The recent decision by Mayor Bartlett to go ahead with the planned Riverside Drive sidewalk to serve A Gathering Place is welcome news. Tulsans are now assured of safe and dignified pedestrian access to the front and main entrance of our new world class park. Because of a heightened community awareness, our goals of creating a more walk-able city will be much more easily achieved in the future.
Thanks to everyone who supported the sidewalk
District 4 City Councilor Blake Ewing
There are many we would like to recognize for playing important roles in helping convince the mayor to change his mind. First and foremost is District 4 City Councilor, Blake Ewing. Once the media initially broke the story about the mayor’s decision, Councilor Ewing began working with the mayor behind the scenes to help find a solution.
By scheduling a Town Hall meeting to address the Riverside sidewalk specifically and a Dive Bar Town Hall meeting to discuss sidewalk policies in general, Councilor Ewing provided forums for the multitude of Tulsan’s supporting a walkable city to voice their concerns. The turnout for both was impressive and the Town Hall meeting at the Garden Center was forced to turn people away once it reached the facility’s capacity. Thank you Councilor Ewing for your leadership on this most important issue.
We also want to thank the leadership of TulsaNow and its president, Carlos Moreno, for partnering with Smart Growth Tulsa and co-sponsoring a petition in support of the Riverside sidewalk. Through a social media campaign we were able to garner hundreds and hundreds of signatures and comments favoring the sidewalk. These were forwarded to the mayor and to city councilors.
We also salute Tulsa’s young professionals known as TYPros, including their leadership, Shagah Zakerion, Executive Director and Isaac Rocha, 2014 Chair. TYPros has the membership numbers to get the attention of any elected official, and they are just now beginning to flex their muscles. At the Town Hall meeting, the TYPros representatives who spoke offered some of the most compelling arguments heard all evening.
We are very proud that the following highly respected community organizations signed our petition in support of the sidewalk: Transit Matters, Pearl District Association, Transportation Advisory Board, Preserve Midtown, Center for Individuals with Physical Challenges, Tulsa Hub, Code for Tulsa, Accessible Transportation (ATC), Brookside Neighborhood Association, The Tulsa Voice, the Tulsa Foundation for Architecture, Team Soundpony-bicycle racing team, U.S. Green Building Council-Oklahoma Chapter, Tulsa County Wellness Partnership, and the Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC).
Dozens of high profile public figures
In addition, many well-known public figures also joined us including former Mayor Robert LaFortune, former Mayor Susan Savage, former Mayor Kathy Taylor, Former Mayor Terry Young, State Representative Jeannie McDaniel, former City Councilor Rick Westcott and many other community leaders including Ann Patton, Ashley Farthing, Greg Bledsoe & Marilyn Ihloff, Barbara Bannon, President of Tulsa Hub, Herb Beattie, Jamie Jamieson, Patty Southmayd and Barbara Van Hanken, co-founders of Preserve Midtown, Ray Pearcey, Judy Mattox and Jonathan Belzley, co-founders of Transit Matters, Shawn Schaefer, Director of OU Urban Design Studio, Katie Plohocky, Lori Long, Executive Director of Center For Individuals With Physical Challenges, Pat Treadway, Stephen Lassiter, Chair of the Transportation Advisory Board, Ted Reeds, TMAPC member and Thomas Boxley, community builder.
Tulsa News Media
We are very grateful to our local news media including both print and broadcast organizations for breaking this story and continuing to follow it. Led by Kevin Canfield and Jarrel Wade of the Tulsa World, the media recognized the important nature of this issue. Their reporting elevated public awareness and helped create the climate for a sold public discussion. Nothing encourages an open an transparent debate on public policy issues like unbiased professional journalistic coverage.
Maple Ridge residents
The residents who opposed the sidewalk from the beginning, even the most vocal among them are also deserving of recognition for expressing their concerns. They began a dialogue that inspired a community wide conversation about an issue that had not been on many people’s radar. Their fears of the unknown are not to be taken lightly. In the end however, we expect many if not most of them will come to appreciate the sidewalk as an asset, not a liability for their neighborhood.
And finally of course, we acknowledge and thank Mayor Bartlett for making a wise and prudent decision in the end. By keeping an open mind and listening to input from citizens who expressed overwhelming support of the sidewalk, he did the right thing, and ultimately served the public’s best interest.
We encourage everyone to send Mayor Bartlett a personal note of gratitude for his decision by emailing him here: firstname.lastname@example.org. He needs to know just how much he is appreciated for making the difficult decision to reverse course and approve the sidewalk.
What can we learn from this experience?
For those who supported the sidewalk the message is clear
The individuals, groups and organizations who banded together in an unprecedented display of public solidarity to support reinstatement of the Riverside Drive sidewalk can learn a valuable lesson from the experience. There is strength in numbers.
Public opinion can have a dramatic impact on public policy, no question about it. Unfortunately however, otherwise like-minded groups and organizations often fail to take full advantage of their advocacy for various causes by being disorganized and splintered. Working independently we struggle to be heard. Working together our voice is loud and clear. By collaborating with each other through organizations like Smart Growth Tulsa and others, we all benefit by having a much greater voice in public affairs.
There are crucial policy decisions on the horizon including the zoning code update, proposals to extend the 13 year Vision 2025 sales tax, efforts to expand public transportation and land use decisions that will compromise or protect our treasured wilderness areas. All of them much more complex than a simple thumbs up or thumbs down on a short stretch of sidewalk; yet they will have a much more profound impact on Tulsa’s built environment and thereby our daily quality of life.
Let us resolve to leverage the successful outcome of our sidewalk advocacy by looking for common ground in addressing these upcoming challenges. PlaniTulsa’s Guiding Principles provide the ideal platform for identifying our shared vision and goals for a smarter and more sustainable community. Each individual, group and organization can advance their own particular area of interest by reaching out to and supporting each other. At SGT we are committed helping build these new alliances.
For the mayor, opportunity awaits
The hope here is that Mayor Bartlett will come away from this experience with a better understanding of the wide ranging desire for a more walkable community with improved pedestrian connectivity, expanded mobility options and more mixed use live/work neighborhoods, all goals of PlaniTulsa and now our comprehensive plan.
His original decision to eliminate the sidewalk was at least partially based upon reaction from a limited number of neighbors who perceived it as a threat, without much consideration for the interests of the broader community. Once the decision became common knowledge, public opinion forced him into a defensive position which was difficult to retreat from.
Let’s face it, since taking office, Mayor Bartlett has often found himself in a similar position because of his perceived indifference if not downright hostility to our comprehensive plan. While his priorities and preferences have been well received by self-serving real estate developers, he has lost favor with the thousands of Tulsans who seek a new path.
Public support for the Riverside sidewalk was not and is not an anomaly. Rather it is emblematic of a very broad hunger for change in the way we plan and build the infrastructure which serves our citizens. People want a greater emphasis on people and places and less emphasis on automobiles, traffic and parking lots.
We respectfully encourage the mayor to carefully evaluate whose voices he will listen to moving ahead. Will it continue to be the few self-serving businessmen who fear change and cling to outdated policies and practices which the mayor must ultimately defend? Or will it be the professional planners and legions of Tulsans who are crying out for leadership to help build a more livable city? In our view the mayor has absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain by not only embracing change but becoming a champion for it.
We don’t have to look very far for what a model of that kind of leadership looks like. Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett has built on the successful MAPS program. While Tulsa’s population has remained relatively stagnant, Oklahoma City is growing and prosperous, in no small measure due to Mayor Cornett’s initiatives to build a vibrant, diverse, healthy community shifting away from the auto-centric policies of the past. As a member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council, Mayor Cornett is a highly sought after speaker nationally. Take a few minutes to view this short video, A TED Talk presented by Mayor Cornett, explaining his evolution to a new way of thinking that is now transforming our sister city at the other end of the Turner Turnpike.
It is never too late, Mayor Bartlett. The times, they are a changing and we must keep up. Living, learning and growing are what make great leaders. As stated, there is a lesson for all of us in the Riverside Drive sidewalk saga and we can all learn from it, if we just will.