Forum brings hundreds to dream up ‘a Better Classen’

A small group shares ideas for improving Classen Blvd. during a forum on Jan. 28, 2015. (Ben Felder

A small group shares ideas for improving Classen Blvd. during a forum on Jan. 28, 2015. (Ben Felder

Oklahoma City’s “urban highway” could see a transformation. At least that’s the hope for a handful of city visionist and hundreds of interested citizens who are dreaming up a new Classen Boulevard.

“This is the beginning of a conversation that, as we look forward to the 2017 bond issue, … this has the potential to change the game,” said Blair Humphreys, a local developer who is one of several leaders with A Better Classen, a newly formed group looking to make improvements along the six-lane roadway. “You have seen how MAPS has changed the game … how good, sound development … has the ability to dramatically improve the quality of life [in Oklahoma City].”

Classen Boulevard, from the termination of Northwest Expressway to downtown, is a six-lane roadway that serves as a major artery in urban Oklahoma City. Area residents like Humphreys, Jonathan Dodson and a few others began to discuss ways the street could become more bicycle and pedestrian friendly, particularly south of 23rd Street, which has become a barrier to those looking to cross from the Plaza District and Gatewood to Mesta Park and Midtown.

During a forum on Wednesday night, a couple hundred residents, several on bikes, gathered at City Presbyterian church a few blocks from Classen to hear a presentation from Humphreys and Dodson on ways Classen Boulevard could be improved, especially with the city preparing to pitch another bond issue in a few years.

The event began with an overview of the street’s history, which includes a streetcar line. Humphreys said the streetcar was built by private developers who were also selling homes in the area. Once those homes were sold, the streetcar line was neglected and eventually dismantled, leaving a wide street through the heart of the city.

Those in attendance were also asked to form small groups and come up with their own ideas for improving Classen, which included narrowing the street to make crossing easier, adding infrastructure for any type of transportation mode, landscaping and other features to beautify and slow down traffic.

Ian Carlton with the Urban Land Institute of Oklahoma said those ideas would be used to form a plan for Classen and more forums would be held. Councilwoman Meg Salyer, whose ward includes the portion of Classen under discussion, told the audience the process could influence the city’s creation of a 2017 bond that will include numerous infrastructure projects.

At the end of the forum Dodson thanked those who attended and said his hope was for this to become a model in future urban redevelopment projects.

“I hope this becomes the paradigm for how we redo streets all across town,” Dodson said.

 

Ben Felder

Ben is an urban affairs reporter covering local government and education in Oklahoma City. He lives in OKC with his wife, Lori, and son, Satchel. Ben holds a masters in new media journalism from Full Sail University and is an OKC transplant from Kansas City, Mo. Twitter: @benfelder_okg

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