NORMAN — Norman must finalize design plans to widen Lindsey Street soon — the state has moved the Interstate 35 and Lindsey overpass replacement forward. Originally proposed for 2016, the Oklahoma Department of Transportation project now has a 2015 target date. That puts the city on a tight timeline for coordinating the construction of Lindsey with the overpass.
Even with a shortened timeline, the city will not take shortcuts in making a quality project.
“The investment in that corridor will prompt reinvestment,” Norman City Manager Steve Lewis said.
Meanwhile, the design dialogue continues.
Norman residents recently were asked to imagine a new vision for Lindsey Street. Dan Burden, co-founder of the Walkable and Livable Communities Institute, presented a new vision of Lindsey with more landscaping, roundabouts instead of signal lights and a village concept versus the current strip mall approach.
Residents and business owners have responded to the ongoing Lindsey Street discussions with great interest. One concern of any design adopted will be federal funding implications.
Other questions remain — namely, would Burden’s vision for Lindsey be allowable with the current bond language?
Yes, city staff said. And much of that vision is already incorporated into city plans or has been considered by city staff. While some elements of Burden’s proposal could present challenges, several options are under consideration as the design process proceeds.
“When you’re putting together a bond program, cities do not go out and design a project; they do conceptual planning to estimate the construction cost,” Lewis said.
Prior to the bond’s passage, consulting firm Cabbiness Engineering did a conceptual study and got feedback from property owners and merchants. That planning identifies estimated cost and starts the community dialogue process.
“Now we’re in the design phase,” Public Works Director Shawn O’Leary said. “We wouldn’t waste taxpayer money detailing something before the bond has passed. We really talked in general terms.”
Lewis said Burden’s proposal has more commonality with initial city plans than it has differences.
Raised center medians: “When this project was originally being discussed, the city was supportive of center medians,” Lewis said.
Merchants were skeptical about medians, so the primary design circulating was four lanes of traffic with a center turn lane. Now, some property owners and merchants are coming around, saying they like the idea of more landscape provided by center medians.
O’Leary said a raised center median provides greater safety and more aesthetic appeal. Cars would use special U-turn lanes to move with the flow of traffic to enter businesses.
Lewis said both proposals have a lot of landscaping and a triple canopy will be possible if a center median is used.
“We have a triple canopy in our current design,” O’Leary said.
Both plans incorporate bike lanes and bus stops, and the city has worked to allow enough space for multimodal transportation options while still allowing for sidewalks and landscaping elements.
“We think we struck that balance” O’Leary said. “We have a fairly substantial bus transit on Lindsey Street and we have a fair amount of truck traffic. We really have to accommodate those larger vehicles.”
Roundabouts: Burden also suggested roundabouts in place of at least some of the proposed traffic signals. Roundabouts allow for a continuous flow of traffic at slower, safer speeds without the irritation of stopping at signals.
Norman already has a modern roundabout on Main Street.
“We took a lot of care to design the one on Main Street to modern standards,” O’Leary said. “We get a lot of comments on the aesthetics.”
But the Main Street roundabout is east of Porter Avenue where Main transitions back to a two-way street. It’s an odd intersection with a side street branching off at an angle, which is confusing for some motorists. If roundabouts were used on Lindsey, they would be more of a traditional, four-legged intersection, O’Leary said.
“The way we see it, and the way the group proposed it, the roundabout is just a way of designing an intersection,” O’Leary said.
Roundabouts would pose some challenges, but there are benefits.
“You never stop,” O’Leary said. “Theoretically, vehicles never stop moving — it’s a constant flow, and that’s a good thing. Roundabouts tend to slow traffic down, and that’s a traffic-calming element. They tend to have fewer traffic accidents than conventional signal intersections.”
But roundabouts can be challenging for pedestrians and bicyclists. In the case of Lindsey Street, the roundabouts would be two-lane rather than a single lane like the one on Main Street.
“Roundabouts have a lot of positive elements, but there are some design considerations,” O’Leary said.
Burden said he believes roundabouts slow traffic enough to allow bicycles to safely enter the flow. Less experienced cyclists can get off and use the sidewalk and pedestrian lanes. That could pose some challenges, O’Leary said. And for pedestrians with disabilities, the city might need to install stop lights to be triggered by pedestrians, which defeats the purpose of a roundabout.
Using roundabouts may mean a need for more right of way acquisition — a potentially costly process.
“One of the things we’re currently evaluating is whether a modern roundabout could be constructed in the existing right of way constraints,” O’Leary said.
Changing paradigm: The city is looking at the best long-term solutions for Lindsey.
“Lindsey Street today has very few pedestrians,” O’Leary said. “But you have to look into the future.”
Normally, in a road project, “you try to design to the actual needs,” O’Leary said.
Burden and his group proposed a “village concept” that would involve zoning ordinances at some point in the long-range future. That’s a big “if” for now.
Still, city leadership is asking whether the cultural transportation paradigm is shifting. Burden said fewer young people are driving, and there is a movement toward walkable urban communities.
He presented a graph of vehicle miles traveled documenting data that shows people are driving fewer miles than in past decades.
“I do believe he is correct; we are going to see some reduction in driving,” O’Leary said. “How that will affect Norman remains to be seen.”
The trend toward less driving is getting national attention. AAA recently released a study on the reduction in teen driving. The majority of American teens today delay getting a driver’s license, according to new study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.
Less than half — 44 percent — of teens obtain a driver’s license within 12 months of the minimum age for licensing in their state, and just more than half — 54 percent — are licensed before their 18th birthday. These numbers indicate “a significant drop from two decades ago when data showed more than two-thirds of teens were licensed by the time they turned 18,” according to AAA.
Teens gave the following reasons for not driving: 44 percent said they did not have a car, 39 percent said they could get around without driving, 36 percent said gas was too expensive, 36 percent said driving was too expensive and 35 percent said they “just didn’t get around to it.”
Beauty and functionality: Burden and the city’s visions for Lindsey include the possibility of wayfinding signage and LED street lights. Burden suggested the addition of public art. Norman has a Public Arts Board that proactively works toward streetscape beautification.
Access control is key in both designs. Burden suggests a reduction of the existing 97 driveways along Lindsey. That reduction is already part of the city’s design with the elimination of 33 driveways for a remaining total of 64 — an average of about one driveway per 80 feet of street frontage.
“Our goal has been to reduce those because it’s those driveways that are causing the congestion,” O’Leary said.
The city’s project team is currently working to determine what the effects of changes would be on the Lindsey Street bond project in terms of budget, design fees, schedule, federal and state variances and right of way.
Merchants are expected to give further input to the city council before a final plan is adopted.