Boulevard Plans Gain Momentum

Image of Indonesian roundabout

An example of a roundabout.

I posted last month about the idea of creating a large traffic roundabout for a new grand gateway into downtown Oklahoma City off the new section of Interstate 40, an idea put forth by a group known as Friends For A Better Boulevard.

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation has suggested an elevated roadway into the city off I-40, but that would probably eliminate pedestrian traffic and prohibit development, and some people, including Ward 2 Oklahoma City Councilman Ed Shadid, want a deeper discussion of the issue.

Do we focus solely on the automobile and moving traffic or do we consider the aesthetics of the city, along with walkers, bikers and possible commercial development of an area that could use a positive jolt of energy?

Since my post was published, Shadid has penned perhaps the most extensive argument of creating a grand gateway or grand boulevard into the city, noting other cities have replaced elevated roadways with at-grade or street level boulevards. Writing as a guest blogger on Steve Lackmeyer’s OKC Central blog, Shadid suggests Oklahoma City should consider it as well.

Multiple cities across the country and world have benefitted from the teardown of above-grade urban highways and replacement with at-grade boulevards, which resulted in tremendous economic development in the area as a result. The notion that the Oklahoma Department of Transportation would tear down the elevated I-40, move it slightly to the south, and then place a new elevated expressway through a sizeable portion of the area of the old I-40 (leading some to say we will have obtained two new highways for the price of three) threatens to preclude any such economic and communal benefit. The notion that to save right-of-way costs state engineers are planning a zigzag entrance off the Boulevard into Bricktown is stunning and further elucidates the degree of disconnect between ODOT officials and urban planners.

Shadid also recently posted a link to a live stream of a roundabout in action. In my post, I pointed out that studies show roundabouts are more efficient and safer than intersections.

Meanwhile, The Oklahoman editorial board has also weighed in on the issue, focusing on costs and time schedules.

One group has proposed placing a roundabout at the problem spot. Doing so would require additional time and planning, not to mention more money to buy land and relocate affected businesses. Those costs would have to be borne by the city and not the state Department of Transportation, which is building the boulevard.
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How much of it winds up at grade may ultimately be determined by how much we're willing to spend, and whether we're willing to wait, to see it completed.

Oklahoma City has to get it right when it comes to access off I-40 into downtown. The city and state will undoubtedly have to live with its decision for decades. As we know, Oklahoma City was built almost exclusively around the automobile, which has become hugely problematic because of the growing costs of urban sprawl. The investment of more money and more time to get it right in this case is worth it.