In case you missed it, this is a must-see video on the Paseo. Great job done by the folks at NewsOK.
Kris Bryant, a regular visitor at OKC Center, got me thinking on responding to what makes a favorite pedestrian area. Yes, Paseo is a great area to walk. And when you look at the map above, it’s difficult to imagine today’s traffic engineers going for such a design.
Yet it’s safe. For years when I covered City Hall and before that the police beat, I reported an annual list of the most dangerous intersections in the city. And Paseo never came close to getting any mention. I can’t remember covering any big fatal traffic accidents along the stretch.
And yet if you delve into Oklahoman archives, you’ll find plenty of fatal accidents and auto/pedestrian hits on modern suburban crossings.
So what does that tell us? Could it be that when author and consultant Jeff Speck says that a “dangerous” design is actually safer he might be right? Cars aren’t veering off the street into buildings, even though Paseo Drive has quite a curve to it. Maybe it’s because the street is so odd that people don’t dare speed on it.
And that, my friends, is a good thing. Nobody should speed through Paseo – at least no more than one would speed through the Harlem exhibition at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art.
Walking through the Paseo, of course, is the best way to take in all the sights and sounds and the vibe of the area. I feel guilty that I’ve written so little about it compared to other areas. Why is so great? Maybe it’s the art galleries. Or the old 1842 church photographer Tom Lee brought in from Canada and rebuilt on an empty lot. I love that the area proudly displays politics that go against the majority opinion. And you can’t beat Sauced. If you’re going to buy pizza and Caesar salad from anarchists, or simply from people who look like anarchists, geez, you can’t beat Sauced.
Yes, I have a fondness for Paseo. Maybe it’s because I remember all too well when its future didn’t look so bright. I remember the rows and rows of old apartment buildings boarded up as if the area were in the middle of a slum. I remember frequent trips out as a cop beat reporter in the early 1990s responding to shootings and various criminal enterprises. Yet look at it now. Art permeates the neighborhood. It’s found in the architecture, the buildings, the streets, the homes – it’s found even on the foil used on the take-out pizzas prepared by the lovely ladies at Prairie Gypsies if you’re lucky enough to order when artist Phillip Matthews is in the kitchen.
Paseo has a history of attracting the creative class. Back in the 1960s it was quite the hippie hangout. Today the neighborhood is a colorful yet neatly maintained growing island of urban renewal in the middle of a neighborhood whose long-term blight is slowly fading away.
I’m not sure that Jeff Speck ever got to see this side of Oklahoma City. I hope that someone takes him through on a future visit, or at least guides him to this post and to the Paseo’s homepage.
Could we create a new Paseo within downtown itself? I think so. Plans are quietly being drawn up at City Hall that could extend Classen Drive past NW 10 and toward the new federal building, creating a link between the Arts district and MidTown.
Engineers, of course, will likely want to draw a straight line – if they conclude they can’t stop the road from happening all together. Engineers aren’t bad people. Paul Brum took some hits in my column this week, but I liked working with the guy. He was working hard to accomplish what he and those who preceeded him had been tasked with for decades – creating safe, speedy drives for motorists.
Imagine the opportunity, however, of doing something funky with Classen Drive. It could be turned into something truly memorable – a road worth walking. A scar separates MidTown, which is truly downtown’s neighborhood, from the remainder of the urban core.
Jeff Speck, visit Paseo. Better yet, don’t let city leaders give you the tour. Don’t let Paseo promoters give you the tour. Instead, let Kris Bryant be your guide.
Jeff, just tell Kris that Steve sent ya.