Monday, July 13, 2009

Closing argument on the C2S boulevard

I was on the fence on the idea of including a wide, landmark boulevard as a key component of C2S until recently. On one hand, I like the idea tremendously of having a wide, gracious avenue that just has that world-class sense of place. The United States sadly has a lack of these kinds of boulevards that you see in places like Paris, Rome, Buenos Aires, and so on. On the other hand I am cognizant that a soaringly wide avenue might not be the most pedestrian-friendly way to foster what we want in C2S, and not to attack anyone on this, because I think we're all wanting to see the same thing, I just think that we could very well be making a terrible mistake here. At first Jeff Speck's argument sort of dashed my dreams for the making of a world-class environment with this avenue, but there are other ways to do that. With this it is better to err on the side of practicallity most likely.

The "closing argument" for me that I recently was exposed to was that of Blair Humphreys', someone who knows a lot more about city planning than I, an arch student (city planning being a different spectrum than architecture, although I'd say we are both aficianados of eachother and the two are definitely inherently interweaved). On his blog he wrote...

"The boulevard, as designed, will, ironically enough, actually hinder pedestrian’s ability to walk from the Core to the Shore. Further, all boulevards, especially wide boulevards, are not well suited for retail and can can only hope to sustain retail in the very densest cities that have the ability to fill wider than average sidewalks with pedestrians. These projects are not strategically focused on enhancing Oklahoma City’s quality of life."
I have considered every aspect of this boulevard except the obvious..that extra wide sidewalks need an extra plentiful supply of pedestrians to fill them. To consider something similar, imagine that Portland Avenue (OK 74) going through Deer Creek is in desperate need of being is. So does it need to be turned into an 8-lane freeway? NO! Nobody wants to live up against an 8-lane freeway, we don't need the sprawl that would translate into, and with only 50,000 or so cars a day it would feel like there isn't any traffic on it, so no development would happen along it until Enid becomes a suburb of OKC. Likewise there is no point in a wide "world-class" avenue in the middle of greenfield even if it is built with the best of intentions for pedestrians because it would create the perception that there are never any pedestrians along it.

The idea of the landmark avenue would be a miserable failure documented by history, including the futile efforts to prevent its fruition back when OKC brought a lone consultant named Jeff Speck in who said some unpopular things and got ignored. Now I'm not saying Jeff Speck is being ignored, in fact I think his critiques were well received and caused people pause to consider the implications here. So to that, let's not ignore what he said!

On the issue of the avenue, why don't we do a compromise? This will eliminate any chicken vs. egg issue that could come up. Let's build two seperate, thin one-way streets divided by a wide landscaped median. By thin, I mean on lane for traffic, and another "lane" for street parking. To avoid confusion, let's be clear that I'm completely against one-way streets and all of OKC's one-way streets really need to be converted back to two-way, but the difference with my proposal is that this is essentially one street, just being built as two seperate ones so that in the future if pedestrian activity could make a wide boulevard a good thing, such an endeaver could be undertaken easily.

1 comment:

Walt said...

I don't mind the boulevard being a boulevard if the purpose is to serve as a "business route" off I-40 - that is, to bring I-40 traffic into and out of downtown. Currently, only about 5% of I-40's traffic goes to or comes from downtown streets. I dislike the retail boulevard idea for that reason. Instead, build a traffic circle at the boulevard and Walker, with an iconic '89er statue in the center and the skyline in the background. Use the boulevard to move people into and out of the downtown core, and limit its use to that purpose.