Downtown mini-mass transit a good place to start
BY MIKE JONES Associate Editor
Sunday, July 15, 2012
7/15/12 at 2:49 AM
At some point Tulsa needs to get serious, really serious, about its transit problem.
As a story in last week's Tulsa World by City Hall reporter Kevin Canfield pointed out, Tulsa's citywide bus service is lacking. The waits for buses are long. The routes are sometimes confusing and the time for the average person to get to work is far too long. No one wants to spend three hours riding on or waiting for the bus.
The fact is, Tulsa isn't likely to become mass transit (bus) crazy in the near future, despite its street grid pattern that is perfect for bus service. The city is spread out and don't look for Tulsans to give up their cars anytime soon. Taking a car away from an Oklahoman in the 21st century is akin to taking a horse away from a cowboy in the 19th century, pardner.
If a state-of-the art train system were dropped onto Tulsa, we might see a change, simply for the novelty it brings. That, however, is not going to happen.
So, let's start smaller. Downtown Tulsa is experiencing a turnaround. Where it once was a ghost town on weekday evenings and sparsely visited on weekends, it now has dozens of new restaurants and venues to draw Tulsans from across the city.
New lofts and apartments are opening and filling up. Shops, a liquor store and two grocery stores are either in the works or already open. Younger people and older folks with empty nests are looking to live in an urban setting. New hotels have gone up and existing ones have been refurbished and are doing good business.
Of course, the new BOK Center, the renovated Convention Center, the Performing Arts Center and ONEOK Field, along with nightclubs, are drawing crowds.
What does that have to do with mass transit? Well, let's call it mini-mass transit.
Despite what some grumps might say, there is ample parking downtown for events, living or for a night on the town. Getting to your destination and back after parking, however, can be a challenge, especially for those not accustomed to walking farther than from their car to the QuikTrip doors.
I thought of this last week after an encounter with an out-of-towner. While walking to the office (about three blocks) I saw a man in Bermuda shorts, tennis shoes and an "I'm-on-vacation" shirt. He wasn't familiar with downtown (it's always obvious). I asked him if I could help. He was in town with his wife, who was attending a seminar. He wanted to go to Gilcrease Museum and asked me to direct him to the bus station.
As we walked, we chatted about Gilcrease. I raved about its cache of great Western art. He asked if there was enough to do to spend most of the day. I assured him that he could spend three days there and still not see everything.
I pointed out the bus station and we parted ways.
After I got to the office I realized that sending him to the bus station might have been a grave error. I didn't know if a bus ran to Gilcrease or when it might return. I felt that I had just sent him on a mission that might leave him with a very bad impression of Tulsa.
His hotel might have had a shuttle. Or he could have taken a cab. But, wouldn't it have been nice if he could have hopped on a trolley and been whisked to Gilcrease or any number of other places?
I'm not advocating laying tracks. That would be cool, but cost-prohibitive. Rubber-tired trolleys would do. Nor am I promoting a citywide trolley system.
What is needed - and the need will only grow - is a system to transport people around downtown and nearby. A reliable trolley that could take people to Gilcrease, Philbrook Museum of Art, Cherry Street and Brookside. One that could move downtown visitors and residents around.
If a family is going to a Tulsa Drillers' game at 7 p.m. a four-block stroll to the game could be interesting and fun. For some families, however, the walk back at 10 p.m. might not be relished. Same goes for the BOK or the PAC and the restaurants.
Hotel visitors and downtown residents and workers should be able to avail themselves of the same trolleys. For workers in downtown's core and even as far as 18th Street and Boston and Boulder avenues, it might be fun to hop a trolley and grab lunch in the Brady District or the Blue Dome even during inclement weather. And vice-versa.
Make it easy
The key is that it would take plenty of trolleys, running on precise schedules, seven days a week from morning to evening for a good price, if not for free.
It's done in other cities. It can be done here. Long-term plans such as PlaniTulsa have envisioned such schemes.
Of course, a rail system can't be dropped on Tulsa and neither can such a trolley system. It is, however, imperative that something be done to make coming downtown, working downtown and living downtown convenient and exciting.
It won't solve the citywide mass transit problem. But some mini-mass transit is certainly a good start. It's certainly worth discussing. And to the vacationer in downtown Tulsa, I apologize.
Original Print Headline: Mini-mass transit
Mike Jones, 918-581-8332
With businesses and attractions growing, a trolley system could be the answer to downtown Tulsa's transit problems. Tulsa World file