Eight traffic lights.
That might not seem like a big investment for a city the size of Oklahoma City with a $919 million annual budget. But we’re told times are tight, and with shortfall on funding for Project 180, the apparent inability to pay for eight traffic lights means we’ve may have to wait years before we’ll see the long-promised conversion of downtown streets from one-way to two-way traffic.
To be blunt, the conversion, which we thought was a sure thing with Project 180, and was promised would take place by 2014, is not a sure thing at all anymore. It is now an unfunded project.
Once again, we’re slowly learning the true extent of the cuts to Project 180. And when the area around NW 5 and Walker was cut from Project 180 at the insistence of developer Rick Dowell, it not only saved Project 180 millions of dollars – but it also had the unintended consequence of leaving the sections of Hudson and Walker as one-way corridors between Robert S. Kerr Avenue and NW 6.
Going through an extensive project update with Public Works director Eric Wenger, I learned the city still has money for traffic controllers for these intersections, but no money for the actual traffic lights.
Wenger said a study not yet done will determine a new timeline and potential funding. Note that the city council instructed the public works department to begin a study to convert downtown’s one-way streets to two-way traffic back in 1999. History shows that at City Hall, a study can translate into a years-long delay (consider the progress to date on a quiet zone on the railway tracks parallel to Automobile Alley).
What this means is the plan now in place would result in Walker Avenue being two-way traffic south of Robert S. Kerr Avenue, one-way traffic between Robert S. Kerr Avenue and NW 6, and then two-way traffic again north of NW 6. Ditto for Hudson Avenue.
These are corridors heavily traveled by visitors to our town. They are streets that lead up to our central business district, to the Myriad Gardens, to the Oklahoma City Art Museum, to the Oklahoma City National Memorial and to a small new office complex known as Devon Energy Center. They are streets that go straight to our City Hall, to the Civic Center Music Hall, and to the County Courthouse.
I’m curious how walkability consultant Jeff Speck might react to this set up.
I was going to delay this post until after my story, (I call it “All You Ever Wanted to Know About Downtown But Didn’t Know Who To Ask”), appears in the paper and on NewsOK. But then I realized – this isn’t a problem in the far-off future. It’s with us now. This week Walker Avenue between Sheridan Avenue and Reno Avenue was converted from one-way to two-way traffic. That two-way conversion will continue northward to Robert S. Kerr Avenue. And then it will stop. The road will be one-way again – for four blocks – until it hits NW 6 when it goes two-way again.
We can curse this situation. We can question the sanity, the planning and judgment of the city’s engineers. Or we can look for a light bulb. A well-used, but to my knowledge, a still perfectly functional and safe lightbulb.
If the question is simply a matter of this city with an annual $919 million budget can’t afford to buy eight new stop lights for its downtown, then why not just re-use the traffic lights that were removed from streets that have undergone Project 180 reconstruction?
I realize, some of them weren’t very pretty. But when it comes to safety over visual appeal, what’s more important? And yes, I do see confused motorists driving the wrong way on one-way downtown streets on a weekly basis. And yes, we’ve had people killed crossing some of these extra wide one-way streets.
And actually, if one uses Google Earth to explore downtown streets (circa 2009), one will discover some newer traffic lights have been replaced as well – most notably ones at Main and Lee, on Reno in front of the Chesapeake Energy Arena, and at Main and Hudson.
One must also wonder about the “priorities” set by city staff planning Project 180. I didn’t once hear them explain that they were proposing to council that a revamp of Bicentennial Park be a priority over completing the two-way conversion of these streets. I never heard them warn council members that by eliminating the area around NW 5 and Walker they were creating an ongoing hodge-podge of two-way, one-way, two-way traffic sequences on downtown’s busiest streets.
Here’s my promise: I will be keeping a close eye on accidents along these corridors. I will remind readers of this decision. One must wonder if any lawyers read this blog…