, NOT requiring a beg button to be pushed.
- Utilize low-cost, city-permitted demonstration & trial projects, either funded publicly or by donation.
- Fix existing street lighting and begin to add more where needed.
- Paint continental crosswalks in all urban core areas (I’m especially thinking about Midtown and Uptown right now). Work to modify the Auto Alley crosswalks to be more visible.
- Install curb bump outs (paint w/ plastic delineators first, concrete as funds allow) whenever possible.
- Reduce all urban core turning radii to 5′.
- Adjust crosswalk locations, especially when designing new streetscapes. Multiple recent projects place the crosswalk 5-10′ from the beginning of the radius, which causes cars to stop across the continental striping and limiting pedestrian throughput. Many of these are done to accommodate drainage first, but creative ways exist to mitigate that stormwater need.
- Update the downtown parking zoning overlay to include an off-street parking maximum (there is no parking minimum requirement right now).
- Reduce the number of driving lanes from 4 (or more) to 3 (1 lane each way plus middle turn, if necessary) and add dedicated, physically separated bike lanes and on-street parking on ALL streets with an ADT less than 10,000. This includes, but is certainly not limited to, NW 6th, NW 5th, NW 4th, Shartel, and Main Street in downtown/Midtown.
- Study doing the same road diet for all streets with ADT between 10,000 and 20,000; or boulevards with 6 total lanes that can be reduced (Classen and Lincoln come to mind).
We can do things now. We don’t have to wait. Not everything will be so costly that it needs to be in MAPS4; we have the ingenuity and the best practices to follow, we just need the will to change.
All that said, I’m still torn between two competing thoughts right now. One is the infrastructurist mindset – we need to improve infrastructure (separate all modes) and add lighting, and everything will then be good. But I’m also aware that infrastructure takes time, and even appropriate infrastructure doesn’t help (see above). As a planner and engineer, being pro-infrastructure is good for my bottom line, to be honest. But, as an empathetic person, I note that we’re not being enough infrastructure fast enough to make it better for all users. Reading the book Bicycle/Race: Transportation, Culture, & Resistance recently opened my eyes to the fact that most cycling infrastructure is benefiting the few, not the many, and most often not the many that need it most. This is where changing driver behavior and mindsets is a crucial part. But how…? This is the tougher part for us to tackle, and it certainly will be a fight for the ages.