In the summer of 1908, at least 31 people died in car crashes in Detroit, where the new technology seemed to be especially popular and where many of the victims were pedestrians who naively stepped in front of vehicles moving at unbelievable speeds in excess of 20 mph.
The carnage led to some of the world’s first traffic regulations, including such visionary innovations as stop signs, lane markings and designated crosswalks. And other cities, including Tulsa, quickly followed Detroit’s lead as similar regulations spread nationwide.
Municipal governments, however, fell behind technology again. After the electric-scooter craze hit Tulsa in late 2018, officials had to scramble to come up with appropriate regulations. Should scooters be allowed on sidewalks? Should riders have to wear helmets? Should kids be able to rent them?
"Cities all across the United States were caught flat-footed," said Adriane Jaynes, the energy programs coordinator at INCOG. Still, Tulsa handled the arrival of scooters better than most, she said.
"The mayor, city staff, and INCOG were very proactive," Janes said, "and Tulsa had one of the best scooter roll outs in the country because of it."
Now Tulsa wants to anticipate and prepare for the next wave of changes that will affect transportation in the city. And that effort will include a public forum Thursday evening at Marshall Brewing, where officials will showcase some of innovations they expect to change the way Tulsans move around in the near future.
Presenters will include Shuffle, an Oklahoma-based start-up company that offers ride sharing for short distances using small electric carts instead of full-size automobiles. Tulsa Transit will show off the new Bus Rapid Transit system that is trying to attract new ridership with more frequent service. And Skyway36, a technology project by the Osage Nation, will look at drone research and development.
“A lot of changes are happening and we want people to know they’re not just happening in other places but are happening here in Tulsa,” Jaynes said. “In a lot of cases, Oklahoma businesses are really doing a lot of the innovation and are the ones leading the way.”
Thursday’s Mobility Open House will be part of a wider effort that started in 2017, when Mayor G.T. Bynum convened a Mobility Innovation Strategy task force “with the goal of assisting our city as it adapts to new forms of transportation and prepares for future modes of travel,” including automated “driverless” cars.
The task force includes city officials, business owners and developers as well as national consultant firms such as Stantec, Mobility e3 and Crafton Tull, all overseen by the Indian Nations Council of Governments.
The group will report its findings to the mayor and City Council later this year, officials said. In meantime, the task force wants more Tulsans to take a mobility survey at cityoftulsa.org/MobilityPlan.
“Over the last two decades the internet and smart phones have changed our lives,” Mayor Bynum says. “But our streets and transportation networks have functioned in much the same way as they have for the last 50 years. Now cities and transportation systems are poised to have their ‘iPhone moment.’ ”