So I met a man on my way home after choir practice tonight along Northwest Expressway. I was in the right lane, going east, when I had to come to a stop, east of McArthur, by the Taco Bell and Golden Corral.
All of the cars ahead of me save one swerved around the obstruction, which turned out to be an elderly African American man, without legs, in a motorized wheelchair, just rolling along in the right lane of Northwest Expressway. One car was stopped behind him and another car had stopped in front of him to stop him. I pulled into the parking lot of Golden Corral and got out and took the pictures you see here.
Northwest Expressway is six lanes of traffic, officially a state highway, and in the 16 miles of so of its length, from where it starts at Classen to where it exits Oklahoma City, there is not one single pedestrian amenity. No cross walks. No crossing lights. No beware of pedestrians signs. No sidewalks.
He ended up pulling into the parking lot of the Golden Corral so I pulled my car up alongside him and rolled my window down and asked him where he was going. I couldn’t hear his answer (NW Expressway might as well have been a freeway with all the noise). I got out, we chatted, I asked him, “Why don’t you get in my car and I’ll put your wheel chair in my trunk and I will drive you where you need to know.”
He and I both thought this was a great plan, and he was able to pull himself from the chair into my car without my assistance. Lots of practice doing that since 1968 I suppose. As it turns out, he was in Vietnam in 1968, when he stepped on a landmine, and that was how he came to be without legs, in that wheelchair, on NW Expressway.
Our plan faltered however when I could barely even budge the front two wheels of his motorized chair. I can lift 50 pounds, but that chair weighed lots more. Time to back up and regroup. I told him, “I have to call the police, I have no idea what else to do.” 911 on the cell phone, ended up talking to the Warr Acres dispatcher since this little patch was actually in that suburb for a few blocks.
Warr Acres sent two police, one of them told a horrendous story about the last time he’d seen someone in a wheel chair on NW Expressway, she had been hit by a car and was not in good shape. The car knocked her all the way from the driveway along the west side of Golden Corral to right in front of the Church’s Chicken place on the far side of Golden Corral, maybe 50 yards? She survived, “just barely’, the officer said. How did she end up there? She had taken the city’s special bus service to visit a friend, but it was late coming back, so the bus went no further than NW 23rd and Portland. She had managed to maneuver herself all the way from there to Northwest Expressway in that wheelchair! How many miles would that be? At least six, and all of it is major traffic streets and not much if anything in the way of sidewalks.
They called a special taxi that has a lift for wheelchairs, the Catholic Worker house agreed to pay the $50 bill, and so all was well that ended well.
Except. . . what happens the next time he is home alone, bored, feeling restless, and he wants to get out and go do something. There isn’t an inch of sidewalk anywhere around where he lives.
I’ve been whining about NW Expressway for years. And I’ve heard some terrible things. One former ODOT employee told me that there were federal funds that could be used for pedestrian amenities along NW Expressway, because it is a state highway, but OKC and Warr Acres and Oklahoma County, all of whom have a piece of this pie, have never gotten together and demanded action.
Someone else told me they had written their senator, who contacted ODOT, and they told him, “We don’t want to encourage pedestrian traffic on NW Expressway so we’re not going to put in any pedestrian amenities!” Memo to ODOT: It doesn’t matter what you want to encourage or discourage, the pedestrian traffic is already there. Northwest Expresway, State Highway 3, is a pedestrian safety hazard, from one end to the other.
A lot of the people I see walking along the Expressway are kids. And who cares about those kids anyway? None of the kids of the economic aristocracy are walking along Northwest Expressway. Those are working and middle class and low income family kids. Nobody at ODOT or the State Legislature cares anything about them. As far as they are concerned, the more pedestrians killed along Northwest Expressway, the better off we are. That’s no doubt a cruel thing to say, but it’s the kind of social darwinism that is so popular these days among the Oklahoma elites. They would loudly deny this, but with politicians, you have to look at what they do, not what they say. It’s hard to deny that there are no pedestrian amenities along NW Expressway, and that people are dying because of that detail, and that ODOT has no plan to change the situation.
Our newly re-elected mayor is found of bragging about OKC and our welfare basketball team and our welfare rowing amenities along the North Canadian River and he also wants a welfare hotel and a welfare convention center downtown at a price of several hundred million bucks.
But Oklahoma City is also a place where we care so little about disabled American veterans, who have paid a very high price at the call of their nation, that we put them at risk with our deplorable lack of pedestrian amenities throughout the city — especially sidewalks — and our bus system. He wants to spend a hundred million bucks for a downtown transit toy for the tourist crowd, but he won’t support adequate funding for a bus system so that our disabled veterans can get around without running their motorized wheelchairs in the street.