POSTED ON DECEMBER 26, 2012:
On the Roads
Cyclists, walkers want in on roadway tax package
A City Council resolution isn't always the same as political resolve.
But Stephen Lassiter, chair of the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee, points to a unanimous vote in February as reason to "feel cautiously optimistic" that bike lanes and sidewalks might be in the next Fix Our Streets tax package.
The council approved what was described as a "Complete Streets" resolution, which promised that "future street projects in the City of Tulsa should be planned, designed, and operated, when possible ... to provide for a balanced, responsible, and equitable way to accommodate all users including pedestrians, bicyclists, public transit riders, freight providers, emergency responders, and motorists."
The resolution cited both the city's comprehensive plan and guidelines from the international professional group Institute of Transportation Engineers.
Lassiter spoke to UTW a few weeks after presenting committee recommendations to the Tulsa City Council at a Dec. 6 meeting. In response to Lassiter's request for 50 miles of what he called "on-street bikeways" by 2017 -- the city currently has less than a mile of such bike lanes by one estimate -- councilors noted the importance of knowing the cost of any project before committing to support it.
Cost is one issue, but some councilors also spoke about the need to design a tax package in line with the desires of the public, including those who generally aren't bicycling or walking on city streets.
No councilor criticized the committee's goals, and they earned general praise as well-crafted benchmarks.
But "we listen to the people we represent," Councilor Jack Henderson told Lassiter at the Dec. 6 meeting. "I think personally you are going to have a hard battle to fight."
"Lassiter agreed that public support will be key going forward, adding, "the next few months, as public meetings come online, they want to hear that people want some of these changes."
He said it's time for Fix Our Streets to offer something for cyclists as leaders prepare for a second iteration of the tax package.
"Fix Our Streets is the largest investment in infrastructure in Tulsa's history but has done nothing for bicyclists on arterial streets," Lassiter said.
If streets are being worked on, Lassiter said it's a good time to make changes benefiting cyclists.
Along with painted bike lanes -- which Lassiter said could be put in by making car lanes narrower or, in some cases, reducing the number of car lanes -- Lassiter said Tulsa could try some techniques being used in larger cities.
For example, in Tulsa's downtown some streets are very wide and flanked by parked cars. He said cars could be moved away from the curb, with cyclists free to travel between the parked cars and the curb.
Lassiter said he thinks city leaders are "generally supportive and they'd like to see some of these changes, but they need to get a better estimate of the cost."
While some estimates can likely be worked up within the next few months, Lassiter acknowledged that a lack of a master plan relating to bicycling and pedestrian projects means city leaders won't have a full, prioritized list of projects with cost estimates.
The Indian Nations Council of Governments plans to begin such a plan in early 2013. "It would take 18 months to get completed," Lassiter said of it.
He emphasized his view that bicycle-related project have benefits beyond making the streets more accessible to and safer for cyclists.
"Every bike on the road means fewer cars, less congestion, better air quality," Lassiter said.
More driving just leads to future problems, he suggested.
"Everyone drives because the city has given us no choice, and our street network keeps growing," Lassiter said. Having more options could make economic sense, he added.
When it comes to meeting the needs of cyclists, "you want to have a complete network," Lassiter said. "You want a network design where you can get to the places you need to go."
Janette Hammack, another volunteer member of the bicycle and pedestrian committee, said sidewalks are another vital issue for Tulsa.
"Anybody with a disability, they're basically trapped in their own house because there's really no way for them to get around," Hammack said.
In 2010, an advocacy group, Alliance for an Accessible City was formed. But Hammack said the group is no longer active.
At least one notable sidewalk project has moved forward, with new sidewalks part of the effort to repair and widen East 61st Street near South Peoria Avenue.
Some expensive street projects have local support, like the widening of an especially curvy section of South Yale Avenue north of East 91st Street. The project has an estimated cost of roughly $30 million. While Councilor Phil Lakin has described it as an important safety issue, Lassiter has been critical of support for the widening.
The question, Lassiter said, is "whether that's the best use of our money." The problem, Lassiter said, is "we do what's popular, and it may not be in the best financial interests of our city.
But, like any issue put to voters, the issue may simply boil down to what's popular -- and Hammack said she feels like it's a bit of an uphill struggle to find broad support for cyclists and pedestrians among city leadership.
"I think it's because we're so car-centric," she said. She added: "The biggest thing is to get more people advocating for it so they realize this is something that we want."
Send all comments and feedback regarding City to email@example.com
URL for this story: http://www.urbantulsa.comhttp://www.urbantulsa.com/gyrobase/Content?oid=oid%3A55515