Tulsa Sidewalk Stories depicted the struggle many citizens face in their everyday lives as a result of the lack of sidewalks around many different areas in Tulsa.
The Tulsa County Wellness Partnership (TCWP) and the Accessible Transportation Coalition (ATC) came together in a powerful collaboration to create Sidewalk Stories. TCWP is a Community of Excellence in Physical Activity and Nutrition Initiative and is sponsored by the Family Health Coalition and the Tulsa Health Department.
In this unique presentation, an effort was made to look deeper into the lives of five citizens in Tulsa and allow each of them to tell their story. Whether being wheelchair bound or just needing sidewalks simply to travel to school, each storyteller related tales that enabled the underlying emotion of the situation to be felt.
The lack of sidewalks is so much more than budgets and city council meetings. It is the fact that because of the desperate need for improvement, people are inhibited from living everyday life because of a lack of transportation.
Each story showed that sidewalks and better public transportation in Tulsa have the ability to impact people's lives in tremendous ways. Stories were told by people from all walks of life -- from the elderly simply walking to get a meal to the handicapped having to travel on major arterial roads just to get coffee to children with no place to walk to school and those that are forced to use the street as a place to get exercise rather than having an option to walk on a sidewalk.
Shannon Compton works with the Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Committee and has worked very hard with the committee to improve the awareness and push for improvement in many areas.
This diverse alliance is working to show the city council that sidewalks are a necessity in Tulsa.
"They know sidewalks are important, they've heard from some of their constituents that sidewalks are important, but they really need that concerted effort -- that concerted voice from the people saying, 'No, we want sidewalks now,'" she said. It would really help to have citizens to ask their leaders for more of a commitment to get this done sooner. There is money for it, they are getting it done slowly but surely, but if we want it done more quickly, we need to express that."
Oklahoma is ranked 43rd in overall health in the United States as reported by the United Health Foundation. With Oklahoma's obesity rate jumping 1.4 percent to a record high of 29.5 percent, we are now the sixth-fattest state. Obesity is the perfect gateway to a large number of other health issues such as heart disease and diabetes. Don't worry, though: Oklahoma takes the cake for those statistics, too. Oklahoma has the third-highest death rate in the U.S. attributed to heart disease, and heart disease is the number one killer of Oklahomans. When polled, 10.4 percent of the population confirmed that they, at some point in their lives, have been told by a doctor that they are diabetic. This number excludes pre-diabetes and pregnancy induced diabetes.
She Donít Care If Itís Wrong Or If Itís Right. She wouldnít have to put on the red light and walk the streets for money if there were just some damn sidewalks available.
Sidewalks are not only health- and environment-friendly, but they have to power to change Tulsa's economy. For example, when San Francisco improved the quality of their streets and sidewalks in order to better accommodate bicyclists and pedestrians, 40 percent of business owners reported an increase in their sales, and 60 percent reported that more area residents were shopping locally because of the convenience and reduced amount of time it took to get to these businesses.
Tulsa is a very car-centered society and has been that way for decades. With the lack of sidewalks in critical areas, Tulsans are not even given the opportunity to attempt to change that. Almost 85 percent of the money spent on automobiles and fuel leaves Tulsa's local economy.
According to the Indian Nations Council of Governments, if the walkability of Tulsa were to improve enough to enable around 15,000 families to get rid of just one car, Tulsa could retain around $127 million in the local economy. With the health of our state remaining stagnant, perhaps city councilors have a plan.
District 2 Councilor Jeannie Cue met me at the intersection of 51st and Union to show me the improvements that are taking place in that area. Going west along 51st Street, there are sidewalks going in that extend past the Zarrow Regional Library.
"I think everyone on the council would agree that sidewalks are important -- especially in areas that have a lot of walking traffic," she said. And hers is definitely one of those areas.
In the 10 minutes I spent in a parking lot near the 51st and Union intersection, I saw four people walking to surrounding stores who were forced to walk in the grass or the street.
District 2 is in dire need of sidewalks, and now that need is slowly but surely attempting to be met. In this area, the sidewalk construction is funded by a Community Development Block Grant -- federal funds that are used to address the critical issues that require immediate attention in Oklahoma. While Cue's district was fortunate enough to receive that funding, not all districts are as fortunate.
Karen Gilbert, councilor for District 5, expressed the need for sidewalks not only in her district, but all over Tulsa.
"Working in the schools, you'd be surprised how many kids that we have walking to school and we don't have enough sidewalks," she said. "They're either walking in the yards, walking in the grass, or in embankments with the danger of them slipping and falling with nowhere to go but into the street."
It is evident that the members of the city council are aware of the improvements that need to take place, but it is also evident that more needs to be done in order for changes to be seen.
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