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By the time North Tulsa residents adjust to the changes, there will be a demographic change that makes these developments less accessible for them.

Published 11/22/2020 | Reading Time 3 mins 58 secs

By Kolby Ari Webster, Contributing Writer 

Kolby Ari, a Tulsa resident poses with his best friend – his bike. | Photo by Sarah Eliza Roberts

Bike lanes were striped on Pine from Gilcrease Museum Road to Memorial in early October and are nearing completion. The lanes have mixed to mostly negative responses from the North Tulsa community, with residents mentioning traffic, gentrification, and history of developments made in their community without their input. Advocates say the bike lanes will save lives, encourage new growth and cite the country’s urban design experts and community guided city planning documents for choosing this stretch of Pine as the location for an east-west cycling connection across the city. 

Many residents are justifiably upset. Pine, a bustling corridor, has changed from 2 lanes each way to 1 each way, with bike lanes on both sides. Traffic concerns are felt through the community as traffic piles up from intersection to intersection and across railroad tracks during peak hours. Residents have noted that with cars being more sizable than ever, the shrinking of roadways has them questioning the viability of bike lanes even further, especially as residents have pointed out the lack of visible cyclists in the community. 

At a city council meeting, Nov 4, 2020, Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory(BPAC) Committee Chair Mitch Drummond shared details (~1:42:00) about why the committee advised the lane’s implementation conversion. BPAC is a group of volunteers that advise the City of Tulsa on active transportation needs. Drummond spoke on traffic speeds, safety statistics, and the other bike lane connections to downtown. Drummond stressed the elements of safety,

“These street conversions are about so much more than just the bike lanes. They’re about reducing crashes and improving the safety of all users of these roads. We know from national assessments at a very detailed and broad level that these changes will save the lives of Tulsans, and this has been proven over and over again across the nation.”

He notes that slowing the cars down by democratizing the roadway is an intentional part of those elements of safety, and while traffic may seem slower or more stacked, it will move at a more consistent speed overall. He adds, “Tulsa drivers kill at 1.7 times the national average. We are #29 in the nation for all cities. Oklahoma is 14th. Pine at Utica, Lewis and Harvard are some of the most dangerous intersections in Tulsa.”

At the Nov 10, 2020, African American Affairs Commission Meeting, former Mayoral candidate Greg Robinson said, “The heart of frustration is why make a street like [Pine] 1 lane [both ways].”

At INCOG, Henry Somdecerff expounded that the Pine corridor has vehicle traffic numbers “generally in the high 8000s to the high 9000s,” and that if a traffic number of over 12,000 vehicles a day occurs, then that might constitute a widening or other design solutions in the future. As it stands, a street under 12,000 cars a day only necessitates one lane both ways to have “adequate operations.”

Both Drummond and Somdecerff cited Tulsa’s Go Plan adopted in 2015 and Complete Streets Policy(2013) as a community guided policy documents that motivated these changes.

In short, they advocate for a balanced allocation of space considering all users in the area for more walkable destinations and neighborhoods, multiple modes of transportation, and denser development when viable. Somdecerff noted that the intent was to replicate the success of other cities that used similar means to accomplish some of the same central themes of Tulsa’s overall planning document (Last Updated in 2014) in which it states “Tulsa should: 

  • Have a Vibrant & Dynamic Economy 
  • Attract & Retain Young People 
  • Provide Effective Transportation 
  • Provide Housing Choices 
  • Protect the Environment & Provide Sustainability.” 

Assumably these end goals and themes would manifest into Pine becoming a more dense pedestrian-friendly corridor, unlike Cherry Street or Brookside, which are historically built more for people and more rampant development over vehicle traffic mostly undisturbed by urban renewal.

“The GO Plan provides priorities based on…public input, safety, demand, equity, and connectivity,” says Drummond. Initially, the city identified 11th street as priority number one and Pine as priority number two. But after input from planning expert Jeff Speck and his walkability study for downtown Tulsa and surrounding neighborhoods, a downtown network was completed first, followed by a group of projects with 11th street followed by Pine.    

Residents have also noted concerns of gentrification. The development has historically not favored the residents of North Tulsa. Policies and city entities have decimated this community in the past via urban renewal, re-zoning, and unlawful neglect. These concerns are valid when this side of the city has had such a negative relationship with the city’s development efforts at large, including the city’s lack of acknowledging these inequities and the community’s stated priorities. Some say that most who will eventually use the lanes will be from other parts of town.

Ultimately, by the time North Tulsa residents adjust to the changes, there will be a demographic change that makes these developments less accessible for them. For bike lanes to help incur development and other benefits for the existing community, there must be a coordinated effort with clear communication between the city, residents, and developers to manifest community needs, services, and products that residents want.  

Whether city leaders will communicate these infrastructure strategies to get community buy-in and trust remains unknown. For the future, Drummond and Somdecerff note that while traffic may increase as Pine continues to develop, design changes may be made to accommodate any extreme increases in congestion. The city has a restriping cycle that hits streets every three years.

Somdecerff says, “It is somewhat build-it-and-they-will-come. The preexisting bike numbers are low, and it’s kind of a catch 22 that the bike numbers are low because there are no bike lanes until you create the bike lanes and wait for the users of the new facility to be aware of it and change their behavior.” Such efforts seem like a counterintuitive aspect of shrinking the roadway for a cycling community that most residents have never seen.

Kolby Ari Webster is a co-host for Focus: Black Oklahoma and a community activist.  

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