The tone of discourse around street safety for walkers and bicyclists in Oklahoma City took a decidedly sharp turn Tuesday at the end of a group bicycle ride.
The violent death of bicyclist Chad Epley caused by a hit-and-run car driver at NW 16th and N. Classen Boulevard in March has solidified a broad spectrum of Oklahoma City residents into what they are now calling a “movement.”
Epley was a regular bike commuter that took him out onto city streets late at night to make his way home from his job as a chef at a popular restaurant downtown.
At the end of “A Ride for Chad Epley” that involved around 50 bicyclists riding as a group along N. Classen Boulevard from NW 1st to the Tower Theater at 425 NW 23rd, riders and around 100 more who joined the event at the end heard from several community leaders.
And, judging from the tone and substance of the speeches, there is now a stronger resolve than before to pressure city leaders to develop safer streets for everyone.
Local bookseller Ben Nockles, who walks and rides his bike to his bookstore near downtown, lead off with words of encouragement and challenge and used the word “movement” several times in his remarks.
“Professionals tend to think and strategize,” said Nockles.
“We need amateurs that are willing to feel. So put your heart out there if you will, and keep it out. It will require your vulnerability, but being vulnerable is what makes you brave. And what I see here this afternoon is a room full of really brilliant people. So be brave. Be really brave. Be Brave with your hearts. Be Brave with your life. Be Brave with your time and be brave with your actions.”
He challenged the thinking that streets are for machines only. “I’m calling bullshit on that one,” he said to loud applause. “Streets are for people.
Jonathan Dodson has made many appearances in front of the Oklahoma City Council to push for policies and investments that will make the city a safer and more livable city.
Most of those comments have shown Dodson to be as reasonable as he is passionate about the cause.
Five years ago he raised the issue of safety for those who walk and bike for pleasure and as a way of getting to work.
Dodson was concerned about Classen Boulevard, a street that runs six lanes wide from where it intersects the NW Expressway near Penn Square Mall to SW 5th west of downtown.
His focus then was on the very intersection where Epley was killed where Classen makes a curve and Western continues on to the north. It’s a complex intersection where pedestrians, bicyclists and cars mix daily.
For Dodson, it’s not just a conceptual or proactive argument any more. It has become deadly serious.
And, he is no longer willing to allow city leaders who believe that cars should still be dominant to wave him off.
“A very small minority of white, old men have dominated this city for too long,” said Dodson. “It’s time for that to stop.”
Organizing for action
At the end of the evening Dodson directed the audience to choose between four smaller groups they could go to for resources to make a difference. They were:
- Advocating for changes to the law
- Coalition building
- Entry to bike riding
- Learn how to raise hell
Before the ride began in front of Stonecloud Brewing on NW 1st, Free Press moved through the crowd of cyclists preparing for the ride about to begin.
Chad Whitehead, co-operating partner of Tower Theater, said that accessibility is the key concern for him.
“I feel very passionately about a city that’s accessible for everyone,” said Whitehead. “Whether you’re a child in a stroller or in a wheelchair, whether you’re in a car or just walking and everything in between…the infrastructure of a city is to create that for everyone.
When asked about whether or not she would ride on Classen, Tegan Malone, an avid, experienced trail and street bicyclist, simply said, “I won’t get on it. Scary. Too many cars. They go too fast.”
City Council members
Ward 6 Councilwoman JoBeth Hamon and Ward 2 Councilman James Cooper joined the ride at 16th and Classen.
Both bike, walk and ride busses to navigate the city for work and for Oklahoma City Council meetings.
Hamon pointed to some beginning efforts already under way at City Hall.
Cooper said that he was there “in solidarity with people who bike to work.” He recalled that in that very area the early leaders of the city made provisions for people to ride streetcars and walk.
“So, I know with the Better Streets, Safer-City [program], there is some streetscaping money available,” said Hamon. “It doesn’t sound like there’s bike lane necessarily, but there will be some better sidewalks at least for now.”
Correction: We originally said that “Stormcloud Brewery” was the starting point for the ride. It has been corrected to “Stonecloud Brewing.”