Northeast Village

Tulsans have long lamented downtown’s one-way street system, and with reason. One-way streets are disorienting, increase trip times, are bad for business, and cause drivers to speed like they’re on highways.

In the fifties, First and Second Streets were converted from two-way streets to a system of paired one-ways in order to accommodate through-highway traffic – at the time, the streets were co-signed as Oklahoma Highway 33 and US 75 (and earlier served as Route 66). As we’ve seen, the conversion to one-way traffic obliterated businesses downtown, and the construction of I-244 and other highways left a path of destruction miles long and ruined many thriving neighborhoods along the way.

Though downtown streets have not been a part of the National Highway System since 1974, traffic engineers have continued to assert the impossibility of converting several downtown streets back to two way traffic because there are highway on- and off-ramps. They are wrong.

I first disproved this notion in 2012, with a series of illustrations showing how to treat intersections near highway ramps. Even then, people balked. In his recently-released walkability study for downtown Tulsa, Jeff Speck recommended converting practically every street to two-way traffic, and stopping about a block or two before each highway ramp. That’s a very good start, but it doesn’t go quite far enough. By stopping those two-way sections too early, we’re missing out on great opportunities to build interesting, high-quality places.

The area along 1st & 2nd between Greenwood & Lansing is a prime example. Though mostly barren now, some interesting buildings remain along East 1st Place, a street many folks pass by but don’t even know exists. Until 2010, it connected 1st & 2nd Streets – that year, the railroad crossing had deteriorated and the city decided to close the crossing instead of fixing it.

Before the highway was built, these streets continued north and east, and connected with the rest of the then-established street grid.

The street grid as it existed prior to the construction of the IDL

The streets that had been lined with industry, businesses, hotels, and apartments were then cut off from the rest of the system and forced into a new role: uninterrupted speedways to get on and off the highway. Predictably, businesses withered, and many buildings were demolished.

1925 Sanborn map of subject area (click to view larger):

Subject area, 1951 and 2016:

We now have an opportunity to fix the problem we created in the 1950s. Just a block south, the East Village is a growing, interesting, nice place to be. A large redevelopment of the Nordam site is underway, and will include apartments, restaurants and retail.

Life is seen just north of this site, too: the old Bacon & Sons building (a 47,300 sq ft building constructed in 1924 as Tulsa Winch’s headquarters) has become home to the First Street Flea, and at Iroquois & Admiral (also cut off by the highway), just across the street, there are a couple interesting buildings that have also somehow survived the wrecking ball, including the Hooper Brothers Coffee building, built in 1920, and another from 1910. It’s a forgotten corner of downtown. 

Immediately to the west, the old Hartford Building is being transformed into apartments, and The Edge Apartments have been completed. The large, empty lot across the street from both of those will soon become Santa Fe Square, a massive mixed-use development with 600,000 square feet of office space, apartments, retail, restaurants, and a hotel.

The area I’d like to revive is an essential connection between all those areas. It needs to be built to support businesses, restaurants, and apartments once again. It needs to be attractive enough to implore people to walk from the East Village to the First Street Flea, or to Santa Fe Square. And it needs to be two-way to connect them. It’s essential that we get this right, instead of writing it off as an inevitable loss because of the highway ramps.

 

 

If we treated our streets with a little dignity, a little gentleness, instead of making them as straight and wide as possible so as to move as many cars as quickly as possible, we could have something really special.

Or we could have this:

 

 

What a beautiful way to greet travelers entering downtown.


How I Would Fix It

The Concept:

First Street

My First Street fix includes re-opening First Place, re-opening Lansing Avenue north of First Street, adjusting the two-lane exit ramp from I-244, and reducing westbound travel lanes. The current I-244 off-ramp feeds two lanes of traffic onto First Street. I would create a landscaped median/barrier so the right lane separates drivers to either First Street or Second Street (via First Place). The median would culminate on the west with substantial landscaping, a proper welcome sign with decorative features, and room for sidewalks. Reducing westbound lanes from three to two allows two-way traffic on First Street until it curves and intersects with First Place and Lansing Ave.

Remaining are two westbound lanes created by off-ramps from US-75 and I-244. The outer travel lane created by the US-75 ramp will remain a through-lane, while the inner travel lane created by the I-244 ramp will merge right and end before reaching Iroquois Avenue, resulting in a two-lane, two-way street with enough room for either two rows of parallel parking, or one row of parallel parking and a bike lane.

By allowing traffic to flow on First Place again, folks entering downtown via a highway ramp can now reach their destinations in multiple ways, reducing the periodic strain on First Street. Reducing the number and width of travel lanes will also result in lower travel speeds, making it safer for all road users, including drivers, people on foot, in wheelchair, and riding bicycles. The current configuration encourages high speeds, and comically includes “Pedestrians Ahead” warning signs.

A redesign of the street, with a road diet, two-way traffic, street trees, and active storefronts is a much better way to alert drivers that they’re no longer on a highway, that they’re entering a place inhabited by human beings.

Lansing Avenue

Lansing Avenue north of First Street used to be a through street lined with restaurants and the Lansing Hotel (built 1921). It is currently a parking lot. By reclaiming part of the parking lot for Lansing Avenue and connecting it to Admiral Blvd., access to the First Street Flea and Hooper Brothers Building is improved, and small, mixed-use buildings geared toward small entrepreneurs can replace the parking lot and help reduce the noise level from the highway traffic.

Looking northeast on First Place, 1954 and 2016. The Lansing Hotel (later Meeks Furniture) is on the left side, and Gaso Pump & Burner is on the right.
Looking southwest down First Place from the northeast corner of First Place and First Street. The Lansing Hotel (later Meeks Furniture) is on the right, and Gaso Pump & Burner on the left. Both the Philtower and National Bank of Tulsa Building (now 320 S Boston Building) in the background provide a lovely terminating vista for First Place.

Admiral Boulevard

Admiral is a narrow street that connects with Iroquois Avenue on its western end. With only 48 feet separating buildings on either side of the street, it is probably one of the narrowest, coziest streets in Tulsa. That slender profile could allow it to become an intimate, lively area with cafes and shops. The Hooper Brothers Coffee building, listed on the National Register, and its neighboring building (also a former coffee roastery) would be excellent spots for a coffeehouse, brewpub, or tap room (especially given its history as a whiskey distillery during Prohibition). It also has Tulsa’s only hydraulic water elevator.

The First Street Flea has enough floor space to be able to create lots of small retail spaces for its vendors or up-and-coming retail entrepreneurs who want to try something small and test the waters. The building meets the street along Admiral, and with the right doors and windows, it could really liven the street.

Another, grander idea is to turn the building into Tulsa’s version of LA’s Grand Central Market (or DC’s Eastern Market), a large indoor marketplace of unique restaurants and grocery vendors in an historic warehouse. The mini restaurants are very small, and seating is mostly shared, which allows cheaper rents and overhead that give small operators a chance to succeed.

LA's Grand Central Market
LA’s Grand Central Market

Second Street

The Second Street solution involves reducing the number of travel lanes from four to two, adding on-street parking and bike lanes, and a proper sidewalk. A liner building would be added on the northeast corner of the intersection to further separate the neighborhood from the highway. The bridge containing on-ramps to US-75 and I-244 is narrowed at the intersection, and uses striping and painted highway symbols to better communicate instructions to drivers. This plan also involves connecting the existing bridge to Second & Madison on its eastern end. It wouldn’t take much work to make that a reality, and would help reconnect that area with downtown.

Throughout the whole area, intersections should be narrowed, reducing the time and distance it takes to cross the street, and slow down cars.


Extending Iroquois

I also propose extending Iroquois Avenue south, from First to Second. Doing so further integrates (or at the very least, de-isolates) the buildings on Admiral into a regular street pattern, while creating opportunities for interesting public spaces due to the angles of the existing streets and railroad tracks. It also breaks up a superblock and would allow the creation/platting of new, smaller parcels, which the city could sell to local, small-scale developers.

An old gas station stands west of the intersection of First Place and Second (where Iroquois will also meet). It has large glass overhead doors and a 576 square foot canopy. It could be re-purposed as a tap room, brewpub, or restaurant, with outdoor seating. Since it sits on a corner and would face other (new) buildings shaped by the intersection of First Place, Iroquois, and Second, the space around the intersection becomes gently enclosed and active. The intersection could become home to corner cafes with sidewalk dining under shade trees, street performers, live music, and small neighborhood events.


Small Area, Big Opportunity

Don’t discount this area because of its relatively small size. A lot can happen in small spaces. In fact, the most interesting and financially productive parts of our city are the small, intimate areas designed around the human experience, not maximum throughput and high speeds. Among the best patio dining in the city exists just a block south of here at East Village Bohemian Pizza. It’s a cozy, 20’x40′ space between two small brick buildings, and it’s a popular place to grab a slice, catch live music, or just watch the people walking by. It’s a lively, active area, even though it’s right next to the highway.

East Village Bohemian Pizzeria’s patio. Photo from TulsaFood.com.

The area bound by Admiral, Second, Hartford and Lansing could be just as charming, lively and financially productive, if we’ll only give it a chance.

For as long as we choose to abandon a redesign of the streets because of the wrongly-perceived complication the highway ramps pose, it will remain vacant, unproductive, ugly, and inactive.

The power is in our hands. We are capable of doing the right thing, and I hope we do. Let us not write it off because we think it may be difficult, and knowingly make new mistakes because of old ones. Let’s revert all our streets to two-way and build a Northeast Village.

How to Kill Main Street and Make it Look Like an Accident

Admiral Boulevard and Admiral Place are more than just major east-west arterial roads in Tulsa. It’s the the place where north and south meet, and the dividing line between the Cherokee and Muscogee (Creek) Nations. It was for the last reason it was known as Federal Drive in its earliest years. Later, it was co-signed State Highways 11 and 33, then Route 66America’s Main Street—connecting Tulsa to Chicago and Los Angeles, and later, U.S. 75.

It’s the road farmers took to deliver their goods to the markets in the city. The adjacent neighborhoods featured a wonderful mix of apartment buildings, family-owned grocery stores and general stores, craftsman-style homes, cafes, barber shops, furniture stores, shoe shops, jewelry stores, billiard halls, a theater, public schools, hotels, taverns, beauty shops, and more.

Put simply, it was an active, vibrant, desirable place for more than half a century.

Then we did something terrible, and very intentional, to it: the construction of Interstate 244, a bypass for I-44 just a few miles to the south. This project, called first the Crosstown Expressway, then later renamed the Martin Luther King Jr Expressway, destroyed and isolated many neighborhoods along its 15.8-mile path through Tulsa: Red Fork, Whittier, Greenwood, Brady Heights, Cherokee Heights, Barton, Gillette Hall, among others.

As an aside, the MLK name is a bit ironic, since the highway created a physical barrier largely along racial and socio-economic lines. The name has also apparently been forgotten. In 2012, the Tulsa City Council decided to rename Cincinnati Avenue for Martin Luther King, Jr because they thought there were no roads in our city named after the civil rights leader. Citizens and business owners in largely-white, affluent neighborhoods in midtown got the council to abandon the idea to rename the entire stretch, and instead, only the parts of Cincinnati Avenue in north Tulsa, a majority African American part of town, were renamed.

This story was picked up by Reuters and published by the Chicago Tribune, which pointed out:

This city, where a history of racial tension was inflamed by the Good Friday shootings of five black people, plans to name a street in honor of civil rights pioneer Dr. Martin Luther King but only the section that passes through a predominantly black part of a city.

Could the issue have been resolved if the City Council checked to see if in fact, there already was a road named for King? Who knows. Back to I-244’s construction:

It created a massive, physical barrier between downtown and north Tulsa (while destroying Greenwood for the third time), took thousands of homes and businesses, separated commercial areas from the neighborhoods they served, and forced the decline of entire neighborhoods near its route. It remains a physical scar, and its effects are still felt by the neighborhoods that straddle this 8-lane highway. Mention Admiral and any cross street, and people curl their nose. It’s looked down on as a place no one wants to go.

The highway was originally proposed to follow Fourth Street, but that plan was nixed after lawsuits were threatened and voters rejected a right-of-way bond package to fund it. Similar fights happened over a plan to route 244 alongside Southwest Blvd and the railroad tracks in west Tulsa. Voters rejected that plan, as well, but I-244 got built there against the community’s wishes. After the bond package failure for the 4th Street route for the Crosstown, the Tulsa Metropolitan Planning Commission (TMPC) created a committee to study new routes, and the current route was proposed. At the time, Harold Wise, the consultant hired by the city to study the proposed routes, said:

From Yale avenue west to Lewis avenue to Peoria avenue it would stay as close to Admiral boulevard as possible “without disturbing existing commercial development and at the same time keeping existing residential areas from being split.”

I wish that had been true, but it clearly wasn’t. The map below shows the residential and commercial areas and streets demolished for the highway right-of-way from downtown to Lewis Avenue: 


Red: Areas Demolished; Yellow: Street connections lost

Within a decade, thousands of homes and businesses were demolished to make way for the highway. A close-up of the destruction is below.

Admiral and Rockford, 1951-2016:

 

Admiral, Before & After

 

 

 

 

 


‘Tornado? No, Just Road Work’

 

How bad was the destruction? The above is an actual headline and accompanying photo from the January 3, 1966 edition of the Tulsa Tribune. An excerpt from the story reads:

Click to view larger imageIt Looks Awful But It’ll Later Be Expressway

The path of the Crosstown Expressway, shown in The Tribune Airphoto at right looking west from Harvard Avenue, looks as if it had been hit by a tornado. It hasn’t. This is what city builders call progress—first step. The sad story is it will be years before the picture looks much better.

Any direction you look, the scene is very much as that above where old houses and other buildings make way for Tulsa’s first eight-lane expressway.

After combing through more than a dozen editions of the Polk Directories from 1957 to 2000, I was able to calculate the destruction in terms of total commercial and residential units on each street from Iroquois Avenue in downtown, east to Sheridan, a total of 4.35 miles. In that time, Admiral Boulevard suffered the worst devastation, losing 456 units, or 77% of all addresses on the street. 


The Worst Year

Between the 1965 and 1966 editions of the Polk Directory, 265 units along Admiral Blvd were demolished, representing a one-year loss of 46%. That same year, 1st St saw 117 units razed, along with 99 units along Admiral Pl.

In this year alone, 481 of the 1,754 addresses along these roads were demolished. Over time, as more residents and businesses moved out, even more structures were razed.

Practically overnight, this major corridor lost more than a quarter of all its residential and business addresses.


The Method

For this project, I examined address listings in the Polk Directories for E Admiral Blvd, E Admiral Pl, and E 1st St, from Iroquois Avenue in downtown, to Sheridan Avenue on the east. I counted the number of address listings on these streets in half-mile increments. These directories, which are a gold mine, include the names of the businesses and people living at each address. It also lists vacant addresses, which is particularly helpful because we can use it to partially gauge the health of the real estate market. I plan on doing the same analysis for the 40 north-south streets that were affected or removed completely by the construction of I-244.


Neighborhood Instability

Using the chart below, you can view the impact these demolitions and the problems associated with the highway had on neighborhood stability.

 

 


Trapped Residents, Ham’s Prison

 

Highway construction did more than just displace families and businesses. It also stranded several families who refused to sell their homes to the state. One stretch in particular captured the attention of the local media: Three blocks of Admiral Blvd, between Pittsburgh and Sandusky.

Their homes remained, but the street was removed to make room for steeply-sloped retaining walls that line the highway. With the street gone, these families had no way to access their homes except by climbing over chain link fences. Greeting guests meant installing a string with a bell at one end, and having them use ladders to climb over fences and walk through neighbors’ back yards. Water lines were also removed or altered, and the remaining residents were forced to pay to re-establish any connections to the system.

One resident, Charles Ham, took matters into his own hands after being harassed by state and city officials, and the police. Police officers heavily damaged the interior of his home while conducting a raid under false pretenses. Ham left his home as-is and started offering tours of the damage. He named his home “The Pigs Museum” to irritate the police, and erected a large sign facing the highway advertising it. The difficulty of getting to his home meant he had to rely on others for necessities:

Neighborhood kids, some of whom used to swim in his private pool, bring him razor blades and magazines. His sister delivers his mail, which he has had routed to her house. His niece buys his groceries and hands them to him over the fence.

The police forcibly removed the sign, and Ham was arrested for supposedly violating the city’s building code by erecting the sign. The fire marshal closed his swimming pool because it didn’t have a drain or filtration system. It was fed by a natural spring.

An access road was never built, even though Admiral still exists on the blocks immediately east and west of this block (it looks to me like the road was removed out of spite). All but two of the homes on this stretch have since been demolished, though 15 of the original 50-ft-wide parcels/lots still show on city maps. The home nearest Pittsburgh now has a gravel driveway running through the back yard. The other home, in the middle of the block, is inaccessible, has been vacant for decades, and sits alone on the hill, slowly rotting.

See the following articles for more of this sad story:

7 Families May Be Cut Off From Homes. Tulsa World, February 21, 1968.
Expressway, Barbed Wire Form ‘Cell’ for Tulsan
. Tulsa World, July 29, 1972.
‘Pigs Museum’ Sign Comes Down. Tulsa World, August 30, 1972.


Effects on Ann’s Bakery

In 1998, while Michael Bates was running for city council, he knocked on the door of Ann Bay, owner of Ann’s Bakery, a veritable Tulsa landmark. Ann and her husband Raymond founded the bakery in 1938 when they lifted their home at 7 N Harvard and built the bakery underneath it (see above. To see more historic photos of Ann’s, head over to Tulsa Gal). Eventually, the bakery added a second floor, the house was removed, and the Bays moved a block away to a house at 1st & Admiral. Bates recalls:

The day they learned the expressway was going to cut between their house and the bakery, her husband sat down on the curb and wept.

Bates adds, “The bakery survived, of course, but the residential area was cut off from its commercial district, damaging both.”

In a 1995 interview with the Tulsa World, Ann called out the construction of I-244:

A business setback was when the city of Tulsa bought a northern portion of her business to build the I-244 expressway.

This blocked two accesses for deliveries. It also took a critical parking lot. The business survived.

The key word is “survived”. If this project was so beneficial, businesses wouldn’t be forced into survival mode. The construction of this highway hurt neighborhoods in every way imaginable. It made it more difficult for folks to walk to the local bakeries, grocery stores, barber shops and taverns from their homes. This hurt businesses, forcing untold numbers of which to close. The highway introduced high-volume traffic noise into quiet neighborhoods while turning many residential streets into highway service roads. All of this made homes lose value. People moved out. Schools closed. Huge numbers of productive properties were eliminated from the tax rolls. With fewer families, neighborhood school populations fell, forcing many to close. The ripple effects of building I-244 were vast, devastating, and have been felt for more than 50 years now.


Personal History Reveals A Pattern

In my research, I realized that both sides of my family witnessed the devastating effects this highway brought. Relaying the stories of those neighborhoods quickly revealed a pattern:

  1. The state and/or city propose a highway.
  2. Nearby neighborhoods oppose it.
  3. The state builds it anyway.
  4. Neighborhoods get hollowed out.
    1. Families leave.
    2. Businesses are forced to close.
    3. Schools close.
  5. Property values plummet (along with ad valorem taxes).
  6. Buildings fall into disrepair, and are demolished.
  7. The neighborhood suffers for decades.

Owen Park

In 1963, my mother lived with her grandparents in a craftsman-style home just a few blocks west of downtown at 123 N Nogales Ave. She talks about being able to walk around the corner to the school she attended (Washington Irving School–Tulsa’s oldest extant school), past the apartments her grandfather managed, and to the corner grocery store to buy sweets. Just a few years later, houses directly north and directly east of hers were torn down to accommodate I-244.

Streets that once connected the neighborhood to downtown and Owen Park to the north were severed, replaced by a 20-ft tall concrete barrier to support the highway. The county bought nine square blocks, tore everything down, and replaced homes and apartments with a massive jail. A homeless shelter, related social service agencies, and bail bondsmen moved in next door.

Cut off by two highways and the river, and ignored for decades, the Owen Park neighborhood fell into disrepair. Irving School closed in 1974 but the building was kept. Apartment buildings were demolished, the neighborhood grocery store vanished, and more homes were eventually demolished, including the one my mom lived in.

North Nogales Avenue today
The end of North Nogales Avenue. Highway in the background.

 

Kendall-Whittier

For decades, relatives of my dad owned the Jeffries Lock & Key Shop at 2224 E Admiral Blvd. Housed in a cottage-style former filling station, the shop operated at the corner of Admiral and Gillette, just west of Lewis in the Kendall-Whittier neighborhood, from the 1940s until 1982 when it was purchased by Admiral Safe. The building is still there, but its neighbors weren’t so lucky. Several neighborhood streets were removed for I-244, along with the houses, apartment buildings, and businesses on those streets.

Again, neighborhood access to the commercial areas was cut off except for major arterial streets. The remaining businesses suffered, as did the neighborhood, and folks moved elsewhere. Whittier Elementary, another of Tulsa’s oldest schools, now abutting the highway, suffered severely, and eventually it closed and was demolished. In recent years, the neighborhood has begun to rebound from these disastrous decisions, and is again becoming a unique, thriving area full of restaurants, shops, Tulsa’s only remaining historic theater, creative studios, etc. These days, the I-244 is visible from the old key shop, which is just half a block away and faces a gravel parking lot overlooking the sunken highway below. 

University Park, College & Admiral

I attended the University of Tulsa, whose campus is just a few blocks south of Admiral, between Delaware and Harvard. In the 30s and 40s, there was a busy commercial strip surrounding the corner of Admiral Place and College Avenue, the street that led directly from the campus. It featured a coney restaurant, a few cafes, a barbershop, and several other businesses, and was frequented by TU’s students. Dozens of bungalow duplexes and small apartment buildings aimed at students and young people filled in the area to the north.

You can guess what happened in the 60s: everything in the path of the highway, including College Avenue between Admiral Pl and Admiral Blvd, was bought by the state, then demolished. Both Admirals became one-way service roads to accommodate exits and on-ramps. A 20-foot-tall mass of earth went in, and the highway was built on top. Cut off from the university, this small but thriving commercial strip died. Most of the buildings from the era are still there, but many are vacant, used for storage, or have the windows boarded up. What was once an inviting, comfortable area is now desolate and practically devoid of any activity. It could become something nice that benefits the neighborhood again, but for now, it’s dormant.

White City

I now live near Admiral again, this time in White City. This stretch of Admiral, like the rest of the street at the time, was a very popular and stylish commercial corridor. If you didn’t live downtown, you probably shopped on Admiral. When World War II started, a new bomber plant was built at the airport, and Admiral was widened to four lanes so workers could get to and from the plant as quickly as possible.

When they widened the road, no curbs were installed east of Hudson, no sidewalks were installed, and there was no delineation between traffic lanes and parking in front of the shops, restaurants, and apartment buildings. As a result, the entire street became a pedestrian’s nightmare. As traffic sped up, people moved further and further east, taking businesses along with them.

The construction of I-244 sealed the fate, with even more homes and businesses destroyed, replaced again with huge concrete barriers and a massive highway overpass. Eventually, a turning lane was added, making the now 5-lane street nearly 60 feet wide. 

Most of the windows in buildings that remain on the stretch of Admiral between Yale and Fulton are now boarded up. The buildings themselves either vacant or used to store vehicles. There’s a cash-for-plasma center. Next door, an old neon sign for a once-popular furniture store at 5026 E Admiral Pl hangs alone, rusting. Though run-down, the buildings still have good bones.

With the right redesign of Admiral (including a road diet), lots of trees, facade improvements, and interest from local entrepreneurs, this stretch could become something really interesting and lively again.

What it could look like:

Between 1974 and 1980, a Kmart was built at 5305 E Admiral Pl, just west of the highway overpass. After it permanently closed in 2003, a manufacturing company bought the building and erected a black aluminum fence around the property.

In 2016, QuikTrip, a Tulsa-based gas station chain, decided to abandon its store on the northeast corner of Admiral & Yale for a new location across the street on the southeast corner – something it does on a regular basis. In doing so, it bought several lots containing 5 homes and 8 businesses abutting their newly-acquired property, and tore them down so they could use the land as a construction staging area.

Now, those lots, all 81,804 square feet of them, sit empty, a mixture of gravel, dirt, and grass (visible in the aerial image above). In total, QT now controls more than 172,000 sq ft on that corner, with no plans for the now-vacant field. That’s almost 2 square city blocks. When the new store opened in December, they abandoned their old building across the street, which was constructed in 1991. That building lasted all of 25 years, and the lot is now vacant. There are dozens of examples of new QTs across the street from abandoned QTs all over this city.

 


 

Highway Expansions Continue to Divide Area Towns

Maybe all of this seems like ancient history, but it appears we have forgotten the lessons from our mistakes in the 60s and 70s. In the 1990s, ODOT forced the town of Skiatook to accept widening its historic main street (Rogers Blvd) to 4 lanes, while replacing angled parking with parallel spaces and cutting down the width of the sidewalks in front of stores, restaurants, dry cleaners, antique shops, and the library. At the time, ODOT warned the townspeople if they didn’t accept the widening plan, ODOT would build the highway elsewhere and kill the town’s restaurants and retail by driving traffic away from the town. The town acquiesced.

Threatening the economy of a small town is a common tactic among state departments of transportation, which control a large number of Main Streets across the country. Use Google Streetview and drop yourself in any number of small towns and you’ll see the state DOT has insisted that widening is the only option, most often to disastrous results. In Oklahoma, look at Kingfisher, Okemah, Pawnee, Okmulgee, Collinsville, Bartlesville, Enid, Woodward, etc. Each of these had a four-lane highway rammed right through their downtown.

Within the past few weeks, ODOT recently held another public meeting to talk about their proposal to re-route and widen Highway 20 to five lanes in Claremore (brochure here – but watch out for DOT propaganda like the word “improvement”), diverting traffic away from their downtown. ODOT has claimed for years the road has too many curves and is dangerous, when in reality the curves slow traffic down. We know that the design of roads and the widths of lanes can either encourage or discourage speeding and can make a street safer or more dangerous.

Those 4- or 5-lane designs that have been forced on so many small towns are the kind that encourage speeding, which makes it more dangerous not only to drive, but to anyone walking, riding a bike, or in a wheelchair. After all, these are towns we’re talking about, not wide expanses of uninhabited fields. ODOT is proposing 14-foot-wide outer lanes, 12-foot-wide inner lanes, and a 14-foot-wide center turning lane, all with curbs and gutters. 12-foot-wide lanes are standard on Interstate Highways, and have no place in a town. 14-foot-wide lanes are just plain crazy. This is unacceptable in 2017.

The ODOT plan for Highway 20 in Claremore doesn’t just smooth out the curve, cut off downtown, and encourage speeding. It also calls for the removal of at least a dozen homes, and would rip apart several established neighborhoods. Just like we did in the 1960s and 70s.

In all, the 3.5-mile project is estimated to cost $42 million. Oklahoma already can’t afford to properly maintain the roads we have. Replacing a two-lane road that works fine with a $42 million, extra-wide, dangerous, 5-lane stroad that will displace families just to shave a minute or two off drive time is financially irresponsible and morally bankrupt.


What You Can Do

ODOT’s public comment period for this project is open until March 9th, so make your voices heard.

Show up to meetings. Ask tough questions. Hold DOT officials to account. Demand Context Sensitive Solutions, which are encouraged by the Federal Highway Administration. This Streetsblog article wisely recommends:

One important piece of advice for communities: Take information from state DOTs and other high-level transportation agencies with a grain of salt, Charlier said. “When people start saying that this higher authority is requiring something, ask for documentation,” he said. Some of the things we hear engineers say are not really true.

“We hear citizens being told things like this: ‘The FHWA requires level of service C in year 20,’” said Charlier. “Baloney; it’s not true. The federal government does not provide guidance at this level.” Charlier recommends that concerned citizens “chase” those kind of statements “back to the source.


References and Resources

Polk Directories are available for viewing at the Tulsa’s Central Library. Following are newspaper articles from the Tulsa Tribune (TT) and Tulsa World (TW) used in my research, in reverse chronological order:
Unknown Date
• TT – Paving the Crosstown – Memorial
• TT – $1,102,962 Contract is Awarded on Crosstown – Bridge Work at Delaware and Admiral

1990s
• 1995-01-30 TW – Ann’s Bakery Has Sweet History in Tulsa

1980s
• 1984-07-25 TW – MLK Sign

1970s
• 1978-08-02 TW – I-244 Attractive But Dangerous – Highway Officials Wonder What Will Happen Next
• 1973-04-21 TT – Crosstown Gets Business Play
• 1972-08-30 TW – Pigs Museum Sign Comes Down
• 1972-07-29 TW – Expressway, Barbed Wire Form Cell for Tulsan
• 1972-05-06 TW – Last Link Opened on New Crosstown
• 1972-05-04 TT – Experimenting Eyed on New Crosstown Connection
• 1972-04-27 TT – Crosstown Paving Downtown Finished
• 1972-04-03 TT – Crosstown Gets Mileage Signs
• 1972-03-14 TT – Interchange Lanes Ready for Concrete
• 1971-12-21 TT – Delays in Crosstown Highway System Disclosed
• 1971-07-23 TW – Shape of Inner Disperal Loop Ringing Downtown Tulsa
• 1971-03-09 TT – Crosstown to be Finished
• 1971-03-02 TW – Crosstown, IDL Pacts OKd
• 1971 TT – New Road History Tortuous – Crosstown Evolution Explained
• 1970-10-15 TW – Crosstown Works Well, Enginere Here Reports
• 1970-10-14 TT – Crosstown Motorists In a Jam
• 1970-10-06 TW – Roads Director Gets Lost on Expressway
• 1970-10-02 TT – Crosstown Dedication Plan Ready
• 1970-09-27 TW – Time to Airport Shaved – Crosstown Expressway Helpful
• 1970-09-06 TT – Crosstown Crosses The Delaware
• 1970-09-04 TT – Gilcrease Leg, Crosstown Open
• 1970-08-28 TT – Sign of the Times
• 1970-08-25 TW – Crosstown Opening Delayed, New Date is Sept 7
• 1970-08-10 TT – Tantalizing Sight – I-44 Junction
• 1970-08-08 TT – Traffic Flow Reroute Map
• 1970-07-23 TW – Sign Troubles to Delay Opening of Crosstown
• 1970-07-22 TT – Crosstown Use Postponed – Turtles ‘s Go-Go for Crosstown

1960s
• 1969-11-28 TT – New Traffic Detours Set – Interchange Advances
• 1969-11-26 TT – Sight for Sore Eyes – aerial photo
• 1969-11-06 TW – Expressway Job to Block Admiral Traffic Ramp
• 1969-10-11 TT – Expressway Finish Should Cause Area Boom
• 1969-09-30 TT – Crosstown Work Speeds Up
• 1969-09-03 TW – Bids on Crosstown Nixed as Too High
• 1969-08-24 Okla Journal – Giant Mole Burrows Under Tulsa
• 1969-05-30 TW – Big Steel Goes Up Along Crosstown Route – Downtown photo
• 1969-01-05 TW – Crosstown Surfacing Bids Near 1968-11-26 TT – Work on Crosstown Here Continues to Push Westward
• 1968-11-20 TT – Waiting for Paving 1968-08-05 TT – No Longer A Dream – aerial photo
• 1968-06-19 TT – Crosstown Construction Boost Is Due – Work Slated East of River For 10 Miles
• 1968-06-14 TW – Crosstown Overpasses Start at Ground Level
• 1968-04-13 TW – Slowly but Surely – aerials from Sheridan
• 1968-04-01 TT – $6.2 Million Highway Job For Tulsa Up for June Bid
• 1968-02-21 TW – 7 Families May Be Cut Off From Homes – Water Supply a Problem, Too
• 1968-01-16 TW – Crosstown Piers Undressed
• 1967-12-27 TW – Bridging The Crosstown Expressway – photos
• 1967-05-02 TW – Snag Delays Contract in Crosstown Project
• 1967-04-12 TW – $1 Million Bridge – Hudson
• 1967-04-05 TW – Crosstown-Gilcrease Interchange – aerial photo
• 1966-08-12 TT – Nothing in Envelope Except $1,250,000
• 1966-06-26 TW – Tulsans to Be Faster 1966-05-28 TT – Lyons Reports Rapid Word on Crosstown
• 1966-01-13 TT – Tornado, No, Just Road Work
• 1965-05-01 TW – May Be Mabee Here, But Signs Will Read I-244
• 1965-03-10 TW – Why The All-Fired Rush
• 1965-02-03 TW – Mabee Expressway Title Offered to End Dispute
• 1963-04-08 TT – Crosstown Expressway Top Tulsa Bargain in Dollars
• 1962-02-20 TT – Stilts Rise High at Downtown Interchange
• 1960-10-13 – Crosstown, Sequoyah Interchange ‘s Crosstown Expressway Route – Accord Reached on Turnpike Study

1950s
• 1957-07-20 TT – Taxes to Cost Tulsa More Than Freeway – Either Way, We Pay
• 1957-02-01 TT – City Backs Relocation of Planned Expressway – 57th West Avenue Route Favored
• 1958-08-28 TT – Scale Map of Route Okayed by TMPC for Crosstown Expressway
• 1956-07-18 TT – Central Freeway Top Need, Expert Claims – Crosstown Much More Important Than North Loop
• 1956-05-22 TT – Group to Choose Freeway Route
• 1955-09-08 TW – Suit Threats on Freeway Plan Hurled
• 1955-08-26 TT – Highway Department Map Shows Proposed Route of Eastside Freeway
• 1955-08-25 TW – Expressway Map Details Eastern Leg

Creekside Park System

East Tulsa Creekside Parks
East Tulsa’s Potential “Emerald Necklace” of Creekside Parks

By the summer of 2014, I had been using the trails at several of Tulsa’s “non-park” parks in east Tulsa for a couple of years. You may be asking yourself, “What on earth is a ‘non-park’ park?” It’s a term I coined for the narrow lengths of land adjacent to creeks and other small waterways, owned by the City of Tulsa and used for flood control purposes, but that also includes gravel walking trails, creeks, ponds, and occasionally, a bench or two.

There is no programming, no playground equipment, no basketball/tennis courts, and even trees are sparse, but the green space is there, and people use it to walk, run, kick a ball, or fish.

These non-park parks are not part of the Tulsa Parks & Recreation Department – instead, these areas are maintained by the City’s Streets and Stormwater Department. 

After lamenting the lack of nice, programmed, active public parks and open space in east Tulsa, I had the idea to turn these green spaces into a connected network of narrow, linear Creekside Parks that would connect several parts of town, including links between dozens of public schools and parks, similar to Boston’s Emerald Necklace, the plan to restore the Los Angeles River, or Tulsa’s own River Parks. With a little work, these properties, which are already owned by the city, could create transportation and recreation opportunities for a part of town with few existing options.

Granted, some need a little more work than others. For example, after the Great Tulsa Flood of 1984, the City began turning natural streams like Mingo Creek into concrete channels. These concrete channels quickly flush water away, eventually into the Arkansas River via an elaborate and expensive network of large, underground pipes. With these and other measures, the City of Tulsa solved many of its flooding problems (amid a “drainage war” between the City, developers, and neighborhoods), and quickly received national praise for its flood mitigation efforts.

But these kinds of things have consequences. In the channelized sections of streams, for example, practically all the fish and wildlife died. Plants don’t stand a chance against the concrete. In times of drought or very little rainfall, the concrete channels contain just a small stream of slow-moving water, which has led to the growth of lots of algae. It also created an impenetrable heat island in summer months.

The result is a place that is simultaneously uninhabitable by fish, birds, bees, other wildlife, plant life, and is unappealing and uncomfortable to humans. It resembles the drag racing scene from Grease, which was shot in the concrete channels of the Los Angeles River. There’s no way these concrete channels and retaining walls help home values in nearby neighborhoods, either.

Never been? Just take a look:

For more photos of Mingo Creek, visit my Flickr Album.

I began mapping the parks, and along the way, I noticed similar opportunities in each quadrant of the city. The project grew. The City solicited transformative ideas from citizens for the Vision renewal package, and I had a few up my sleeve, but ran out of time.

New Partnership Between City & School District

Fast forward to 2017. Tulsa’s new mayor formed a partnership between the City and local school districts to improve outcomes. Earlier this week, it was announced that the City Parks Department, Tulsa Public Schools, and TPS’s after-school bike programs have teamed up to create bike trails to provide safer routes to school while providing the opportunity for kids to get physical activity outdoors. It sounds like a perfect match for my Creekside Parks system.

East Tulsa

The east Tulsa Creekside Parks could link up to six schools together along a north-south corridor, and others in smaller east-west segments, all while expanding access to park space, existing ponds, neighborhood walking trails, and more, stretching from Admiral south to 41st Street.

Dawson

Dawson Area Creekside Parks could connect multiple schools, create more parkland, and provide opportunities for appropriate commercial development in certain areas.

North Tulsa

The potential expansion of park space is most dramatic in North Tulsa, opening up more than two square miles of recreational areas, while connecting more than a dozen schools to bike trails that would feed into the Osage Prairie Trail.

South Tulsa

The program’s effects in south Tulsa would also be quite pronounced, connecting seven schools to neighborhoods stretching from 51st & Sheridan all the way to 81st & Riverside.

If the City and TPS are looking for low-cost ways to expand safe routes to school and better connect with surrounding neighborhoods, this is a great solution. It would also help fulfill the goals of many official neighborhood plans (for example, objective 8 of the East Tulsa Detailed Implementation Plan: Provide additional, safe pedestrian paths and connection between area neighborhoods and activity centers). Water quality along sections restored to their natural states would also improve dramatically, reintroducing fish, birds, amphibians, and plants.

Essential Elements of a Creekside Park

  • Restoring the channels to a natural state
  • Multi-use trails on one or both sides of the streams
  • Soccer fields, basketball courts or tennis courts, where the size permits
  • Seating
  • Playground equipment, where possible
  • Outdoor exercise equipment
  • Extensive native landscaping
  • Multiple bridge crossings, especially near schools
  • Art that corresponds to and complements the surrounding neighborhood
  • Gardens and trees
  • More direct access to the water
  • Natural stone used in retaining walls, where needed
  • Fully-shielded, Dark Sky-compliant lighting in appropriate areas
  • Directional signage, to help kids find their way to schools; and to help adults navigate
  • Bike share stations
  • In appropriate areas: Programming, Programming, Programming

Interactive Map of Full Creekside Park System

A Modest Proposal

Second Street in downtown Tulsa is desolate and an uncomfortable place to walk, but it wasn’t always this way. Before it was turned into a car-centric street with blank concrete walls and fast-moving, one-way traffic, it was quite active and lively. To help correct some of these mistakes made in past decades, I’ve come up with a plan involving an existing, publicly-owned parking garage. I propose converting a 135-foot portion of the parking garage between the hotel site and the Performing Arts Center into retail/restaurant space, widening the sidewalk, adding street trees and plantings, and replacing one lane of traffic with parallel parking. Ideally, I’d like to see two-way traffic returned to Second Street, and the addition of protected bike lanes. Those would take a much larger effort and a greater sum of money. Since this parking garage is owned by the city, it reduces upfront costs and could have an out-sized effect on the area. This project would make the walk along Second Street between two large destinations more pleasant, more vibrant, more varied, more aesthetically pleasing, and more conducive to walking.

It would turn this…

Into something like this:

 

The plan would remove 20 parking spaces from the garage, but would add up to five lease-able units totaling 8,682 sq ft. The concrete floor is already level, and the ceiling heights reach upward of 16 feet. All that would need to be done is the removal of exterior concrete in the places where windows and doors would go, and the addition of plumbing and electrical. The parking garage is owned by the City of Tulsa (officially the Tulsa Parking Authority), so there would be no acquisition price.

The net operating income for 20 spaces in this garage translates to around $18,000 a year. The same spaced leased to retailers or restaurants would generate between $139,000 and $182,000 in revenue per year (based on comp space downtown, listed at $16-21/sf/yr). That’s 7-10 times the annual return for the same amount of space. Plus, the city would realize additional tax revenues from the retail/restaurant activities – which all city services depend on as a source of funding.

The cost of new retail construction per square foot in Tulsa is currently around $75/sq ft. Since the structure is already built and it’s just a matter of subdividing the space, and adding doors, windows, electrical, and some plumbing, I think it’s reasonable to cut that cost in half. At $37.50/sq ft, it would cost around $330,000 to rough-out the space. (Think that cost of out of line? Let me know.) Add in an extra $150,000 for the sidewalk widening, parking meters, benches, and plantings, and that brings us to $480,000. For around half a million dollars, the City could completely transform this section of Second Street. It would serve the adjacent hotel, the Performing Arts Center, the BOK Tower, City Hall, and folks walking to or from events at the BOK Center or Blue Dome District. Assuming 30% overhead and maintenance costs, it would only take  3.75-5 years to cover those initial expenses.

Current Configuration:

Proposed Configuration:

This location is the midway point between the BOK Center and the Blue Dome District, a five minute walk from either destination. The Second Street Connection would reassure folks traveling between the two on foot, and serve as a positive example of re-imagining how our streets look, feel, and how much they contribute to the well-being of the city. When the new developments along the ends of the route are finished, I expect this stretch of Second Street to see even more foot traffic, increasing the need to make the walk attractive and interesting, which are crucial. As Jane Jacobs wrote in The Death and Life of Great American Cities:

To generate exuberant diversity in a city’s streets and districts four conditions are indispensable:
1. The district, and indeed as many of its internal parts as possible, must serve more than one primary function; preferably more than two…
2. Most blocks must be short; that is, streets and opportunities to turn corners must be frequent.
3. The district must mingle buildings that vary in age and condition, including a good proportion of old ones so that they vary in the economic yield they must produce. This mingling must be fairly close-grained.
4. There must be a sufficiently dense concentration of people, for whatever purposes they may be there…

We can’t fix the length of the Super Blocks along Second Street (at least, not without demolishing parts of the Williams Resource Center and the ballroom at the Hyatt hotel), but we can make sure we achieve the other objectives fairly easily, and we can make the walk seem shorter by making it more lively.

The South Garage, or Second Street Connection, is halfway between the BOK Center and the Blue Dome District. New developments, either under construction or proposed, are shown.

The same kind of conversion could easily replicated at the first floor of the Williams Resource Center (the space originally built as an indoor mall, attached to the BOK Tower). It fronts Second Street, is within a hundred feed of the Second Street Connection, which puts it directly across from the hotel, slightly closer to the BOK Center and the new hotels at 2nd & Cheyenne. Adjacent to it is a surface parking lot that could one day be transformed into a mixed-use retail/office/residential combo. On the west side of Boulder is the West Garage (also city-owned), which sets back 17 feet from the north side of Second Street. The same parking garage transformation could be applied there, as well (it would also help conceal the lower floors of the parking garage from view). All these things would create a stronger link between the two areas (and would begin connecting them to the Brady District to the north).

The Williams Resource Center, originally an indoor mall, could easily have portions of the first floor along Second Street converted to street-facing retail and restaurant space. The air bridge in the photo connects to a hotel.

The best way to revitalize streets and cities is to do so incrementally, and I think this is a great way to kick things off, with the City leading by example. What do you think? Let me know in the comment section below.

Second Street Connection

The half-mile distance along Second Street between downtown Tulsa’s BOK Center–a large arena that hosts concerts, sporting events, festivals, and tournaments–and the Blue Dome District, an area filled with restaurants, bars, and interesting shops–may only be a 10-minute walk, but the lack of engaging storefronts, restaurants, or even windows makes the walk feel much longer, leaving those folks walking between the two feeling unsafe.

The sad story of Second Street begins in the 1970s, a time when the Urban Renewal craze, lending requirements, and federal policy were combined like ingredients in a cauldron, creating a deadly explosion. At least part of each of these nasty ingredients was intended to remove blight from city centers. Defining blight was essentially left to individual cities, and it often meant tearing down entire majority-black neighborhoods. In the case of Second Street, “blight” was used to describe any building a person or company wanted to tear down. This stretch of Second included a brothel or two, restaurants, shops, old bank buildings, furniture stores, etc., in many of the oldest buildings in Tulsa, some dating back to the 1890s. It was vibrant, full of activity and people on the street.

The southwest corner of 2nd and Main in February 1940. Businesses include: M. Kalk Jewelers, Crown Drugstore, Main Street Theater, J.C. Penney, and Kress. From the Beryl Ford Collection.
Looking east down Second Street, from Main. From the Beryl Ford Collection.
Looking east down Second Street, from Boston Ave. From the Beryl Ford Collection.
East side of Boulder Avenue, from 2nd to 3rd Streets showing Mecca Coffee Co at 209 South Boulder Avenue and the Hotel Densmore in 1932. These buildingd were demolished to make way for Williams Towers I & II, and this section of street is now fronted by blank walls at street level, a loading dock, and an entrance to an underground parking garage. From the Beryl Ford Collection.

The wrecking balls came, and roughly 11 city blocks along Second Street were completely, devastatingly, demolished.

The Bliss Hotel, built in 1929, was demolished in 1973 to make way for the Williams Center. From the Beryl Ford Collection.

 

Former Bliss Hotel, Second & Boston, northeast corner, 1973. From the Beryl Ford Collection.

For a closer look at what we lost, including photos during demolition, check out Tulsa Gal’s article on Urban Renewal.

What replaced it? Steel and glass office buildings without any sort of outward-facing, street-level engagement, and many structures with blank walls. A performing arts center with no windows, faced entirely with concrete, complete with an attached, matching, windowless parking garage. A 400-room hotel with no windows at street level, but that includes a circle driveway for vehicles. An indoor mall with no windows but for a skylight on the roof. Air bridges were built between buildings and across streets to ensure no one set foot on the actual street below. A “motor bank” (a bank branch that consists solely of drive-thru lanes) that took up an entire city block. And loads of surface parking lots. Those were later complemented in the 2000s by another concrete parking garage, an office building clad in pre-fabricated concrete panels, with no windows on the ground level facing Second Street, but with a large, overhead garage door for deliveries. The motor bank was replaced by a surface parking lot. Four square blocks of old buildings on the west end of Second Street came down in the early 2000s to make way for a 19,0000-seat arena, known as the BOK Center.

The old Grand Opera House, with the Union Depot in background, 1971. It was located on the north side of 2nd Street between Boston and Cincinnati until its demolition in 1973.  From the Beryl Ford Collection.
After 11 blocks of the oldest buildings in Tulsa were demolished, they were paved with surface parking lots.

 

Current Conditions

 

Blank Walls

It’s a dismal, uninviting, unfortunate (and self-inflicted) scene that links entertainment, lodging, dinging, and employment. In all, there are ±984 linear feet of blank, windowless walls along the south side of Second Street between the BOK Center and the Blue Dome District. There’s an additional 250 feet of blank walls on the north side, and if you include the West Garage, the total rises to 550 feet. This is a major factor leading to the street’s inactive quietude, and to the feelings of insecurity, danger, and exaggeration of time by people walking. Blank walls send a clear message to folks on the street: Leave. This isn’t a place for you. Go on, now. Don’t linger.

Driveways

Interruptions to the sidewalk by driveways abound on this sleepy street. On the south side of the street, there are 10 driveways and 2 alleyways; on the north side, there are 7 driveways and 2 alleyways. Each driveway introduces conflict between cars and people. This poses a risk to people using the sidewalk, as cars regularly barrel out of garages and parking lots without looking for folks on the sidewalk. Driveways send a clear signal that this is not a place for humans – it’s built for cars.

Parking lots and One-Way Traffic

After all the buildings came down, parking lots sprang up in their place, like persistent, invasive weeds. When the Super Blocks were created for the Williams Center, Performing Arts Center, the hotel, and the Williams Towers, on-street parking was removed from the north side Second Street from Boulder to Cincinnati (a span of 3 blocks).

The street had already been converted into a stroad in the 1950s, replacing two-way traffic and on-street parking on both sides and plenty of mixing between cars, streetcars, and people walking, with four lanes of fast-moving one-way traffic.

This was no accident, either. It was designed this way on purpose: at the time, this stretch of Second Street was designated as a highway: US-75 and OK-33.

1955 Oklahoma State Map, Tulsa Inset. Source: ODOT

Our streets, bustling with people at the time, were completely reconfigured to maximize the speed at which vehicles could travel. First and Second Streets were the first streets in downtown Tulsa converted to one-way traffic. In the following two decades, there were contentious battles over the one-waying of several more downtown streets, in order to facilitate rapid access to the Inner Disperal Loop, a loop highway built in the 70s and 80s that displaced hundreds of homes and businesses, and still acts as a noose around downtown. As many business owners opposed to turning downtown into a one-way maze observed at the time, one-way streets lead to higher vehicle speeds, and multiple lanes encourage jockeying behavior. That means there is less time for eyes to land on storefronts and watching for folks crossing the street, and the increase in speed turns collisions with people walking from dangerous but survivable to deadly.

Combined, it hurt downtown businesses so badly that scores of them folded. When a “temporary” test converting downtown streets to one-way was proposed in 1957, downtown merchants banded together to try to stop it. A group of 60 businesses and taxpayers banded together in a last-ditch effort to stop the one-way conversion, asking a judge for a restraining order that would prevent the city from converting the streets.

During the brief hearing on the request for a temporary restraining order, Travis Milsten, co-counsel for opponent of the one-way conversion declared, “We’re putting in probably a speedway. In every one-way operation, traffic is speeded. Let us not experimentally do something we might regret later.”

The restraining order was denied, and the “temporary” test proceeded. C. Harold Miller, the City’s Traffic Engineer of the day, proclaimed that if the test failed and businesses were hurt as a result, he would be the first to recommend reverting back to two-way traffic, as the Tulsa Tribune reported on December 13, 1957: “City Traffic Engineer C. Harold Miller says if the trial period proves the system unsatisfactory he will be the first to recommend that it not be continued. However, he has faith in the one-way system, he said.”

The same issue of the Tribune featured a pro-con argument by two of their editorial writers (underlines are mine, to add emphasis):

Occasionally two editorial writers on the same newspaper meet each other going in different directions. Such a situation has occurred on the question of making Tulsa’s Main Street a one-way street. Here two Tribune men argue it out:

A BRIEF AGAINST
This is not just a question to be decided for motorists and merchants. If every merchant favors it—and most of them do not seem to have serious objections—the reasons why it should remain two way are solid. If every hurrying motorist approves, it doesn’t make any difference.

If others are willing to risk deflating Main Street’s tax valuations and pick up the additional assessments on their homes in return for the two hours-a-day-five-days-a-week convenience it might be to them to save 45 seconds going south on Main Street from First to Eighteenth streets, that is not controlling.

Main Street is our bazaar. A showplace. Stores fill up the buildings, not offices. Windows facing the streets are stacked attractively with the world’s best merchandise. They are worth seeing, not racing past under pressure from a hot-rod pursuer or an impatient policeman’s whistle.

Surely it is not wrong to designate just one short street out of the city’s vast network as its bazaar, where the shopper is to be considered first and the merchant or motorist second. Thousands of us love to drive up one side of Main Street and back, especially at night and on Sundays, showing off our town to guests or, maybe, simply amusing ourselves.

Is there to be no more simple romance in this world? No inexpensive pleasures left? Must we all bow down to the Machine? I object. When Fifth Avenue in New York City and Michigan Boulevard in Chicago, two of the great free entertainment spots in the world, are made one-way, it will be time for Tulsa to consider doing it.—V.F.B.

AND ONE FOR IT
How could business be hurt by making Main a one-way street? The fear seems to be that traffic would merely hurry by, because cars on one-way streets flow faster. The stream of traffic would be so fast, so this fear goes, that fewer people would stop to shop.

Well, who can stop now? What are your chances of finding a curbside parking place on Main Street during business hours? Shoppers have to go to parking lots or garages, anyway.

As it stands, downtown Main Street has only one lane of traffic for southbound cars and one for northbound cars. The outside lanes are clogged with cars waiting for the “Wait” signal to make right turns. If Main were made one-way there would be two usable through lanes at intersections where both right and left turns are allowed, and three where only right turns are allowed. How can downtown business be hurt if the flow of traffic is made easier and the job of driving downtown less exasperating?—J.L.J.

Within months of the conversion, businesses were already being affected negatively. According to the February 7, 1958 issue of the Tulsa Tribune, Downtown Merchants Unlimited, a group that promoted downtown businesses, was opposed to the new street configuration, and requested a professional studies of the effects. “The delegation included businessmen who testified that the trial network of one-way streets is injuring—and in some instances ruining—business.” Other pleas came directly from the affected businesses:

Representatives of Frank’s Pig Stand, 15th St. and Boston, said business there is down 20 per cent due to the one-way streets. The place will be closed if something is not done, they said.

Elzie W. Munn, operator of Mary Lou Pastry Shops on south Boston and in Utica Square, said business on Boston is down 20 to 30 per cent while business in Utica Square is up 40 per cent. “The one-way streets are driving people from the downtown area to the shopping centers Munn said. “Traffic on the oneway street is so fast we can hardly back out of our driveways.”

Martha Stone Spartan, who operates an interior decorating business in the 1700 block south Boston, said their service has been slowed because the company trucks cannot go south without using narrow Baltimore Avenue or detouring around the one-way streets.

Most impassioned plea for elimination of inequities caused by the one-way system came from A. D. Strahm, operator of the Parkade at Second St. and Boston Ave. He said that January—first month of the one-ways—saw his auto parking business drop more than any other January—or any other month—in the history of the business. He added that if the loss continues, it will amount to $28,000 a year and he will have to take money from other interests to meet mortgage payments on the Parkade.

Police Commissioner William R. Peterson told merchants who said that there was excessive speed on the one-ways that they should report it to him or police headquarters. “We’re 228 policemen short, but I beg of you to call me or the chief or the traffic director and report areas where this speeding is,” Peterson said. “It’s the duty of us all as citizens to contribute that much to the safety of our city.”

Many other merchants testified to poor business conditions, but attorney Ernest Clulow appeared and said he “took exception to the statement that the oneways are not good.

In a Tribune article from October 4, 1957, Merchants and Methodists March on City Hall to Protest ‘One-Way’ Plan, W. L. Lauhon, a downtown merchant opposed to the plan, said “this is the worst thing we could do to the downtown area at this time.”

He and the other protesters turned out to be right. In the end, businesses died, but the streets remained one-way. Eventually, downtown became a ghost town after 5 p.m.

Street Removal and Super Blocks

After entire blocks were demolished, Main Street and Boston Avenue were closed and removed between 1st and 3rd Streets, creating two massive super blocks where the monolithic office buildings and hotel with blank walls would be built. This achieved a few things: it cemented both a physical/visual barrier, and a racial barrier between streets North and South along the railroad tracks. The creation of these super blocks made it more difficult to travel into the heart of downtown from the north, or vice versa. Southbound travelers, either on foot or in a car, were met with the blank concrete walls of office buildings, and one-way traffic around these gigantic blocks. Closing and tearing out public streets and ceding them to private companies also gave just a little more land to the real estate developers to do terrible things with.

A Small Fix

To help make the walk along Second Street more pleasant, more vibrant, more varied, more aesthetically pleasing, and more conducive to walking, I propose converting a 135-foot portion of the parking garage between the hotel site and the Performing Arts Center into retail/restaurant space, widening the sidewalk, adding street trees and plantings, and replacing one lane of traffic with parallel parking. Ideally, I’d like to see two-way traffic returned to Second Street, and the addition of protected bike lanes. Those would take a much larger effort and a greater sum of money. Since this parking garage is owned by the city, it reduces upfront costs and could have an out-sized effect on the area.

It would turn this…

Into something like this:

 

The plan would remove 20 parking spaces but add up to five lease-able units totaling 8,682 sq ft. The concrete floor is already level, and the ceiling heights reach upward of 16 feet. All that would need to be done is the removal of exterior concrete in the places where windows and doors would go, and the addition of plumbing and electrical. The parking garage is owned by the City of Tulsa (officially the Tulsa Parking Authority), so there would be no acquisition price.

The net operating income for 20 spaces in this garage translates to around $18,000 a year. The same spaced leased to retailers or restaurants would generate between $139,000 and $182,000 in revenue per year (based on comp space downtown, listed at $16-21/sf/yr). That’s 7-10 times the annual return for the same amount of space. Plus, the city would realize additional tax revenues from the retail/restaurant activities – which all city services depend on as a source of funding.

The cost of new retail construction per square foot in Tulsa is currently around $75/sq ft. Since the structure is already built and it’s just a matter of subdividing the space, and adding doors, windows, electrical, and some plumbing, I think it’s reasonable to cut that cost in half. At $37.50/sq ft, it would cost around $330,000 to rough-out the space. (Think that cost of out of line? Let me know.) Add in an extra $150,000 for the sidewalk widening, parking meters, benches, and plantings, and that brings us to $480,000. For around half a million dollars, the City could completely transform this section of Second Street. It would serve the adjacent hotel, the Performing Arts Center, the BOK Tower, City Hall, and folks walking to or from events at the BOK Center or Blue Dome District. Assuming 30% overhead and maintenance costs, it would only take  3.75-5 years to cover those initial expenses.

Current Configuration:

Proposed Configuration:

This location is the midway point between the BOK Center and the Blue Dome District, a five minute walk from either destination. The Second Street Connection would reassure folks traveling between the two on foot, and serve as a positive example of re-imagining how our streets look, feel, and how much they contribute to the well-being of the city. When the new Santa Fe Square development at 2nd & Elgin (under construction) and the PAC Lot Development (proposed) at 2nd & Cincinnati are complete, I expect this stretch of Second Street to see even more foot traffic, increasing the need to make the walk attractive and interesting, which are crucial. As Jane Jacobs wrote in The Death and Life of Great American Cities:

To generate exuberant diversity in a city’s streets and districts four conditions are indispensable:
1. The district, and indeed as many of its internal parts as possible, must serve more than one primary function; preferably more than two…
2. Most blocks must be short; that is, streets and opportunities to turn corners must be frequent.
3. The district must mingle buildings that vary in age and condition, including a good proportion of old ones so that they vary in the economic yield they must produce. This mingling must be fairly close-grained.
4. There must be a sufficiently dense concentration of people, for whatever purposes they may be there…

We can’t fix the length of the Super Blocks along Second Street (at least, not without demolishing parts of the Williams Resource Center and the ballroom at the Hyatt hotel), but we can make sure we achieve the other objectives fairly easily, and we can make the walk seem shorter by making it more lively.

The South Garage, or Second Street Connection, is halfway between the BOK Center and the Blue Dome District. New developments, either under construction or proposed, are shown.

The same kind of conversion could easily replicated at the first floor of the Williams Resource Center (the space originally built as an indoor mall, attached to the BOK Tower). It fronts Second Street, is within a hundred feed of the Second Street Connection, which puts it directly across from the hotel, slightly closer to the BOK Center and the new hotels at 2nd & Cheyenne (the Hampton Inn is nearly complete; and a Hilton Garden Inn has been proposed for the southeast corner of 2nd & Cheyenne). Adjacent to it is a surface parking lot that could one day be transformed into a mixed-use retail/office/residential combo, thereby creating a stronger link between the two areas (and would begin connecting them to the Brady District to the north).

The Williams Resource Center, originally an indoor mall, could easily have portions of the first floor along Second Street converted to street-facing retail and restaurant space. The air bridge in the photo connects to a hotel.

The best way to revitalize streets and cities is to do so incrementally, and I think this is a great way to kick things off, with the City leading by example. What do you think? Let me know in the comment section below.

Forge

Early this year, I began working with business owners opening a new gym and training facility in Tulsa’s Pearl District. Construction was nearly complete and they had a name, but needed a website, a logo, photography, content and a social media presence. It was an opportunity to truly help build a brand from the ground up. Forge’s concept is unique–yes, they have all the standard workout equipment and amenities you’d except from a gym, but they offer so much more. The goal of Forge is to create a community of individuals working together to better themselves and their community. Their philosophy is based on three elements: play, eat, and restore; each a critical component for a well-balanced life and body.

Their personal trainers at Forge use some conventional and many unconventional techniques, together known as somatic training to enrich the entire body. The unconventional side includes an outdoor training area filled with things like tractor tires, wheel barrows filled with heavy objects, while sledge hammers fire hoses, giant wooden boxes and ropes find their use during indoor sessions. Of course, they have the traditional side filled, too, with free weights, stair climbers and the like, but they also have a full boxing ring and a wall of TRX equipment. They even have space on the roof for sunrise yoga (with direct views of downtown Tulsa, I might add), and a room on the second level for relaxation and fellowship. Future plans include an infrared sauna and community garden.

So, how does one capture the unique essence of such a place? They needed a website that allowed them to share all these elements, including biographies for the trainers, information on the space itself, plenty of photos, a calendar for group classes, and blog space for each of the three philosophical foundations. Play is filled with workouts for the home, office, or on vacation; Eat is a wonderful collection of healthy recipes that anyone can prepare; and Restore includes articles on sleep, the importance of social gatherings, giving to charitable organizations, and even recipes for healthy cocktails to encourage fellowship.

The owners and I worked together throughout the development process, fine-tuning Forge’s message, developing a unique identity, doing rooftop photo shoots, and hammering out all the little details that are so important when starting a business. In no time, they became like family to me, and I’m proud of the work we’ve done together. The end result is simple and beautiful. Take a look for yourself. Visit Forge’s website and Facebook page, and consider becoming a member.