Downtown Tulsa needs to be more hospitable for pedestrians

27 April 2017
Alex Garoffolo, Student Writer

Affordable street reforms would promote increased foot traffic and a more engaging environment in Tulsa.

“People will walk if it is simultaneously useful, safe, comfortable and interesting,” Speck told reporters on March 23. He and his team spent the last 6-8 months working on the “Tulsa Walkability Study,” trying to figure out how Tulsa can get more people walking and biking downtown in the fastest amount of time for the lowest amount of money.

He claimed there are easy changes to make to city streets, like repainting, laying new pavement and adding bike lanes, that would narrow driving lanes and encourage cars to slow down to posted speeds. Speck also recommended adding streetside parking spots, which gives merchants incentive to get behind walkability measures and makes it simpler for citizens to get downtown and stay there.

The proposals of Speck’s team highlight an issue that Tulsa city planners have been working on for years: how to make the city more attractive to pedestrians and millennials. A more walkable city would draw younger people, get them to stay here longer and provide a vibrant atmosphere for both new and existing local venders. More foot traffic means more potential sales. Studies show that a majority of millennials choose where they will live before they choose to look for a job; thus, the younger generation looks for other characteristics in where they settle that aren’t solely based on job prospects and placement. Some of these include walkability, an arts scene, bike trails, ease of mobility with public transportation and vibrant street life.

Tulsa spent $70,000 on Speck’s work, and his proposals seem just as financially feasible. Speck articulated that of his four main points, “safety was the biggest one we focused on for Tulsa.”

Currently, many downtown streets are one-way with lanes that are way too wide for single lanes of cars. This gives drivers a highway mentality, so they regularly break the speed limit downtown. Making those streets narrower, two-way and adding bike lanes is a simple, easy fix. Paint, asphalt and new signs are all it would take to make downtown safer. Pedestrians won’t walk if they don’t feel safe, after all.

Of course, to get more people walking, Tulsa also needs more people living downtown. According to Speck, there are around 4,000 homes in the inner dispersal loop of Tulsa and 40,000 jobs. “The closer that ratio is to 1-1, the happier [residents] will be,” he continued. If residents live where they work, incentive to own a vehicle decreases because walking, biking and public transportation are actually viable options.

With more people living downtown, more bike lanes and sidewalks on which to commute and increased parking convenience, Tulsa really could turn itself into an pedestrian-attractive city. However, if the city fails to act on any of Speck’s proposals, it’ll be $70,000 in the toilet. The mayor fully supports all of the Walkability Project and is committed to turning Tulsa into a city that grows and retains its citizens. Hopefully city planners feel the same. It is time to affect real change in the city of Tulsa. What better way than creating an actual downtown scene?