Sidewalks are missing along a section of Northwest 36th Street near North Portland Avenue in Oklahoma City. State transportation officials are developing a plan to make streets safer. (Photo by Mindy Ragan Wood/Oklahoma Voice)
State officials are finalizing transportation plans aimed at making communities more friendly to cyclists and pedestrians.
The Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s public comment period on its inaugural Active Transportation Plan ends Nov. 9. The plan will serve as a guiding document for cities and rural communities looking to make infrastructure improvements, including better street lighting, additional sidewalks and enhanced protections for bicyclists.
Since public comment on the plan opened up earlier this year, more than 900 Oklahomans completed the agency’s survey and about 170 attended virtual meetings, said ODOT spokesperson Bryce Boyer.
“The public has been asking for a plan like this for years,” Boyer said. “We’re excited to get a chance to sit down, listen to the public and put a plan together.”
The plan is expected to cost $305,000. It’s funded with federal funds and 20% state match, he said.
The goal of active transportation plans is to improve health and safety outcomes, Boyer said. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Act allocates billions in funding for local and county governments to make transportation improvements, but federal money prioritizes safe streets and roads for bikers and pedestrians.
“Once complete, the plan will be available to cities and counties to use as a resource and show them some federal options for potential funding if they choose to apply for it,” Boyer said.
Oklahomans’ top concerns include speeding on streets, increased traffic volume and a lack of access to sidewalks.
Annual pedestrian deaths in the state jumped from 82 to 101, while cyclist deaths increased from six to 14 from 2017 to 2021.
John Sharp, deputy director of the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments, said those findings are not a surprise. His organization is a hub for federal transportation grants and has given feedback for the plan.
Despite interest in healthier modes of transportation, safety must be tantamount, he said.
For example, bike lanes with concrete barriers separating riders and cars and off-road paths make bicyclists feel safer. Sharp said there aren’t enough of those. The survey showed residents preferred those methods over stripes alone.
“I don’t want to put a whole bunch of people on bikes yet because we don’t quite have the facilities for them,” he said.
Sharp noted another finding in the plan relates to the rate of car crashes involving pedestrians. A car traveling at 20 mph increases the likelihood of injury or death by 13%, but it jumps to 73% if the car is moving at 40 mph.
“One day we’ll probably have to approach some of our speed limits in Oklahoma, as they do in other parts of the world and slow down cars in certain places, especially when you have a lot of pedestrian traffic,” Sharp said.
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