Thursday, May 27, 2010

Blogging Rail At LetsTalkTransit

This updates the content of the original March 30, 2010, article
to include later information through June 24, 2010.
Click here to jump to the June 24 update.


A series of 7 public meetings began on March 29 about the location of and other matters pertaining to the $130 million rail-based transit element of MAPS 3. During the campaign, we were told that the "transit package includes a five to six mile rail-based streetcar. The streetcar will link major employers, businesses, attractions and residents in the downtown area." Hosted by COTPA, the meetings (including yesterday's meetings) are on March 29 (2), April 13, April 29, May 11, and May 27 (2) and have the stated purpose of gaining the public's input on location and perhaps other related matters. Yesterday's meetings were in the City Council chambers, as will be the pair of meetings scheduled for May 27. The others are set to occur in the Civic Center's Hall of Mirrors, 201 North Walker.

All citizens have been invited to participate in these meetings and have also been given the opportunity to participate in an on-line surveys. The 1st survey, the subject being the possible location of the 5-6 mile route, is now done and was responded to by around 250. The results will be presented during the 2nd meeting on April 13. The 2nd survey seeks to identify users of the streetcar, ideal distance between stops and frequency of schedule, and is now in progress.

As another part of that process, five citizens have been asked and have agreed to contribute to the process by writing blog articles for these meetings, they being ...


Charifa Smith

Dean Schirf

Nick Roberts

Sam Sims

Me

Jump To
Session 2, April 13   Session 3, April 29
Session 4, May 11   Session 5, May 27

Session 1: March 28, 2010

The day after the 1st day meetings on March 29, Steve Lackmeyer wrote an article in the Oklahoman which gave his take on the presence of outsider bloggers reporting on the public meetings ...

Above, he said,
The solicitation of bloggers is a project launched by Michael Scroggins, spokesman for the transit authority, and Kristy Yeager, spokeswoman for the city. Some might question whether such arrangements will ensure nothing but favorable coverage.
I hadn't been aware of how the guest bloggers came to be part of the process and that's good to know. As for my own blogging there, if actual discussion does occur in this process and the merits and demerits of alternate routes are seriously presented and publicly discussed, and remembering that "discussion" means "Consideration of a subject by a group; an earnest conversation," I'll be a happy blogger. If not, well, that's another story which will hopefully have no need to be written.

FIRST DAY SESSIONS. Two sessions were held on March 29, at 11:30 a.m. 6:00 p.m. and each lasted about an hour. You can watch each of those sessions below:


Noon Session

Evening Session
Guest Blogger Posts: Charifa Smith's take is here and Sam Sims' review is here. Below is the content of the first of my three assigned meetings, the scheduled 6:00- 7:30 p.m meeting on March 29. It is also posted, with slight revision, at the LetsTalkTarnsit.com.

Why Am I Blogging Here? When invited to participate as a guest blogger here by Kinsey Crocker, account executive with Anglin Public Relations, in an email she said,
I work with the Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority (COTPA). We are going to be hosting a series of public discussions to: (1) collect citizen input on where the modern streetcar should go in downtown Oklahoma City and (2) get public input on an Alternatives Analysis looking at other transportation options for the future of downtown Oklahoma City. We’ll gather citizen input through a series of public meetings beginning March 29 and through online forums, discussions and surveys.

The reason I am contacting you, we are looking for several guest bloggers (who are not employed by the city or on the transit oversight committees) to attend some of the meetings and report on the process on our LetsTalkTransit.com blog. Would you be interested?”
Her statement, “collect citizen input on where the modern streetcar should go,” caught both my attention and fancy and after speaking with her and agreeing to participate, she gave this definition of my and the other bloggers’ role here:
Your role is to serve as a citizen reporter for those who can not attend the meetings. You should report on what happens at the meetings, what questions are being asked by the public and provide your own perspective.
That explains part of why I am here, but not all. You may know that I’m an Oklahoma City history aficionado and, as part of that moniker, I and fellow blogger here, Dean Schirf, we do love our trains. Both Dean and I have written extensively on that topic in my history blog. Dean is more into “big” trains but I’m also nostalgic about smaller urban trains, the trolleys, like that shown above.

The March 29 Evening Public Meeting. The meeting was the second such meeting scheduled today, an earlier meeting having occurred in the City Council chambers at 200 N. Walker. Having time conflicts with its 11:30 a.m. - 1:00 p.m. schedule, I couldn’t make the earlier meeting. The evening meeting was scheduled for 6:00 - 7:30 p.m., and this piece reports on that although I assume that the 11:30 a.m. meeting was much the same.

Uncharacteristically, I arrived well before the appointed time to begin and looked around to see who, if any, I knew. Jeff Bezdek, founding member and mover-and-shaker in the Modern Transit Project (I’m sure that he has a more appropriate title but I don’t know what it is) was there; one of my favorite Oklahoma legislators, now retired House member Debbie Blackburn, and friend Casey Cornett were, too, as was Michael Scroggins, Public Information Officer for COTPA, who’d earlier given Steve Lackmeyer and me a most excellent tour of Union Station.

The evening meeting was not crowded so you might look over the 40 or so faces to see who you might know:


The meeting convened shortly after 6:00 p.m. Jennifer Eve, moderator, introduced the three speakers: Rick Cain, director of COTPA; Mike McAnelly with Jacobs Engineering; and Project 180 engineer and coordinator Laura Story.


Rick Cain

Mike McAnelly

Laura Story
Laura was present only to comment briefly upon Project 180's coordination with the transit elements of MAPS 3 so to avoid unnecessary digging up of streets, etc. Truth is, Project 180's fast pace (set to begin in May 2010) may well be driving the speed and timing of the modern streetcar component of MAPS 3, and, if it is, hats off to Project 180. But, the heavy lifters during the presentation were Cain and McAnelly.

As it developed, the meeting was largely expository of the modern streetcar and its potential commercial and other benefits — the subject of possible downtown transit routes never came up at all. If you’d care to peruse the content of this website and compare them with what Cain and McAnelly had to say, I very much doubt that you’d find anything new being said. Of the main presentations, my sense is that McAnelly’s was the most informed and articulately presented although both were fine. That said, the types of topics developed were very fundamental, such as ...

• What is the modern streetcar?
• How does it work with other traffic?
• How is the modern streetcar ADA compliant?
• Who are current manufacturers of modern streetcars?
• What cities presently and prospectively have them?
• What about fares — some free, some not?

I’m not developing these and other generic topics here because I don’t see what was presented as being particularly newsworthy and no breaking news was presented during the presentations. Questions from the audience were written upon forms and were then selectively presented to either Cain or McAnelly, and quite a number were presented (I wasn’t counting). That said, no voices were heard during the meeting other than those of Jennifer Eve, Rick Cain, Mike McAnelly, and Laura Story.

I will elaborate more if comments request it after this post is done. But, as Bryan Dean said in his Oklahoman article about today’s meetings, “Monday’s meetings were mostly informational,” and he is accurate in that description. Read his report for more than I’m saying here. He doubtless attended the mid-day meeting.

This meeting was scheduled to end at 7:30 p.m. but it adjourned at 7:00, lasting less than 60 minutes’ time. I was easily able to return home to eat some soup and tapioca pudding and settle in to watch my all-time favorite TV show at 8:00 p.m., 24, in which I was once again able to voyeuristically participate in Jack Bauer’s endeavors to save us all from hideous acts of international terrorism. Now, to be fair, there aren’t many, if any, that have the capability of topping my hero Jack Bauer in my interest level, and this meeting, while generally informative, gave me nothing new to chew on. Jack Bauer always does.

Evaluation. It’s probably fair to give this first meeting a pass on public participation and a discussion of competing ideas, neither of which really occurred today. But since the meeting was apparently designed to be general and not specific in its scope but was merely an informative stage setter, that’s almost OK — except for the fact that we’ve been there and done that during the MAPS 3 campaign.

As for me, only one such pass is OK. Future meetings need to provide a place for true public discussion — speakers and voices other than public officials actually need to be heard from the floor — and what about this concept: a meeting wherein ALL presenters would be non-public officials. Speaker 1 would advance and argue for Route #1; Speaker 2 would do the same for Route #2; and so on. If the Mayor or his proxy wants to present a route based on the “spoke system” he referred to during the MAPS 3 campaign, that would be great, too. That’s REAL public discussion.

The submission of written questions which are then selectively advanced to a presenter by a question-screener may assure good order and avoid chaos, but that method does not allow for spontaneity and it does not provide for public discussion, not even close. “Discussion.” Look it up in your Webster’s.

What we heard today was a general description of the modern streetcar. What we did not hear was a more fundamental description of why these 7 meetings were occurring or why they would matter when all is said and done. Window dressing we don’t want or need. What we do need is bona fide discussion, defined here to be “Consideration of a subject by a group; an earnest conversation.”

Future meetings need to definitively define the process — what is the overall process for determining the downtown transit routes; how do these meetings relate to that process; and, if they don’t relate, then why bother?

But, like I said, today’s meeting almost gets a pass. As a general information meeting, it was nicely presented, but I’m guessing that the 40 or so in attendance were already primed on the topic and were hoping for a bit more.

That's it for now, but this article will be updated as each of the scheduled meetings occurs, and, hopefully, we'll see actual discussion and alternative routes seriously discussed before the process is done. I received an e-mail on April 9, part of which reads,
The next round of meetings, including the meeting on April 13, will be interactive, allowing participants to break into groups and offer input regarding possible routes.
That is exactly the news that I've been hoping to hear.

Jump To
Session 1, March 29   Session 3, April 29
Session 4, May 11   Session 5, May 27

SESSION 2. As it developed, Session 2 lived up to the promise of public participation. The blog article that I've submitted to Let's Talk Transit has been published there and it also appears below. Also posted there are blog articles by Dean Schirf and by Nick Roberts but, frankly, you'll find (in my estimation) a more engaging article by Nick about this meeting in his own blog, here.Session 2 full video, for as long as available at Wimeo.com

Session 2, April 13
How To Design A Better Railroad

The second Let's Talk Transit public meeting began shortly after 6:00 in the Civic Center Music Hall's Hall of Mirrors, a large open space meeting room on the 2nd floor. Unlike the 1st session (which ended sooner than the scheduled time), this session lasted longer than its planned 8:30 p.m. end, not adjourning until shortly after 9:00 p.m., probably because everyone was having so much fun ... either that, or the break-out working groups were just poky in getting their work done. I'll get to that shortly. Around 40-45 or so, including host personnel, were present.

This session was intended to allow participants to play-pretend at designing possible routes for the 5-6 (or 2.5-3.0 or something in between) mile downtown transit route. I qualify the mileage length since it was made clear that the total lineal measurement depends upon whether either single or double-track is used during parts or all of the overall system. Single-track is one track shared by cars operating in either direction; double-track includes a separate track for each direction. If single-track construction is used, there need to be periodic passing sidings where a car traveling in one direction can wait while one going in the opposite direction passes.

RESOURCES & MATERIALS. As did the 1st session, this one had a packet of materials for those attending. Some or all of these will probably find their way into the resource pages at Let's Talk Transit's website but I'll show most of them below.

      • Survey 1 Results. Let's Talk Transit is taking on-line surveys as one means of getting the public's input (click that link to see and/or take Survey 2, now in progress). Survey 1 (now closed) asked two questions:
  1. Looking at the Downtown Oklahoma City map, what high priority destinations would you recommend the modern streetcar travel by?
  2. When planning a modern streetcar route it's important to consider what destinations would best serve as "anchors," or destinations that draw large amounts of people and/or are frequented often. From the list of destinations you provided in Q1.,which do you feel would best serve as anchors in Downtown Oklahoma City?
Before it closed, 265 people completed Survey 1 and the results are shown below – click either image below for a readable view.
Question 1
Question 2
Read the above results for more detail, but the top 6 for each survey question are shown below:
Question 1
High Priority Destinations
 Question 2
Anchor Destinations
1.  Arts District11.884%1.  Bricktown20.751%
2.  Bricktown11.318%2.  Ford Center12.253%
3.  Ford Center9.458%3.  Bricktown Ballpark/CC Event9.289%
4.  OKC National Memorial7.033%4.  Arts District9.091%
5.  Bricktown Ballpark/CC Event5.982%5.  OKC National Memorial5.731%
6.  OHC5.901%6.  OHC5.138%
The survey results were used by staffers to identify various types of locations in the working-group maps which are observed in several of the photos, to be presented shortly. Some expressed hope that the survey would be re-presented to obtain a larger number of responses but, in this instance, a cutoff needed to be used so that staffers could prepare for Session 2.

      • Area Definition. The package included a general map showing the area being considered for the streetcars. Click the image for a larger view.


      • Questions & Answers From 1st Session. During the 1st session, participants wrote questions on cards provided and most of them were verbally answered by one of the presenters. However, program staff did a great job of reducing all of the 38 questions and answers to written form, including those not gotten to in the 1st session. The names of both the person asking and answering are provided. My guess is that these will eventually appear in the Questions & Answers area of the Let's Talk Transit website, but that's just a guess. In the meantime, I've scanned the 4-page handout and you can read and/or save it here.

THE MEETING. It took me a bit of time to locate the Hall of Mirrors, never having been there before. Basically, it is a ballroom sized room with some pretty deco decor with a small stage at the south end. The pair of images below shows some of what I observed ... click on images for larger views.

Better Than Deco
Kristy Yeager & Kinsey Crocker
Looking Through West Windows
The photo doesn't the room justice
Jennifer Eve, moderator, made a few comments followed by a series of four presentations designed to set the background. Rick Cain, director of COTPA, summarized what occurred at the last meeting. Randy Entz and A.J. Kirkpatrick with the Oklahoma City City Planning Department then got into was was called "Downtown Density Realities" in the agenda, Randy mainly introducing A.J. who was the main presenter. A.J. described changes in the past 10 years, 2000-2010: housing changes (rental - below 800 to above 1,800; owned - 600 to above 1,400); hotel rooms (400 to above 1,600); concentration of employers and number of employees; and maybe other stuff that I missed.
Randy Entz
A.J. Kirkpatrick
Where is all this stuff leading to — competent and skilled railroad designers which we all were undoubtedly were — "What's it all about, Alfie?"

That's where Mike McAnelly of Jacobs Engineering (I'll call him the "Killer Bee" — this guy clearly knows his stuff) came in. By this point, if we (the wannabe rail-line-locater-experts) weren't already given more information than we could absorb in a time-span of 20 minutes or so, we would soon know how little we actually knew about the process of selecting of a preferred alignment of a rather limited (5-6 miles single-track, 2.5-3 miles double-tracked) downtown streetcar path. Now, I mean no slight to McAnelly by saying this — he never talked down to us and put stuff in street-speech that was easy to understand and what he said was most helpful. But ... but ... but ... in just a few minutes time we were going to assimilate everything we'd heard and then be let loose with maps and magic markers to come up with plans in the space of an hour or so's time?

OK, OK, maybe I'm slower than most of the attendees — it's fair to say that's a given. I listened as McAnelly presented slides and described ... (1) streetcar guiding principles; (2) alignment considerations; (3) physical constraints; (4) patterns of economic development along "nodes" (I presume that means "stops"), varying depending upon whether (4a) single or (4b) double-track was employed; (5) peer city comparisons; and (6) a summary of technical methodology.

One thing he said that I'll pass along has to do with Bricktown. I recall hearing at the 1st session that the street underpasses under the Santa Fe tracks have less clearance than most streetcars require ... "How is that going to be solved," I wondered, "we sure as heck cannot change the elevation of the Santa Fe track." But McAnelly made it sound so simple ... lower the bed for the streetcar, i.e., make the road go "down!" I made a note to slap myself on the back of my head when no one was looking.

As he was speaking,
I panned back and saw something
that caught my eye ...
Uh, oh ... right here in River City ... my keen eye caught sight of something high above McAnelly ...

What would Sally Kern say?

McAnelly's last slide summarized the "Technical Methodology" for finally arriving at selection of a preferred alignment:
  1. Identification of destinations and route termini
  2. Define physical constraints
  3. Locate bus & rail connection possibilities
  4. Review land use
  5. Locate redevelopment and/or development potentials
  6. Assess marketing [something? - my notes are obtuse]
  7. [Missed this one altogether]
  8. Delineate alignment options
  9. Evaluate pedestrian and bicycle options
  10. Assess ability to create public/private partnerships
  11. Identify place making assets
  12. Evaluate alternatives
  13. Select preferred alignment
I may have gotten some of the above slightly wrong, but what I've said is pretty close to the mark.

Youza! After hearing all these guys, for those of us who weren't experts at 5:59 p.m., we surely must be experts by now! At this point, the meeting broke into working groups. Each working group had a particular element to focus upon, e.g., residential or some other category. The goal of each group was to arrive at and then present to the group one or more alternatives within its assigned category, and this is where the fun began.

WORKING GROUPS. Armed with all of the above, participants broke into six working groups. Some were assigned one type of consideration (e.g., residential) or another. Each group had a moderator — for example, mine was Randy Entz with the city planning department — but the moderators were there to keep the rest of us on track and not to make route suggestions. At one point, I said to Randy, "You guys have surely come up with your own models. Can you give us a clue?" He said, "Yes," but declined to reveal planning department ideas, saying (to the effect), "that's not what these sessions are about." I asked him, "Have you ever seen a hub-spoke model like Mayor Cornett said he preferred during the MAPS 3 campaign," and he said, "No."

The following pictures show the working groups as they came up with the routes which related to their assigned categories. Click on an image for a larger view.

The last element of the evening was a brief presentation of their work product by each group, as shown below. Click on images for larger views.

Eric Laity
Walter Jenny
Dean Schirf
Jeff Bezdek
Nick Roberts
Chuck Wiggin
City personnel intend to take these maps and create overlays to be presented at a future session, which will be good to see similarities and differences in what each of the six working groups came up with. That will be interesting to see.

EVALUATION. One cannot but be seriously impressed with the amount of time, work, and money that city personnel put into making this a successful meeting — everything from handouts to presentations to organization of the working groups was exceptionally well thought through and executed. For example, at each table, large demographic maps were present to use as resources to identify where people worked and resided and how many, location of hotels, etc. One such demographic map is shown below. Click for a larger image.


Plus, it was great to meet and talk with others who are interested in this process and want it to succeed. The promised public participation was abundantly present in Session 2.

Postscript. One of my table's participants, Walter Jenny, and I were talking and he mentioned something about the location of the old Oklahoma Railway Co. lines in downtown — wouldn't that be good to see? He was absolutely correct. So, here you are, a crop of the trolley map from When Oklahoma Took the Trolley by Allison Chandler and Stephen D. Maguire (Interurbans 1980). I've included the area north of 13th Street up to 23rd, to give a better idea of that area, too. Click on the image for a larger view.



Jump To
Session 1, March 29   Session 2, April 13
Session 4, May 11   Session 5, May 27

SESSION 3. I wasn't a scheduled blogger for this event but I already planned to go and write in my personal blog, anyway, just as I have done for the earlier meetings. As it happened, time conflicts developed for the two intended bloggers, Dean Schirf and Sam Sims. So, unfortunately — and I say that with no disrespect to myself ... it's just that different eyes will see events differently and have different perspectives and it's good to get a blend — the only "outsider" report you get for Session 3 is from me. The article I've submitted to Let's Talk Transit appears below.
Above, the session's full video for as long as it remains available at Wimeo.com

Session 3, April 29
Wax On ... Wax Off

Session 2 might be akin to the beginning of Daniel-san's learning curve presented by Mister Miyagi in the Karate Kid. As it developed, the 3rd session was another step along the same path, "Brush up, brush down," except that the brush-stroke also went from side to side, from east to west as well as up and down, from north to south.

Before attending the meeting, I scoured the Let's Talk Transit website to see what this new session would be about ... heck, maybe I would even do a little homework to be better prepared. All I could locate was the date, time, and place of the meeting which, of course, required no homework at all. Just be there. Anyway, camera in hand, I got there about 20 minutes before the meeting began at the same place as the last meeting so I'll show no new pictures of the Civic Center Music Hall's Hall of Mirrors (but you can see a few of those in my article on Session #2).

On arriving I signed in, slapped on a name tag, and looked for a packet of materials similar to that given in the 2nd session. No, no packet this time ... just an agenda with an image on its backside which wasn't (as far as I could tell) in any way relevant to this evening's session.
The backside image is an overlay of the possible routes garnered from session #2, showing similarities and dissimilarities. However, each of the 6 groups had different purposes, e.g., residential, commercial, etc., so the image proved not to show anything particularly useful in the context of this evening's meeting.
I looked over this evening's agenda with great anticipation ... have a look:


"Yo! Adrian! What's this meeting going to cover," I asked the sign-er-in-ers? They didn't know, either.

Jennifer Eve, moderator for all meetings so far, called the meeting to order shortly after 6:00 in the Civic Center Music Hall's Hall of Mirrors and it lasted until about 7:40 p.m. About 47 people, plus or minus a couple, were in attendance, including staff personnel. Many faces were familiar from earlier meetings but some were there that I didn't recognize from earlier sessions.

Like the last session, we were all sitting at tables with various charts and maps and markers, so we knew it would be another working session.

SURVEY 2 RESULTS. Before that began, Rick Cain described results of Let's Talk Transit's on-line survey #2. Unless I missed it, no one said how many survey responses had been received as of the time the results below were assembled. In case the link just made eventually does not work (as it might not if the link comes to be a different survey), the links below will still work.
  1. Who do you believe will be the primary user of the modern streetcar in Downtown Oklahoma City? 46% said employers/workers; 36% said visitors; 11% said downtown residents/workers; and 7% said downtown residents.

  2. To access the streetcar, or when getting off the streetcar to reach a destination, at most I am willing to walk ... (in blocks). I didn't catch the detail on these responses, but the great majority responded 2-3 blocks with just a small percentage saying 1 block. I was in the "1 block" responder group since it is physically difficult for me to walk even that far without getting completely winded.

  3. Using the table below please select the operating schedule (days) for the streetcar. 100% said all days of the week.

  4. What hours would you like the streetcar to operate on those days? Responses varied considerably on Monday-Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Click an image below for a fairly readable chart.
    How Early?
    How Late?
  5. How often should the streetcar come by a location? (in minutes) I must have been doing something else when this was reported but I'm sure it will be posted in the Let's Talk Transit website.

  6. Prioritize the following streetcar route planning principles from most to least importance. Click the small image at the right to see the results. Not very sexy.

  7. Have you ever used the downtown trolley currently in use today? I didn't get the answer to that one, but my own answer was, "No."

  8. I am a downtown ... Resident; Employer / Worker; Resident / Worker; or Visitor. Click on the chart but it shows that 46% of survey responders were employers/workers, 36% visitors, 11% downtown residents/workers, and 7% downtown residents.
WORKING GROUPS. Mike McAnelly then got to the business at hand and what we'd be doing. After reminding us of some guiding principles and stuff like that, each of the six table-groups were going to be given 40 minutes to figure out which three each of the various horizontal and vertical routes shown in drawings on each table would be our preferred choices.

Here were the options presented (click on either for greater detail). Routes (or portions thereof) having arrow points in each direction are double-track routes; the others are single.
Horizontal (East/West) Routes
Vertical (North/South) Routes
The following images show the meeting at this point in time. Click on any image for a larger view.

As in the 2nd session, each table had a staff member present to help keep the group on track. For example, at right is Wayne Simpson of COTPA who provided gentle and good guidance at the table where I was sitting. Here's a look at each of the table groups at work. Click on any picture for a larger view.

Come on, now ... no fair laying down on the job
BZZZZ ... TIME'S UP! 40 minutes is gone and it's time to show and tell. A representative from each group then presented that group's preferences and explained why. Here they are ...

ANALYSIS. Like I did with the 2nd session, I give the 3rd meeting high marks for the quantity and quality of public discussion and to Let's Talk Transit in providing a workable forum within which the same might occur. Oral questions and answers while the whole group was in session weren't permitted this time — it was back to the question-card approach used in the 1st day's sessions, together with the promise that the questions would all be answered (as was done after the 1st day's sessions). But, no complaints from me on using this protocol — you may recall that the 2nd session was originally scheduled to end at 7:30 p.m. but instead lasted until after 8:00 p.m. (I earlier said after 9:00 p.m. but that was a typo). This time, without a Q & A period, the session was done by around 7:40 (7:30 p.m. being the announced end time).

But I do have two suggestions:
  1. Announce in advance what the meeting is to be about, or, if that's not known until the last minute, just say so and explain why. One had the feeling that the session's planners weren't all that sure themselves until shortly before the meeting was convened.

  2. If possible, publish the handouts before the meeting occurs. In this instance, if we had the east/west and north/south alternatives available on-line before the meeting, having had the luxury of un-rushed deliberation, one could have come to the session much more prepared. For example, one could have done, before the meeting, an analysis in which preliminary choices were made to see the consequences of the same, as in the following possibility ...
From the east/west choices ...

... below I pick EW 1, 3, and 6 ...
... and from the north/south choices ...
... I select NS 1, 3 and 6 ...
... to arrive at these combined choices
... I could then make a transparent overlay ...
... and re-draw the map ...
If I like it, I could proclaim, "Hey! Mikey! He likes it!", or, conversely, I could say, "This is crap ... it's back to the drawing boards." Getting hit with all this stuff at game-time, and then working with varying degrees of personalities present at a group-table, and coming up with a table-group consensus in 40 minutes of time, is expecting more than a bit much. A table might well contain a person who, for whatever reason, has a penchant to attempt to attempt to dominate and who over-speaks others when they are speaking or to jerk around the table's charts when he/she is the only one who wants to do so. That, in itself, diverts time and attention away from the entire table's focus at hand.

The point is: given all of the dynamics present, 40 minutes ain't nearly enough time to learn how to whooping-crane-drop-kick a jerk like the Karate Kid did at the end of the movie. Much more thoughtful contributions would be possible in such a short span of time if some or all had already done the, "Wax on, right hand. Wax off, left hand. Wax on, wax off. Breathe in through nose, out the mouth. Wax on, wax off. Don't forget to breathe, very important," and then learned the "paint up, paint down" routines.

A last item has not left my consciousness since the very beginning — how, if at all, are these nicely presented sessions going to impact the ultimate decisions? Are we who are attending just enjoying a nice parlor game or does it have more meaning than that? No one has really addressed that. It was very evident from tonight's session that city planners and COPTA have given much thought to potential north/south and east/west routes, as one would hope and expect that they would. The fact that the various options were presented was a great aid in this evening's meeting.

While I'm one who was glad that that was so, one is nonetheless left to wonder, "In what way, if at all, was Session 2 (or 3) significant in the overall process, other than to provide evidence of public participation? Will any existing planner thoughts be changed by reason of anything that occurred during the course of this process?"

Don't get me wrong — I'm enjoying this exercise and will finish it out to its end. But, I can handle the truth whether it be that these sessions are just for fun or whether they just might mean something more. Perhaps someone will yet address those questions, not yet done, at least not to my satisfaction, before the process draws to a close.

Jump To
Session 1, March 29   Session 2, April 13
Session 3, April 29   Session 5, May 27

SESSION 4, May 11. Although I was initially present for this session the Civic Center Hall of Mirrors, I began to feel poorly and didn't stay. So, I have no first-hand report of this meeting. However, the Let's Talk Transit Meeting Summary is available for your reading, as is Dean Shirf's Blog Article and Nick Robert's Blog Article and I defer and refer you to those articles for further information.

Jump To
Session 1, March 29   Session 2, April 13
Session 3, April 29   Session 4, May 11

SESSION 5. This session had two public meetings today in the City Council chambers, a noon meeting beginning at 11:30 am and the session which I attended at 6:00 pm. The purpose of these meetings was to sort of wrap up what had previously occurred, present three models which were said to result from the previous meetings, and have an extensive question and answer session after all that was done.

Personally, the main item I was looking for was an answer to my lingering concern and that which I have stated from the beginning — are these meetings really being conducted for the purpose of obtaining and actually utilizing public input as to the location of the streetcar routes, or have they been something more akin to parlor games where the participants get the opportunity of fashioning models, have a good time, but the activity and results of the exercise have little if any meaning beyond those who participated. I am glad to say that, before this meeting was done, my sense became this: Yes, at least as far as the hosts of these meetings is concerned, the input received has influenced the proposed placements of the street car routes. I'll elaborate more about that in the Evaluation section of the blog article which I have submitted to Let's Talk Transit for publication there which it has been, that full article appearing below.

Session 5, May 27
What's It All About, Alphie?

The concluding sessions of the Let's Talk Transit public meetings occurred twice today in the City Council Chambers — a noonish session beginning at 11:30 am and an evening session beginning at 6:00 pm which is the session that I attended. I didn't take a head count but I'd suppose that 30-35 people were present, including staff and the presenters. You can see for yourself that the meeting was not elbow-to-elbow, but the attendance was not out of keeping from the earlier sessions, even if down from the number attending the working-group sessions. Click on most images in this article for larger views.


The first part of the meeting consisted of recaps of the previous meetings presented by Rick Cain, director of COTPA and Mike McAnelly with Jacobs Engineering of Dallas (and, as always, Jennifer Eve was the effervescent master of ceremonies). That said, nothing new was presented during this part ... it was just a recapitulation of what had been done and said before.

McAnelly then reviewed the three models submitted for discussion in this session. He described them with reservation — that they were by no means set in stone. More, when he described how these models derived from previous sessions, he postured them as being models which were designed to produce and provoke discussion. He took care to say that these models were not necessarily those which would be later be presented to the MAPS 3 Oversight Board — at least, not in the sense of being "preferred routes" resulting from the Let's Talk Transit process. I'll say more about this in the Analysis section, below.

McAnelly Discusses The Three Proforma Options


The three options were presented thusly (click on images for a larger view):
Option 1
Option 2
Option 3
Were these options representative of what the public input had been? Let's do a flashback to Session #2 ... six groups, sitting a tables 1 through 6, had been assigned the task of coming up with proposed routes, with each table charged to present the perspectives of three different segments of downtown streetcar users, downtown visitors, residents, and employers and employees.


Let's Talk Transit assembled a composite map shown at session #3, shown below.


Notice that 4 of the 6 (that's 66%) arrived at drawings showing Walker as a preferred route regardless of the streetcar user group they were charged with representing (visitors, residents, workers). But, notice, also, that Walker was not included as a preferred route in any of the three proforma options presented at today's meeting. I'll get back to that point in the Analysis section below.

After Mr. McAnelly's presentation, a lengthy question and answer session followed. In fact, the meeting which was scheduled to end at 7:30 did not adjourn until at or shortly after 8 pm.

Most questioners followed the ground rules and wrote their questions on the forms presented — some others didn't and merely raised their hands and had their questions fielded on-the-fly. The meeting handlers weren't all that great about handling the flow of questions since some, who followed the rules, probably didn't get their questions answered because of the line-cutter-inners which were permitted to co-opt their legitimate place in line. Not a biggie, but it was nonetheless an irritant to me — if rules are established, damn it, follow them, and don't let others who didn't do so effectively cut in line with their non-form questions receiving priority attention.


I didn't make notes as all these questions and answers were being presented, partly because I was aware that ALL written questions would be addressed shortly in the Questions & Answers part of Let's Talk Transit website, just as they have before. The questions were plentiful and, I thought, they were answered straightforwardly during this session. When the Q & A is published at the Let's Talk Transit website, I'll include a link to them here. The Q & A session was substantial enough that the planned 7:30 p.m. end of meeting did not occur until about 30 minutes later and even then the presenters hung around to answer additional questions from any who wanted to ask, me included.

ANALYSIS. Since this was the final Let's Talk Transit public meeting, my analysis focuses on two items in terms of recap: (1) Did the Let's Talk Transit people do a good job? (2) Were my concerns about the meaningfulness of these sessions addressed, and, if so, how and why?
  1. Let's Talk Transit Gets 5 Stars. Did the Let's Talk Transit people do a good job? Absolutely yes, in my opinion. All those involved in the COTPA organization, including Rick Cain, Larry Hopper, and Michael Scroggins (as well as any other COTPA people that I've not thought to mention), moderator Jennifer Eve, and certainly consultant Mike McAnelly, as well as those in the city's planning staff who were sometimes involved, did a heck of a job in putting these meetings together as well as maintaining a very useful Let's Talk Transit website which is available to anyone who did not attend the meetings. Hundreds of hours, and not just a few bucks, were clearly expended in making this series of meetings happen, and all involved were helpful, courteous, informative, and patient throughout the lengthy process. Those involved in organizing and executing this process get my highest praise and respect.

  2. Was The Process Meaningful and not just window-dressing? Yes, with no qualifiation as to Let's Talk Transit, but this opinion wasn't as easily formed as the above. I'll explain:
          Review of My Previous Reservations. It is only fair that I begin this section by giving an explanation for my caution in being concerned that the public input which was clearly allowed for, even cajoled and encouraged, by the COTPA and city staffers might not actually matter one way or another. Quite simply, the reason has to do with events leading to the MAPS 3 vote when the public was told similar things — starting with Mayor Cornett's promise in his May 13, 2009, Roundtable meeting that public forums or opportunities would occur before the matters were decided for residents to tell city leaders what they want to see on the ballot — which public forums or opportunities never materialized ... the saying, "trick me once, shame on you; trick me twice, shame on me," comes to mind. I won't even get into the Convention Center's possible location which we were and are told hasn't yet been decided. As for the MAPS 3 campaign itself, although many like myself strongly supported MAPS 3, for some, like me, that support existed notwithstanding the obvious conflict of interest that existed the campaign being headed up by David Thompson, publisher of the Oklahoman and the censuring of his own employees, Oklahoman journalists, during the campaign as to what they could report and how the reporting was to occur. This is the short version of how I came to be cautious, yes, jaded, about believing what I was told by city leadership. The fact is that during 2009 my willingness to accept what I was told by city officials as being necessarily sincere came to be tempered by a mineral that had not been there before — jade.

When top city leaders give cause for distrust, it has a spillover, a trickle-down, effect, at least it did for me. And so it was that, when the Let's Talk Transit process began, I wondered out loud in my columns here whether the promised public input really mattered or whether it was merely window trimming for matters already decided or which would come to be decided regardless of public input. In this context, although I'd experienced excellent meetings during the Let's Talk Transit process, I continued to wonder if all of fine public participation really mattered.

Part of that wonder had to do with the route scenarios presented at this meeting. Notice the omission of Walker in any of the three proforma route scenarios, shown above. If 4 of the 6 working groups indicated such a preference, and if public input really mattered, why was it not included in at least one of the presented possibilities?

To answer that question, let me digress a bit. I arrived at the meeting early and had an opportunity to chat with with Messrs. Mike McAnelly, Rick Cain, and Michael Scroggins. I mentioned to Michael that, if he'd read what I've previously written he might have noticed that an underlying concern I had was whether the public input gathered from the Let's Talk Transit process would really matter when routes were finally determined, and that I was hoping to hear something in this last meeting that would allay my concern. His good-natured reply was, to the effect, "Well, if the meetings don't take public input into account in arriving at routes, we've (he and COTPA's staff) surely have been wasting a lot of time," but, of course, that answer begs the question. Without any doubt, COTPA and its staff, as well as those in the city planning department, have expended lots of time and money putting these excellent sessions together. But, the question remained, "to what end?"

My distrust was soothed a bit during McAnelly's presentation. He made it clear that everything presented during the sessions would be presented to the Oversight Committee, the next step in the process, including the routes submitted by all groups, including that a 2/3 majority of those favored that Walker be included. But, the question lingered, why hadn't Walker included in the proforma scenarios?

After the meeting, a final opportunity to talk with him occurred. After Steve Lackmeyer asked McAnelly several questions, I got my turn. I had written my question on one of those cards that didn't have time to get answered (thanks to those who circumvented the written question approach), and here was my chance, face to face. I've forgotten how the written question was literally worded, but the gist, and my oral question, and the rest of the conversation, came out something like this:
      Loudenback: We are told that public input is helping shape the placement of the streetcar routes. Given that, can you give one example of a route that would most probably NOT have been included but which was as a result of the public sessions? I understand that this is sort of a convoluted question, but do you get my drift? I guess that I'm saying, "Prove it."
      McAnelly: I understand what you are saying. The example is probably Walker — it would probably not have been included in the routes.
      Loudenback: But Walker is not included in any of the three models.
      McAnelly: That was a mistake and it was probably my fault. That a majority favor Walker will be shown as a public preference.
Without-a-blink straightforward honesty and integrity will win me over anytime, anyplace. With that, my concerns, above expressed, were dashed, and I am exceptionally pleased to say that I have no lingering doubts about Let's Talk Transit's stated intentions as being true. Trust is an earned thing, and, in Let's Talk Transit, I am satisfied that the trust is deserved.

My final comment and additional hope: Perhaps the good will engendered by Let's Talk Transit will have a trickle-up effect, as well.

Session 5 Postscript: Some at OkcTalk.com are questioning whether I've been too generous in giving a pass to Let's Talk Transit's sincerity in being devoted to giving public input to the location of streetcar lines downtown. There, Larry OKC says,
I appreciate your analysis but one question remains. If they used the meetings and the routes generated from those meetings, how in the blazes did they overlook or make a mistake and leave Walker out? Especially when it was chosen by 2/3 of the participants. I am afraid that I can't share your optimism on this. How do you know that "a majority favor Walker will be shown as a public preference"? How prominently will this be emphasized? Are they going to redo the maps reflecting Walker or is that going to be a throw away line buried in the report? As you said trust is earned and so far I think the jury is still out on this one.
And Steve Lackmeyer adds,
Here's the problem with consultants: no matter how smart, honest or good they may be, they still must compile what their employer wants. And that's where I'm skeptical. I don't buy that ignoring the preference for Walker was an "oops." Route maps aren't assembled like that. There was a conscious decision to ignore Walker, and I've got to still question whether McAnelly was being totally upfront in his explanation as to how that happened.

I've seen behind-the-scenes efforts by elected leaders and city staff to sway consultants' reports time and time again over the past 15 years. I've seen some consultants' reports killed all together (oh say, has anyone seen the Bricktown land use plan yet? How about the office marketing study commissioned four years ago by Downtown Oklahoma City Inc.?).

And there are people who feel that the Core to Shore plan was outright corrupted for political means.

So you've got to ask yourself this: what do you believe? Do you believe McAnelly and his crew did an "oops," are sloppy and either couldn't read survey responses right? Do you believe they traced the wrong line?

OR... do you believe there was a conscious decision made to ignore the Walker preference? And if so, shouldn't he explain more as to why rather than just say "my bad"?
To get clarification on the matter, I've left this comment to my own blog article at the Let's Talk Transit website:
I'll add my own comment:

After reaching the conclusion that I did following my conversation with Mike McAnelly (reported immediately above), some at OkcTalk.com remain skeptical that the omission of not including Walker on one of the 3 proforma scenarios was a mistake in one of two senses: (1) Merely an "oops" mistake, meaning that it really was intended to be included but because of inadvertence was not; or (2) a mistake for not including Walker given that 2/3 of the table participants in Session #2 thought it should be include, given that the stated aim is to represent public input.

It would do no harm, and would likely do some good, for someone from Let's Talk Transit to directly address the Walker omission from the 3 proformas, and I encourage that response, either in a comment here or in some other place in the Let's Talk Transit website.
All I'm looking for and wanting to do here is present is the truth. So, if my gut reaction when speaking with McAnelly was mistakenly taken for the truth, I stand, and want to be, corrected. Why not post your own queries or comments at at the end of my blog article at Let's Talk Transit and perhaps Let's Talk Transit people will respond and get the matter clarified, once and for all.

Another side of the coin is this: If Let's Talk Transit DOES NOT present Walker as a public-preferred route-of-choice to the MAPS3 oversight committee, my "gut" reaction will be obviously have been proven to be erroneous, and all of what I've said above about believing that Let's Talk Transit was sincere in obtaining and putting forward public input will have been badly mistaken. I still hope, and trust, that is not the case.

Incidentally, for those of you wanting to know more of Oklahoma City's trolley legacy, you might enjoy reading Trolleys Part I which covers the early days of trolleys in the city. I've not gotten around to doing Trolleys Part 2 which will cover, if and whenever it's done, the period of roughly 1911 until trolleys and interurbans ended here in 1947. Included in that article is the map below showing the city's earlier trolley and interurban routes ... click on the image for a larger view.

Credit When Oklahoma Took the Trolley by
Allison Chandler and Stephen D. Maquire (Interurbans 1980)

Color codes: Red=original tracks, Light Blue=later passenger
or freight, Purple=freight only, Green=interurban


JUNE 24, 2010 UPDATE. Let's Talk Transit has now added a 4th Option, supplementing the others presented at the May 27 meeting -- a possible Walker route.

Here's the map ...



... with my editing to show streets and mileage ...


On June 24, 2010, at Comment 7 to my last blog post there,
Mike McAnelly wrote:

We appreciate your giving five stars and positive comments for the Let's Talk Transit process. COTPA designed the process to obtain input from stakeholders and the public, and we consider it to be very effective thus far.

An additional alignment option that features a north-south alignment on Walker and Broadway, forming a “big loop” alignment, was discussed in the May 27 meeting. Recognizing that input, a new Option 4 map has been posted on the LTT website at: http://www.letstalktransit.com/meetings.

This option totals 6.14 track miles. In addition to the Walker-Broadway loop, it includes linkages with St. Anthony Hospital, Bricktown, Deep Deuce, and the OU Health Sciences Center.

As further analysis is reported to the Steering Committee, additional alignment options will be posted on the Let's Talk Transit website for public review. Upcoming public meetings will be announced and conducted as COTPA continues the Downtown Circulator Alternatives Analysis. Public input received will be presented to the AA Steering Committee, as they consider recommending a preferred streetcar alignment to the MAPS Oversight Committee. Citizen input and technical analysis will shape the selection of the locally preferred alternative. The Mayor and City Council will ultimately be the community’s decision makers.
Mike McAnelly is a man of his word.

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5 comments:

Walker, Downtown Ranger said...

So I presume COTPA is telling us there can only be one N/S alignment and one E/W alignment?

Doug Dawg said...

I don't think that was the intent, Nick. Keeping in mind that the group had 40 minutes to come up with preferences (I've already stated my thoughts about that), the groups were presented with 7 E/W options and 6 N/S options ... and each table-group was asked to come up with 3 preferred N/S and E/W routes.

It was not presented that the options presented were set in stone ... but to get some degree of order out of chaos the options were given for the groups to have something to focus upon within a small space in time.

Also, like I said, it's hard to know if these exercises (and that's all they are) are parlor games or if they have greater significance, and, if so, what?

In any event, the options were not presented in the context of, "OK ... we've narrowed the options down to those shown here ... what do you prefer."

OKC Second Time said...

Does anybody wonder why Walker was left off?

Doug Dawg said...

Like I said in the Analysis section, McAnelly said that that was a mistake for which he took responsibility.

Blair Humphreys said...

Thank you for the thorough reporting Doug! At this point, I would say it doesn't matter what is passed on by the Let's Talk Transit process, it has become clear to everyone that the public participants want to see streetcar routes on Sheridan, Broadway, and Walker - we just have to make sure that is what happens.

And I agree with you. Mr. McAnelly proved to be a man of integrity at the end of it all and stood up to take the blame (whether deserved or, more likely, not).