We need a Streetcar with a purpose

OKC Streetcar
OKC Streetcar at the Cox Center stop in December 2018

Let me say first that I love the OKC Streetcar. I love to ride the rails of any sort whether trains, subway or streetcar.

Especially OUR Streetcar.

When the OKC Streetcar launched in December 2018, I made a day of it. I took Edmond’s CityLink bus to downtown OKC,  walked over to Leadership Square and caught the tail end of the opening ceremony followed by the launch of the inaugural ride.

Then I walked over to the Library stop, caught the second Streetcar that came by and rode the entire downtown loop, which took almost an hour.

The next month, downtown for a Thunder game with my family, we parked near the Chesapeake Arena and caught the Streetcar up to Automobile Alley, where we exited and walked over to Hideaway Pizza for a pregame meal.

We then caught the Streetcar at the OCU Law School stop and rode it back down to the Cox Center, from where we walked into the arena just as the National Anthem was being performed.

So, yes, I love the OKC Streetcar.

But there’s a problem.

I have no reason to ride it because it’s a Streetcar that goes, well, nowhere. It’s a loop through downtown from Bricktown to Scissortail Park up to NW 11th Street and back down.

As much as I love the rails, our Streetcar wasn’t built for a commuter who would love to use it to get to downtown instead of to ride around downtown in a loop.

As much as people don’t like to hear it, it was built as a tourist attraction.

So, from my point of view, the OKC Streetcar doesn’t serve the population. You see Streetcars go by all the time that are virtually empty. The numbers recently released by Embark show that lack of ridership, although as it pointed out, the Pandemic did it no favors over the past year.

But we have the Streetcar and I still love it. I’m just trying to figure out how it can be made more useful to a commuting population.

For instance, perhaps there could be sort of a commuter lot on the north edge of downtown devoted to people who drive in for a big event like a Thunder game or Scissortail Park concert. They could park at the lot, take the Streetcar on down and not worry about finding a parking space.

Now that would fill an actual need.

My friend, whom I will call “Steve”, suggests a faster Streetcar and new routes.

“Speed and a spur to populated areas to make it a commuter option,” Steve said. “It just takes way too long to get around the segments.”

Thank you, Steve. A commuter option is exactly what it needs.

New routes would be a major financial hurdle at this point. But the Streetcar needs desperately to connect the OKC Innovation District, the OU Health Sciences Center campus and the Capitol — and NE 23rd Street — to downtown.

Someone please make that happen. Then we would no longer have a Streetcar to nowhere.

We would have a Streetcar with a purpose.

Ten-minute tour of OKC’s Grand Palace

The new OKC convention center looks out over Scissortail Park.

The first thing I noticed about the new Oklahoma City Convention Center as my wife and I walked toward the entrance Saturday was its proximity to everything.

To our left, directly across the street from the Convention Center was the massive Scissortail Park. Next door is OKC’s new Omni Hotel. The OKC Streetcar stop was just north of the hotel.

And to our surprise, we spotted Mayor David Holt sitting on a bench by himself outside the Convention Center. Naturally, we introduced ourselves and posed for a quick photo with him (of course) before walking on.

Now that’s proximity!

Saturday was Open House for the new OKC Convention Center, so I signed us up. Turned out to be an awesome experience, although not just because of the tour.

We decided we had enough time to grab some lunch before scheduled tour time.

As we waited in line to be seated at the Omni’s OKC Tap House restaurant, we spotted some long-time friends I’ll call “Brent and Valeri.”  We joined them in the outside seating area.

It had been years since we had sat down and visited with this couple, so we had a lot of catching up to do. Time passed, and before we realized it, we were 30 minutes past our scheduled tour time.

So, we paid our tab and walk over to the Convention Center. We faced a time crunch because Paula was scheduled to receive her first dose of the Pfizer COVID vaccine in 45 minutes, with a hard deadline.

That left us about 10 minutes to tour the massive Convention Center.

Remember, this $288 million facility was entirely paid for with MAPS 1 cent sales tax. It features 200,000 square feet of exhibit space and a 30,000 square foot ballroom, among many amenities.

And it has that new car smell.

So, we rushed to the entrance and were greeted by ushers who pointed us to the escalators. We went up to the third floor.

There we found a long balcony that overlooked the park and featured an awesome view of downtown.

We snapped photos. We turned around and walked into a massive banquet room set up with tables like the dinner was tonight. We took photos. We looked down over the entrance three floors below. We took photos. We poked our heads into a smaller conference room maybe 50 seats arranged around tables. We took photos.

Then we hurried out.

It’s a grand palace, but our mini-tour didn’t do it justice. The vaccine was calling.

We’ll be back.

Scenes from a park

OKC skyline seen from the footbridge across Scissortail Lake

I’m embarrassed to admit that Thursday was the first time I have visited OKC’s new Scissortail Park since it opened last year.

I had stepped on the grounds just a few weeks before it opened to shoot some photos of the new convention center under construction, but had not returned.

However, the park drew my son and me downtown late in the afternoon to shoot some photos of the OKC skyline and scenes around the park.

We arrived about 7:30 pm, and had no worries about social distancing. There were no crowds for us to negotiate, because we saw just a few families strolling on the grounds.

So, we parked in the boathouse area along Hudson Ave., and walked into the park.

Convention Center just east of the park

I noticed two things in what turned out to be a fairly brief visit.

First, the downtown skyline vistas are awesome. You have unobstructed views of skyscrapers immediately north of the park. And it’s spectacular.

Second, this is a great place to walk for exercise. There are sidewalk/trails around the lake and throughout the park that invite you to walk or even ride your bike. We saw quite a few families strolling in the late afternoon light, along with a few bikers. Plenty of dogs on leashes, too.

Our walk took us across Scissortail Lake on the footbridge and then around the south edge of the lake back to the boathouse.

Although the park is a good 16 miles south of our house, I plan to return ASAP and walk a lot more of the grounds.