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The GO Plan is making Tulsa more bike friendly

David Lackey

Tensions between Tulsa motorists and cyclists reached peak toxicity in 2013, when participants in the Wednesday Night Ride were frequently targeted by angry drivers in West Tulsa and Sand Springs. One driver threw a box of thumbtacks on the road, puncturing at least 50 tires and endangering the safety of surrounding cyclists. 

A KJRH report on the 2013 Wednesday Night Ride incident asserted both the cyclists and motorists thought an extra bike lane along State Highway 97 could be a good idea.

The GO Plan, administered by the Indian Nations Council of Governments (INCOG), is a bicycle/pedestrian master plan to improve walkability and bike safety throughout Tulsa and its neighboring cities. INCOG, which was created in 1967 by the governor of Oklahoma as the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for the Tulsa region, aims to connect Tulsa and its neighbors to our existing trail networks through on-street treatments that that will increase safety and visibility on arterial streets. The plan includes 11 cities: Bixby, Broken Arrow, Catoosa, Collinsville, Coweta, Glenpool, Jenks, Owasso, Sand Springs, Skiatook, and Tulsa. 

The on-street treatments include signaled crosswalks and increased signage, side paths, which are dedicated bike lanes that run alongside car lanes, buffered bike lanes, which add several feet of space between motorists and cyclists, and cycle tracks, which utilize both space and barriers to separate cyclists from traffic. 

Once the GO Plan is fully executed, a cyclist could ride a side path along State Highway 97, skipping motorists (and the thumbtacks). 

Work on the GO Plan began in December 2013, and the project draws from both Vision and Improve Our Tulsa funds. INCOG contracted consultants from the Maryland-based Toole Design Group and held a series of public meetings in all participating cities, including walking audits where participants traveled along sidewalks to look for possible improvements, such as traffic signals at cross walks. A lack of sidewalks was the number one pedestrian barrier on streets that participants rated “poor.”

Jennifer Haddaway, INCOG’s Transportation Resource Center coordinator, said the GO Plan grew out of Tulsa’s existing bike culture.

“There is a big, big interest in biking in Tulsa, and I think there’s even a tourism element people don’t talk about,” Haddaway said. “There are people coming from [places like] Arkansas just to use our trail system.”

Like Haddaway said, Tulsa’s bike scene has been steadily growing, as evidenced by the cover of the paper you’re reading and the weekend of Tulsa Tough races and other cycling events. But the surge in biking popularity has been due mostly to competitive and recreational biking, rather than commuting. The GO Plan promotes biking as transportation.

“The lanes are advertisements that say ‘we want you to bike,’” said Stephen Lassiter, member of Tulsa’s Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC).

“Once these lanes get put down, in a connected way,” Lassiter said, “people that rely on the bus as a main way to get around—because a bike seems dangerous and not feasible—when they see the lanes and connected network, they are going to see biking as more appealing.”

Lassiter has been a member of BPAC since 2011, and said if he heads anywhere in town under five miles, he always gets there quicker on a bike.

Beyond increased connectivity, the GO Plan will make biking far safer in Tulsa.

“The way it’s set up right now, you have a lot of people that use the street,” Haddaway said. “Sometimes riding on the street isn’t the safest, especially when high traffic means low visibility for cyclists. Separated bike lanes fix this.”

Haddaway pointed to the buffered bike lanes recently placed under U.S. Route 412 on M.L.K. Jr. Boulevard, which place several feet of space between the designated bike lane and vehicle traffic. The lanes didn’t come from the GO Plan, but they are specifically what the plan calls for. 

Apart from safer transportation, the GO Plan is seen as a health initiative by city officials.

“Implementing quality transportation options is an important part of our strategy to address health disparities throughout the city,” Mayor G.T. Bynum said. 

The largest health disparity is the 11-year life expectancy gap between North and South Tulsa residents. Bynum has said that closing this gap is one of the highest priorities for his administration. 

The GO Plan calls for multiple additions to North Tulsa’s infrastructure, including a bike trail connecting 66th Street North to a buffered bike lane running down North Lewis Avenue to the existing Mohawk Boulevard lane, which will now be buffered as well, in place of its simple “share the road” signage.

The Osage Prairie Trail runs from the OSU Tulsa trailhead in the South, north to Skiatook, and is intersected by a shared lane marking on Mohawk Boulevard. Apart from these few features, North Tulsa remains largely hazardous for citizens on foot or bike, adding another hurdle for many citizens already living in a food desert. 

Additionally, Bynum said, “the GO Plan is designed to integrate with the [Bus Rapid Transit] routes planned for Peoria [Avenue] and 11th Street, connecting residents with multiple transportation options.”

The Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) program, part of the Tulsa Vision package, will function like light rail systems with two lines providing efficient travel between two of Tulsa’s major job and residence corridors, with 15–20 minute frequency at all stations. The Peoria Line will go from 81st Street and South Lewis Avenue to 38th Street North on Peoria Avenue. The Route 66 line will run between the 4th Street and Denver Avenue bus station to 145th East Avenue. City officials hope to have the routes running by 2019.

According to Haddaway, as of fall 2016, Tulsa’s neighboring communities of Collinsville, Owasso, and Broken Arrow have adopted the GO Plan into their comprehensive plans, with other communities working on local adoption
as well.

There isn’t a specific timeline for implementation of the GO Plan’s recommendations, but Mayor’s Office Chief of Performance Strategy and Innovation James Wagner said things are moving along smoothly.

“The Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee has worked with the city’s Engineering Services Department to prioritize projects. They are implementing projects as streets are rehabilitated or resurfaced, and applying for grants to implement,” Wagner said.

A GO Plan treatment has been completed at 3rd Street between Lewis and Utica avenues. Treatments will appear on 3rd Street between Harvard and Yale avenues, and two-way conversions plus separated bike lanes will soon run through downtown on Boulder and Cheyenne avenues. 

“In my dreams, [GO Plan recommendations] would’ve been done already,” Haddaway said. “It’s up to Tulsa’s surrounding communities and their budget cycles, and I’m not sure what their timelines look like, but I can tell you, the City of Tulsa has been on the ball.” 

Several years back, I rode my bike to Woodland Hills Mall from my parents’ house in Coweta. “Treacherous” is not a hyperbolic description of the trip. 

I biked north from 131st Street toward 121st, meeting speeding motorists at the crests of backcountry hills. The gusts from their proximity nearly knocked me from my bike. Near the Elks Lodge on 101st Street, I heard slobbering and padded paws hitting the pavement. I spun furiously, racing away from two unchained pit bulls. I sped behind a church, only to see the road end in front of me. I closed my eyes, and lifted my handle bars, in hopes that I’d clear the approaching grass ditch.

I ate it. 

I quickly hopped up, grabbed my now twisted handlebars, and used my bike as a shield. The dogs slowly approached me, but when I swung my bike at them, they both rolled on their backs. 

They just wanted belly rubs.

I patted their tummies, and cautiously hopped back on my bike. I completed my trek after I hit the Creek Turnpike Trail near NSU-Broken Arrow, but things would’ve gone much easier if the GO Plan’s side path along Highway 51 had been implemented then.

For more from Mitch, read his profile of Tulsa comic Yasamin.