Urban Tulsa Weekly: February 2009 Archives

Some linkage related to my most recent Urban Tulsa Weekly column about the innovative, grassroots-driven approach to solving the Pearl District's stormwater problem:

The Pearl District Association website: Well organized website with plenty of information about the neighborhood's plans for the future.

Guy Engineering's page for the Elm Creek Master Drainage Plan, which includes sketches of the proposed 6th St. canal and the west and east ponds. The master plan report itself (linked at the top of that page) goes into great detail about the history of the Elm Creek basin and the evolution of the stormwater management plan over the last 20 years.

Here's the Wikipedia entry for woonerf.

A Brand Avenue blog entry on the history of woonerven, which includes a summary of a study of shared streets by the UK-based Transport Research Laboratory:

Last year, TRL published the results of a four-year study on the new traffic safety approach. In simulator trials, researchers replaced road signs and white lane dividers with a variety of urban design elements: red bricks were used to make the road narrower, and trees, shrubs and street furniture were placed directly in the right of way. According to Parkes, traffic speeds fell by up to 8 miles per hour, and the speeds of faster drivers by up to 12 mph. The reasons are both counterintuitive and compelling, he said. "What we've been trying to do is make the roadway seem more risky by taking out the stripe of paint ... and by making the distinction between space reserved for cars and space for pedestrians less explicit," said Parkes. "Then the driver makes his own choice to slow down, rather than just being instructed to slow down in what looks like a safe environment." Psychological traffic calming has the added advantage of being more aesthetically pleasing than a slew of road signs and traffic lights, Parkes noted.

A New York Observer story about the city's "woonerf deficit" and how shared streets can improve a neighborhood's quality of life and economy.

A New York Times story about woonerfs and other alternative approaches to streets, such as play streets, bicycle boulevards, and swale streets:

One such street is the woonerf. Pioneered in the Netherlands -- the word roughly translates as "living street" -- the woonerf erases the boundary between sidewalk and street to give pedestrians the same clout as cars. Elements like traffic lights, stop signs, lane markings and crossing signals are removed, while the level of the street is raised to the same height as the sidewalk.

A woonerf, which is surfaced with paving blocks to signal a pedestrian-priority zone, is, in effect, an outdoor living room, with furniture to encourage the social use of the street. Surprisingly, it results in drastically slower traffic, since the woonerf is a people-first zone and cars enter it more warily. "The idea is that people shall look each other in the eye and maneuver in respect of each other," Mr. Gehl said.

Nick Roberts from Oklahoma City explains why he likes the 6th St. canal concept better than Oklahoma City's Upper Bricktown Canal:

Here [in the 6th St. concept drawing] the water just compliments the pedestrian path and makes it interesting, provides nice views. Instead the Bricktown Canal has the freeway mentality: the path on the side is kind of like a feeder road while the canal is the main draw. It should be the other way around..in fact I wouldn't be opposed to not doing the water taxis anymore, especially if they should ever stop being profitable. But I am still totally in support of expanding the canal through the downtown area. That probably explains why a lot of the canal-front property has never been finished, despite all the potential.

A related link: A Tulsa TV Memories page about the Brewsters, a couple who owned a beloved toy store in the Pearl District neighborhood.

Steven Roemerman is not only a blogger, he's also a member of the City of Tulsa Sales Tax Overview Committee, which is charged with keeping tabs on how the city spends the "Third Penny" sales tax for capital improvement projects. In that role, he's had opportunity to hear representatives from the Finance Department and the Public Works Department speak about the federal indictments for fraud and bribery involving two now-former Public Works employees and several contractors that do business with the city.

Steven has collected his notes and reflections on the Tulsa Public Works indictments here.

One section raised several questions in my mind:

I sat in a meeting with Paul Zachary from Public Works and he said, "We do not award contracts over here, we advertise them from here." The awarding of contracts happens downtown at City Hall through the City Clerk's office with representatives from Finance, Legal, and the contract administrators.

In one allegation, there was money taken to influence the awarding of a contract, but the individual who took the money could not have influenced who won the contract. As previously stated, Public Works does not award construction contracts, they only advertise them.

The second allegation regarding bribes for contracts has to do with the professional services selection committee. In that committee, one of the decisions they make regards who will perform the inspection each project once it is complete. It is preferred that the firm that designs a project also performs the inspection. Money was given to influence the PSSC to award the designer of a particular project the inspection job. I asked what would have happened if no money had been exchanged? Would that firm still have gotten the inspection, would anything different have happened? The answer was no because in the preferred process, the designer does the inspection.

If this particular set of indictments did not make any sense to you that is probably because it does not make any sense. It was really pretty dumb for money to exchange hands because the person who took the money really did not have the power to make anything happen.

First, it surprises me that Public Works would have no involvement in the award decision. At the very least, wouldn't Public Works be involved in evaluating proposals for technical compliance? The City Clerk's office can tell who the low bidder is, but they wouldn't know whether the proposed low-bid solution will accomplish the task and whether the company has the competence to carry it out.

Second, even if a Public Works employee didn't have sole authority to award a contract or hire an inspector, it would be valuable for a contractor to "own" a trusted insider who would have influence over the selection. You wouldn't necessarily need to bribe the entire committee, just one person with a seat at the table where decisions are made and with the credibility to persuade the rest. If Public Works were involved in some way with evaluating proposals for compliance -- and I take it from Steven's report that this is not the case -- then it might be valuable to "own" a PW employee in a position to disqualify competing bids or to ensure that your bid wasn't disqualified.

Another possibility is that the bribes were offered based on a misunderstanding of the process by the bribers. Perhaps the contractors made assumptions on the City of Tulsa process based on the process in other cities. Or perhaps the recipient of the bribes depicted the process in a way that made himself seem more important and influential than he really was.

MORE: I wrote two columns related to the Public Works scandal: The February 4 column, about the value of an independent audit of Public Works, as advocated by former City Councilor Jim Mautino, and the February 11 column, about the role of and constraints on the City Auditor's office in acting as a fiscal watchdog.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Urban Tulsa Weekly category from February 2009.

Urban Tulsa Weekly: November 2008 is the previous archive.

Urban Tulsa Weekly: March 2009 is the next archive.

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