Building a Better Path to Community
For the past four years, Cassi Poor rides her bike to work each day and often to get around town. In those 1,460 days Poor has seen Oklahoma City make great strides to make the city a more walkable and bikeable place.
“Riding to work now is a dramatically different experience than when I first started,” Poor said. “The first year I can’t believe how many people yelled and honked at me,” she recalled. “It is definitely a more positive experience.”
Poor attributes the change to the city’s efforts to increase bicycle awareness and make the city easier to navigate sans car. Earlier this year, the city marked bicycle lanes and downtown intersections with bright green paint to encourage drivers to watch for cyclists. More improvements are planned for bicycle infrastructure.
Steps in the Right Direction
The city has also concentrated efforts on making the city more walkable. In the past few years, the 2007 general obligation bond and MAPS 3 projects have added hundreds of miles of new sidewalks and several new multi-use trails. The proposed temporary sales tax in the September 12 election helps continue creating a safe street network for all Oklahoma City residents.
Downtown OKC, Inc recently conducted an Automobile Alley pedestrian/bike safety survey to look at options for improving the area. Some solutions that have been discussed are more pedestrian crossings and better markings or signage. All this will dovetail nicely with the start of streetcar service scheduled to begin in 2018, since Automobile Alley is an important district on the streetcar route.
Let’s Walk About This
So why the emphasis on walkability and bikeability? It is an increasing consideration for where people choose to live. In a recent survey by the Urban Land Institute, 50 percent of people said that walkability is either the top or a high priority in where they would choose to live—and that impacts an area’s economy. A Brookings Institution study found that the walkability of an area increases the per square foot value of commercial and residential spaces.
Walkability and bikeability encourages a healthier lifestyle. According to the Walk Score website, the average resident of a walkable neighborhood weighs 6-10 pounds less than someone who lives in a sprawling neighborhood. And, it reduces emissions from burning fossil fuels, which have been linked to multiple health problems.
A major benefit to overall wellbeing of a city it that walkability cultivates community. There is a direct connection between walkability and socially vibrant neighborhoods. Driving a car separates people from the businesses, sidewalks, park benches, people and shops on either side of the road. Studies show that for every 10 minutes a person spends in a daily car commute, time spent in community activities falls by nearly 11 percent.
That is the main reason why Poor chooses to bike to work. “I connect with the features and people of the city in ways that I would never have in a car,” she said.
Poor is much more likely to say “hi” to people or make a quick stop at a retail shop. “It is so easy to stop and look around," she explained. "If I was in a car, I may not have seen the sale. If I did then I would have to turn around and find a place to park. I doubt I would stop as often.”
The New Norm
It is not just millennials like Poor that want a more walkable city. A 2016 Regional Plan Association survey found 46 percent of baby boomers prefer to live in more walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods.
“People want walking and biking as a way of life, not a hobby or event,” Poor said. She rides to work in her work clothes— heels, purse and all—to let people know that her bicycle is her means of transportation to work.
“I want people to see that it is possible to be less car-centric and okay to use diverse transportation,” Poor said.
The two ideas are tandem. As more people want and expect more connectivity to their community and safe, alternative options to cars, the easier it is for city planners to continue to find ways to make Oklahoma City a safe and easy way to travel—by feet, bike or car.