Our lecture series “Streets for People” has encouraged a dialogue about how streets can act as public spaces when they are not totally devoted to moving cars. The best example of this in Oklahoma is a great Main Street.

Main Streets in Oklahoma, particularly in the western part of the state, often have a right-of-way (ROW) of 100 feet. Depending on your point of view, this is either a blessing or a curse. Many retail-oriented urban streets are significantly narrower. Busy Asp Avenue here in Norman, for example, is 70 feet. This puts stores on opposite sides of the street closer together, allowing people to window shop both sides of the street and easily move back and forth. On the other hand, traffic engineers have been happy to utilize the extra-wide ROWs to keep state highway and major arterial traffic running without congestion. Designing a Main Street will always be a balancing act of many diverse needs, but it all boils down to providing for movement and parking of cars without compromising a strong environment for commerce and social interaction.

Towns around the state have used their 100 feet in a variety of ways. Even looking only within the Oklahoma City metro area, three of the most prominent Main Streets are configured in three different ways.

Along Automobile Alley of Oklahoma City, Broadway is currently divided into sidewalks, parallel parking, two travel lanes in each direction, and a center turn lane. While the sidewalks are fairly wide (15 feet), only 30% of the total ROW is available for people who are not in cars.

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Edmond removes the center turn lane and squeezes in more parking spaces with angled parking. Their sidewalks are 10 feet wide, meaning that just 20% of the space between buildings is available for people outside of their cars.

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Norman also maximizes the number of parking spaces with angled parking, and has a one-way traffic pattern that allows three lanes of eastbound traffic. Sidewalks are 15 feet wide, for a ROW that is 30% pedestrian space.

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Even though these three cities have chosen different configurations, according to the spatial allocation, vehicles (moving and parked) have the top priority in every case. It appears that the primary design consideration has been preventing traffic congestion rather than promoting enjoyable public space for people enjoying the merchants on the street.

Parking and vehicle movement are major parts of the function and economic success of Main Street. We must keep this functionality, but could we replace a portion of the travel lanes with spaces for other activities? One consequence would be that cars might have to move more slowly along the most treasured, unique, and interesting streets in our communities. Replacing a travel lane from each side of the road, at 10-12 feet each, could increase the pedestrian proportion of the ROW to over 50%.

What would you do with 20-24 feet of additional space on Main Street for activities other than driving and storing cars?