Organizers of an effort to compile a comprehensive regional transit study for the Tulsa area aren't taking any chances when it comes to soliciting public input for their project.
They figure if citizens won't come to them, they'll go to the citizens.
"In the early stage of talking about this project, we got a sense that Tulsa is somewhat meetinged out in the wake of PLANiTULSA and other projects," said Mike McAnelly, a senior planner and project manager for the Jacobs Engineering Group Inc., the Dallas-based firm that is leading both the technical and public participation components of the effort. "So we hatched this idea. Instead of asking the public to come to us, we're going to engage them in their communities."
For those who still favor the traditional approach, have no fear. A day-long public event intended to attract people from Tulsa and its surrounding communities, including Broken Arrow, Bixby, Jenks, Sand Springs and Owasso, is scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 19 at Tulsa Community College's Center for Creativity, 910 S. Boston Ave. The "Get Smart About Transit" event will kick off the transit system study.
But for the eight weeks after that, those putting the plan together also will be conducting a mobile outreach effort, visiting dozens of sites throughout the metropolitan area via a retired, 40-foot Tulsa Transit bus outfitted with displays. James Wagner, the senior transportation planner for the Indian Nations Council of Governments, described the bus as a "mobile living room."
"We'll be on the bus four days a week engaging the public at schools, libraries, community centers, churches and other buildings," he said. "We'll be asking them, 'What do you need in terms of public transportation?' We'll have a five-minute video describing the process and how it works."
McAnelly said visitors would be invited to examine the displays and talk to staff members. The purpose of the effort, he said, is to engage those who might otherwise not take part in the process.
The purpose of the plan is to identify and prioritize the region's highest-traffic areas, followed by the creation of a detailed analysis of alternative transportation modes for specific corridors. The feedback obtained from those encounters with citizens will go a long way toward making the study complete, McAnelly said.
"It's essential," he said, explaining that it's important to convince everyone of the value of public transportation, even those who believe they'll never ride a bus. "Without (public transportation), Tulsa would be a worse place and not necessarily a place people would like to be. We would like to begin serving riders who aren't using it today. We want to reach a level of service where people would use it by choice."
The Jan. 19 event begins with a 1:30pm symposium that features Pat McCrory, the former longtime mayor of Charlotte, N.C., who oversaw the development of that community's light rail system, as the keynote speaker.
"He's going to come in and relate the experience he had as the mayor in Charlotte," McAnelly said. "He went through that process from day one, so he's got a lot of really interesting perspectives on this. He presents it in a little different light and analyzes the challenges."
Wagner said a session featuring two developers and an architect on how transit moves the economy will follow McCrory's presentation. Their focus will be on how transit development can help regenerate urban cores -- an aspect of the transit issue that often is overlooked, he said.
The final session of the afternoon event will feature a panel discussion that includes representatives of various stakeholders, including Chris Benge, the director of intergovernmental and enterprise development for the city of Tulsa; Mike Neal, president and CEO of the Tulsa Metro Chamber; and Mark Liotta, chief deputy for the Tulsa County Commission. McCrory will moderate that session.
At 6:30pm at the Center for Creativity, an open house will be held. Wagner said that event will be more of a free-form format in which visitors are introduced to the planning process for developing a transit system plan. McCrory will deliver another presentation on his experience in Charlotte at 7pm, then organizers will unveil the bus they will use to conduct the mobile outreach effort.
Pat McCrory, the former longtime
mayor of Charlotte, N.C., who
oversaw the development of that
community’s light rail system.
Though a schedule outlining specific stops has not been finalized, Wagner said the bus will be in west and midtown Tulsa from Jan. 24-29, Broken Arrow from Jan. 31-Feb. 5, Owasso from Feb. 7-12, north and east Tulsa from Feb. 14-19, Jenks from Feb. 21-26, Sand Springs from Feb. 28-March 5, Bixby from March 7-12 and south and midtown Tulsa from March 14-19.
Wagner said he believes there's already a reasonably high level of engagement among Tulsa-area residents on the transit issue.
"We did a phone survey in September and October where we tried to figure out, 'What's the public thinking about right now?' " he said. "One of the interesting things that came out of that was, only about 64 percent of the people have taken a bus in Tulsa, but about 84 percent of them have taken mass transit in some other city. So I think there's a higher level of understanding out there than we realized.
Wagner also noted that improved transit systems were a big theme of the recently completed comprehensive plan update in Tulsa. Local residents have noticed as other, similar-size cities in the region, including Little Rock, Ark., and Albuquerque, N.M., have developed light rail or commuter rail systems, he said, and many are eager to see those kind of options come to Tulsa.
He said there hasn't been a great deal of public discussion on those alternatives up to this point, but he noted public interest seems to coincide with spikes in fuel prices.
"People feel the pinch," he said. "Off and on, INCOG has gotten a lot of interest. When gas prices fall below $2.50 a gallon, the phone calls fall off. I think people are interested to the point that it impacts them economically."
Nevertheless, Wagner said the phone survey indicated 85 percent of respondents said they were either somewhat interested or very interested in the development of a regional transit plan. He acknowledged that won't necessarily translate to people showing up at a public meeting, but he hopes it does.
"That would help us develop a plan that reflects the needs and attitudes of people in the Tulsa region," he said, noting the success of the public outreach component of PLANiTULSA. "As with any planning process, it should certainly reflect the needs of the people in the region."
Wagner said after the public outreach portion of the effort has been completed in March and common themes have been identified, organizers will spend the remainder of that month and most of April coming up with a draft plan. A final plan should be completed a month after that, he said, meaning it should be delivered by early June.
But that doesn't mean Tulsa area residents can expect to leave their cars parked and take a commuter rail to their downtown jobs anytime soon. McAnelly said there are a great many issues to be worked out before projects start getting built.
"One of the overriding considerations is, it all comes down to money," he said. "How much will it cost, and how much will we be willing to pay for it?"
If the public is going to support those big-ticket items, he said, it needs to have confidence that improved options will follow. That's why it's important, he said, to identify and carry out affordable, short-term improvements to the existing transit system.
An alternatives analysis also would be conducted, McAnelly said, a step that would qualify those new projects for federal funding.
The whole process could take a long time, he said, noting that the beginning of some projects is likely three years away and it could be up to seven years before they are completed.
But for now, McAnelly said organizers are focused on finding out what the public wants.
"It's all about obtaining a consensus and building a constituency of people who understand what is needed and why we need it," he said.
For more information about the Jan. 19 event or the mobile outreach effort, visit transitsystemplan.org.
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