Tulsa Mayor Hasn’t Ruled Out a Sidewalk Next to New Flagship Park

Earlier this week we reported on Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett’s decision to prevent construction of a sidewalk on Riverside Drive that would provide walking access to a major new city park. Local advocates say the lack of a sidewalk will make the park harder to get to on foot, and they don’t buy the mayor’s explanation that people will be safer if there’s no sidewalk tempting them to walk.

Tulsa Mayor Dewey Bartlett won’t commit to building this sidewalk to provide direct walking access to the city’s major new park, but he hasn’t ruled it out either. Rendering: Smart Growth Tulsa Coalition

Residents who want the sidewalk have charged that the mayor nixed it after wealthy homeowners complained that it would attract “undesirables.”

In response, Bartlett’s office contacted Streetsblog, and the mayor himself insisted that his concerns about the sidewalk are purely safety related. He also said he isn’t opposed to a sidewalk, but he wants to evaluate different options. Here’s what he told us:

The street itself is very narrow and in rush hour traffic it’s very busy. I was born in Tulsa and I’ve lived here my whole life so I’m very aware of how fast people drive on that street. When the whole concept of the sidewalk came up… several people from the neighborhood, as well as several people that are the leaders of a very large homeowners association, expressed concern about the sidewalk, how it might impact their neighborhood.

One thing that did catch my attention, we had a discussion about the concern about public safety. The road itself has had numerous accidents.

The concept that was shown to me of a sidewalk, there’s a few feet between a sidewalk and a curb, and then a 3- or 4-foot-wide sidewalk. And then there would be a large fence. The problem to me is that if someone were to lose control at that point, and jump the curb there would be absolutely no way for a person walking to the park could escape. It could wipe out a lot of people. In the past month and a half there’s been three separate instances, three different cars have jumped the curb and driven into the sidewalk area and struck a telephone pole. If those were people they would have been hurt very badly and probably killed.

I asked Bartlett about implementing a road diet or other traffic calming measures to protect pedestrians. He said he’s asked his planning staff and engineering staff to start evaluating options like that.

As part of the park project, Riverside Drive, which currently carries about 25,000 cars a day, will be widened by about five feet, and it will be closed to all traffic for at least 10 months. Bartlett said seeing how nearby streets respond to diverted traffic during the closure will help the city determine if a road diet could work on Riverside. He said the road could potentially be reduced from four lanes to two, and that the outside lanes could potentially be repurposed as parking lanes or bike lanes.

Still, he would not commit to providing a sidewalk, citing his desire to maintain “flexibility” before final decisions are made:

As all these things are evolving, I’m not getting stuck saying we have to wait till the park is finished, all I’m asking for is more flexibility. I’m just saying, let’s put everything on hold now so we can evaluate different possibilities.

Bill Leighty of the Smart Growth Tulsa Coalition, which has been leading the campaign for the sidewalk, says there’s no sense in waiting and that the safety concerns aren’t well-founded.

  • Dan

    This is truly ridiculous. If we have drunk drivers on the road, we don’t cater to them, we arrest them and get them off the road. Likewise, if this street has curb jumpers and high speeds, you lower the speed limit, enforce it, or do a road diet. Also, automobile behavior will change if cars see pedestrians on the sidewalk. I find areas with lots of pedestrians, cars go slower even when there is no conflict between the two. Most people don’t wish to endanger pedestrians when they KNOW they are there. He should be advocating for 100% sidewalks in Tulsa and a car free City Center. Most US mayors are intense motorists, and therefore, are unable to see anything outside that prism of their own driving.

  • Greg Costikyan

    Why not just put the walkway inside the park, with the fence protecting pedestrians?

  • JacobEPeters

    there are a few sidewalks in the park, the area in question is the east side of the Riverside Drive as it heads north and south from the park. There are many sidewalks from these edges of the park & there is a shared use path on the west side of the road in question.

    http://agatheringplacefortulsa.com/get-the-facts/gathering-place-unveiled-june-2013-b/

  • It is disingenuous of Mayor Bartlett to cite safety reasons for
    his concern. There are literally hundreds of lane miles of arterial streets in Tulsa that have no sidewalks or sidewalks that are closer to the street, with higher posted speed limits than proposed for the Riverside Drive sidewalk. The mayor has expressed absolutely no concerns about nor recommended any solutions to cure those problems. If he were truly interested in pedestrian safety in Tulsa, he would advocate for building more sidewalks, not less.

    While not impossible, the risk of being hurt or killed while walking on a sidewalk in Tulsa is very low. The city has experienced a rise in pedestrian fatalities in recent years, but not on sidewalks. During the 5 year period ending December 2013, 42 people died due to auto-pedestrian accidents in Tulsa, according to Officer Craig Murray, the Tulsa Police Department’s traffic safety coordinator, now retired. As near as we can determine, none of those deaths happened on a sidewalk.

    Pedestrian deaths have more to do with poorly lit and poorly designed streets that provide little in the way of pedestrian safety measures than walking on a sidewalk. Pedestrians are more likely to be a victim by crossing a street than walking on a sidewalk. They are more likely to be a victim if they are walking in the street because there is no sidewalk. They are more likely to be a victim if they are walking on an unstable or uneven surface or bar ditch because there is no sidewalk. Pedestrians are more likely to be victims if they are crossing in a poorly marked crosswalk or through a poorly designed intersection.

    It is noteworthy that the mayor’s decision to ask city’s engineers to now provide alternative roadway designs to improve pedestrian safety comes only after an outpouring of public support for the sidewalk and expressions of outrage over his executive order to cancel it. It certainly gives the appearance of trying to develop a face-saving exit strategy rather than an earnest attempt to improve public safety. Otherwise why did he not make this request last spring or summer before his abysmal decision?

    The idea that the mayor of Tulsa is qualified to weigh in on traffic engineering and public safety issues is preposterous. His background is in finance, not engineering, yet he now acts like he is an expert. Is the mayor proposing to write a new set of guidelines or policy manual on sidewalk design and construction for the city, with no background, no experience, and no education is such matters?

    It is also revealing that the mayor cites neighborhood concerns from a large homeowners association yet he ignores the advice of the city’s top traffic engineers, four previous mayors, hundreds and hundreds of individual
    Tulsans who signed a petition, and organizations representing thousands of
    Tulsans who overwhelmingly support the sidewalk.

    Most Tulsans would welcome any reexamination of the roadway design as the mayor is now proposing, including the narrowing of lane widths, adding
    bicycle and parking lanes or any other traffic calming or road diet measures. That conversation however should begin by acknowledging that the need for the sidewalk is a given, a “no brainer,” and not taking a wait and see attitude based upon dubious and anecdotal reasons.

    The thought here is that Mayor Bartlett’s executive order to eliminate the sidewalk is not now, nor never was about public safety. It was knee-jerk reaction to politically connected neighborhood opponents who opposed the sidewalk on the grounds that it would attract “undesirables” to their neighborhood. Once the story broke and the public became aware of his decision, they demanded the sidewalk be restored to the road improvement
    package.

    Defending the unfounded claims that the sidewalk would lead to unwanted strangers and increased crime in the neighborhood would be difficult
    to sell because there is no data to support that assertion. So to divert attention from the real motivation, the focus was shifted to public safety; after all, who can be against public safety? A carefully crafted propaganda campaign by the mayor’s spin doctors to that effect has failed to convince sidewalk supporters of its authenticity for lack of supporting data or input from professionals.

    As long as Mayor Dewey Bartlett is hedging his bets and putting “everything on hold,” sidewalk supporters which represent the vast majority of citizens in Tulsa will be skeptical of his intentions. If he would issue an unambiguous statement that he is committed to building the sidewalk now, and making it safe, most people would be more inclined to take his public safety concerns seriously. Until then, his “talking head” pleas for “flexibility” will be falling on deaf ears.

  • Some pedestrians will walk there regardless of what the mayor does. The only question is, will they have a nice sidewalk, or will they be balancing on a mud path next to the curb.

    Here are just a few of the excuses I have heard from people who do not want a sidewalk in front of their house. It’s like whack-a-mole; as soon as you suggest a solution to one objection, another objection will pop up.
    http://www.pedestrians.org/retrofit.htm

  • Paul Tay

    Bill Leighty refuses to admit the real problem is the park itself. It is a NYC white elephant being shoved up a Tulsa crack. Tulsa has NO infrastructure for walking, bicycling, or transit, to support such a large traffic generator.

    The Achilles heel of the Gathering Place? Parking. The park will convert Tulsa’s most historic neighborhood, Maple Ridge, into a huge perpetual parking lot.

    While NYC walk, bike, and transit to their parks, Tulsa drive monstrosities of glass, metal, and rubber, on four wheels, through heavy traffic, just to go to walk and bike at the fitness center.

    And, that’s is the only comfortable, and convenient way to navigate through 550 signalized intersections, spread out over an area of over 400 square miles of city limits.

    When introduced, the project manager, Jeff Stava, trotted out 650 “FREE” parking spots. Then, it was dialed down to 500. Last check, Stava is talking with Tulsa Transit to roll the Riverside Drive route. The closest bus route is almost a mile to the east. http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/gatheringplace/bus-service-to-a-gathering-place-is-a-priority-officials/article_54e98d05-b6e1-5964-96b2-8bf47c0c871a.html

    Noted by Michael J. Sanditen, “Gathering Place is an unprecedented $3 million per acre runaway development.” Two very nice, pedestrian-friendly apartment complexes, just to the immediate south, are being prepared to be completely demolished for the NYC shoe to be shoved up a Tulsa crack.

    If the George Kaiser Family Foundation really wants to make the difference for over 100,000 Tulsans who have no access to motor vehicles, and growing number of hipster walktavist transit opters, shouldn’t they simply gift Tulsa Transit $350 million, 18 times Tulsa’s current transit budget?

    Of course not. It’s hypocritical, suddenly-self-styled-walktavist geniuses like Bill Leighty and his Smart Growth Tulsa crowd, who refuse to call out Mr. Kaiser from gifting his band of heavy construction contractors. Hoping for a major campaign money bomb, Leighty is simply positioning for his own Mayoral run against Bartlett.

    Certainly, Bartlett has no credibility with the ridiculous safety claims. Yes, he looks like an idiot. But, he’s the voters’ idiot.

    With all due respect to walk/bike/transitability crowd, Leighty has even LESS credibility with the majority of Tulsa voters who cast the Mayoral votes and prefer to continue the motoring status quo.

    Get REAL, Bill.

    http://citizentay.blogspot.com/2014/12/the-real-problem-in-great-tulsa.html

  • Paul Tay

    What Angie Schmitt has completely missed is the fact that the park is an unprecedented $3 million per acre NYC-inspired runaway development being shoved up a Tulsa crack.

    The park will be a huge traffic generator, sure to convert Tulsa’s most historic, tree-lined, walkable neighborhood, Maple Ridge, into just another plebeian mall parking lot.

    Because George Kaiser, one of America’s wealthiest billionaire, is funding the project, nobody wants to call out the fact that the park IS the problem.

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