The Good and Bad About the New OKC Streetcar

After much fanfare and trumpeting, the Oklahoma City streetcar arrived in Oklahoma City on Friday.

Naturally, the $135-million MAPS 3 project has been hella hyped on regular media and social media. But the initial reviews have been mixed. Although most seem to like the look and feel of our city’s shiny new toy, and the apparent progress it symbolizes, lots of folks have complained about long wait times and the slow pace it moves around town.

These complaints could be a result of the streetcar’s newness and heavy early use (ever been to a new restaurant after it opens?), or it could be a constant issue that will leave some city naysayers who questioned the viability of a streetcar or its service route tweeting “Told you so.”

Either way, I took the loop around the circuit to see what all the hype and fuss was about. Here’s my breakdown:

8:25pm

I met up with a friend at R&J’s for a pre-streetcar drink. I invited him because he’s an architect by trade, and able to break down city planning on a level that makes sense to a rube like me. We had a quick drink and then walked to the nearest stop, which was across from Fassler Hall. It was kinda strange that most of the other stops were labeled for public landmarks (such as, ‘LAW SCHOOL,’ or ‘ARENA’), but this one was named ‘THE COLLECTIVE,’ which is a food court that isn’t even open yet. EMBARK’s bread has been buttered here by sponsors, but it’s a bit confusing for now, since it’s a stop for a business that doesn’t exist.

There were about half a dozen folks lined up to ride, and a good crowd inside. Once we started going, the first observation I made was that all the ‘stop-I-want-to-get-off’ buttons are stretched really far apart. They don’t matter, however, because the beast grinds to a halt at every single stop. But it’s easy to see their use.

8:36pm

We got off the car at the ‘Bricktown’ stop (even though there were several other stops in that district, only the spot right across from Henry Hudsons got the official designation) and walked over to my favorite hidden bar, which I must keep secret so it maintains its vibe. The plan was to get one beer in that area, then take the streetcar up to Automobile Alley and hit up one of the breweries. As it turned out, there was a 20 minute wait for the next streetcar, so that kinda crushed our plans since all the breweries close at 10pm on weeknights. We could have likely walked and made it in time, but I’m not here to write a story about walking downtown this week.

9:43pm

After getting a beer at the secret bar and walking to the Mickey Mantle platform (the only other seemingly sponsored streetcar stop), then waiting for the next ride, we were finally back in motion. It turns out you gotta spend a lot of time on the streetcar to do a whole loop. The dang thing makes stops every other city block. Also, it only moves in one direction, so if you miss your stop, be prepared to walk, or wait forever.

10:42pm:  Automobile Alley

We probably could have walked back to our starting point in this time period, yet an hour somehow passed.  Since we missed out on visiting one of the breweries by a good 45 minutes, we walked to Ludivine, had a cocktail, discussed our experience, and called the night quits.

In summary, here’s what we determined the streetcar does well:

It funnels lots and lots of people in a clockwise direction. Ideally, it will get people who never, ever, ever think about going anywhere outside of their SUV’s using public transit, since it’s bright and shiny and new. Eventually, those people might love utilizing buses and trains and bikes and Birds and all sorts of wild things that aren’t cars.

Here’s what the streetcar doesn’t do so well:

The streetcar is apparently glitchy about announcing stops on the LED screens and overhead speaker, which is no bueno for seeing/hearing impaired individuals, or even just drunk bros traveling the line late at night. It also only moves in one direction, and takes forever to get around. So if where you needed to go was just a few blocks away, it might take you an hour to circle back around again.

There’s plenty of reasons why you will choose to ride or not ride the OKC streetcar. But it’s free for the next few weeks, so you might as well check it out for yourself. Although it was a pretty slow way to get around, there’s a certain big city-feel that comes with riding around on it. Take a cue from the Quad City DJ’s: