Today’s guest blogger is Blair Humphreys, who ,has had a great influence on my understanding of urban planning over the past couple of years. I don’t pretend to know as much as Blair knows – but I’m often awed by his ability to beyond conventional thinking and to propose solutions not considered. Blair’s experience includes real world urban development, time spent with Hans Butzer, one of the city’s leading design professionals and professor of architecture at OU, an internship at the Oklahoma City Planning Department, and of course, a front row to seat to the city’s political scene. Blair, a national merit scholar at OU, won national recognition and honors while attending Massachusetts Institute of Technology, from which he graduated last year with a Master in City Planning and Urban Design Certificate. Blair is now an instructor and researcher at the University of Oklahoma, and has been following the Let’s Talk Transit far closer than I.
After seeing comments already made by respected Oklahoma City blogger Doug Loudenback questioning whether real public input was taking place with the downtown transit, I asked Blair to share his insights.
It has been a while since I last blogged over at www.imaginativeamerica.com! I recently moved back to Oklahoma City and am enjoying being home. While a new job (and a new house, and new puppy, etc) have kept me from blogging lately, I believe this issue is extremely important and hope you will find the post worthwhile.
I will be at today’s Lets Talk Transit meeting at 11:30am – hope to see you there!
The first Let’s Talk Transit meeting was held on March 29, 2010 and the process will finish on Thursday, May 27, with meetings at both 11:30am and 6:00pm. Let’s Talk Transit is the public’s opportunity to interject their thoughts into the decision-making process for the $120 million MAPS 3 streetcar system:
“This is why these meetings are being held so the public can have a voice about what is most important to them. The public’s opinion is vital in meeting the needs of those who work, live and visit downtown.”
- Rick Cain
I was able to attend the first meeting and have kept up with the process by completing surveys, watching videos of meetings, and reviewing the meeting agendas. In fact, Let’s Talk Transit has done a great job making information on the process available. All of the images and/or quotes in this post come from public documents available at: http://www.letstalktransit.com/meetings (#1 – see note). As I have watched and listened, I have developed my own opinions on the best routes for the MAPS 3 Streetcar, and have found myself in agreement with much of the public input to date, but now I am beginning to wonder whether the output of this “public process” will truly represent the input the public gave.
APRIL 13 MEETING
At the second meeting on April 13, 2010, members of the public worked in small groups to layout proposal for the new streetcar routes. There were six tables each of which was asked to take-on the perspective of a potential streetcar rider: resident, worker, and visitor. Figure 1 shows the various proposals that the citizen groups came up with. All of which were aggregated by the consultant to produce the frequency map shown in Figure 2.
Figure 1 – Routes Proposed by Citizens at April 13 Meeting
Figure 2 – Frequency of Routes Proposed by Citizens at April 13 Meeting
So what did the citizens say? What routes had some consensus?
Top routes selected by the citizens at the April 13 meeting:
- Broadway Avenue – 5 out of 6
- Sheridan Avenue – 5 out of 6
- Walker Avenue – 4 out of 6
- N. 10th Street – 3 out of 6
- Stiles Ave – 3 out of 6
Interestingly, if you take a closer look at the individual maps, you find that a majority – 4 out of 6 of the groups – selected both Broadway Avenue and Walker Avenue as a north-south pair with Sheridan Avenue and/or Reno Avenue serving the accompanying east-west connection (#2). In fact, most of the routes are also similar in their use of straight lines and few turns (#3). Given the number of possibilities, to have such a consensus on preferred routes is incredible. It certainly got my attention. But apparently did not impress the consulting team.
APRIL 29 MEETING
The consulting team returned at the next meeting and provided the meeting participants with north-south and east-west route options. There were six north-south route options presented by the consultant – see options – but the Broadway/Walker pair favored by a majority of citizen groups at the previous meeting was not included, and there does not appear to be any explanations as to why. The consultant presented these route options and then, once again, asked the citizens to work in groups to sketch out their own route proposals.
Figure 3 – Routes Proposed by Citizens at April 29 Meeting
Figure 4 - Frequency of Routes Proposed by Citizens at April 27 Meeting
Once again, the citizens showed a very clear consensus on routes with at least 5 out of 6 groups proposing a route that included Broadway, Walker and/or Sheridan. The bright red line – visible in Figure 4 – outlines the core of a simple system on which the majority of the public participants agreed (#4). When you combine the preferred routes from the April 13 meeting with these proposals from the April 27 meeting you get the following:
- Broadway Avenue – 10 out of 12
- Walker Avenue – 9 out of 12
- Lincoln Boulevard – 6 out of 12
- Walnut Avenue – 5 out of 12
- Hudson Avenue – 5 out of 12
- Stiles Avenue – 4 out of 12
- Robinson Avenue – 1 out of 12
- Sheridan Avenue – 11 out of 12
- N. 10th Street - 8 out of 12
- Harrison Ave – 6 out of 12 (#5)
- N. 4th Street – 5 out of 12
- N. 13th Street – 4 out of 12
- The Boulevard – 3 out of 12
So what is the public saying? The only routes shown on a majority of the citizen’s proposals were Broadway and Walker running north-south, and Sheridan and 10th Street running east-west. Also noteworthy is the strength of both Lincoln and Harrison, which speaks to a desire by the public to connect to the Health Sciences Center complex (#6). And once again I will point out the public’s consistency in producing simple systems made up of straight-lines and few turns.
MAY 11 MEETING
At the May 11 Meeting the consultants presented three “conceptual” alignments – see Figure 5 – that were “drawn based on input from past public meetings and the results’ of [the consultant's] analysis.”
Figure 5 - Consultants Conceptual Alignments Presented at May 11 Meeting
Of the three “options” presented, none include the Broadway/Walker north-south pair favored by the public. In fact, only one includes N. Broadway at all, despite the overwhelming support of the public for this route. And while Sheridan is partially included in all three options, none of the consultant’s three options use the straight route on Sheridan found in the majority of the proposals by the public. Also gone is the simplicity of the system favored by the public’s proposals, replaced by an ever-winding path of turns and loops reminiscent of our much maligned rubber-tire trolley system. Some of this winding is done in order to incorporate two options with a Boulevard route, even though this route had little support from the public. According to the meeting summary, Option #1 was the favorite of the citizens in attendance. However, the summary also mentions that a number of concerns were vocalized, including a plea for Broadway to be used instead of Robinson. Of course, this begs the question: how could the consultants take the input of the public which favored Broadway in 10/12 compared to Robinson in 1/12, and decide Robinson was the better choice? Surely the citizen’s input is worth more than that?
MAY 27 MEETING
It was my hope that the routes to be presented at the May 27 meeting would revert back to the public’s wishes and provide a simple system incorporating Broadway/Walker and Sheridan, but the newest “options” – see Figure 6 or download pdf – continue to stray from the input given by the citizens. While the exclusion of Broadway has been changed in 2 out of 3 of the options, the clean Broadway-10th-Walker connection favored by citizens is confused in a series of interconnected loops and bends. And the continuous east-west connection along Sheridan that was preferred by the citizen groups is forfeited, it would seem, so that two of the options can include a Boulevard route. There is no simplicity, few strong corridors, and very little evidence of citizen input.
Figure 6 - Consultants Final Options Presented at May 27 Meeting
These routes will be presented by the consultant today – Thursday, May 27 – in public meetings held at 11:30am and 6:00pm in the City Hall Council Chamber. While the consultant will no doubt claim that these routes were “created using the input received from citizen surveys, hands-on exercises and through open discussion,” all evidence points to the contrary. This is not an insignificant fact. The consultant’s “options” will be placed in the hands of decision-makers that select the final routes and they will be told this represents the public input received during the Let’s Talk Transit process. Mr. Cain stated at the beginning of the process that these meetings are being held so that “the public can have a voice,” but what good is a voice, if no one will listen (#7).
- Give it up for the meeting planners and public relations team. Thank you!
- The April 13 groups that included Broadway & Walker for N-S, with Sheridan and/or Reno for E-S are: 1, 2, 3 & 5
- This typically provides a system with higher degrees of legibility for the user
- Once again, notice that the public recommends simple routes with few turns
- A Harrison line typically connects east-west via N. 4th Street or north-south via Walnut Ave.
- I have heard a lot of people say that even though the HSC has no housing or retail attractions, it makes sense because the workers will ride the trolley to lunch in Bricktown. Sounds great. However, it will take at least one mile of track – or $20 million – to connect to the HSC. And with a 127 passenger capacity and no better than 10 minute frequency between cars, you will not see more than 500 riders per day (or 500 x 250 work days = 125,000 riders per year). Even at municipal bond rates (5% per year on $20 million) this works out to a cost of $8 per rider per year in infrastructure investment (not including operating costs). And the likely routes feature comparitively very little in adjacent development opportunities
- Thank you to Steve for giving me the opportunity. And once again, I apologize for the length of my post(s).