Assistant City Manager Dennis Clowers just called me. They’re aware of this conversation. Clowers was the former public works director and that department is one of several that answer to him.
He said the city “has every intention” of finishing the conversion of Hudson and Walker to two-way traffic. But, he added, “it’s not just going to happen overnight.”
He repeated what was apparently told to Ed Shadid. I challenged him on the studies, noting studies began a dozen years ago. I asked, what is more urgent – a cosmetic makeover of the Civic Center park or the safety and function of Hudson and Walker Avenues?
At this point Dennis, who I do respect greatly, acknowledged this matter may not have been addressed with the diligence it deserves. He acknowledged the two-way, one-way, two-way pattern will be less safe for visitors than what we had before. He said city staff is going to get on top of this, and that this matter will be addressed with the same urgency being given to the park.
For downtown businesses, development of the urban core, consultants have determined street traffic patterns can make or break economic development.
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…
Sometimes you never know when and where someone of stature is going to confirm what is the next big story. Here’s all the marbles folks – I’ve been tracking what appears to be yet another skyscraper in the making for downtown. I don’t have the story nailed down yet – I’ve spent a lot of time trying to do just that. But for those of you who think I’m taking crazy pills, consider what Mark Beffort said at a real estate forum today – one covered by my esteemed co-worker and sometimes partner in crime Richard Mize:
Mark Beffort said another new corporate headquarters will be built downtown starting this year, but he didn’t say what company. He also said would-be tenants are vying for Devon Energy’s current space, but he didn’t say who.
The deals are in the works, said Beffort, principal with Grubb & Ellis-Levy Beffort. He spoke at the Skirvin Hilton Hotel at the Forecast Conference of the Commercial Real Estate Council of Oklahoma City.
And to anyone who insists Devon’s move into its new 50-story, 1.8-million-square-foot tower starting next month will wreck the downtown market for office space, he said, “I tell you, you are wrong.”
He said downtown, with a vacancy rate of 12.9 percent in Class A and Class B office buildings for lease, will take some time to absorb all of the 800,000 square feet Devon will leave behind in several buildings. But he said he expects almost one-third of it — about 250,000 square feet — to be filled in six to nine months.
SO, what does this all mean? Well, keep in mind Beffort is no run-of-the-mill downtown real estate guy. He represents the group that owns Leadership Square, Oklahoma Tower, Corporate Tower and CityPlace Tower. He is, to quote Ron Burgandy, “kind of a big deal.” This also means we’re tracking a new building for SandRidge that will likely be 10 to 20 stories high, a convention center hotel that will be at least 15 stories high, and this mystery corporate headquarters, which could be higher than anything we’ve seen – well, before Devon Tower that is.
Gotta love it when frequent OKC Central contributor Will Hider manages to dig up something that is a 100 percent match for my latest story. Today he posted a vintage 1930s era map of Oklahoma City that included this great glimpse of how old Route 66 traveled along NW 23:
And this coincides nicely with my latest column about NW 23 and how it could be boosted by embracing its Route 66 heritage.
Which brings us to a nice photo history of the corridor from Oklahoman archives:
Finally got the banner updated… I like it.
One of the features of the proposed makeover is a series of “spinner towers” that would be funded through private donations. It just so happens that one of these towers is on display outside of architect Rand Elliott’s offices at 6th and Harrison. I hope this photo helps.
I’ve also been asked to reprint Blair Humphreys’ full remarks concerning this project. I will also note that I’ve asked Elliott if he wants to comment on this matter – so far he has politely declined to do so.
Humphreys is no stranger to long-time readers of OKC Central. He is Executive Director of the Institute for Quality Communities and Asst Professor in the College of Architecture. He has a Masters in City Planning and Urban Design degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a BBA in Entrepreneurship from the University of Oklahoma. He is a founding member of ULI Oklahoma, currently serving as the Vice-Chair for Mission Advancement of the statewide organization.
Humphreys teaches graduate-level Urban Design Theory, and has previously taught in the Urban Design Studio. In 2011, Blair served as the faculty advisor of OU’s award winning Hines/ULI Urban Design Competition team. He also has acted as a consultant in development efforts along Automobile Alley and in MidTown.
Humphreys’ comments to Downtown Design Review Committee on the Civic Center Park redesign:
The new Myriad Gardens is special.
It is a captivating mix of spaces and attractions that seem to offer something for everyone on every day, all year long. It gets right everything that the old Myriad Gardens got wrong, while being careful to retain everything that the old Myriad Gardens got right.”
In fact, the shift from rigid to flexible is something of a theme with a park now appropriately offering “myriad” attractions for a range of users. A restaurant will sit on the edge of a fun-natured plaza sure to host laughing children year-round. The plaza features a splash fountain during the summer that converts to a skating rink during the winter.
As famed urbanist William Whyte pointed, “What attracts people most, it would appear, is other people.” The new Myriad Gardens gets this: It is a public space for people. Hopefully, it is just the beginning of our transformation into a city for people — a city worth staying in.
Simply put, the new Myriad Gardens and all Project 180 improvements to date have made our city a better place for people. The new Bicentennial park design does not.
I expressed similar concerns to the project manager about the direction of this park at informational meeting about Project 180 over two years ago when I was told that this park would be focused on passive observation. I am not aware of a single successful public park created for passive observation. Citygarden in St. Louis, the best new sculpture garden in the world, is the opposite, encouraging interaction with the art and among the adults and children that flock to it.
I have been waiting these two years for a public forum in which to offer my input both as a passionate promoter of great public spaces and a native citizen of Oklahoma City. I am not aware of any public meeting I missed, but apologize that these criticisms have not been offered until today.
When compared to the existing Bicentennial park, the new design is:
less respectful of our city’s history
and far less appropriate for such an important civic site.
What makes the Myriad Gardens special is that it was carefully crafted for the people of our city, whether workers downtown, residents from surrounding neighborhoods, or children enjoying a sunny Saturday afternoon. It may not win an architectural design award or be praised by the critics in New York and Chicago, but it is already cherished by the people of our city and will be for many decades to come.
In the case of the new Bicentennial Park, with polished steel, fresh landscaping and an abundance of beautiful granite it will definitely have some initial appeal. But ultimately, the inherent flaws of the design as a usable public space for people will lead to the parks demise. While we will be able to rectify this mistake with further design and additional investment, we will not be able to retrieve the history lost or return the money wasted.
I don’t support a continuance, rather I recommend denial of this item to provide for a complete redesign that includes the input of the community and the expertise of a proven public space professional. I would encourage the city to design a park (not to meet the 75th anniversary gala deadline next fall, but) that will still be cherished when the Civic Center’s 100 year anniversary gala takes place.
In the past week since the Downtown Design Review Committee, Planning Department and Public Works clashed on the proposed makeover of the Civic Center park, I’ve heard only negative comments about the designs by Rand Elliott and Tulsa-based PDG Inc., which call for the removal of all trees (some of the biggest trees to be found downtown), sculptures, monuments and other landscaping. Read the full story on that debate here.
Rand Elliott doesn’t think small – I think it’s safe to say everyone would agree he always attempts to hit a home-run – he aspires to create great, eye-catching architecture and design. And I think his biggest fans and even his greatest critics would agree that the city is better off with his imprint. But what if one of those high-flying balls ends up being a foul? Will anyone tell the slugger when his latest hit didn’t go so well?
That’s the question ahead ahead for those who see this hit as a foul ball rather than a home run. I’m hearing that any differences between city planners and engineers is being ironed out behind the scenes and that the rare display of disagreement will disappear with a reapplication of the designs that skip over, for now, questions about the proposed archway, spinning towers and City Hall fountain.
Of course, that still leaves a lot of questions unresolved. I’ve been asked by more than a dozen different readers what they need to do to voice their opposition to these designs. They say these designs were not fully vetted, and some also are questioning whether the committee that reviewed this work consisted of too many people hand-selected by the design team.
This project HAS NOT been approved by the mayor and council. It must get five or more votes to move forward. So to those asking how they can voice their disapproval – or approval – now is the time to contact the mayor and council.
Ward 1 Councilman Gary Marrs: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ward 2 Councilman Ed Shadid: email@example.com
Ward 3 Councilman Larry McAtee: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ward 4 Councilman Pete White: email@example.com
Ward 5 Councilman David Greenwell: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ward 6 Councilwoman Meg Salyer: email@example.com
Ward 7 Councilman Skip Kelly: firstname.lastname@example.org
Ward 8 Councilman Pat Ryan: email@example.com
Mayor Mick Cornett: firstname.lastname@example.org