On two separate occasions Kolby Webster has been hit by a car in Tulsa. The first, and notably the most traumatic, was while in the arms of his mother.
Now, the 25-year-old is one of Tulsa’s most outspoken activists for biking and pedestrian infrastructure.
Both instances ignited something in Webster.
“Whenever I was a baby, my mom was crossing the street ... she got hit while holding me and told me a story about how I flew out into the next lane,” Webster said.
Years later, Webster was hit again as a teen while biking to work near 71st Street and Memorial Drive.
An older couple pulled over to call 911. When police officers arrived, Webster said he was shocked when an officer told him he was at fault.
“Technically I was in the wrong because it is apparently a city ordinance that you are not allowed to ride on the sidewalk,” he recalls an officer explaining.
After graduating high school, Webster said he found a Facebook group of over 100,000 advocates for accessible transportation options. In it, he found that a portion of the users were young voices.
Shortly after, Webster said he began posting memes as an outlet for activism.
“I knew that using Instagram and Facebook were gonna have to be my primary tools,” Webster said. “I started with Facebook and Instagram because I wanted to share memes that have that humor element and make this more digestible, because infrastructure has never been a sexy topic.”
Childhood experiences, coupled with the fear he has for other residents trying to navigate a city that was built for cars, is what motivates him today, he said.
While urging city leaders to initiate change, he also wants to include young adults in the conversation.
At the Tulsa Hub, a nonprofit that works to change the habits of the next generation through active-transportation programs, Webster said he taught summer bike program students how to safely navigate the streets.
“We teach them how to get from home to school to work safely,” Webster said. “Even though we’re giving them all the information they need — the tools, helmets, locks, lights — they still are liable to get hit in some way.”
Webster said it’s important to share how different types of infrastructure will impact them earlier than later.
From hosting panel discussions on housing and gentrification to publicly addressing pedestrian infrastructure issues online, Webster is trying to ignite a conversation among young adults about how to make Tulsa more friendly to those in need.
He has been hosting events where locals are invited to learn more about what it means to build a city with residents’ interests in mind.
Becky Gilgo, housing policy director for the city of Tulsa, was invited to speak at one of his events.
She and two other panelists spoke about the state of Tulsa’s housing industry.
“We were all just pleasantly surprised with the turnout,” Gilgo said. “The idea that this was a group of people who might not normally be involved typically through things like a city council meeting or a public hearing, but were still very enthusiastic about learning and contributing to the civic process, I thought was incredibly unique and very exciting.”
Kolby said bringing people together inevitably brings up conversations about how to bring about positive change.
“I’m trying to provide space in a city where we are dedicating so much to parking spaces instead,” Webster said.
In the future, Webster said he will plan other events to give residents the opportunity to put their ideas into action.
“I think that’s what I’m trying to do,” he said. “Address problems with the resources I have to make it a more worthwhile venture to invest in your local needs and necessities.”
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