Friday, June 26, 2009

River gateways

Seems like I cross the Oklahoma River nearly every day between Norman and the happening side of OKC, so I was thinking of reasons why it hasn't exactly sprung to life yet. It dawned on me that it isn't really much of a barrier, despite being a pretty wide river and how it completely separates the two halves of OKC. Come to think of it, if it weren't for I-40 construction, you could get across town using the street you're already on. I-35, Shields, Byers, Robinson, Walker, Western, Exchange, Penn, Agnew, May, and I-44 all cross the river. Shields, Byers, Robinson, Western, and Penn happen to be closed for I-40 construction at the moment, but if it weren't for that, there would be 11 river crossings within a 4-5 mile span of the river that we're trying to put more emphasis on. I think that at some point the idea of a "river gateway" or a "river crossing" becomes nothing special.

It seems to me like most other riverfronts don't have this density of bridges to get across a major river, which may seem less convenient than how we're doing it here in OKC, but at the same time it seems to allow for more emphasis on the actual riverSIDE rather than just getting across the river. Come to think of it, are we really pushing for a vibrant riverSIDE or are we just trying to make the river something pretty for us to look at while we are passing it at 40-80 mph? Think about it. Perhaps the problem with developing our river is that it just isn't much of a factor in how we've built our city. Arguably, two cities that have a better riverfront are Little Rock and Cincinatti (although they aren't doing nearly as much to further develop their river as we are). You see they have much fewer river crossings. In order to get across the river, you have to go through downtown. There are special river gateway areas that benefit from all the traffic trying to get across the river. This makes it profitable for businesses to be in the path of a river crossing.

So here an idea that OKC can use: In order to promote vitality in some places along the river, why don't we get rid of a few of these excess river crossings? By concentrating ingress and egress, which already has limited traffic most times of the day, in certain strategic crossing points, there will be a higher traffic count and it will be more profitable to set up shop in certain river gateway areas. How about closing off May and Penn? They don't really go to anything. The only thing in that part of town is the State Fair and the Stockyards, which Agnew leads straight to. Do we really need Robinson and Byers to stay open when there is a bridge just a few blocks over at Walker and Shields? Walker and Shields are obviously a lot more important as far as carrying traffic than Robinson and Byers. Either Western or Exchange might be better off closed, too, and I don't think we can close Western because it is being developed already by Grant Humphreys and it is a major cross-metro artery. As much as I'd hate to close Exchange due to its very cool views of the skyline, perhaps that would be a bridge to consider getting rid of as well.

After closing some of these bridges, that leaves us with I-44, Agnew, Western, mmmaybe Exchange (or maybe not), Walker, Shields, and I-35, and we've gotten rid of May, Penn, mmaybe Exchange, Robinson, and Byers. This would probably better ensure that C2S is a success and that there is actual traffic for once (and not just between 8.15-8.45 and 4.30-5.30) on these river crossings and a business could survive by opening up along here. As the river becomes more of a focal point, perhaps these bridges could even be dressed up a little and turned into works of public art, similar to bridges you'd see in places like New Orleans, Pittsburgh, and Cincinatti. That would be really cool.


mwheatley said...

My first concern would be what that would do to police, fire, and EMS response times.

Second, the only general surgical OKC hospital south of the river I believe is South Community, the next one south of that is the small one in Moore, you have to go to Norman to find the next large one.

It's not just the riverfront that's affected, severing those connections would really tear the metro area into two pieces I think. And that's not a good thing.

Paul said...

I think you're on track, though we could quibble over which bridges to close--I think Exchange is a street with potential for development tying the Stockyards and downtown. As far as emergency vehicles and access, we have a huge extra capacity and there would be little additional time.

We also need to work seriously on access to the river, which could be greatly improved by closing bridges and letting the stubbed streets serve as parking and bike and pedestrian access points, which are sorely lacking.

Walker, Downtown Ranger said...

MWheatley, thanks for your comment and for reading my blog! my response to your comment is that Integris Southwest Medical Center is in Western Ave, which wouldn't ever be closed, and EMSA is on Walker and S 22nd..I'm not talking about closing Walker either. As for the metro being severed in half, it already is. There's the poor side (the south), and the wealthier side (the north). You can't get more severed than that, and the only way for the south side to improve itself will be for it to become more independent of the north side.

Paul, thanks also for your comment. Hopefully there would be no additional time. I don't see any reason for there to be, anyway. I agree on improving access to the riverfront, hopefully getting rid of all of these excessive river crossings would help with that.