Progress or parking?

Dialogue may not have resolved this week's million-dollar question, but it became a solid building block toward working through a controversial situation.

This week Shawnee City Hall was filled with residents eager to hear and share views on a proposed Broadway beautification project. A recent onslaught of yard signs quickly revealed that residents had a decidedly-mixed set of opinions over the plan, which spurred the need for a community-wide discussion.

The proposal, though it has several improvements in mind — such as adding pedestrian lighting and a street design aimed at slowing traffic — appears to be receiving much opposition from one element in particular: suggested bike lanes. The idea is being rebuked because many homeowners want to keep their curbside parking.

At the meeting 17 residents (half were Broadway residents) chose to voice concerns, ask questions or extend kudos about the proposal.

By the close of the evening there was a pretty even split among speakers, even among city leaders — between those pushing for progress in the name of health, safety and economic development, and those dedicated to keeping their street and their routines intact.

In favor

Project supporters expressed excitement over certain safety issues that could be addressed with the changes, as well as showcasing the street in a manner that would be attractive to newcomers.

Starting the conversation, Fr. Tom Dahlman, of Emmanuel Episcopal Church, at 501 N. Broadway, said he and his family are excited about the project.

“I know the planning that went into it; I was part of those public meetings,” he said. “We're excited for what the future will hold, because we think downtown development will continue, the park projects will go well, and we would like a quick, easy and safe way to get there.”

He said Emmanuel Episcopal Church's parish has invested $2 million in a current building project on Broadway.

“We are invested and focused on downtown and on Broadway,” he said. “My family and my parish are planning on a longterm healthy and growing future here in Shawnee and in this community; my hope is we won't slide back.”

He said he knows how hard it is to have a new idea, to dream dreams and push people in a new direction.

Bella Dahlman said she lives just off Broadway and rides her bike to friends' homes, to church, the library and sometimes the grocery store.

“I get honked and yelled at all the time,” she said. “I was super excited when I heard there might be bike lanes coming to Broadway.”

Holly Gordon expressed a desire for safer streets for all residents, whether it be drivers, cyclists, walkers or those in wheelchairs.

“All people deserve safe routes and intersections to get from home to school, work, church, wherever they are trying to get to,” she said. “My husband and I purposefully purchased a home downtown, so we could walk or ride our bikes to shops we frequent.”

She said as a tax payer, car-owner and bicycle rider, she has shown up for as many meetings as she has been able to, and has only encountered positive and open dialogue between her neighbors.

“From all of the research that I've done, I've discovered the benefits of creating safer streets include: increased property values, increased spending at businesses and restaurants near those routes; pedestrian/bicyclists and automobile accidents/incidents have drastically reduced; community pride has increased greatly, people are proud of their town,” she said.

Carmen Wolf, moving here from a city of two million, said she has been thrilled to see what has been going on in Shawnee. Though when her family first moved to town they were not Broadway residents, when they heard about plans for the street they purposefully became homeowners there.

“I've lived in other cities around the country that have bike lanes and these types of neighborhoods, once you get in there and (experience) the feel of those environments, it's wonderful,” she said.

Cami Engles is another Broadway resident supporting the project.

“Projects like the Broadway project are very attractive to professionals who are looking to move here and invest in our community; they are also attractive to OBU students considering staying here,” she said.

As a member of the millennial generation, she said, “we value health and wellness, and I believe studies would support that professionals across the nation value it too, and would be attracted to places that support things like the Blue Zones Project.”

Shawnee's best asset is its people, she said, however it takes people quite awhile to realize that.

“To attract professionals and people who want to invest in our community, we have to do things that are immediately impressive to them,” she said. “That means things like the Broadway project, that would look beautiful, that shows them we are committed to making progress in our community.”

Larry Smith, owner of a local bike shop in town, said in his experience traveling across the world he has seen many towns with bicycle provisions.

“They seem to be healthy, wealthy towns,” he said. “Then we run into towns that have nothing; if you want a healthy, wealthy town, you might want to think about the bicycle progress.”

The towns across America that have provisions for people — cycling and sidewalks, etc., he said seem to him to be the well-off towns.

Opposed

The clear concern of the opposition by most was a potential end to the homeowners' ability to park on the street.

Broadway resident John King said he has grandchildren and great-grandchildren who come to his Broadway home and park along the street.

“When we have Christmas and Easter, and have visitors come to see us, they're not going to have any place to park,” he said.

He said it would also cost him money to construct another driveway, and he isn't sure where he'd even put one.

“I'm really concerned,” he said.

Gene Greenfield, a Broadway resident for more than 30 years, said he totally opposes putting bike lanes on the street, as do most of the Broadway residents with limited parking that he has spoken with.

“We are law-abiding, tax-paying citizens who have done nothing to deserve our street being turned over to Blue Zones,” he said. “If approved, we won't even be able to have something as simple as a garage sale, delivery trucks or service trucks parking in front of our house while they work.”

He said homes with limited parking will definitely lose value, if they lose their curbside parking.

“We're told some of the reasons for this nightmare, other than Oklahomans being fat, is because OBU students want a safe way to get downtown; I don't buy that,” he said. “But even if it's so, that's asking a lot of the residents to give up parking so college students can ride their bikes downtown.”

It's quite obvious the need is over-inflated, he said.

“I have a handicapped family member; she's a 13-year cancer survivor left with disabilities,” he said. “It's immoral to take our street parking and ask her to walk to her home from a side street in all kinds of weather.”

He said if someone (wrongfully) takes a handicapped parking space, it's illegal and they will be fined.

“I don't know what makes Blue Zones so special,” he said. “I ask you to do the right thing, put this in a commercial area and leave our neighborhoods alone.”

Cheryl Eichling, a Broadway resident for 21 years, said her biggest concern is what will happen at Halloween.

“I don't know how many of you might spend up to $200 for Halloween, but I do,” she said. “I will have at least 1,000 children on my front door; if you can't park there during the day, how are they going to at night — is it going to interfere?”

LaDonna Bryce doesn't live on Broadway, but as a real estate broker she is very much opposed to the plan.

“It will affect property values,” she said. “It may not bring them down in dollar amounts, but when someone goes to sell, their pool of customers will be reduced because the parking will be an issue.”

She said she would like to know if those who did the studies (that report property values would go up) are licensed Oklahoma real estate appraiser, because it will make a difference.

“Real estate is local,” she explained. “What happens here in Shawnee isn't happening in Oklahoma City.”

She said it varies according to the area in question.

“I'm all for bikes having their own place to ride,” she said.

She also noted concerns with some cyclists not obeying traffic laws as motorists have to.

Kay Wheeler urged city leaders to put the plan to a vote of the people.

Authoring a Letter to the Editor in the News-Star recently, she said she is opposed to the proposal on several counts, like limiting parking for the elderly, as well as hinderances during Halloween, garage sales and an increased in vehicles being parked in yards. The cost would be a waste of taxpayer money and justifying the low number of cyclists compared to residents are also problems, she said.

Troy Cook said on a recent trip up Broadway he saw no traffic, no businesses north of Highland; he said he doesn't see a need to justify having a bike lane put in.

“Frankly, I think the money can be better spent elsewhere to improve roads in other places to make it more effective,” he said.

Other speakers were stuck in the middle, saying the suggestions are a good idea, but execution would be tricky. While they said they approved of or appreciated the proposal's goals, they did not relish imposing a hardship on their fellow residents.

Another Broadway resident — also named John King — said when he saw the “insert bike lane here” signs go up he thought the idea was a great one, as well as the plan for a roundabout.

“I would love to see it at 25 miles per hour (on Broadway),” he said.

He said though he loves the idea of bike lanes, he can't believe the community can do this to a lot of the citizens on Broadway.

Nelda Ward, representing Broadway Heights, said though she appreciates what the Blue Zones Project, the Avedis Foundation and the city are doing to promote a healthy lifestyle, she opposes any plan that causes a hardship on its citizens.

“We feel that the bike lanes on Broadway, as they have been presented, that eliminate curbside parking, would create a hardship, a costly renovation or unattractive yard parking,” she said. “Other alternatives that have been suggested, such as just parking on one side of the street, median parking or parking around the corner on side streets are only only unrealistic, but are more than a little inconvenient.”

Property values, she said are another concern.

“Common sense tells me I will have to lower my sell-price in order to compete with a similar home which does not have parking restrictions,” she said. “It is our hope that other alternatives will be found as a compromise to this very contentious situation that is pitting neighbor against neighbor; perhaps something as simple as bike lanes all around town that are indicated by striping or symbols painted on the pavement or signage, that don't penalize automobile drivers or homeowners ad yet would create a better awareness of bicycle riders.”

Related issues

Glenn Peck, opposed to the plan and having concerns about cost and fair play, said, “if the Bikes on Broadway project continues (gains approval), I strongly urge all contracts for engineering, contractors, sub-contractors, vendors and suppliers only be awarded to companies outside our area to preclude any appearance of impropriety.”

Kimberlye Finch, opposing the plan, had many questions for the board.

“What are you doing about the sidewalks?” she asked. “I live on the west side of Broadway and those sidewalks were never finished.”

She said it's not safe on a lot of those sidewalks, so bicycles cannot ride down the sidewalk.

“What are your plans for finishing the sidewalks prior to even starting the bicycle lanes?” she asked.

Should the plan be approved, she asked what are the city's plans to address handicapped-resident access to their homes?

“How are you going to address that so they don't have to walk blocks to get to their homes? Or for funerals, holidays — what are your plans for that?” she asked.

Finch also wondered if home values do go down, would the city compensate homeowners?

Daniel Shaughnessy, in favor of the plan, addressed his disdain at the circulation of an anonymous “Did You Know” letter that was reportedly mailed to many Broadway residents. The letter showed various ties between several city leaders and citizens to local organizations that are promoting the plan — suggesting a conflict of interest.

“That's how manipulation occurs within our community, when facts are just kind of thrown out there on the wall to see what would stick,” he said. “Making innuendo in order to manipulate your vote or passion or emotion, into thinking things that you shouldn't be thinking.”

Shaughnessy said he has spent a lot of community hours with the people mentioned in the letter and stands behind them.

“I know that they have shown to me, over time, trustworthiness, the ability to make good decisions, and the hearts to listen to anybody willing to talk to them,” he said. “I urge everyone in our process when we are looking to change or elect individuals or do positive movement into the future, do not be manipulated by things that are thrown against the wall and then asking you to think something you don't know about.”

He said in order to know about individuals, and in order for individuals to gain your trust, you have to serve alongside them.

Though meetings and input sessions have been in the works for about two years, no official plans have been drawn up and no actual decisions have been made regarding the future of this project; another town hall discussion was suggested as a next step.

City leaders encouraged residents to remain interactive throughout the process.

Read comments from city leaders and information from Blue Zones Director Rachael Melot next week in an edition of The Shawnee News-Star. Also, see videos of the town hall online at news-star.com.

Watch for updates.