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Streetcar for the car-free

40,000 people in OKC have no access to a car.

Blair Humphreys February 16th, 2011

More than 40,000 Oklahoma City residents did not have to worry about snowcovered roads impacting their drive to work after the recent snowstorms. That is because more than 40,000 Oklahoma City residents live in households without access to a single car.

It is hard to believe, but that feeling of confinement and limited freedom so many of us experienced for a few days after the storm hit, is the everyday experience for tens of thousands of people living right here in our community.

You’ll find clues that point to this fact throughout the city, particularly in the more impoverished neighborhoods of the center city. If you drive through northeast Oklahoma City in the area surrounding Douglass High School, you’ll see convenience stores that at first glance look like any other old gas station, but look closely and you will notice they don’t bother selling gas. That’s because 32 percent of households in the area don’t own cars.

OKC should strive to balance our excellent track record of building public roads with an equally excellent one of providing public transit.

Without a car, the city is for the most part limited to where you can go on foot or by bus. Either way, in Oklahoma City the going is tough. Oklahoma City repeatedly ranks as one of the worst cities for pedestrians and

offers a perennially under-funded public transit system with some of the worst ridership figures in the country.

The negative effects of this are farreaching. The most obvious being if you can’t get to work, you can’t keep a job. It is a problem worth solving, and voters took a first step toward a solution with the passing of MAPS 3.

After more than a half century without any type of competitive transit system, Oklahoma City looks to be on the cusp of shifting our transit future. When voters approved the MAPS 3 streetcar, they paved the way for a system that will change the way our city thinks about transit.

Some have suggested that the MAPS 3 proposal voters approved should be changed, that money committed toward the MAPS 3 streetcar should be put toward new buses instead. That would be a shortsighted response to what has been a very long-term problem.

Incremental improvement on a failed system is not the answer. A paradigm shift in the way our city thinks about (and funds) transit is. The MAPS 3 streetcar is the first step in building a legitimate transportation system with the ability to attract a broad range of riders, including the more than 40,000 without cars. In the end, Oklahoma City should strive to balance our excellent track record of building public roads with an equally excellent track record of providing public transit.

Humphreys is a fellow at the Institute for Quality Communities at the University of Oklahoma and an adjunct instructor in the OU College of Architecture.

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02.18.2011 at 07:15 Reply

Humphreys is using bait and switch tactics!  He is trying to get support of the rail system by saying it is going to serve the poor and impoverished.  When in reality is is going to be implemented in an area of entertainment and will probably have as much true transportation value as the "river taxis" (remember how they were to link downtown/bricktown w/ the Meridian entertainment/hotel district?)

According to the closest a streetcar would come to the people around Douglas HS is about a mile!  And if they do hike the mile to Lincoln Blvd to catch it will it take them to a large grocery store, the airport, or to areas of large employment for them?  No, there are not any grocery stores in downtown/bricktown.  I guess they could, hopefull, take the streetcar to the river taxis, take it to Meridian, and then take another transportation means to the airport from there.  That would probably be a 3 hour trip though.  Would it take them to places of likely employment?  I would reckon that most who work downtown are degreed professionals, not likely to live in northeast OKC. 

In reality, the rail street car system will do little to serve the poor, impoverished, and the relatively few in OKC that do not have a vehicle.

Randy Burghart, OKC