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Crash Spotlights Need for Sidewalks, Crosswalks in Oklahoma City

A 66-year-old Oklahoma City resident was critically injured in early January when he was struck by a school bus as he crossed the street in a motorized wheelchair near NW 50th and Portland. News 9 reported that the collision is prompting calls for more sidewalks and crosswalks.

Residents told the station that the area is one of the city’s worst places for traffic crashes and pedestrian accidents. Elderly people traveling from a senior center to the Deaconess Hospital are at particular risk because they must cross a busy street that lacks a crosswalk.

The concern over the lack of sidewalks and crosswalks is not new. In 2009, a 35-year-old woman was struck and killed by an SUV as she crossed North Kelley Avenue in her wheelchair. The crash led to a flurry of news coverage, and citizens agreed that Oklahoma City needed more safe places for disabled people, bikers and pedestrians to cross intersections and travel along busy streets.

Now, three years later, the discussion remains largely the same. Sidewalks and crosswalks are lacking all around Oklahoma City, and leaders are pushing to construct more of them. The ambitious Project 180 will add and expand sidewalks and crosswalks primarily in the downtown area. The project is intended to beautify downtown Oklahoma City and provide pedestrian amenities like wider sidewalks and street-side planters.

Oklahoma City improved its roads and streets during a massive push to increase its traffic capacity in 2007. The recent accident demonstrates how sidewalk and crosswalk construction has not kept pace.

However, city leaders are receiving a boost of funding to build crosswalks, sidewalks, bike paths, transit systems and other improvements because of MAPS 3, a local tax levy to make the city safer, more accessible and attractive to businesses.

In a recent year, 62 pedestrians were killed in traffic accidents in Oklahoma. The state also has a high rate of drunk and impaired driving fatalities each year. About a third of fatal Oklahoma crashes are caused by impaired drivers, according to the Century Council, a distillers’ group.

Oklahoma City is known for its great bar scene. It won a dubious distinction when Men’s Health Magazine listed it among America’s drunkest cities due to the rate of death from liver disease, percentage of binge drinkers, numbers of DUI fatalities and lax drunk-driving laws.  On the other side of the coin, Oklahoma City is a fitness-minded community, and sidewalks and bike paths are a must for people who jog, bicycle or walk for their health.

As Oklahoma City, Norman, Tulsa, and other Oklahoma communities grow, the demand for traffic safety will only increase. Oklahoma City in particular bills itself as a great place for businesses to locate because of affordable luxury, a brainy population, tasty tap water and other features. However, to gain the trust and investment of newcomers and natives alike, city leaders need to make sure that pedestrians have safe access to sidewalks, crosswalks and intersections.

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