It’s not surprising given its massive urban sprawl that Oklahoma City is ranked dead last in public transit use by workers among the nation’s 50 largest cities.
What is surprising or perhaps just disappointing is Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett’s lackadaisical, shrug-it-off response to the issue, at least as it was reported on NewsOK.com recently. It’s critical the city, for the sake of its long-term future and the quality of life here, develops a public transit system that is used by a growing cross-section of area residents.
Here are the facts: The U.S. Census Bureau has reported that in 2009 Oklahoma City had the fewest numbers of workers-only 0.4 percent-who use public transit among the nation’s largest metropolitan areas. The New York area, not unexpectedly, ranked first at more than 30 percent. Other cities ranking low in public transit use that might be useful comparisons to Oklahoma City were Kansas City and Indianapolis.
There’s really nothing unexpected here, but it does show that Oklahoma City faces a challenge and needs some visionary leadership to encourage more public transit use. Yet here’s how Cornett was quoted in NewsOK.com about the issue:
It’s the same issue we’ve faced for years. We have succeeded in setting up a great grid for automobile traffic. That success is partially to blame for our lack of success in public transit.
. . . The subsidy required to run a bus system is typically much, much higher than most people think. When you look at the cost of it, it’s hard to justify.
In other words, it’s great that we have cars and drive them everywhere, and it’s too expensive to operate a public transit system that more people would use. Cornett’s response is tepid to say the least. It’s almost as if he’s bored even talking about it.
Yes, Cornett is right that the city was developed for the automobile, but that has created a massive urban sprawl that has led to blight, poor roads and lack of sidewalks. It has contributed to poor health among many of its residents, who could benefit from walking more. It endangers people in some areas of the city because of slower response times from the police and fire departments.
The issue of low public transit use is directly related to the problem of Oklahoma City’s 621-square miles of sprawl.It’s hard to get around without a vehicle. What’s needed is a more holistic and enthusiastic approach to the issue.
In early September, City Councilman Ed Shadid began a discussion about the problems associated with the area’s sprawl with a public meeting that was attended by 500 to 600 people, including several Oklahoma City department heads. As I noted then, public transit, including light rail, is a key component to bringing the metropolitan area closer together. It reduces pollution, prepares us for cost-prohibitive gasoline prices in the future and incorporates more walking in our daily lives.
In the short-term, Oklahoma City might also draw some ideas from Edmond, which has seen a recent spike in bus ridership. Edmond offers free service using smaller buses.
What we absolutely shouldn’t do is dismiss the issue because we’ve been talking about it for years or it seems like too much of a challenge. Let’s don’t just give up.