The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

November 21, 2013

Broadway trail? City commissioner pitches idea to carve out portion of street for Trails System

By Dale Denwalt, Staff Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — A city commissioner has asked engineers to draw up plans for a walking and biking trail alongside Broadway.

Ward 3 Commissioner Ben Ezzell’s idea would carve out an area 10 feet wide, either on the north or south side of the street, heading east from downtown Enid as part of the Trails System.

It’s also not a new idea.

Four years ago, city leaders mulled over creating a trail down the center of Broadway. However, the issue fizzled after the commissioners heard objections from locals and discussed its $450,000 price tag.

Ezzell’s proposal doesn’t yet have a cost estimate, and a city spokesman said Thursday that the engineering department has not yet been able to start working on the specifications because of other priorities.

The issue was brought up earlier this month during an informal but public study session between commissioners and city staff, where policy initiatives are discussed before being brought to a vote. Director of Engineering Services Chris Gdanksi presented initial plans to reconstruct Broadway from Washington to about 16th. Ezzell suggested that instead of reconstructing a road that might be too wide for its own traffic level, the city instead should shave off 10 feet from one side and create a walking trail or bike lane.

“If we’re already going to be redoing Broadway, then we would be missing an opportunity if we didn’t at least look at the options,” Ezzell said Wednesday.

The city already is deep into plans for trails south to Meadowlake Park and west to Garland, with a rough sketch of how it would look going north to Garriott and closer to downtown. That is, ideally, where Ezzell wants the eastern spur to begin.

“The west side of town has gotten a lot of miles of trail, and I think it’s our turn on the east side,” he said.

During the study session, City Manager Eric Benson said he was intrigued by the proposal and directed engineering staff to provide a cost comparison between simply reconstructing Broadway and reconstruction with a trail alongside it.

“Engineering may come back and say, ‘Look, it’s going to be obscenely expensive and here are the various reasons why it doesn’t work,’” Ezzell said. “But we should at least look at it.

“At a minimum, we should be doing a bike lane or something. An absolute minimum.”

The reason for Broadway’s noticeable wide streets could be that a trolley used to run down the center. The years have passed and there’s no more trolley, but the extra-wide lanes remain.

“It’s just kind of a quirk of history that we have the width to do it,” Ezzell said.

Previous plans to install a trail on the street would have split the road down the middle and left only one lane in each direction. In late 2009, commissioners were presented the option of lining the interior of Broadway with so-called Jersey barriers — the concrete walls that typically separate opposite lanes of traffic. It also would have closed off most of the crossing lanes east of the railroad tracks.

Reaction to the idea then was mixed. Some businesses were concerned that it could diminish business, while nearby property owners worried about the value of their land. Others were concerned about pedestrian safety.

This round, however, is too early to start lobbying. Ezzell has talked about it with his peers on the commission, but without a dollar estimate, the discussion can’t go far.

“All of us care about what the price tag is. It matters how much something’s going to cost,” he said. “It’s really hard for anybody to commit to anything, or get worked up for it or against it, until you know what kind of price you’re committing yourself to.”

Ezzell’s trail idea, much like the proposal floated in 2009, would connect downtown with both university campuses. To the south, the city of Enid wants the trail eventually to meet up with Vance Air Force Base. Heading west, trail-goers could continue along the commercial corridor.

That last mile between Oakwood and Garland is expected to cost more than $900,000 to design and build.

Ezzell acknowledged that it’s a big number, but said the city can afford it.

“If we can accomplish that length of Broadway for an equivalent cost or less, then I think we should do that,” he said. “The city is so financially healthy right now, we’ve got to be making these infrastructure investments now while we can afford to do it; because someday, we won’t.”