Steve Lackmeyer, who writes about urban development in Oklahoma City, has correctly noted that the issue of building a new grand boulevard off the new section of Interstate 40 into the city shows the dichotomy between road builders and city planners.
Road builders want to move traffic as efficiently as possible. Planners think of the possibility of what a boulevard, or any road, might mean to a city’s aesthetic and development. Can their interests coincide? I believe it’s possible.
But there’s more than one dichotomy lurking within the fallout of the Oklahoma City’s boulevard proposal, which could include a major roundabout or traffic circle. There’s also the tension between the city’s entrenched, corporate power structure, which often gets its say in city issues, and ordinary citizens, who have to live with decisions in which they have little or no input.
The question, then, is whether the city’s corporate power structure-oil and gas executives, bankers, hoteliers, the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce, etc.-will rally around a boulevard plan or not. It seems obvious that the plan would benefit downtown overall, but do Oklahoma City’s “aristocrats” think that? How do they perceive their specific vested interests in connection with the boulevard? Does it even matter at this point if there’s enough citizen interest in the boulevard?
Friends For A Better Boulevard, which has been behind the movement to try to get the state to scrap a plan to build an elevated roadway from I-40 into the city, is sponsoring a town hall meeting on the boulevard issue at 6:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 13 at Farmer’s Public Market, 311 S. Klein Ave, in Oklahoma City. The doors will open at 5 p.m. for people to see exhibitors.
Among the speakers will be former Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist, who led the city when it converted an elevated roadway to an at-grade road with a roundabout that revitalized a segment of that city. The president of Ourston Roundabout Engineering, Mark Lenters, will also speak. Oklahoma City Councilman Ed Shadid, a proponent of the boulevard plan, is expected to speak as well.
Those who support the at-grade boulevard plan hope it will revitalize an area around Reno Ave. and Classen Blvd. and Western Ave. while adding substantially to the city’s aesthetic. A roundabout in that area could potentially host a large, significant artwork and provide a beautiful gateway into downtown Oklahoma City and Bricktown. It’s possible, and it can be done.
The Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) will also hold a public meeting on the issue at 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, Aug. 21 at the Coca Cola Event Center in Bricktown, 425 E. California.
ODOT has been tasked with building more roadway access from I-40 into the city and has presented a plan that features at least some of that access to be elevated. Some state road officials have said an at-grade boulevard could cost extra money and take a longer time to complete.
Proponents of an at-grade boulevard note that the city has changed since the initial planning for the new section of I-40 and that the city dynamic and potential development should dictate a new plan. This is the wisest way to go even if the costs are somewhat higher and it takes longer to build. It’s worth it, and anyone interested in this part of Oklahoma City’s future should get involved now by attending both meetings.