Biking in Tulsa

Because of where i live now i have been biking on the streets a lot more, which has actually been kind of fun. At around the same time the city counsel passed a complete streets ordinance which means that there should be even more consideration given to biking and walking in tulsa. I have some ideas about what would be good for biking in tulsa.

There are lots of people who know a lot more about this then me who are involved in planning this stuff, but here are my few ideas…
First, so far i have found drivers in Tulsa to be courteous when it comes to bikes. I have had several times when drivers have let me merge in moving traffic, and I have not had any negative experiences so far. Not that i have spent much time in the streets, but so far so good. I think part of this is that i have decided to be really intentional about how i ride in traffic. I ride like a car, I obey traffic laws, and I take an entire lane when i feel like i need to in order to be safe or be seen (this web site explains what i mean by that).

The other day I saw the exact opposite of this. It was night time (as in dark) and i was driving down Yale (a busy arterial) in the left lane. Coming toward me riding in the gutter of the right lane was somebody on a bike, no light, dark clothes. I though I was going to see them get run over.

So, here are the first two things that i would like to see Tulsa do:

First, make explicit laws about how bikers are allowed to ride. Are bikes allowed to take the lane? Is there any situation where they cannot? Are the allowed on sidewalks?

Obviously some of these are already addressed in current law, but there are a lot of people who dont know the answers (like me…), so the second part is education first to bikers (like the guy riding the wrong way on Yale) and to drivers. I’m not so sure i know the best laws to make, there are plenty of people who have researched those issues, my concern is that once those laws are made they be effectively communicated to drivers and riders alike.

Secondly, bike paths, protected lanes, shared roads, etc. There are lots of ideas and even some controversy out there about the safety and effectiveness of various kinds of bike lanes and paths. I hope that the city of Tulsa takes those differing views into account as they plan for bike infrastructure. They are issues that need to be understood. I might write some of my thoughts on this later…

I wonder what the possibilities are for an alternative grid for bikes. This grid would be made up of roads that are designated as shared roads (like 3rd going into downtown is now) that are not arterial. These could just be shared or could have designated lanes depending on the situation. The idea would be to find routes that allow fairly straight paths through neighborhoods (that is one of the hard things about riding through neighborhoods right now, you end up winding around a lot which is ok if your just out for a ride, not so good if your trying to get somewhere). So, there might be places where connecting two streets with some strategic short bike paths would make big improvements in the ability to bike quickly from one place to another. The truth is that a lot of this exists, its just not marked, which party just makes it hard to find. But, even more then that having an alternative grid that is marked and designated as shared roads seems to give legitimacy to the idea of biking on it, and would help drivers stay aware.

The second part of this alternative grid would be bike/walk paths that are designed to connect strategic places. These would create highways so to speak that would make getting across town quicker, much like 169 and the BA do for cars now. River Parks is a great example. The Mingo Valley Trail will be when its done. If the Mingo Valley trail was connected from 41st to 71st it would be possible to ride from where i live at 31st and yale to the 71st shopping area mostly on bike paths (where i would ride once i got there is a different matter…riding on 71st street to get to say…the movie theater…does not sound like fun at all…not that i go to 71st street much anyway). A few more corridors like that around town would be great.

One thing that would have to be paid attention to is how designated shared roads connect to the bike/walk paths. For example right now there are shared roads on 34th street and 35th street that run into riverside. The River Park Trail is just a few hundred feet past riverside, but there is no way to get from 46th onto the trail without riding on the grass (not to mention crossing riverside in a way that is totally outside the normal flow of traffic). In this case crossing at 31st or 41st works perfectly well if you plan for it. The bigger point is that care must be given to how things connect together.

One place that needs carful consideration is highway crossings. The places where the surface grid crosses under the highways are particularly hard to figure out how to connect through them. The highways and IDL cut off a lot of great ways to get form one place to another. From my perspective the problem is not that you have to ride a bit further to get to a place to cross, its that almost all the places to cross are crazy big intersections with lots of traffic going lots of directions. These can be navigated safely, but they are intimidating, which im sure turns a lot of people off to the idea of riding, and it does seem like they are some of the more dangerous areas. I don’t know that bikes and pedestrians need there very own ways to cross the highways, but carful attention does need to be paid to these areas.

This alternative grid for bikes seems great, but i actually have some doubts about it. Because everything in tulsa faces the arteries a grid the runs through the neighborhood does not really get you anywhere that you might actually want to go. 71st street shopping is a great example. So, in the end bikers and driver have to learn to coexist on any given road in tulsa, even the big arterial streets, or, the city has to be radically redesigned to make it so that everything, business and houses, are accessible from neighborhood behind it.

I think in the end this gets to the bigger idea of all of this. Planning for biking has to fit in with planning for growth, which has to fit in with planning for mass transit which has to fit in with planning for zoning, which has to fit in with….you get the idea. It all has to fit together. If biking is going to be a realistic form of transportation in Tulsa it has to be part of planning on every level (as does walking, and busses, and cars, whatever forms of transportation we as a city decide are important).

But, it seems that there is another set of issues, which is not so much about the mechanics and technicalities of how to build a bike lane, its more about accessibility, perception, and culture. People who drive and like cars have to not see bikes as a threat to their way of life, likewise, bikers have to not see cars as evil. The city has to legitimize biking through education, good laws and good planning, bikers have to acknowledge that bikes don’t work for everything and cars and trucks have to have their place as well. In the end this is all about developing a culture where it is possible to make a broad range of transportation choices…which seems way harder then building a bike lane.


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