Thursday, December 1, 2011

Happiness is a short commute and ...

You see it everywhere here in Tulsa but it hides in plain sight. It is the most powerful weapon in the arsenal to convince companies to make the move to Tulsa. Other cities would sell much of their cache and glamour for a taste of our secret sauce.

Tulsa ranks 48 out of 100 US cities for traffic congestion according to the 2010 INRIX National Traffic Scorecard. Here's the link to the scorecard. How important is congestion to quality of life? Imagine you save just 1 hour per work day by living in Tulsa. One hour times a 5 day work week times 50 work weeks equals 250 hours of free time. Time to meditate, watch football games, shop, or play sports. However, this is only your work commute time. What about transit time to get to the store, restaurants, activities and other interests. Transit time makes an incredible difference in quality of life.

David Brooks, an author and op-ed columnist for the New York Times summarizes happiness research and concludes, "The daily activities most associated with happiness are sex, socializing after work and having dinner with others. The daily activity most injurious to happiness is commuting." Here is a link to Mr. Brooks' article.

Tulsa's secret sauce recipe is out. Sex, socializing, dinner with friends, and a short commute. Come to Tulsa. We'll provide a short commute. The sex, socializing, and dinner with others is up to you.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Public Transit Support

If people can't get to the marketplace they can't provide their services or visit the shops of our area. They lose their quality of life and we lose their contributions. As Tulsans were missing out on people who can give our community so much but don't drive or don't have access to an automobile. We are all going to lose our ability to drive before we die. I've seen too many elders in the Tulsa area, including my grandmother wither away once their driving privileges were taken away from them. Unfortunately, as of November 2011 it's a challenge to live a vibrant life in Tulsa without an automobile.

We can overcome this challenge. We need to address our public transportation governance and its financing. As a municipal trust, the current funding mechanism for Tulsa Transit is local general fund contributions. This needs to be changed to a sales tax based funding source. The stability of sales tax based funding will allow Tulsa Transit to build a public transportation system which will grow with the city.

Likewise the creation of a Regional Transit Authority will allow our public transportation system to operate more effectively. The Regional Transit Authority will have the flexibility to be more responsive to citizens needs. The Regional Transit Authority and a dedicated funding mechanism are crucial choices we need to make. These two choices will allow us to get the most out of our expensive road and bridge infrastructure in the Tulsa region.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

If you build it humans will congest it

Over the last 100 or so years the United States experimented with different forms of living. The federal government funded the largest construction project know to man-The Interstate Highway System. In doing so the government subsidized the automobile industry and effectively defunded mass transit. The result? We must drive to work, drive to play and drive to home. What have we learned from this experience? Most importantly, we learned if you built it humans will congest it. Whether it is a footpath, a roadway, a broadband Internet connection or a canal. Idle capacity gets utilized one way or another.

Why should you care? Because when you vote on these road building bond issues you must keep in mind congestion is a human condition. Another lane just creates more parking spaces. It may seem like another lane on 169 or the Creek Tollway will reduce congestion but the relief is temporary and expensive. It is similar to not changing your diet after having a heart by-pass surgery. The congestion cholesterol from your diet will just congest the by-pass.

Living in Oklahoma we tend to compete with Texas for jobs, attention and football games. One way we can out-compete Texas is in public transportation options. They thought they could build their way out of congested roads and it has not worked. Congestion is rapant and only getting worse. Texas is finally investing in public transportation because it is less expensive and a more efficient use of taxpayer dollars.

We have the opportunity to get a jump on Texas by building a world class public transportation system right here in Oklahoma. Don't get me wrong, humans will congest light rail, commuter rail, buses and any other form of transportation just as they congest roads. However, by voting for more transportation options you give yourself more ways of getting from where your're at to where you want to be. We don't want our children to be stuck in 3 hour commutes with the false belief that another lane would solve their congestion problem.

Monday, August 15, 2011

TAXI! – The transportation option that Tulsa forgets it already has

The following is written by Jacob Ide.

There is a lot of discussion about different forms of public transportation in Tulsa these days. As Downtown and surrounding neighborhoods begin to dust themselves off and rebuild after the past three decades, the need has become greater—and will continue to become greater—for more access to transportation beyond personal vehicles. For the last several years, I have heard talk about the advent of light rail. It always seems talked about in the same indeterminate timeline as the second coming of Christ: someday. Every time I read a vague suggestion of a timeline for its creation, I want to run and buy a 10-year calendar and start ticking down the days and genuflecting as I wake up every morning. Being a downtown Tulsa development cheerleader tends to teach you humility like being an OSU fan when bedlam comes around: someday.  I would love to see it, but in the meantime our options are limited to car, bus or bike. But there is another option; a forgotten option that somehow managed to survive the urban “renewal” apocalypse from which we are just starting to emerge.  The option that people never consider, or, at least, don’t consider enough: the taxi.

I can hear you now. “Taxi? What taxis? Tulsa doesn’t have any taxis.” I’m sure that a large portion of the city sees taxis very infrequently, so I understand the assumption that there aren’t any. The thing is, in other parts of the city, they exist. It’s true. Taxis are the unicorns of Tulsa: most people never see these mythical beasts, and some simply don’t believe they exist. Let me assure you, right now, they exist. Taxis, that is, not unicorns.

To illuminate the problem with the average Tulsans mindset about taxis, let me tell you a story, my story, about coming to love and promote Tulsa’s urban spaces. It begins like many others: I lived with my parents in the deep suburbs, went to Union High School and drove absolutely everywhere. I dreamt of leaving and moving to a real city. I ended up spending a semester at TCC Metro and was hooked. I was addicted to this almost charmingly desolate area of town that had the dull weight of ex-empire. I was now fully in love with Tulsa. I would tell people this and they would say things like, “We don’t even have mass transit!” and, “I can’t hail a cab. It’s not a city without easy cab service.” 

While the first statement is just wrong (those big green things going by are called buses), the second one does deserve a moment’s consideration. I had seen taxis, but they only ever seemed to be the thing that your mom took to the airport when you weren’t able to give her a ride. No one took cabs from place to place on a regular day; that was unheard of. I had consigned myself to the fact that there was no future for cabs in Tulsa and that it was car, bike, or bus until some magical day when we have light rail.

Flash forward about 2 years and I found myself without my keys and deeply hung over at the Central Park Tower in the Riverview district. My friends and I decided that we wanted a burger. The Goldie’s at Utica Square was calling to us from two miles away. “If only we lived in a city where we could just ride the bus over there or hail a cab,” I whined. My friend Patrick then responded, “Um, well, we could just call one,” as if I was the most oblivious person in the world. This is an important moment in the development of my mental image of our fair city. On that day Tulsa became about 5 times denser. I realized that I was standing on the balcony of a high-rise apartment, calling a cab. The city that I had been yearning for all the time, the real city, was the one that I already lived in.

So now let’s revisit our problem. There aren’t enough taxis around to be visible enough to be thought of as a viable and regular means of transportation. And since people don’t think about them there is a lower demand for and fewer numbers of cabs. Catch-22. Damn. This doesn’t even take into account the fact that, for most people, taking a cab to work is completely impractical due to long commutes and high fares. Also, for anyone that has called a cab, you know that wait times for them can be long—VERY long. 

So what is the solution? It seems that we have two choices: 1) We accept that we are what Eddie Izzard said of San Francisco: “You’re a no-taxi city, aren’t you?” or 2) we do something about it. We have to recognize that the supply of taxis won’t go up until there is more demand for taxis. How does one go about increasing the demand for a product when there seems to be no good way of doing it? I can hear the free-market people telling me that the car will win because the market chooses it. I respond with a “Yes, but…” Yes, it’s true that the automobile has won out so far, but the taxi companies, whether they are ready or not, are about to encounter a much more favorable environment for them to compete, and I want to help them along.

That being said, the change in demand is already in the post. With the advent of a new generation of downtown developers and dwellers, there will also be an increasing demand for cab service to and from work. As the areas begin to re-densify, look for cabs to roll around on the hunt for fares. This, however, may take awhile. First, it must become prohibitively expensive to own and park a car versus taking a cab. We are awhile off from this. But as parking lots become more and more scarce, parking will become more and more expensive. I dare to dream of a day when there is a part of Tulsa where it is not only possible to live without a car (this already exists), but where it is more practical.

To further increase the demand for cab service, we must raise awareness. I know it’s kind of a dirty trick to try to increase demand for a product artificially, but, in this case, I think it’s ok. Cab drivers are working people like the rest of us. They have families, they have bills. They need to be paid as badly as you do. (Warning: the following suggestion is directed at those who work, live, or play near Downtown, Cherry Street or Brookside. If you live in a place where you can’t walk to lunch, then you should stop reading this right now, relocate, get a new job or come down to Caz’s; I’ll buy you a round.)

So with that said, here is what I propose: take a cab. I realize that cabs can be expensive; I know. Work it into your schedule once a week, maybe once every two weeks. An extra five bucks to get to somewhere that you wouldn’t’ normally go isn’t that much and can broaden your dining horizons at lunch. This may well take some planning, but HEY! That’s half the fun. You are charting nearly-unknown waters for Tulsans nowadays. You are an urban renewal pioneer (without the Davey Crockett hat). Be bold! I recommend picking your destination in advance and definitely calling a cab company 30 minutes to an hour in advance. Let them know what time to pick you up. Be on time. If you are lucky enough to work In the BOK Tower then just go down to the taxi stand in front of the Hyatt: easy peasy.

Now, the difficult part: the return. You might be able to negotiate this with your cabby for an extra tip. “Hey! Here’s another five, come pick us up in 40.” You will return to your drab cubicle feeling substantially more urban and sophisticated (ok maybe not substantially) than when you left. Impress your co-workers and suggest that you all share a cab. If you and two others get together, like Patrick and I on that legendary trip to Goldie’s, the fare is almost nothing. You also get the street cred of nonchalantly telling your coworkers, “Oh yeah, Jerry, Mary and I split a cab to snag a slice.  No big deal.”

That leads us to a final point about taxis in our fair city. There is a new player on the streets these days: pedicabs. Anyone who has attended a BOK Center event knows what I am talking about. These bike taxis are a way to travel from, say, the Brady district to the BOK Center. There are two different companies that operate downtown: Tulsa Pedicabs and Radcab. One charges a fare and the other operates entirely for tips. I’m not going to say which one is which, as I don’t want to come off as biased towards one or the other, but you can look them both up on the wide world of webs. Both provide excellent service. Pedicabs might not be the answer for you if you need to get home to 91st and Yale after you’ve had too many or need to get to the airport, but they provide a great service and we are lucky to have the option. Show off to your date with something different. You date will find you 37% more sexually attractive if you hail a pedicab (individual results may vary). Not to mention the snug seating is perfect for making a pre-first move. So, save yourself from having to walk from Main and Brady to the BOK or Blue Dome. You will improve your city and your love life at the same time.

There is a final note to be made about pedicabs that I have to point out: they point to our emerging love of bicycles here in Tulsa. We have taken huge steps towards being a bike-able city. Rather than having the wafting smell of horse poop, a la Central Park (NYC) carriage ride, with a pedicab one gets to see what is next for Tulsa: urban renewal and the bicycle. Within the last few years the bicycle culture here has made great strides. Mike and Josh at the Soundpony have helped birth Tulsa’s emerging bike cool; Tulsa Tough has cemented it. The pedicabs just show us what it is that we are becoming. You may not see it where you are, but it is happening. So if you find yourself holding your date’s hand for the first time in a pedicab as the sun sets, look to the glowing skyline before you and think about the bicycle’s new and ever-expanding role in Tulsa.

Remember, oh transportation pioneers: whether it be pedi or traditional; to work or the airport; to the show or the house—try to make taxis part of your week. Be patient, even though it might be more hassle than just taking a car. Support a group of local businesses that you might not have thought about.  It will make you feel cooler. It will make you more attractive. Trust me.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Good city folk and good country folk

There are good people everywhere just waiting for you. I like to go to the country to hunt and fish. I enjoy getting into the countryside. I get to meet the landowners and the people who work the land. I always meet nice people who are helpful to a stranger dressed in camouflage trying to find whatever prey happens to be in season. Heck, one feller I met at a Quickie Mart offered up his land for hunting. It's great getting into places I rarely go and meeting folks who live there.

I also enjoy going to downtown. Last night I went to FreeTulsa, a live music festival in the Blue Dome District. I went down there alone without any plans to meet up with anyone. I hadn't been at FreeTulsa for 5 minutes when I meet some friends. I spent some time with them listening to music and people watching. I then ran into some other acquaintances at Fassler Hall. We listened to a great band and talked a little bit.

Wherever you find yourself get out there and meet those good people. If your a city dweller get out into the countryside and vice versa. Hunting is just an excuse to get out amongst country folk. Listening to music is the excuse to get out and meet people downtown. And guess what? Good country folk and city folk are one and the same.

Monday, July 25, 2011

I am a teenager. I live in Tulsa Oklahoma. I ride the bus.

The following is written by Ellen Nole.

When I first started riding the bus I did it because there were places where I wanted to go but where I didn't actually need to be. I loved the freedom that came from riding the bus. I'm sure that it's easy to forget the joy of being able to get yourself across town without having to beg for a ride for the first time, but it is a great feeling that makes you feel like you've grown up, at least a little bit. I almost never rode the bus anywhere that I actually needed to go. Instead, I took bus rides to book stores or movie theaters or other places in the same vein. Mostly though, I took bus rides downtown.

I had no reason to be downtown and therefore no way to get there. When you're a teenager without a car you get rides based on need and nobody was going to drive me downtown so that I could wander aimlessly through the streets, admiring the architecture and watching the people. Which is why for one summer I hopped on bus to go downtown at least once a week.

Those trips downtown made that summer, which would have otherwise been spent trapped in my house, one of my favorites. I got to see the inside of the buildings I had always admired (check out the lobby of the Philtower sometime, the ceiling is stunning) and occasionally got thrown out of those same buildings by their frustratingly alert security guards. I even claimed three different benches around downtown, though oddly enough the city has yet to respond to my requests that those benches be given official plaques in my honor.

But despite all of the fun I had downtown, it didn't really matter where I went on the bus that summer. The important part wasn't the destination, it was the fact that I got myself there. I couldn't have done it without the bus.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Who are the people in your neighborhood?

I was at Starbucks last week and struck up a conversation with a total stranger. Turned out he was a cutting edge video documentary maker Ben Lindsey. He is turning wedding photography and video into a high art form music videography. He is also working on his documentary entitled What is Love? Ben does great work and he was a pleasure to meet. I learned so much about his industry and his passion for his work and his clients. I could have had my coffee at home and would have never had met Ben. That random meeting demonstrates the power of our communities if we can just get out and meet people.

Who are the people in your neighborhood? If you watch too much television they are too thin, too rich and much too dramatic. If you get out and meet actual people you realize most people are good, friendly people. Moreover, we have so much to learn from each other. That is the power of one of humankind's greatest invention, the city.

Cities play to our best human ability... our capacity to learn from people around us. That last statement is paraphrased from a March 2, 2011 speech by Edward Glaeser author of Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier and Happier. Check out his speech recorded by CSPAN by following this link. Glaeser does an excellent job expounding on the benefits of city life.

Learning who are the people in your neighborhood helps us learn more about ourselves and the world around us. We empathize, we listen, we're more likely to help out one another. Who are the people in your neighborhood? Go ahead, take a walk down Sesame Street. It will make us all better people.