Saturday, June 28, 2008

A report came out recently that indicated Oklahoma City and Tulsa were the two cities least prepared for the ramp-up of gasoline prices. We have no mass transit infrastructure. Unless you have a car, you have no practical means of getting around the nation's third largest city in land area.

When OKC was just a pup, the Classens and Shartels developed trolleys to their then-rural land holdings as a way of developing them into residential neighborhoods and increasing their value. Oklahoma City abandoned those trolleys before WWII as the internal combustion engine became popular. But the layout of the city - Classen Blvd., Exchange Blvd., Northwest Expressway, Linwood, etc. - still follows the lines of either the original passenger trolleys or the rapid expansion of the city. Doug Loudenback has an excellent site about the history of Oklahoma City's early transportation system.

When Devon Energy builds their Dubai-sized tower in downtown Oklahoma City (on probably the most congested block of land in the entire metro!), they're going to significantly impact the ingress and egress of Oklahoma City. It's looney to let them do it without some significant infrastructure change to handle the volume. One reason there's not more economic activity downtown is the difficulty of getting in and out. You either pay upwards of $5 to park in a lot blocks from your destination, or you circle around looking for a curb-side parking space. Meanwhile, think how much easier parking is at any of the malls or strip centers around town - they're free and nearby! Who'd want to go downtown if they can avoid it?

Well, the city has lots of streets, and doesn't hesitate to pour new asphalt over bad (when they have the money). I think it's about time to get radical about light rail. Let's start laying down some track! Instead of "that won't work," let's hear city officials start saying, "Where can we start? Where can we get the most bang for our buck?" It may take years to re-establish a vast network of light rail to move people in and out of the city, and it won't be cheap, but it must be done, and the only way to start is to start.

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