Checking out the Mayor’s state of the city address, it is exciting to see him talk about the need for public transit, stating that “the time has come.” It looks like Maps 3 will focus on:
But today, I am here to tell you that there is much work to be done. And while our momentum is still moving, and our position relative to the rest of the United States is strong, now is not the time to slow down.
So now let us view the city with fresh eyes, concentrating not so much on what we have but what we don’t have. To begin with, look around the country. From a quality of life perspective, there are two high profile shortcomings, two areas that, if addressed, would dramatically further our ascension as a city where people want to live.
The first is public transportation. The second is a centrally located, large public park. Let me expand on these two topics.
Providing quality public transit in Oklahoma City is a difficult task. We were built around the automobile, and as a result, we are spread out. We don’t have the density to easily do it well. We don’t have the density to do it efficiently. So, we have built-in excuses. We have developed into a city where if you don’t own a car, you are out of luck.
But if we truly want to progress as a city, we have to do better.
I have told you that in these addresses before. During my five years in office, I have used this platform to push this conversation forward. Today, I am here to tell you that the time has arrived to take another step.
I urge each of you to check out the Fixed Guideway Study that provides our blueprint for a 21st Century transit system. It can be found at on the Internet at OKFGS.org.
Fully implemented, it calls for a greatly enhanced bus system, including Bus Rapid Transit, and there are also light rail and downtown streetcar components. This blueprint is complete. You may recall we spent a year and a half on the study.
We now know enough to get started, and there are a number of places we can start. But the key is that we need to get started. Not so much for today, because we are not in a public transit crisis. But transit programs take years, if not decades, to implement. Most cities wait until their highways are at gridlock before they begin taking action. Our city has a history of planning for the future, and now is the time to get started. It will take vision from each and every one of us. When gas if affordable and traffic runs smoothly, it can be difficult to gather support for public transit. I will need your help.
The large central park in the Core to Shore project is also critical to our city’s future, and necessary to our ability to adapt to the relocation of Interstate 40. A year ago, in this State of the City address, I showed you the first conceptual images of the Core to Shore project.
Since then you’ve seen them in many other places, and you’ve probably followed the announcement of the first signature project, the Oklahoma City SkyDance pedestrian bridge over the new I-40.
We have never built anything like this before in Oklahoma City, and this bridge will become an iconic image for the millions of motorists who pass through our city. Let this be the first signal that we are serious about Core to Shore, and it also serves notice that we are raising the standards for design in this city. But there is much more to Core to Shore.
The Core to Shore plan is the result of a large and inclusive civic planning process, and it illustrates the benefits of building a large central park that connects the core of downtown to the shore of the Oklahoma River. Also central to the project is the at-grade boulevard that will replace the current I-40. This boulevard won’t just be a street that gets you from point A to point B. With this boulevard, we have the opportunity to create one of the most special streets in the United States.
This opportunity comes upon us because of the relocation of I-40. That relocation will remove the physical barrier that has separated downtown from the River and everything in between. Now, we have the opportunity few cities ever get. We can create a new urban center, just blocks from our central business district. The park and the boulevard are the lynchpins, and they serve as the catalyst for future retail, housing, and a potential Convention Center, which I’ll discuss in a moment.
A fully programmed urban park that ties to the Myriad Gardens and retail development along the new boulevard will be yet another eye-popping signal that Oklahoma City is moving forward. Combined with a public transit system that we can be proud of, a citywide sidewalk program that is already under construction, and a growing trend toward density in the inner-city, the park can be another giant step towards creating the pedestrian-friendly community that we desire. The timeline is doable. Keep in mind, the interstate should be relocated in 2012. The resulting boulevard that will be built along the current interstate alignment should be in place by 2014. The park, ideally, needs to be ready at the same time, roughly five years from now. But like an expansion of public transit, the park is not currently funded.
Together, better public transit and the creation of the Core to Shore park are significant “quality of life” amenities. You have heard me say before that nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come. I suggest that for transit and the Core to Shore park, that time has come.
You have heard me say before that nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come. I suggest that for transit and the Core to Shore park, that time has come.
The only decisions left are how we proceed and how soon.
And while these two initiatives are focused directly on the quality of life for our residents, we have a third important opportunity that focuses directly on our economy and indirectly on job creation. And that is a resolution to our undersized, and thus underutilized, convention center. We are in it today. This building was constructed in 1972 and was last improved in 1999. In 1999, we had one downtown hotel and it wasn’t doing all that well. Now we are soon to have seven downtown hotels and counting. And it appears they are all healthy. But we are currently losing convention business we could otherwise obtain because of the size of this facility.
Kudos to the Mayor for taking a stand on public transit. The time truly has come! Designing the park and deciding on the details of the transit system will give us plenty to discuss in the coming months. And I look forward also to arguing why the placement of a new convention center along the length of the eastern edge of the new park is nothing short of a terrible idea! You would think one under utilized downtown park ruined by an adjacent convention center would be enough, but apparently we want another one.
Time is of the essence – if they are going to put this to a vote in the fall then the plans will have to be nearly complete sometime this summer. But for now, Maps3 is on the horizon and public transit is coming with it – enjoy it. It is a good day!