[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7ryAoebKJ0]As the Central Oklahoma region grows in population, so too, does our interest in a more comprehensive public transit system. In our Encompass 2035 survey, conducted in 2009, enhancing transit was a consistent theme in our findings. When asked what the top priorities should be for the region’s future transportation system, “improving the public bus system” and “developing passenger rail” generated the most reaction.

With public sentiment leaning in the direction of a more open mind to transit’s potential, and a better understanding of its social, environmental and economic benefits, we launched a process that would move the conversation from idle coffee talk to a robust discussion based on reality.

Last year, we initiated a Regional Transit Dialogue (RTD) to bring together public and private interests to collaborate on the future of public transportation within Central Oklahoma. The RTD is an ongoing process designed to gauge public appetite for a regional transportation system that places more emphasis on bus and rail travel.

One year later, we’ve wrapped up the first “phase” of the RTD. We hosted dozens of meetings of our planning team, four subcommittees, and a Steering Committee chaired by Oklahoma City Mayor Mick Cornett and MAPS 3 Citizens Advisory Board Chairman Tom McDaniel. All told, there are about 100 public and private stakeholders from all over the metro working on this project. At our last meeting in July, Shannon Entz, with the City of Edmond, explained the transit considerations and options that communities in Central Oklahoma currently have in place (video above).

Through this process, we have made recommendations on potential governing structures for a future regional transit system. We also explored funding opportunities. We discussed the implementation priorities, as well as land use and development impacts. And, we learned that we need to continually engage citizens and generate public support.

There are other exciting transit-oriented activities going on in the metro:
• In December 2009, voters in Oklahoma City approved a modern streetcar system and an intermodal transit hub study as part of the MAPS 3 projects. A separate committee led by ACOG has recently contracted with Jacobs to start the hub study.
• Last session, the Oklahoma Legislature passed HB 2846, which allows for the creation of Regional Transportation Authorities through collaborative efforts of cities, towns and counties, and allows financing provisions through sales tax and other revenue measures. This lays the potential groundwork for the recommendations made through the RTD.

A dynamic public transportation system will change not only how we move from place to place, but how we think about our time, public spaces and the future of our cities.

Transit needs to move in a whole new direction if we are to embrace the menu of opportunities that our greater metro area has to offer, now and in the future. As a livable community, we need to address the way that we move, for tomorrow is going to be here soon.

We’ll keep you updated on ongoing RTD and transit issues in our region.

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