POSTED ON APRIL 21, 2011:
Desirous of Fast Tracks?
Friday is the last day for citizens to weigh in on a regional transportation plan
Armed with more than 2,000 surveys filled out by members of the public, developers of a new metropolitan transportation plan hope to have a draft version of that document ready for release by late May.
James Wagner -- regional transportation planner for the Indian Nations Council of Governments, which is overseeing the process -- said the public outreach portion of the Fast Forward project largely has been completed, though it was such a success, a few events were added to the schedule in April. The last of those will take place Friday, April 22, when the Fast Forward bus makes a stop at ONEOK Field for the Tulsa Drillers-Springfield Cardinals game that will be highlighted by a fireworks show.
Fast Forward personnel took the bus, which is outfitted with a series of displays outlining the planning process, to dozens of locations throughout the metropolitan area over a 10-week period from late January through the end of March, including stops in Owasso, Broken Arrow, Bixby, Jenks and Sand Springs, as well as Tulsa.
Organizers are trying to put together a transportation plan for the region for the next 30 years, identifying and prioritizing its highest-traffic areas, as well as compiling a detailed analysis of alternative transportation modes for specific corridors.
"Now we've got our heads down, and we're going to be working on a draft version of the plan for the next 30 days," Wagner said last week. "In mid to late May, we should be ready to release a draft plan for people to chew over."
Wagner was very pleased at the public response to the outreach effort.
"By our count, we had about 2,053 people we engaged just by being there," he said of various stops the bus made around the metro area. "And that's not counting our kickoff event or any of our other events.
"There's no way we could have achieved that level of involvement if we had just done events at libraries. We felt like it was well worth the effort we put into it, and we got good feedback from people."
Many of those responses, Wagner said, came from those who have had experience with mass transit in other cities and find Tulsa's system lacking.
"They said they can't use mass transit here because it requires so many transfers or the buses don't run often enough," he said. "They want to use transit, but we've got to make it easier for them."
The public input did provide some "low-hanging fruit," Wagner said, referring to changes local transit officials can institute at minimal cost to make the system more user friendly. One example of that, he said, was a complaint that bus schedules are difficult to use and need to be simplified.
Wagner acknowledged that one possible element of the plan -- a light-rail commuter system -- drew a great deal of public interest, though most citizens seemed to understand the challenges of putting that project together.
"A lot of people realize that is a huge investment," he said. "Most people realize we've got to have something to give us a bridge from now to that -- if we're ever going to get to that. A lot of them said if we could provide a big, comfortable, nice express bus, they'd go on that."
One Fast Forward bus display outlined the cost per mile for different transportation modes, providing a good measuring stick for the alternatives being explored. Wagner said that display made it clear that streetcars are a much more affordable proposition than a light-rail system, though they usually are limited to certain areas.
"That's more of a downtown circulator," he said. "It's not going to help you get from downtown to Owasso. Most people understand that."
The public outreach component of the planning process was very important, Wagner said, given the emphasis federal officials place on it.
"You have to do this process to get any kind of federal funding, and that is drying up as we speak," he said. "But you don't want to cut corners on something like that. That's a competitive environment because you're competing with places like Los Angeles or Seattle, places with tremendous traffic congestion problems. That's why we wanted to look at the whole ranges of alternatives."
What Wagner heard from people was very encouraging, he said.
"A lot of people said, 'Hey, if there was a bus every 10 or 15 minutes, that would be fine,' " he said.
Fast Forward personnel are still compiling all the data from the citizen surveys that were collected, which Wagner described as a major effort. The survey asked residents what modes of transportation they wanted, how often they wanted it and what days they wanted it.
The Dallas-based Jacobs Engineering Group Inc. was contracted to lead the public input and technical components of the effort.
Wagner said he was a bit surprised that so many area residents brought up the alternative of monorail transportation. That transportation mode tends to be used only in places like Disneyland, he said, where high volumes of riders are moved along a fixed, elevated structure to other high-volume areas, although the city of Seattle has one, as well.
"That's not something that's a strong candidate for anything in Tulsa because of the exorbitant cost of building a structure, and it's not regarded as pedestrian friendly because you have to climb the stairs to get to it," he said.
But many local residents still recalled a monorail proposal floated by then-Mayor Jim Inhofe more than a quarter-century ago, according to Wagner.
"Once I understood that, I understood why people were talking about it," he said.
For the most part, Wagner said, the public feedback was simple and straightforward.
"Most people said, 'The transit system would be better if we had more of it,' " he said.
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