Proposed Gathering Place Sidewalk Causing Controversy

Thursday, October 23rd 2014, 7:58 pm
By: Emory Bryan

A short piece of sidewalk is causing a big controversy in a neighborhood next to Tulsa's soon-to-be Gathering Place.

Some neighbors don't want a sidewalk on their side of the street, and they got the mayor to take it out of the plans.

A patch of grass on the east side of Riverside was to have been a sidewalk into the Gathering Place, but it's been eliminated, and that's raised questions about insider influence curbing public access along a street.

The mayor changed the sidewalk plans for the spot by executive order, overriding city policy, against the advice of the city's top traffic engineer.

Instead, he sided with homeowners, including one with business ties to the mayor; he's the landlord of the mayor's private office.

The decision raised eyebrows at the City Council, in part because they met with neighbors to go over issues.

"Concerns about the sidewalk leading riffraff into the neighborhood, the possibility it would bring a criminal element into the neighborhood was one of the things discussed," City Councilor Blake Ewing said.

The head of the neighborhood association said they're worried more about preservation and property values, thinking people will park on streets by their homes.

Steve Welch, with the Maple Ridge Homeowner's Association said, “Where is the parking that supports this sidewalk? Where are these people coming from?”

The city had designed a first class sidewalk for the historic neighborhood, with a brick retaining wall and three-foot fence.

Instead, a sidewalk that comes from downtown to 26th Street will dead end a half block short, forcing people to cross Riverside and go around a quarter mile detour to get inside the park.

"And we need that sidewalk, we really need it, and it would be ill advised not to do it when we're doing the other road improvements," said Transportation Advocate, Bill Leighty.

The mayor emailed a response to the controversy saying:

“This is simply a matter of public safety. I prefer to err on the conservative side of keeping people out of harm's way and that is what the leadership of the homeowners' association asked my administration to examine.

We all know that the speed factor on Riverside Drive could have a real impact on safety for those who might use the east side of the street.

The Gathering Place will have four options to use to enter the park area. I want to keep people on the west side where sidewalks exist today. People need enough room to get out of the way should they have to, in order to remain safe.

We're not talking about a sidewalk on a city street here. We're talking about a development, unlike anything the city has ever seen. We're doing everything we can think of in advance, to protect the public who will want to take advantage of this incredible new venue.

NOTE: Pedestrian entrances to the park include the Midland Valley Trail, the pedestrian bridge, and two land bridges that will be constructed over Riverside Drive as a part of the Gathering Place. Various access points will exist to allow pedestrians to the west side of Riverside Drive; including the 21st street Bridge, traffic signals at the park entrance of 2700 block of Riverside and 31st street.”

Leighty said it's nonsense to think a sidewalk makes pedestrians, or the neighbors, less safe.

"The way it's been designed, it's probably safer than 70 percent of the sidewalks on the city's arterials,” he said.

For now the sidewalk is out of the plans, but the mayor and council plan to meet about it again.