Wednesday, October 27, 2010

More thoughts on Core to Shore

One of the problems with Oklahoma City's Core to Shore redevelopment is that the area - from Reno to the Oklahoma River - is bisected by both I-40 and the railroad tracks. Whether you lower the interstate below grade or narrow the tracks to one, the problem still exists - it's going to be difficult to move from the north half to the south half and back.

Planners' solution was to build a "pedestrian bridge" evoking a scissortail flycatcher, the state bird, between the two. Theoretically, people would be able to spend their blissful Sunday afternoons crossing the Skydance Bridge while gazing upon the flow of 80,000 vehicles a day beneath them. Kinda gives you the warm fuzzies, doesn't it?

Today we learn that the bridge's cost has skyrocketed from $5 million to $12.5 million, due in large part to the Oklahoma Department of Transportation's requirement that the pedestrian bridge be big enough and strong enough to carry maintenance vehicles. Under the new design, the suspension cables would be simply for show - the bridge decking would be strong enough to carry its own weight. Oh, and it will be narrowed from 30 feet to 20 feet.

Folks, this is ridiculous. First of all, people won't be inclined to walk from the north end of Core to Shore to the south end. They'll drive to a parking space as close as possible to their destination. If they're going to a waterfront venue, they won't park north of I-40 and take a leisurely stroll eight blocks to get to where they wanted to be in the first place.

Second, this is intended to be a pedestrian bridge. ODOT can find some other place to drive their maintenance vehicles. ODOT is trying to preempt the project, and in doing so will drive up the cost (something they're very good at) and make it less enjoyable by everyday people. Narrowing the bridge by a third will also make it less practical for its intended purpose.

Third, the City has completely overlooked inclusion of light rail into the equation. All discussions about light rail - the most popular component of MAPS 3 - have been at or north of the boulevard that will replace the old I-40 route. To succeed, downtown needs to include the concept that people will be able to use transportation other than foot or car to enter and leave C2S. If I'm working in the federal office building and want to spend my lunch break on the Great Lawn, wherever it will wind up, I'm not gonna hoof it down there. Let me catch the trolley to the park and back. Restricting access to pedestrian only will restrict the number of people who are likely to utilize the massive complex.

Another advantage of planning light rail integrally into C2S is that less acreage will be necessary for parking. Why spend $30,000 to build a parking space when the person's vehicle is already parked in a COTPA parking garage a mile away? Instead of driving to their destination, they can just catch the trolley and leave their car behind.

The scissortail bridge should include provisions for light rail extension in its plans. I don't care if the trolley crosses in the middle of the bridge, or alongside it or underneath it, but one bridge is less expensive than two. If the point of the bridge is to transfer people from one half of C2S to the other, why not do both at the same time? Otherwise, there will be resistance to adding a light rail bridge adjacent to the beautiful iconic scissortail bridge because of aesthetics. Do it right the first time.

This concept is nothing new. Lots of cities have multi-purpose bridges, even double-deck bridges. Portland recently announced plans for a new bridge across the Willamette River that would carry their popular MAX light-rail line and pedestrians/bicycles, but no cars or trucks. The designer of the Caruthers Bridge, architect Miguel Rosales, said, "To have a cultural impact, you need to innovate," he said. "A bridge, it's for everybody. It has an enormous influence." That's true for Oklahoma City as well.

One final suggestion. If you've been to New York City, you may have visited Columbus Circle, at a corner of Central Park. Here's a photo of it, through the glass wall of the adjacent Time Warner Building.

Everyone's familiar with Leonard McMurry's statute of the 89er driving his stake into the ground. That statute is currently tucked away on Couch Drive downtown. It's easy to miss while you drive south on Robinson. Why not place a traffic circle at the intersection of the I-40 boulevard and Walker, comparable to Columbus Circle, that will ease the traffic flow from north-south and east-west into downtown and Core to Shore? In the center of that traffic circle, place a large fountain topped by the 89er statute. It wouldn't need to be as tall as the Columbus monument's 70 feet; maybe just 20 feet or so. But I guarantee you, tourists will be taking pictures of themselves in front of that statute and fountain from the Grand Lawn, with Devon Tower and the rest of the downtown skyline in the background. "This is where we started, this is where we are today." That will be the image of Oklahoma City by which the world will know us.

Just a few thoughts.

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