Entering the Boulevard Fray
I have hesitated to enter into this debate. However, as an AICP and an EI (American Institute of Certified Planners and registered Engineer Intern), I cannot help but feel compelled to at least share some of my thoughts on this matter from a personal perspective. In reality, as I am AICP, I am ethically bound to work for the best public interest; from the first section of the AICP Code of Ethics:
Our primary obligation is to serve the public interest and we, therefore, owe our allegiance to a conscientiously attained concept of the public interest that is formulated through continuous and open debate. We shall achieve high standards of professional integrity, proficiency, and knowledge.
First, let’s get ODOT and Public Works off the table. ODOT (and its consultants) is doing what it’s trained to do. They see the engineering problem (move traffic off of the highway into and out of downtown efficiently), and they are proposing something that will accomplish this task very well. Public Works is trying to accommodate the desires of ODOT and its leadership at the City. I don’t want to spend time talking about blame, who is in charge, etc.; I simply want to talk about design ideas that are beneficial to Oklahoma City residents, businesses and visitors.
Below is a (quickly done) rendering of an option that I think should be discussed. One key part that most people will notice right away – the “boulevard” doesn’t connect.
As many know, one key characteristic of the traditional street pattern in a downtown is a terminus; creating the special view that helps slow traffic and gives people a focal point. The east terminus in my proposal (which I’ve noted could be at two locations) would provide immediate access to downtown for westbound traffic. I personally prefer the “Alternate Termination” point, as I’ve labeled it, because it would focus people on the park and convention center area. Additionally, we would no longer need to be worried about the large street breaking the pedestrian connection between Myriad, the convention center, and the Core to Shore park area.
The western terminus is Blackwelder Avenue. The eastbound traffic from I-40 into the downtown area will exit onto the boulevard as if it’s a standard ramp, and then face a choice: Go north on Blackwelder to the already-four lane Main Street, or south on Blackwelder to the already four-lane Reno Avenue (Sheridan could also be widened to four lanes from Western to Blackwelder if the traffic engineers demand it, but it may be too close to the boulevard). Downtown and the surrounding area are already full of four-lane streets capable of handling much more traffic. Let’s use them (and the existing buildings along them – especially Main Street) to dress up the west side of downtown. Additionally, Blackwelder itself is a great street that, if money were available, could be upgraded to provide a gateway up into Classen-Ten-Penn, the Plaza District and Gatewood.
The north-south streets between Blackwelder and Western could then be connected again, and the land in between could be developed for any number of uses. The same goes for Dewey and Lee south of the old I-40 alignment. The boulevard as proposed is long, from Bricktown all the way to Pennsylvania, but most people are focusing their complaints from Western east to Bricktown. We should not forget the area from Western to Penn, a mile full of potential.
While I admit to being enamored by a large roundabout (I think they work well), I don’t think that needs to be utilized on the new boulevard at Western/Classen. At first glance, the option I’ve presented doesn’t require more right-of-way acquisition, and would potentially result in the City having more developable land than before. It’s time to think small, not big. We need to think about the block-by-block impact the downtown street grid could be having.
A note regarding transit – on its face, this might not make some members of the MAPS 3 Transit Subcommittee happy, since it eliminates a portion of the boulevard that they’d like to see used for streetcar. However, I think a simple solution (if using the eastern terminus at Robinson) would be to allow the streetcar to travel through the park to the west, potentially running over turf, as as can be seen in New Orleans and in Europe. It would allow streetcar access into the park while maintaining a park-like atmosphere.
We have many other streets available to dress up before creating a “grand boulevard.” The short portion from Shields/E.K. Gaylord to Robinson (or Walker) could easily be lavishly designed, terminating at the park/convention center. The western portion would simply need to be clean and functional, since it’s basically just the end of a ramp. Other money could be spent on the connecting streets instead of the boulevard itself.
DISCLAIMER: These thoughts are my own and do not represent those of my current employer.