The Grand Ballroom of the Oklahoma City Marriott hotel was packed with standing room only when the community forum hosted by City Councilman Ed Shadid began earlier this evening. he told me afterwards the room was set for 500, with an additional 100 chairs ready to go, and the additional chairs were added by hotel staff.
Ed had assembled the people who run Oklahoma City government — the chief of police, the fire chief, the heads of the planning, code enforcement, public works, and city utilities departments — to discuss the problem of sprawl in our 621 sq mile city. And yes, the evening was full of startling revelations. Here are my notes for the meeting.
It began with a presentation by Ed Shadid. . .
There is a connection between the built environment and public health. We have engineered an urban environment to eliminate walking, and it is evident in our city’s problem with obesity.
There are 15,000 miles of roads in Oklahoma City. we are constantly voting for bond issues to keep them repaired and build new ones. The old idea that the gas tax supports the roads is antiquated. Out of a recent bond issue of $500 million, $45 million is being used to widen roads north of Memorial.
China is adding 8 million new cars every year.
20% of car trips are work related. 80% are for other reasons. The average number of car trips per family per day is 15.
There are 16 million lane miles of roads in the united States. We need two trillion dollars just to fix the existing roads. Many households spend 25% of their disposable income on transportation, and in low income households, it can be as high as 40%. Transportation is the #2 household expense, after housing.
The next speaker was Blair Humphreys, son of our former mayor Kirk Humphreys, an architect.
the artifacts of sprawl are subdivisions, strip malls, office parks, scattered infrastructure. sprawl is not an accident, it was a deliberate design decision that was promoted in the 1930s. Urban planners thought that if cities were more spread out, more tires, gasoline, oil, and cars would be bought, and thus more people wuold have jobs.
The tax subsidy per automobile is at least $5,000/year. if the gas tax was raised to actually cover all of the road and bridge infrastructure costs, the gas tax would be $3.50/gallon. If we expanded the gas tax to cover the cost of emergency medical services/ambulances, pollution, and other automobile-related costs that are presently externalized, the tax would be $9.00 gallon.
The next speaker was city manager Jim Couch.
OKC has 621 sq miles, it is the third largest in the nation in terms of area. In 1959 it was 80 sq miles, in 1963, it was 600 sq miles. The decision to expand was made deliberately by OKC leaders in order to better control growth in the area.
Councilman Shadid spoke next.
OKC ranks 176 out of 187 in the Gallup Public Health survey. The American college of Sports Medicine ranks OKC 50 out of 50. Prevention Magazine ranked OKC as 500 out of 500 in terms of its walkability.
When a person experiences cardiac arrest, every minute before medical intervention reduces survival by 7%. EMSA (our ambulance service) costs $31 million/year, its average response time is 9 minutes. The Fire Department on the other hand has an average response time of 4-1/2 minutes. There are communication problems between 911, EMSA and the Fire Department so the Fire Department doesn’t know which EMSA calls are cardiac arrest and which aren’t, so the Fire Department automatically rolls on every EMSA call. This is a huge cost to the taxpayers and getting more all the time.
In the past 10 years, 167 pedestrians were killed in OKC, a number almost equivalent to those killed in the OKC Federal Building bombing. In 1964, 60% of kids walked or biked to school, now, only 13% do.
Russell Klaus, Planning Director
OKC has the same number of employees today as it had 20 years ago, but our built environment and population is much more than it was then. Most of OKC’s development is within 250 sq miles of our 621 sq miles. Since 1977, population has grown 44%, water treated has grown 58%, utility service area has increased 63%, lane miles have increased 300% — yet we have the same number of city employees as we did then.
Over the last 30 years, adjusted for inflation, personal earnings are down 12%, household earnings are down 5%. in 1977, the cost of city infrastructure per person was $663, now it is $958 per person.
Police Chief Bill Citty.
Police response time in OKC is 9-1/2 minutes. In 1988, we had 811 police officers. A dedicated sales tax then added 200, so in 1990 we had 1020 officers. Now we have 1040 officers.
There was a big decline in property crime 2005-2007, that was driven by the rising price of oil. Gas stations started requiring customers to pay before pumping. Before this, OKC police were receiving 1200 complaints per month regarding drive offs at gas stations. Now, the number of drive-offs from gas stations is so low it is trivial.
OKC does have one of the highest rates of burglary in the nation. He attributes this to sprawl — less dense development means fewer neighbors watching out for each other and more cover for burglary activities. OKC has 1.7 officers per 1,000 people, nationally, the number is typically 2.4 – 2.7 officers per 1000 people.
Rick Cain, public transit department.
90% of the people who ride OKC buses say that this is their only form of transportation. OKC is ranked 84 out of 100 in terms of transit access.
OKC has 15,000 miles of road. 1,000 lane miles of snow routes, 800 bridges, 78 miles of concrete drainage channels, and 43 miles of natural drainage channels.
It costs $3.5 million per mile to widen a street to four lanes and add signals at the major intersetions.
Marsha Slaughter, city utilities.
The cost of 150 feet of water and sewer pipe on the typical new-build lot on OKC’s periphery is $10,000. Water and sewer is the only city department that recoups the costs of extension of its lines from the developers.
Charles Locke 0- code enforcement.
OKC has 21 full time code enforcers, 4 part-time. In the fiscal year 2010 0- 2011, there were 51,000 code complaints.
Most of the crowd stayed right through the 9 PM end. It was obvious that many of the department heads were not used to speaking before so many citizens. None of them were booed, I did refrain from applauding for the code inspection chief.
Many thanks to Dr.Ed Shadid for opening a window on OKC government.