To fully understand how long the city has been dragging its feet (yes, I said it) on converting downtown’s one-way streets to two-way traffic, consider this 1999 story. Think about who’s names are on this story. Jack Money, my former writing partner, left the paper two years ago. Jay Swearingen hasn’t lived in Oklahoma in about a decade. Amy Brooks left the state as well. Ann Simank stepped down from the council a few years ago and now oversees the Public Inebriate Center. Paul Brum is dead. I am the only one left. This story, comments left at OKC Talk are jogging my memory. I remember how proponents of the one-way street conversions were skeptical of whether the city’s public works department REALLY wanted to make this happen. They had seen projects the department didn’t embrace get buried in study after study. Veteran City Hall observers like the late Councilman Mark Schwartz had schooled me on how city staff could, and did, “kill” projects through delays, studies, confusion, and funding “short-falls.” Schwartz called it “confuse and delay.” Read the story below and you’ll see hints of where the proponents saw the hiring of Cobb Engineering as yet another subterfuge toward stopping or slowing down yet another project.
A former, early employee of Downtown Oklahoma City Inc. jogged my memory of another discussion – a presentation done on street conversions by Brum – in 2000 that resulted in similar concerns. During the presentation he gave off every impression that he had no enthusiasm for implementing this project.
Thirteen years later, we’re being told once again more studies are needed. And that the funding, which was fully provided for in Project 180, was cut for completing the conversion of these streets. City staff instead gave priority to cosmetic projects like the much-maligned makeover of the Civic Center park, precedence over making Walker and Hudson Avenues two-way corridors. This detail was omitted from the Project 180 presentations to city council and the Devon Implementation Committee.
But this time, city staff is asking for faith that this time they’re serious. Gang, I’m still here, watching and reporting. And I’ve got no intention of going away. I won’t be confused. There will be no delay in my scrutiny.
Green Light Given To Traffic Study
By Jack Money, Steve Lackmeyer
Monday, April 26, 1999
Edition: CITY, Section: COMMUNITY III, Page 01
Oklahoma City is finally moving forward with a traffic study that could address complaints from metropolitan area drivers and pedestrians about downtown’s confusing one-way streets.
But not everyone is convinced the study, due for completion in about four months, will change the traditional thinking that brought one-way streets to the downtown business district.
The downtown Oklahoma City streets were changed in the 1970s to provide quick, orderly movement of oil-boom workers and their automobiles to and from their offices.
While the study is applauded by most, some downtown leaders privately fear the selection of a local engineering firm to conduct the study will skew its results toward keeping the streets.
Jay Swearingen, director of the Automobile Alley Main Street Program, is one downtown leader who says the streets need to be changed.
He said they are unattractive to pedestrians and potential streetside business operators.
“We have far too many one-way streets in downtown Oklahoma City,” said Swearingen. “They can discourage people who don’t have much downtown driving experience.
“And the effect on pedestrians is just enormous. Any study of downtown traffic patterns should include pedestrian movements and how potential street changes impact them.”
He added the study should also look at how changes in street directions would impact mass transit services, bicycle lanes and other forms of transportation.
Two Oklahoma City council members agree.
Ward 2 representative Amy Brooks and Ann Simank, the Ward 6 council member who represents much of downtown, emphasized pedestrian needs before the council authorized negotiations to hire an engineering firm for the study.
Brooks and Simank actually took time recently to cross Hudson Avenue, one of the city’s busiest one-way streets.
The two council members waited for the light to turn green and crossed the street, having no trouble arriving on the other side before the lights turned against them.
However, they also discovered a 30-second or longer delay in starting across Hudson could easily leave them crossing against a red light.
“Downtown is becoming busier and busier… and it’s time to look at these one-way streets,” Simank said.
She added that her council office has received complaints about downtown streets from out-of-town visitors.
Brooks said she believed two-way streets would help slow Oklahoma City’s downtown traffic. She said pedestrians today often face a psychological challenge of crossing one-way streets.
“When you get in there, you feel like you have to get across real fast,” said Brooks. “It’s like trying to get around downtown Dallas – trying to get around there with the one-ways. If you only go there occasionally or if you’re a visitor, trying to get where you are going is very difficult.”
Oklahoma City’s current street directions create pairs of one-way streets to move motorists quickly in and out of the downtown district.
The city’s NW 5 and NW 6 street corridors were the city’s original east-west link to Interstate 235 and one-way northbound and southbound streets.
NW 6 continues to be one way westbound from its origin at I-235 to Classen Boulevard. NW 5, meanwhile, was broken into two segments by the closing of the street where it passed in front of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building.
Today, a block of NW 5 between Harvey and Robinson is part of the Oklahoma City National Memorial.
Members of the Oklahoma City Traffic and Transportation Commission voted this month to make NW 5 a two-way street a block west and a block east of the memorial site.
Between Hudson and Classen, and between Broadway and Interstate 235, NW 5 continues to be a one-way eastbound street.
Oklahoma City has two major pairs of northbound and southbound one-way streets.
One pair is Robinson Avenue, a southbound street, and Harvey Avenue, which takes vehicles northbound. These two streets bracket the heart of the downtown office district.
The other pair is Hudson Avenue, southbound, and Walker Avenue, a northbound street.
These streets take motorists past Oklahoma County, City Hall and the Civic Center Music Hall, the seats of local government and the city’s cultural center.
Oklahoma City Public Works Director Paul Brum said he anticipates the study will recommend eliminating many of downtown’s one-way streets.
Brum said the engineering firm, Cobb Engineering, is using a consultant with decades of traffic engineering experience.
“The report is going to talk about one-way and two-way streets,” said Brum. “It also is going to talk about pedestrian issues and how the streets affect them.”
The public works director said the firm will evaluate pedestrian needs along with its traffic studies.
Brum downplayed the concerns privately expressed by several downtown interests that the selection of an engineering firm instead of a planning-oriented firm might skew the study’s recommendations to favor vehicles over pedestrians.
Brum said only local engineering firms applied for the job. No “planning” oriented firms responded to advertisements for the project.
“Where did these people want me to go to hire someone? New York City?” he asked.
As for the agreement, Brum said it will take his staff a few weeks to negotiate a price with Cobb Engineering.
Brum said Oklahoma City already has extensive studies examining many of downtown’s traffic issues.
“We have done some previous studies, looking at traffic counts, parking issues and access points into the downtown street system,” Brum said.
“We didn’t go as far as determining whether one-way or two-way streets were needed, then, though, because we were waiting for a decision from the state on where it would relocate Interstate 40 and on further implementation of the city’s Metropolitan Area Projects.
“Now that we are further along on those issues, we can look at whether or not these streets should be changed. And I expect many of them will be.”
Swearingen said he hopes Brum is right.
“A good traffic study should be concerned with how well it moves people – not how fast it moves cars,” he said.