Cars to rail is culture shift

2016 September 30
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by OnTrac

From The Norman Transcript | By Joy Hampton | Published: September 21, 2016

What tipping point will push Oklahomans out of their cars and into public transit? That was the primary question discussed Tuesday night during a public meeting hosted by the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments.

ACOG is hosting a number of meetings throughout the region to get input on its Encompass 2040 Metropolitan Transportation Plan for Central Oklahoma.

“There’s a lot of diverse work that goes on at ACOG, but transportation planning is pretty big,” ACOG Executive Director John G. Johnson said. “We need to look at serious choices for central Oklahoma to be able to get around. We’re at capacity.”

 Encompass 2040, the Draft Plan for the Oklahoma City Area Regional Transportation Study area, serves as central Oklahoma’s guide for investing more than $10 billion in its multimodal transportation system between 2010 and 2040.

“We’re getting federal money, so there’s going to be a process to get that money coming to central Oklahoma,” Johnson said. “Most of the projects are 80 percent federal dollars.”

Once the public comment phase is complete, those ideas will be incorporated into the plan. Challenges to public transit include the local culture and convincing lawmakers to subsidize rail.

“You have to get the funds to pay for operation,” Johnson said. “Any public transit is like a highway. It’s not free. There’s no one source that pays for that, and the fare box doesn’t pay for that. It has to be subsidized. Central Oklahoma will have to decide: Do we want to have public transportation?”

For people to ride a commuter train, the system must have enough rail times, be dependable and participating cities must have a robust bus system and/or bike share programs so people can get to work once they arrive at the destination.

People also must be willing to get out of their cars and onto the train, bus or bicycle. Other cities in states with similar cultural attitudes toward driving have changed, Johnson said, but Oklahoma must find that tipping point where people do not want to sit on a highway that has become a parking lot because of heavy traffic.

Asked why the regional transit focus is on commuter rail rather than light right, Johnson said commuter rail is more affordable because it uses railways and rail rights of way that are already in place. In central Oklahoma, a lease agreement would be arranged with BNSF Railroad.

 Council member Stephen Tyler Holman asked if ACOG has compared the cost of highway construction and maintenance with the cost of commuter rail. He said the state subsidizes highways.

Johnson said fuel taxes provide funding for highways, but he agreed the comparison would be interesting. ACOG has not done such a comparison, he said.

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Oklahoma City metro-area mayors vow cooperation for regional transit services

2015 December 1
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by OnTrac

From The Oklahoman | By William Crum | Published: December 1, 2015

Mick Cornett raised the central question on a day when the Oklahoma City metro, ceremoniously at least, shed a bit of its parochial nature.

“We have acted individually for a long, long time,” Oklahoma City’s mayor said at a gathering of leaders from six cities that have agreed to work together, leveraging transit to promote economic growth.

Cornett said 2016 will begin to answer the question of when metro-area residents will be ready to fund regional services “that can continue to drive commerce and jobs to central Oklahoma.”

Elected leaders already are there.

Cornett, along with the mayors of Edmond, Midwest City, Del City, Norman and Moore, met at downtown Oklahoma City’s historic Santa Fe Station to sign an agreement pledging their cities’ cooperation in developing options such as commuter rail and express buses.

Elected leaders from each city have agreed to pay a share of $511,000 that is to be spent in coming months to organize a Regional Transit Authority task force.

The Oklahoma Legislature in 2014 gave central Oklahoma communities the power to seek voters’ approval and funding for transit services that will cross city and county boundaries.

The six cities anticipate spending $2.1 million over the next three years to determine how a Regional Transit Authority will take shape, including governance and service boundaries.

Elizabeth Waner, chairwoman of the Association of Central Oklahoma Governments board of directors, said the Oklahoma City metropolitan area is expected to grow from 1.1 million residents to 1.6 million over the next 25 years.

She reviewed more than a decade of regional transit planning and said Tuesday’s ceremony was a moment “where we reflect on where we have been, where we are at the moment and where we are going.”

Mark the date “not necessarily for everything that we’re saying here but for what is going to happen as a result of what we’re doing here,” said Waner, who serves on the Edmond City Council.

Del City Mayor Brian Linley called the day an “important regional milestone,” and Norman Mayor Cindy Rosenthal said more transit options for residents “can’t come soon enough.”

Cornett noted that Interstate 35’s capacity is set. He said that “should be a wake-up call to the entire region, that we’re going to have to come up with different modes of transportation if we’re going to continue to expect to grow.”

Edmond Mayor Charles Lamb looked ahead to when planning gives way to building.

“It has been my experience that planning is generally easier than implementing so the real hard and challenging work is still to be accomplished,” he said.

Rosenthal said the agreement to work together is a turning point “in thinking about regional cooperation.”

“As we look at what’s happening around the country and where investment is going and where new growth is going, and energy, it’s in regions that work together,” she said.

“We have an opportunity,” Rosenthal said, “to make central Oklahoma the most vibrant region in the country.”

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Oklahoma City mayor’s roundtable draws lessons from Salt Lake City

2012 May 30
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by OnTrac

From The Oklahoman | By Michael Kimball | Published: May 17, 2012

Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett hosted his annual development roundtable Wednesday at the Cox Convention Center downtown, and one of the featured speakers was his counterpart from Utah’s largest city. Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker hails from a town that has already seen the fruits of labor that Oklahoma City is currently undertaking, like the MAPS 3 modern streetcar that will serve downtown and parts of the surrounding area.

Salt Lake City’s streetcar and its integration with a light commuter rail system serving the city’s outlying areas and suburbs were particularly important in spurring private development. According to Becker, long-term plans for central Oklahoma have long included a comparable system here to help fight concerns with urban development. The tram advertising cost includes this.

“I think Salt Lake City can be a great role model for us, and a city we really need to take a close look at,” Cornett said. “What they’ve done with rail, and creating a great urban center for that region, I think are a couple of steps that Oklahoma City can learn from.”

Growth follows transit

Salt Lake City used to have the same empty downtown on evenings and weekends once lamented by Oklahoma City leaders before Bricktown, Becker said. But the linked rail and streetcar system helped inspire growth that also included people moving to downtown Salt Lake City about as fast as the city could handle.

“Our ridership has doubled projections,” Becker said. “It’s making a huge difference in both where people concentrate their economic investments, but also in relieving congestion and providing … a pretty clear path to what our future of surface transportation will be.”

The progressive efforts for modern, sustainable redevelopment with a nod to the rich histories of both cities stand out in states that are known to be among the most politically conservative in the country. That could help Oklahoma City residents be more willing to look to Salt Lake City for direction, Becker said.

“On the other hand, our urban issues aren’t ideological. We want a vibrant core to our region,” Becker said. “We want a very active downtown. We want a place where people want to come and do things and live and play and work.”

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OKC metro-area leaders unite for mass transit

2011 July 7
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by OnTrac

From The Journal Record:

A multi-municipality approach to metro-area mass transit might not be such a pipe dream anymore, local government leaders said.

“We’ve made much more progress than many of us ever anticipated with regional transit dialogue,” Norman Mayor Cindy Rosenthal said. “There’s a governance framework and financing options that are being discussed and the progress is making a lot of us hopeful that this is something that could become a reality.”

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Oklahoma City public transit ranks low in new national study

2011 May 12
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by OnTrac

From NewsOK:

A nationwide analysis of public transportation by the Brookings Institute shows Oklahoma City ranks 84th of 100 metropolitan areas in serving the transit needs of its workforce. The report, “Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America,” shows Oklahoma City far below the average in area coverage, route frequency and access to jobs.
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