I’ve been continuously pushing for more information on the conversion of Walker and Hudson Avenues from one-way to two-way corridors.
Most regular readers of OKC Central will recall this discussion began with the realization that when city staff sent a recommended trimmed down list of Project 180 improvements, it eliminated reconstruction of Walker and Hudson Avenues between Robert S. Kerr and NW 6. This isn’t entirely crazy – the stretch of Walker in particular was previously rebuilt as a streetscape just a few years earlier and the majority property owner in the area, Rick Dowell, was fighting the city over tearing it up again.
But when those stretches were cut, the result was that motorists and pedestrians faced two-way, one-way and two-way traffic configurations on two of downtown’s busiest streets.
I’ve been hitting city staff with some tough questioning on all of this ever since Public Works Director Eric Wenger confirmed this was the case, and that the completion of Walker and Hudson Avenues to two-way traffic were left as unfunded, unscheduled projects.
When you put this into the historic perspective of Public Works having been instructed by the city council to begin these two-way conversions a dozen years ago, well, how could one not wonder about the indefinite nature of this rescheduling. Even more curious was the decision by city staff to insist the $3 million makeover of Civic Center park was urgent and had to be done this year while taking a far more relaxed approach to Hudson and Walker Avenues.
I’ve talked to business owners and those associated with two of downtown’s most popular destinations along these streets (including the Myriad Gardens and Memorial), and this hasn’t gone over so well with them.
After the initial round of posts and stories on this matter, I pondered the explanation from Wenger that the city had money for traffic control settings for the remaining conversion of Walker Avenue to two-way traffic, but not for the traffic lights. This got me to questioning: why not use some of the perfectly good traffic lights being removed from streets that are being or have been rebuilt as part of Project 180?
This got a response of “yes,” the city does have that option. Then I was informed that money did exist within Project 180 to complete the conversion of Walker Avenue with the current street project – all the way to NW 6.
This left Hudson Avenue as still a two-way, one-way, two-way corridor for the foreseeable future. I was told that this project could not be done as easily as Walker Avenue due to egress questions from properties along Hudson (this was originally cited to me as well as a problem with Walker Avenue). But in surveying aerial photos, I asked, how was this corridor any different in terms of egress than any other downtown? I was then told the concern was mostly related to the county parking garage. I couldn’t get a lot of further explanation as to why this garage’s egress issues were any different from those with the Santa Fe Garage or the Sheridan-Walker Garage. And either way, what was the reasoning behind deeming a $3 million, cosmetic makeover of Bicentennial Park more urgent than completion of Hudson Avenue as a two-way street?
I think we’re getting to the end of this questioning with the latest response. Before we cap this off, let me state what I’ve observed: by and large, the folks I know who work in city planning, public works, finance and administration are all hard-working and generally honest civil servants. It also appears that the combination of Project 180, MAPS 3, the ongoing wrap-up of MAPS for Kids and some unprecedented opportunities for public/private efforts to boost urban core redevelopment, and citywide employment and retail have city staff working as hard as ever – and yet with less manpower to handle that much workload than in prior years due to cutbacks when the economy crashed.
Several key, seasoned and skilled folks at City Hall, meanwhile, have either retired (Jim Thompson), left into private employment but are still working on city projects (Cathy O’Connor and Laura Story), or died way too soon (Mark Carelton).
And that’s that, so to say. And with all this said and done, the latest information coming out is this: city staff are now saying Hudson “hopefully” will be completed on the same track as the fifth package of improvements under Project 180 are completed (set for later this year):
Was there a conscientious decision to eliminate 2-way conversion of Hudson Avenue in favor of Bicentennial Park? Why was the park deemed more important than the two-way conversion?
We never had discussions weighing Hudson versus Bicentennial Park. Our plan is to eventually convert one-way downtown streets to two-way. Hudson is in the conversion plan but not funded as a part of Project 180. We hope to complete the conversion of Hudson from Robert S. Kerr to 6th street by the time we finish Project 180 Package 5 which includes Hudson north to Robert S. Kerr.
(answer compiled and provided by Brent Bryant, who oversees economic development at the city manager’s office)
In my OKC Central column today, I noted the ongoing struggle by two Oklahoma City Council members to get an answer to a question about Project 180 and the rush to complete a $3 million makeover of Civic Center park while other street projects have been pushed back or cut all together.
As the Oklahoma City Council sets out to decide whether to approve designs for a makeover of downtown’s Civic Center park, one question, most recently asked by Councilman Pete White, has gone unanswered.
How, he asked, did a cosmetic makeover of the park take priority over the reconstruction of streets like E.K. Gaylord, the two-way conversion of Hudson Avenue — both streets deemed disaster zones for pedestrians?
I continued the column with a history of this discussion.
The changed implementation of Project 180, as confirmed by City Engineer Eric Wenger and Assistant City Manager Dennis Clowers, boils down to this: the section of Hudson Avenue between Reno Avenue and Robert S. Kerr Avenue already being rebuilt will open as a two-way corridor.
The next section of Hudson Avenue between Robert S. Kerr Avenue and NW 6 will be a one-way street. North of NW 6 the street will then resume as a two-way corridor.
E.K. Gaylord Boulevard, meanwhile, will remain a six-lane-wide corridor separating the central business district from Bricktown and Deep Deuce, which are widely seen as downtown’s most pedestrian-friendly districts.
White’s question went unanswered at last week’s city council meeting. Will it continue to be greeted with silence as the council weighs whether to proceed with the makeover of Civic Center park?
We had a vote on the park. But did the question finally get a response?
White and Shadid did indeed try again to force an answer from city staff as to how a makeover of Civic Center park took priority over downtown street projects again went unanswered.
“Why is this a priority,” Shadid asked. “I know it’s not people’s elected officials making the decisions. And it needs to be.”
Shadid then went on to point out that Project 180 reports to the city council consisted of “fluff.” He quoted from the Devon Implementation agreement that showed the city has failed to meet most of the deadlines listed in the contract and that street projects, including E.K. Gaylord Boulevard and Hudson Avenue, were also required in the agreement.
Both White and Shadid noted the city council was never asked to determine whether the park should be given higher priority over the street projects that are now indefinitely delayed.
“I can’t have it unanswered anymore,” Shadid said. “I can’t be told we have a contractual obligation to Devon when we clearly have many other obligations.”
It was this at this time that Mayor Mick Cornett ended Shadid’s comments.
“Ed,” Cornett said, “I think it’s time to let other people talk.”
Councilman Pat Ryan then noted some people like Chevys and some people like Fords in summing up the disagreement over the park design. Cornett then noted that he believes all the projects are worthy of getting done and he believes all of the work will eventually be finished.
Then Meg Salyer spoke up as the only council member fully endorsing the park makeover design. After speaking in favor of the park project, Cornett cut off the debate, asking Salyer to make a motion for approval of the work.
Looks like my first reactions to the new agenda for the Downtown Design Review Committee match those being asked at OKC Talk. Exactly how is it that city staff can administratively approve replacing brick, as originally voted by the Downtown Design Review Committee, with EIFS Stucco? And what’s up with the windows?
6. DTCA-11-00092, at 250 N Robinson Ave (DBD), by Pierre Derenoncourt for Midland Center LP for revision to original Certificate of Approval to install EIFS in place of originally approved brick veneer on upper levels of the east elevation; and modify the proposed work to reflect only floors 13 to 18 at east elevation.
7. DTCA-11-00092, at 250 N Robinson Ave (DBD), by Pierre Derenoncourt for Midland Center LP, for second revision to original Certificate of Approval to delete previously approved window systems in upper levels of east elevation; install metal panel systems in lieu of windows in same configuration and location at rear elevation.
In other business, as expected by critics of the Civic Center park redesign, the Planning Department is now recommending approval…
Apparently there are some people being left with the impression that I somehow provided “misinformation” about the two-way conversion of Walker Avenue. Let’s be perfectly clear on this: I correctly quoted Public Works Director Eric Wenger in reporting that the city had money for traffic controllers, but not traffic lights, to complete the two-way conversion of Walker and Hudson Avenues. When I raised the question of the traffic lights removed from other streets as part of Project 180 and why they couldn’t be re-used, I was then told by Assistant City Manager Dennis Clowers that yes, this was possible. But a delay was again cited in the interest of doing studies to determine how how the conversion might proceed with existing property egress along the two streets. When I then noted that such studies were supposedly ordered by the city council in 1999, the message went out that the idea Walker Avenue was not scheduled to be converted to two-way traffice was “misinformation.” I’ve now seen evidence of this message going out from city staff on multiple occasions. When I contacted city staff to say I was standing by my reporting on this matter, I was told by Clowers they did not intend to state I had put out misinformation, that instead, they had accidentally misreported to me the availability of existing Project 180 funding that does exist to complete the two-way conversion of Walker Avenue as part of the current contract.
NOTE: City staff still also reports that Hudson will remain a two-way, one-way, two-way traffic corridor until more studies are completed on egress and money is identified for installation of the four remaining traffic lights and restriping.
As noted by frequent OKC Central contributor Dennis Wells in a comment on yesterday’s blog post, the city has shifted its response on the street conversions. Assistant City Manager Dennis Clowers reports that the Project 180 contract will include money for complete conversion of Walker Avenue to two-way traffic after all – and that it will be done this year.
Clowers reports no change in plans, however, for Hudson Avenue. More studies and evaluations on funding, etc., are said to be needed before the section between Robert S. Kerr Avenue and NW 6 can be converted to two-way traffic. This means visitors are likely to encounter a two-way, one-way, two-way traffic pattern along the street from Interstate 40 to NW 6 until the city addresses this matter. I will remind readers, the city council instructed the public works department to begin conversions of one-way downtown streets to two-way traffic in 1999 – which was 13 years ago.
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.
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…