In Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Judge Doom boasts of dismantling the Pacific Electric "Red Car" streetcar system in Los Angeles — and, by extension, in Toontown — in an effort to get people to use his new so-called "freeway." It didn't happen exactly that way, of course, but streetcars vanished quickly from the American scene after World War II: Oklahoma City's streetcars were idled in 1947, and mass transit has been at best a minor player on the local transportation scene pretty much ever since. Last year's rankings by SustainLane put Oklahoma City's transit usage at 50th among 50 major metropolitan areas. (Tulsa was 49th.)

The first group of Metropolitan Area Projects, funded by a one-cent sales tax from mid-1993 through the end of 1999, contained only one transit enhancement: the Oklahoma Spirit Trolleys, actually buses with a retro railcar look, which were intended to serve downtown and Bricktown with an occasional shuttle (the Orange Line) to the Reno/Meridian corridor, semi-convenient to Will Rogers World Airport. If the implementation was adequate, the execution wasn't: earlier this year Oklahoman reporter Steve Lackmeyer said the trolley was "ridiculed and deemed unreliable by downtown residents."

When Mayor Cornett put up a Web site asking for suggestions for a potential MAPS 3 — the second MAPS, dubbed "MAPS for Kids," was a massive school-upgrade project, and the current extra penny goes to sprucing up the Ford Center for NBA use, a project no one dared call "And One" — more people asked for better transit than for anything else, and after all, they could hardly make it worse.

Perhaps acting on the notion that the city isn't going to take the lead in this matter, Jeff Bezdek is spearheading something called the Modern Transit Project, which proposes two distinctly-different improvements to the local transit system, neither of them particularly expensive, which I think should be considered for inclusion in the inevitable MAPS 3 package. The secondary enhancement is simple enough: retrofit the entire bus line to run, not on diesel, but on compressed natural gas. The advantages are twofold: first, we produce a lot of the stuff nearby, which would presumably cut oil imports by a smidgen, and if you've ever been caught in traffic behind a diesel-powered bus, you already know the second.

But that's not what gets the headlines. This does:

A new, unique proposal for Oklahoma City means motorists wouldn't have to drive their cars as much. The Modern Transit Project would create an electric railcar system. It would be an inexpensive, and environmentally friendly way for people to get around the metro.

Downtown Oklahoma City is busy with cars, and walkers moving quickly through the area. But a new proposal would build an electric railcar system from downtown, to the state capitol, Bricktown, and the Health Sciences Center to name a few.

Sensibly, this is a very small-scale proposal. Bezdek has explained:

The streetcar is a start. It is the main connector. It will prove success without dumping all our eggs in a metro-wide light rail basket.

Especially if the estimated price tag — $100 million or so for three miles of track and overhead wire and actual cars — holds up. I'm even seeing a potential use for this thing by me, and I live at least three miles from anywhere this thing is likely to go: there are several downtown occurrences with multiple venues — deadCenter Film Festival, Downtown in December, Opening Night — and it's much easier to park once for five or ten bucks and then shuttle around as necessary than to hike to and from parking garages.

I do have one reservation, which I addressed back in Vent #593:

I am not hopeful that we're going to create a public-transportation nirvana in Oklahoma City, unless we can figure out some way to keep the turbo-doofus types who run our current system from ruining our future system.

Yeah, COTPA, I'm looking at you. It's time something permeated your impervious puss.

The Vent

#629
  17 May 2009

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