The house was packed Monday for a much-publicized Transportation Town Hall held by the Stillwater City Council.
Mayor Will Joyce and the other city councilors were excited to see so many people turn out to give their perspectives on an expensive and often divisive area of city services.
City Engineering Director Monty Karns started the meeting with a historical overview of the city’s streets, going back to the days when State Highway 51 was the only paved road running east and west through town, McElroy Road was gravel and adjacent property owners were expected to pay for it if they wanted their residential streets paved. But there was also much talk of the need to plan for the city’s future and a fair number of residents who questioned why the city isn’t fixing their neighborhood streets and sidewalks right now.
The short answer when you ask why almost anything isn’t being taken care of is usually “money” and Stillwater’s inventory of what speaker Richard Buchanan called “the long-suffering, pot hole-afflicted and riddled streets that we, the majority, have to use every day with our vehicles,” is no exception.
Buchanan said larger arterial streets get more attention because greater numbers of cars drive on them but he thinks neighborhood streets should get more attention than they do because local residents use them more often. He urged the priorities be switched.
He also questioned the city’s emphasis in recent years on including wide multi-use paths for bicycles and pedestrians in major road projects, especially in areas like Western Road near Stillwater Regional Airport, that don’t currently seem to have large numbers of pedestrians or bicycles.
He urged city leaders to re-evaluate projects that have significant bicycle and pedestrian components, saying he believes it’s the result of input from a small but vocal group.
He also questioned the need to widen the airport access road to four lanes, saying he finds it hard to believe four lanes are necessary to serve the airport at its current capacity.
“It even begs economic rationality,” Buchanan said.
At least one other resident questioned the need for bicycle and pedestrian trails.
Joyce responded to Buchanan’s comments by saying he wants to plan for the future.
“Three flights a day is not our goal for that,” he said of Stillwater Regional Airport’s commercial air service.
Plans are already underway to improve and expand Stillwater Regional Airport and the long-term vision is to eventually add flights to a second hub.
Robert Campbell said the area of town where he lives doesn’t have sidewalks. The city needs to think really strongly about priorities like safety, schools, and future growth, he said.
He considers retail street growth to be essential to the success and profitability of businesses, especially in the downtown area. That business success generates tax revenues and increases the city’s ability to pay for the things residents need, he said.
Yuki Clarke is a Stillwater resident working on a plan for a countywide mass transit system, who appeared to advocate for pedestrians. She doesn’t drive and she says that gives her a different perspective on the city.
“I see the streets on a surface, human level,” she said.
A previous speaker had expressed concerns about the phasing of traffic lights in Stillwater. Clarke said pedestrian lights are also not phased well. The crossing signals on North Perkins Road, an area with a large amount of traffic and a high student population, take so long that they encourage jaywalking because people get tired of waiting.
“And a car might be there,” she said. “Cars beat squishing things if they get hit.”
She also drew attention to sidewalks that suddenly end or jump to the opposite side of the street, forcing pedestrians to cross, even on busy thoroughfares like Boomer and McElroy roads. There usually aren’t crosswalks to make that safer and people literally have to run across the road, she said.
Dr. Amy Hardin, a pediatrician with Stillwater Medical, said she has been trying to get a bus stop in front of the medical offices at 1201 S. Adams Street but everyone she talks to identifies a different entity as the responsible party. She said she started with the hospital, tried the City of Stillwater, then tried OSU. The closest bus stop is east of the Stillwater Public Library and that distance is a problem for her patients who have small children and don’t have access to reliable transportation.
One mother often has to take her child to an urgent care facility for routine care because she can get there more easily.
“I just want a bus stop,” Hardin said.
City Councilor John Wedlake, a neurologist at Stillwater Medical, said he sees the same problems in his practice.
He has patients who show up an hour late and apologize because they had to walk to his office on 12th Avenue.
Alice Richardson addressed a city plan to widen Western Road to four lanes between State Highway 51 and 12th Avenue that has been part of the City of Stillwater’s comprehensive plan and the Stillwater Transportation Enhancement Plan for years.
Richardson has in the 1000 block of Western for almost 50 years and said she has seen little change in the neighborhood over that time. She characterized it as a high-quality, stable, middle-income neighborhood and said it would be too expensive for the city to buy enough right of way to widen the street that passes through.
The city’s own transportation plan says projects that require excessive purchasing of homes and businesses should be avoided, she said. She conceded that a third lane for turns could be useful at 9th Avenue and said she isn’t as concerned about adding one because she believes the city already owns more right of way than Western Road’s current two lane design requires.
No action was taken but the Council thanks all the residents for their participation. The meeting drew 21 speakers for public comment.