Are we there yet?
An update on Tulsa’s recent transportation advances
Transportation affects our lives every day. From road construction to public transit to bike trails, we all have an interest in making sure our transportation network advances Tulsa. Here is a snapshot of what’s going on with transportation planning for the future — today.
Buses are cleaner than your car
By the year 2020, 40 percent of the U.S. population will be older adults, and 25 percent of those over age 75 will not drive.
It will be necessary to keep this growing demographic from becoming isolated, as the car determines mobility options in many parts of the metro.
Tulsa Transit’s recent addition of 15 compressed natural gas (CNG) buses and 35 Lift paratransit vehicles to its fleet will enable it to provide more cost-effective service and perhaps increase service for this demographic.
If you catch a ride on one of the buses, you’ll notice how quiet it runs and how smooth the ride feels. The ride may even convince you to buy the $40 unlimited monthly pass and take the bus to work!
These buses will run much cleaner than the old diesel buses, and eventually all of Tulsa Transit’s fleet will be converted to CNG fuel, saving nearly half of the current fuel budget, which can be plowed back into providing more frequent service.
Something happened a few months ago that has the potential to change the way the city of Tulsa designs and builds streets.
On Feb. 2, the City Council passed an ordinance that supports a policy of designing streets to accommodate all types of transportation modes, including pedestrians, bicyclists, public transit riders, freight providers, emergency responders and motorists.
This represents a big step forward in implementing the transportation component of the city’s new comprehensive plan (commonly known as PlaniTulsa).
What’s more, it aligns Tulsa with a U.S. Department of Transportation policy that urges state and local governments to go beyond minimum standards to accommodate bicycles and pedestrians.
It also means that street design will start to systematically take into account the context of land use to determine street and sidewalk width, transit stops, bike lanes and on-street parking.
Some examples of this approach to street design already exist around Tulsa. The stretch of Peoria Avenue in the heart of Brookside takes into account the context of the adjacent land use quite well by incorporating median islands, stamped pavement to define pedestrian space and on-street parking to create a buffer between pedestrians and cars.
Just recently, 15th Street, from Peoria to Utica avenues, was reduced to two lanes to make room for more angled parking to accommodate the adjacent land uses.
The “Complete Streets” policy will support a context-sensitive process for new street projects around the city.
This isn’t your schoolyard bike rack
Complete Streets and new buses aren’t the only ways Tulsa is recognizing other modes of transportation besides the car.
This summer, around 100 new bike racks will be installed downtown, on Cherry Street, on Brookside and in the Pearl District.
These bike racks will finally signal that it’s all right to ride your bike to a restaurant, and when you do, there will be a place to park it.
Restaurant owners downtown have reported that nearly half of their employees ride a bicycle to work.
Right now, many of these employees are chaining their bikes to no-parking signs or gas meters. Installing these new bike racks will signal a new, welcoming attitude for cyclists.
The transportation pocketbook
These are not just transportation options for their own sake. Such choices have a big impact on household economics.
In 2010, an INCOG study revealed that seven in 10 Tulsa metro households spend more than 45 percent of their income on housing and transportation combined.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development is using this new measure of housing plus transportation cost to determine the relative economic impact of the “drive till you qualify” phenomenon, in which would-be homeowners ventured farther into the suburbs to find houses they could afford, only to pay higher transportation costs.
HUD noticed that transportation costs often outweighed the cost of similar housing closer to work, resulting in a net loss for families trying to keep their housing costs low.
Planning for the future
All this is only the beginning.
In October 2011, INCOG adopted the Tulsa region’s first-ever regional transit system plan.
The plan, commonly known as Fast Forward, takes a realistic long-range view of what public transportation options should be over the next 30 years.
It lays out a path for developing corridors of transit that connect major activity centers. After all, transit is really about connecting where people want to go with when they want to go there.
In the coming months, INCOG will begin the process of studying in detail one of the highest-ridership corridors, Peoria Avenue/Riverside Drive.
The existing Tulsa Transit route carries 1,500 passengers daily and at times becomes standing room only.
The process of studying the corridor, known as Alternatives Analysis, will determine the right fit for major transit improvements on that corridor as well as the costs and trade-offs among different transit options.
The corridor would connect Brookside, Cherry Street, downtown and points north and south, serving a variety of businesses and neighborhoods. More information on that study can be found at www.fastforwardplan.org.
* American Institute of Certified Planners