Oklahoma City was developed around the automobile as the primary means of travel. While the city is well-geared for travel by car, other options are more difficult because the infrastructure either does not exist, or is not continuous. A lack of a continuous trail and sidewalk network has left Oklahoma City citizens without the option of a healthier choice of travel.
The city is making great strides to correct this. Recent bond issues included millions of dollars for trails and walking paths, and included the potential for sidewalks along many of the street projects. MAPS 3 will provide major links in the trail system, completing a network connecting across Oklahoma City. Once these projects are completed, Oklahoma City will have more than 150 miles of trails extending from Earlywine Park, to Lake Hefner, along the Oklahoma River, around Overholser and Draper lakes and other parts of the city. This puts Oklahoma City on par with Austin, Texas, Portland, Ore., and other cities often cited for their trails.Providing for the most basic form of transportation — walking — was neglected for decades in OKC.
MAPS 3 also includes $10 million for sidewalks. As with most of the western U.S., providing for the most
basic form of transportation — walking — was neglected for decades in Oklahoma City. Providing more than 60 miles of pedestrian facilities is a big step forward. A good sidewalk system gives an option to those who choose to walk, and provides vital infrastructure to those who have no other option.
This is not only an investment in Oklahoma City’s infrastructure; it is a move to keep Oklahoma City competitive in the future. Younger people looking at where to locate for a career consider the quality of life a city provides; opportunities to ride bikes and enjoy a walk on a good trail system are a part of that equation. Baby boomers who choose to “age in place” and remain independent may need other options besides driving or depending on friends and loved ones to drive them to appointments and for everyday needs.
Investments in trails pay off for adjacent property owners. Studies in other states have shown that properties near trails sell for more and remain on the market for less time. A 2009 report from CEOs for Cities determined that “houses with above-average levels of walkability command a premium of about $4,000 to $34,000 over houses with just average levels.”
Studies show that less than half of Oklahoma City’s citizens are at least moderately physically active. Increasing travel options should translate into increased walking, jogging and bicycling, leading to a healthier city. A San Diego State University study determined that individuals living in a neighborhood with easy access to sidewalks and trails were up to 50 percent more likely to get moderate to vigorous activity at least five days a week.
The investments being made in trails and sidewalks are a part of increasing the quality of life in Oklahoma City. It may also lead to a healthier one.
Entz, an Edmond resident, is a transportation planner with the city of Oklahoma City.