POSTED ON MAY 25, 2011:
The cinematic, steampunk future of transportation in T-Town
Cities that make travel easy, craft low-carbon footprints and make compelling provisions for walking, biking, bus transit and next generation car trips will be powerful, healthy and wealthy places.
Our city and region has a lot to change and we must revisit habits and technologies we have all but abandoned to make the mark.
The recombinant work Tulsa needs reminds of a line of films I love: the striking thing about movies like The Golden Compass, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and 12 Monkeys are the visual aesthetics and techno mixes at their cores. Those three films are all striking mash-ups of places a lot like ours in most ways, but with strange modes of Victorian locomotion, gonzo technologies we haven't witnessed in our world or wild tweaks on stuff that we've dropped too early.
Some call this film/art genre steampunk -- and such a notion could be central to Tulsa's travel futures.
Think blimps, bikes, buses and revamped boulevards and you have the beginnings of re-imagined Tulsa travel. What's needed is a radical rethink of the pace, scale and character of our "trip project," one has already been tentatively sketched out by the PLANiTULSA staffing crews and the thousands of Tulsans who participated in the scenarios and guide-work to Tulsa's future.
This is what the PlaniTulsa summary document says about transport futures:
"Tulsans will have a wide variety of transportation choices for getting around town. Those who didn't live in neighborhoods near the city's major boulevards will be able to drive, bike, or catch a quick and reliable bus trip or streetcar to just about anywhere. The network of transit options, large arterials, pedestrian friendly neighborhoods and employment centers will result in one of the safest most efficient transportation systems in the country. Commuters will spend half as much time deployed in traffic expected in 2009, with most trips to work being as short as 10 min."
Other improvements: giving Tulsans real time access to traffic volumes in their immediate areas, and info on congestion, accidents and bus headways. A concentration of capital improvements to pay for sustainable and super-durable materials for streets, and for ongoing maintenance to streets and bridges is also part of what's required.
Traffic signalization improvements, a powerful sensor grid and anticipating the myriad recharging, zoning, safety and waypoint challenges to support upcoming avalanche of electric/advanced hybrid cars will also be needed.
Bigger Than Busses
Social/economic justice is part of the traditional rationale for having an agile, efficient bus system in Tulsa.
A bus system that really delivers on the basics, that reaches virtually everyone who may need it fulfills the "he/she who would eat must have a way to get to work" dynamic. There are thousands in the Tulsa area who have difficulty getting to and from work places. Crucially, directly affected folks have no other assured access to the workplace. Some years ago, U.S. economists talked about a "frictionless economy" -- an economy wherein huge transactions/funds flowed at the push of a button, where workers could find jobs matching their skills and other needs. Tulsa's Fast Forward transit planning project, executed by the Transit Authority, INCOG and dozens of ordinary Tulsans, have looked at a host of options including a radical but amazingly doable and very practical one -- Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).
Robert Sullivan in a New York magazine article from last July:
" ... if you want to see the future of New York, and head out to the Bronx, take a bus. This is not the future of New York in which everyone has a solar powered jet pack that takes them high over the city's organic farmlands... This is the future as seen in the new bus lines: the BX 12 ... service ... "
Bus Rapid Transit is in use or being implemented in a dizzying variety of places, some much larger and more dense than Tulsa, including Houston; Bogotá, Columbia; Jakarta, Indonesia) and some that are about the same size or smaller (Edinburgh, Scotland, Reno, Nev., Salt Lake City, Hartford, Conn.
Bus Rapid Transit uses fast headways, semi-dedicated lanes, intelligent routing and an ensemble of small and big bus (CNG & electric) vehicles to make "busing" compelling, and vastly more accessible.
When breakout systems, like Bus Rapid Transit, are joined with automated vehicle location software, smart phones and on-call routing, we may be on the cusp of a transformation unimagined in transit ridership -- and one that is a grand match for the Tulsa region.
There are lots of folks -- including many Tulsans who have one or more cars - who could benefit greatly from a Bus Rapid Transit system. In fact, all Tulsans would benefit if significant BRT ridership actually dampened our problematic air quality problems, and it's likely that thousands of adults and children would see their asthma problems diminished.
But there is stark, additional rationale for something like BRT: without a agile transit option, Tulsa could experience a big crash spawned by an explosive rise in the cost of gas.
INCOG, the Tulsa Transit folks and the City of Tulsa are exploring BRT. Interestingly enough, recent surveys commissioned by INCOG/Fast Forward planning project suggest that Tulsans are ready to look at more aggressive use of transit and perhaps even pay for it.
Super Ports and a Giant Air Lift
Mayor Dewey Bartlett Jr. is exploring a multimodal "port" that will marry rail, barge traffic and regular air cargo transportation.
My Urban Tulsa Weekly colleague, Mike Easterling, wrote a great piece on the Mayor's multimodal project recently. This thoughtful and bold project would also position Tulsa to get a jumpstart on the rocking revolution in cargo transport -- Northrop Grumman and a few German firms are re-animating lighter-than-air vehicles through early stage commercialization of a bevy of humongous blimp/dirigible aircraft that can transport huge loads to and from precisely the kinds of facilities envisioned by the Mayor's project.
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