A mode less traveled
My name is Chase Phillips, and I am a resident of the Renaissance Neighborhood near 11th and Lewis Ave. I’m a husband, a neighbor, a transportation & urban planner, dog walker and avid nerd. I’m also a daily pedestrian and bus rider, who dabbles in bike commuting. I’m a pretty new Tulsan, having been here just over 3 years. However, I feel pretty connected to my new city and the many people and businesses that inhabit my part of town. I attribute this connection [SPOILER ALERT] to my daily choices of how to get to work and navigate the world around me.
There are many reasons why I choose to walk, ride, or bike rather than drive my truck to work. Sure, it saves plenty of cash, is an easy way to stay in good health and is just better for the environment. Those are great things, but they’re not my biggest motivation. What “drives” me is how connected I feel to my city because I experience it by foot and bike.
This may sound strange, but I genuinely believe the reason I feel connected to Tulsa is because I spend ~25 minutes every morning walking to my bus stop and riding a city bus to work. On the way, I get to stop by my neighborhood coffee shop (918- $1 drip on Thursdays) or grab a fresh, $0.70 pastry at Pancho Anaya. I listen to the birds’ chirp and have discovered that I really enjoy Redbud trees in full, spring bloom. I get to catch up on some reading or chat with one of a handful of bus riders that I’ve developed a friendship with over the past few years- people who I would likely never know otherwise. One of which, Allison, even gave me a pair of semi-precious, pearl earrings, hand-made for my wife. (Awesome, right?)
My commute isn’t always convenient or easy. It does rain in T-Town, though in 3 years I’ve come to work excessively wet only once (that’s 0.0013% of working days). It allegedly snows in Tulsa. There is the sun… oh the sun… but our unpredictable, Okie weather is surprising manageable. I do own a car (aka my backup, backup plan). So, on the rare occasion that something goes awry, I can adapt; a luxury that many of my bus-mates don’t have. The hard part about being a pedestrian on Tulsa streets has nothing to do with the weather. It’s my neighbors. It’s our car-focused culture that is largely unaware of pedestrians, our value to society, our need for safe and accessible infrastructure, and how difficult it is to cross any road at 5:30pm. Most drivers aren’t intentionally rude or careless, they simply do not consider pedestrians as a part of the urban landscape. They are not accustomed to looking out for pedestrians when they are in their vehicles. We’re treated like unicorns or that weird city ordinance that prohibits the boiling of skunk bones (it exists you just didn’t look for it).
Why is this a big deal you ask? Well, it’s simple. Every time I cross the street at an intersection (many times, every day), I get the same green light as the cars. Let’s say I’m going straight, but the cars are turning right (and right into my crosswalk). But instead of looking at me, they are looking left to ensure they don’t get t-boned. Usually things work out, an able-bodied person jumps out of the way as the driver hits the breaks. But sometimes they don’t. Still not convinced it’s a problem? Replace me with someone who is in a wheelchair, less visible and less able to dodge a car. Or a kid on her way to the local park or older grandfather who is just trying to stay active. This is just one type of hazard every pedestrian faces.
As a pedestrian I want people to slow down and pay attention to their surroundings. As a Tulsan, I want my community to be as kind from behind the wheel as they are when we’re talking on their front porch. I hope my efforts are changing people’s perceptions of why it’s so important to have a walkable city.
Until then, I’m still hitting our streets in my dress clothes and adidas. Because I have coffee to buy, neighbors to check on and a city to invest in.