I have an extensive background in both construction and technology. I watched with chagrin as the City's contractors demolished the Main Street Mall, which was supposed to "fix" Downtown Tulsa and did not, and constructed a new Main Street for our downtown.
I remember standing on the southeast corner of 5th and Main as the contractor's employees were constructing the Bartlett Square Fountain thinking about how long it was going to be before someone ran into it. As it turned out, less than two years, if memory serves me well. The fountain was rendered inoperable by a young woman from Owasso who T-boned it while trying to navigate her way around downtown late one night.
The City apparently did not have the money to fix the damage and it sat inoperable for quite a time before it was announced that the way the fountain worked was not acceptable and the bowl was going to be removed. While the fountain is now operable, it is an eye sore because of the damage that it has already sustained as a result of being repeatedly run into by other vehicles. The decision to locate the fountain in the middle to Main Street was clearly a policy error. The sooner it is removed the better.
It also seems that someone in the City government or at DTU has an affinity for bricks. I also like bricks but I do not believe that building downtown sidewalks and streets out of them is good public policy. Almost everyone I know downtown wants smooth and safe sidewalks and streets. They do not care for the bricks and do not believe that they make Downtown Tulsa any more attractive.
I did not participate in the decision making process anymore than most of the other people who decided to vote in favor of Vision 2025 and I did not get to participate in the decision to use bricks to pave the three blocks of the new Main Street that were constructed to replace the Main Mall. I question the decision making process that expended millions in public funds to build three blocks of two lane street downtown. The brick sidewalks along 5th Street also represent a poor expenditure of public funds because of the specifications for the bricks that were used.
Assuming that it was good public policy to spend the City's scarce resources on a brick main street, it is truly unfortunate that the citizens of our fair City did not get what they paid for. It is clear that the Main Street paving is failing to perform acceptably. There is a section of Cheyenne north of 2nd Street that is paved with bricks that has been in use for nearly 100 years. There is another section of Cheyenne between 5th and 6th that has not been repaved since sometime before 1980 that is still relatively smooth and quite serviceable.
Almost everyone complains about the downtown streets because they are not smooth. They are not smooth because they have been repeatedly dug up and patched over the years and have not been resurfaced. They do not care that they are asphalt. It doesn't matter whether the street is concrete, asphalt or brick from a functional or appearance point of view. The streets just need to be smooth.
Bituminous asphalt streets are perfectly acceptable, as are traditional concrete sidewalks.
Almost everyone who works downtown is of the opinion that the Boston Avenue reconstruction has been a construction nightmare. What most everyone downtown who I know wanted is for Boston to be two-way and smooth. Presumably, what we are going to end up with eventually is a completely reconstructed street with expensive brick sidewalks that protrude up against the travel lanes on both sides of the street at every intersection, resulting in the loss of street level parking after two years of construction.
I also noticed recently that it is much darker along Main Street from Third Street south to Sixth. The reason for this is that the new decorative lights that have been installed in lieu of the more traditional street lights do not produce as much light. This is particularly disturbing because the City is paying extra for the electricity that is used to light the new lights because AEP does not consider the lights to be street lights and are, therefore, not included in the street lighting contract that it has with the City.
About $20,000 in special assessment district money is being paid to AEP to supply electricity to the new decorative pedestrian lighting along the downtown streets that do not produce as much light as the old lights. People are afraid to come to Downtown Tulsa in the daytime let alone at night. It is axiomatic that anyone who is fearful of venturing into of Downtown Tulsa in the daytime is going to be even more fearful of driving or walking around downtown in the dark. We need well lit streets downtown not cutesy, dark ones.
Frankly, it seems to me that we have examples of bad design, bad engineering and bad construction in Downtown Tulsa with resulting waste of precious public resources.
Jim Norton, Executive Director of Downtown Tulsa Unlimited, recently pronounced at the Tulsa Press Club that the "improvements" being made by the City to Downtown Tulsa will spark a revival of it, but it will be years in the making. I do not know who really makes the public policy decisions that affect our downtown community every day, but I suspect it is not our elected officials but the Director of Public Works, the Fire Chief and the Police Chief.
These three public servants control more than 60 percent of the City's general fund budget and pretty much dictate to our elected officials how all of the $550 million plus tax revenues will be spent. While taking out the Mail Mall and replacing it with a new Main Street was probably a political decision made the Mayor and Counsel, the decisions about what Main Street would look like and how it would function were probably made inside the Department of Public Works.
The plans and specifications for the Main Mall and Boston Avenue "improvements" may well have been contracted out but the letting of the contracts and the execution thereof were the responsibility of the Department of Public Works. Unfortunately, the City of Tulsa spent a lot of money to get what was supposed to be a "pretty street," but what it got was an ugly, dysfunctional, deteriorating street.
I also note that the City elected to replace the asphalt on Denver with concrete. This surprised me because concrete is generally more expensive and it is not very friendly when repairs to the underlying infrastructure are needed. While it arguably lasts longer if it is not disturbed, history would indicate that it will be necessary cut holes in the concrete to access water lines, sewer lines, telecommunications line, etc. on a fairly regular basis.
Once again, I do not know who made the decision to dig up the asphalt on Denver and replace it with concrete, but I think the decision was not a good one. Time always tells us when we make mistakes. Unfortunately, when our public officials make bad public policy decisions, we all suffer. Main Street from Third Street to 6th Street is but one example of bad design, bad engineering and bad construction in one three-block public street.
Downtown Tulsa has been declining as commercial and residential part of our City for decades because of bad public policy decisions. If Downtown Tulsa is ever going to regain businesses and homes, it is going to have to be run differently than has been the case since at least the 1950s when it began to decline in importance.
Converting privately owned property into publicly owned property and building public facilities has not been successful in the past and will not likely be successful now. Doing the same unsuccessful thing over and over with the expectation that doing so will produce success is not good public policy. When combined with bad design, engineering and/or construction, Downtown Tulsa will continue to decline in importance.
Share this article: