- Associated Press - Sunday, May 3, 2015

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Business operators along the proposed route of a streetcar in downtown Oklahoma City said they’re coming around to see that the potential positive factors of a wired system outweigh the negative.

The improvement of vehicle battery technology has introduced a little tension in the development process, said Jeff Bezdek, a member of the Citizens Advisory Board Modern Streetcar Subcommittee, but those conflicts likely will be resolved according to practical engineering needs, and not stakeholder fears or personalities.

“The challenge is that Oklahoma City hasn’t had any real rail transit system since 1947,” Bezdek said. “Because we’re starting with something brand new, people are having to use their imaginations to envision what a streetcar will look like. There are a number of folks who are overly concerned about this issue, when the aesthetic challenge that it presents may not be as dramatic as they imagine.”

About two years ago, the committee concluded that a $128.8 million streetcar system approved by voters as part of the MAPS 3 sales tax issue would best serve the city by running in a loop along NW 11th Street, N. Broadway Avenue, Sheridan Avenue to Joe Carter Drive, Reno Avenue and N. Hudson Avenue. The design allows for several expansion options and is expected to serve as a transition between corridors that spread across central Oklahoma City, The Journal Record (https://bit.ly/1EG4v84 ) reported.

Bezdek is quick to remind people that the original multimodal concept voters supported leaned heavily toward vehicles that would need to tap into power lines installed overhead or in the street.

Lately, improvements in battery storage are allowing the committee to consider wireless options within the budget. Batteries are strong enough to propel streetcars along certain corridors, but MAPS 3 funding still only allows for about one-third of the 4.5-mile route to be installed without catenary lines. Bezdek said a few business operators in Automobile Alley and Bricktown said they are wondering who is best positioned to benefit from those upgrades, which would be less of a change to the districts’ historic profile.

David Todd, the city’s MAPS project manager, agreed with Bezdek that many choices will be dictated by practicality. The streetcar must run wirelessly under the railroad track bordering Bricktown, for example, and uphill travel requires more energy than a battery alone can provide. The additional power needed for an air-conditioning system during summer also lowers the effective budget cap.

Subcommittee member Jane Jenkins said the group is trying to mitigate stakeholder concerns as much as possible. She said they expect that technology will continue to improve as the streetcar infrastructure ages and needs repairs, providing opportunities to get rid of more obvious wiring over time.

Subcommittee Chairman Nathaniel Harding said the streetcar program is still under budget, and bids have been sought from track manufacturers. The streetcar is expected to begin running in 2017.

Harding said he thinks that ultimately businesspeople in the area will understand that some wiring is necessary and appearances won’t be disturbed as much as they fear. The conflict will resolve itself soon enough, he said.

“Our business community has a good track record of coming to a good decision once they explore the options and trade-offs,” he said.

That’s been the case with Brittney Matlock, co-founder of Plenty Mercantile on Broadway.

“I don’t have any particular concerns,” she said. “Anything wireless would be ideal, but if we have to work with wires I still think we would greatly benefit from it. We just want a streetcar. Before we signed a lease on this space, we didn’t have that many neighbors and the Devon tower wasn’t even done yet. This area is really developing, and I think a streetcar would be an awesome addition.”

And Adam Rott, manager at Broadway Wine, said adjusting to streetcar culture will be less of a problem than what people expect.

“I expect it will alleviate some of the automobile congestion and drive more foot traffic,” he said. “It’s a really good thing. I’ve lived overseas with lines overhead for streetcars, and it’s really not that big of a deal.”

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Information from: The Journal Record, https://www.journalrecord.com


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