By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Imagine if west Lindsey Street looked more like Campus Corner or downtown, with gently flowing traffic, bicyclists and people walking and laughing. Imagine trees and sidewalk cafes. Imagine Lindsey Street as more of a village and less of a strip mall.
Imagine Lindsey Street as a destination to meander through and enjoy on the way to the university.
“You get one good chance to reinvent Lindsey, and it’s now,” community planner Dan Burden told a full house at Legends Times Two on Thursday evening. “A great street is something that harvests the best of the community and sets a template for the community.”
Burden is the co-founder and director of innovation and inspiration at the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, a nonprofit that helps communities build healthier, more livable environments. He spoke to Norman residents and stakeholders about the possibilities for Lindsey Street to become a model of what a great street can be.
Currently, Lindsey is ranked as the No. 1 traffic congestion corridor in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, with a crash rate nearly three times the national average for similar roadways. In August, Norman voters approved a $42 million transportation bond package with 62 percent support. Federal matching funds will pay for a strong portion of the eight proposed projects in the bond package.
The Lindsey Street widening and storm drainage portion of that bond package accounts for more than $21 million — half the total approved package. Federal funds will pay an additional $11.5 million of the Lindsey project costs.
The vision for Lindsey presented to voters included landscaping, continuous sidewalks, bike lanes, two lanes of traffic each way and a center turn lane.
That cement river of road between cement seas of parking lots and strip malls is exactly what Norman should avoid, said Burden and his team, Lynn Richards, Loeb Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and Michael Wallwork, an engineer with 40 years of experience in traffic engineering, road construction and transportation design.
Officials from the University of Oklahoma agree.
“We have an opportunity to make (Lindsey Street) beautiful and make traffic flow,” University of Oklahoma President David Boren said.
To make the streetscape beautiful — to take the plan for a good street and turn it into a great street — Burden proposes a triple canopy of landscaping. Instead of a center turn lane, a center median with trees would form a third area of landscaping to complement the streetside landscaping.
Bike lanes and landscaping provide a buffer to make pedestrians on sidewalks feel safe and secure, Burden said.
Burden also proposed roundabouts instead of traffic lights at intersections. To start with, 24th Avenue and McGee Drive would retain their signal lights, but roundabouts at other intersections would slow vehicles down and provide a smoother flow of traffic at Murphy, Wiley Street and Berry Road.
Roundabouts are a different way of doing an intersection. They calm traffic, but vehicles get to destinations more quickly because there is continuous flow instead of a backlog from stopping at lights. Roundabouts create a more pedestrian-friendly environment, Burden said, and reduce crashes and fatalities.
Pedestrian crossings could be incorporated at halfway points and would increase accessibility for pedestrians and bicyclists because people cross two lanes of traffic safely to the median, then cross two more lanes of traffic from the median to the other side. This means a pedestrian only has to watch for traffic coming from one direction.
Additionally, U-turns incorporated into the medians would allow vehicles easy access to both sides of the street versus trying to cross over several lanes of traffic during peak hours. Bus stops are another portion of the multimodal transportation portfolio envisioned for Lindsey.
Burden said accidents and injuries are dramatically lowered with these types of street improvements.
“It was not a popular idea when I started,” Burden said. “Now 80 percent of Americans want to live in a walkable community.”
The Lindsey project can’t be delayed and must meet bond goals and specifications as presented to the community, but many of the improvements suggested could be incorporated, he said. Colored bike lanes, for example, would increase visibility and safety along with aesthetic appeal.
Too often the real world we live in means sitting in traffic, Burden said, but a well-designed street can improve the economy along with improving quality of life.
“People now want beauty,” Burden said.
Boren said the university is on board with making Lindsey really beautiful and slowing traffic down to a pedestrian-friendly, continuous flow.
“We don’t want to see five lanes or six lanes of concrete divide our campus,” Boren said. “This could have the potential for doing something even beyond Berry Road.”
Boren praised the triple canopy streetscaping idea. He said he believes the proposed changes by Burden also would give better access to Lindsey Street businesses.
“You’re a lot better off if you never stop, you’re always moving,” Boren said.
Boren said OU would start with a roundabout at Jenkins and make it beautiful.
“I think it’s something we, from the university’s point of view, would be willing to look at,” he said. “I think we’ll kick ourselves 25 years from now if we don’t do everything imaginable to make (Lindsey Street) better. It could be so much more beautiful, so much more interesting. We could be a model in Oklahoma.”