By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Two groups normally at odds — the Norman Developers Council and self-proclaimed slow growth advocates — are finally agreeing on something. Both groups want Lindsey Street to become a landscaped boulevard with single lane traffic each way, roundabouts at intersections, and walkability to include future zoning for mixed-use, high density developments.
The slow growth advocates are dreaming of reduced speed limits, more trees, and sidewalk cafes.
Developers are seeing dollar signs and quality of life projects.
These proposed changes have come late in the planning process, however. Council member Tom Kovach represents Ward 2 where the primary work will occur on Lindsey. Kovach is concerned that voters were sold a different vision of Lindsey.
The city engineers and contracted engineering firms are scrambling to answer questions that have arisen as a result of proposed changes in the overall vision for Lindsey. The clock is ticking and the dollars are adding up. So far, about $100,000 extra has been tallied up in design fees to address the recent dialogue around Norman’s most famous street.
Birth of a new vision for Lindsey: Representatives from the University of Oklahoma participated in stakeholder meetings throughout 2012. In March 2012, Blair Humphreys, executive director for OU’s Institute for Quality Communities became involved in the discussions.
“IQC was the first group we contacted at the mayor’s request,” said Norman Public Works Director Shawn O’Leary. “We welcomed it.”
The IQC would later host Dan Burden of Walkable and Livable Communities to bring fresh ideas to the visioning process. OU President David Boren became an advocate of a slower moving Lindsey with roundabouts instead of signals to allow a continuous flow of traffic. Boren also supported landscaped medians.
The landscaped median has been embraced, but roundabouts created design problems for engineers.
City engineering report: The city design team determined that two lane roundabouts would take too much right of way and be too costly to be feasible. Boren and the IQC team responded with new ideas. The Lindsey vision continues to evolve as a result of that ongoing dialogue.
Whether the road should have roundabouts or signals continues to be a point of debate as does the number of traffic lanes. Boren proposes encouraging traffic elsewhere, namely Highway 9, but Highway 9 already reaches capacity at peak hours.
Supporters of roundabouts point to plans by the Oklahoma Department of Transportation to widen Highway 9 in the future. Long range plans to widen Highway 9 from I-35 to Jenkins have never been funded and are not scheduled within the next eight years. Lindsey Street improvements are anticipated to be completed by late 2016.
“The focus on Highway 9 at ODOT is on 24th Avenue Southeast by the postal training center,” O’Leary said. “From there it goes east for several miles.”
Studying traffic flow: Managing the flow of traffic is like managing water, O’Leary said. You have to look at the movement within a system. Norman is currently updating its transportation plan. Models indicate continued growth on Lindsey Street and the need for improvements, but the IQC team said traffic growth projections are a measurement of something that does not yet exist.
“Build it and they will come,” Boren said at the last visioning meeting. Boren said what the city chooses to build along Lindsey will determined how that infrastructure is used. OU is currently supporting two lanes of traffic — one each direction — with bike lanes and transition lanes to allow cars to pull over when emergency vehicles need passage along the corridor. The transition lanes will also allow for smoother exit and entry from businesses.
City engineers have concerns about capacity. The city contractor, Freese and Nichol, is expected to report on that issue Monday. That report could demonstrate the limits of two lane traffic.
“We’re scrambling this week to come in with that new model on Tuesday night and to share that with council,” O’Leary said. “If we don’t build capacity into the current Lindsey Street, traffic will go somewhere else and those places may not be ready for it.”
Murphy Street discussions: Murphy is a 3-leg intersection and a likely place for either a roundabout or a signal light to control traffic flow.
“What we discovered is that it’s the half point between 24th and McGee so it serves as a good place to manage traffic differently,” O’Leary said. “If you do signals, that might be a good place to have one. If it were extended to the north, you could gain secondary access to Whittier Middle School.”
O’Leary said the city has been in discussion with the school about that future possibility. Murphy could also be a temporary detour route during construction for the McGee drainage portion of the Lindsey project, he said. The city has not talked with the landowner but opening up Murphy to the north might have some advantage for the property.
Additional costs and untimely delays: The city will have some additional costs if the new vision of Lindsey Street is adopted. Some additional right of way will be required even for single-lane roundabouts, O’Leary said, and there will be additional costs for engineering and design.
“The thing that I think everyone is feeling pressured about is time,” O’Leary said. “It’s all revolving around coordinating the Lindsey project around the Lindsey Street interchange on I-35.”
Prior to the election, the city made a commitment to merchants to minimize the affects of the construction by coordinating it with the Lindsey Street interchange.