One of the first things immigrants notice when they arrive in OKC is that the metro is sprawling (over 600 square miles!) and that it’s full of cars—so how can you efficiently get around town if you don’t own one?
Compared to many other cities, you might think OKC has fewer transit options—but we’re in the middle of a transit renaissance that started less than ten years ago. Our city has many options whether you are traveling as a pedestrian, or if you prefer traveling by bike, bus, taxi, ridesharing, or train.
All of these new options mean that there has been almost no easier time to get around OKC without a car than today. You just might decide that buying a car is not worth the cost!
OKC’s transit renaissance
We owe our thanks for the new transit options mostly to the MAPS 3 project. This multi-million-dollar tax referendum was proposed by Mayor Mick Cornett after OKC was named the “Least Walkable City” and the “Fattest City” in the US. Those were not fun times, and OKC residents voted to improve sidewalks, parks, transit services, and bike trails. Much of what we cover in this article was made possible with funds from MAPS 3. And there’s hopefully even more coming—if voters say yes, OKC is expected to generate another $240 million to expand and improve even more streets, sidewalks, trails, and bike lanes.
MAPS 3 also helped fund a new $131-million streetcar system that will begin in late 2018. It will connect Bricktown, downtown, Automobile Alley, and Midtown. Two routes will travel almost seven miles, and the seven streetcars will hold 100 passengers each. We can’t wait!
In response to MAPS 3, OKC has experienced a boom in new apartments and condominiums, especially near Midtown and Bricktown. More people are choosing to live and play, not just work, in the city. In fact, if you’re wondering where in OKC to live without a car, real estate pro Allan Woods recommends Mesta Park, the Paseo District, Roberts-Crest, Corridor South, and Gatewood Urban Conservation District.
Walking in OKC
Walking is the most affordable way to travel, and is getting more popular across the US in general, as well as in OKC. Luckily, with hundreds of miles of new sidewalks in OKC, more neighborhoods than ever before are connected to schools and shopping centers, and many new streets now feature smart intersections with walker-friendly medians.
Just a few years ago, OKC started a Safe Routes to School program so more children could safely walk to school. SRS comes from state funds—Oklahoma receives $1 million a year to help cities improve safety and reduce traffic around schools. OKC has also joined the Vision Zero program, which seeks to achieve zero pedestrian deaths in the city through increased awareness and improved mobility options. Plus, OKC is building its new 70-acre Scissortail Park, which will connect downtown with the diverse south OKC districts (like Capitol Hill and Wheeler). Residents are already using the visually impressive Skydance pedestrian bridge to cross the Oklahoma River and Interstate 40.
Jeff Speck, the nation’s top expert on walkable cities, thinks that OKC is an example of how the US is becoming a more pedestrian-friendly country. He believes it is happening faster in OKC than anywhere else!
Bicycling in OKC
The increased attention for OKC’s sidewalks has meant a renewed push for bicycle travel, too. While you have to buy or rent a bike, it’s still much cheaper than owning a car.
Bicycling in OKC has never been safer. Just this year, OKC marked bike lanes and intersections downtown with bright green paint to increase cycling safety. Downtown OKC is also advocating for more crossings and better signage to help improve safety in the city’s growing Automobile Alley district. OKC has also used an advertising campaign called “Watch for Me OKC” to make drivers more aware of pedestrians and cyclists.
Another recent addition to OKC’s cycling community is a rental option that is great if you for those who don’t own a bicycle. Spokies is the city’s only bike-share program, and there are eight drop-off and pick-up locations from NW 10th St. and Walker Ave. to Bricktown. You can rent bikes for 30-minute increments (for $3.50), or you can buy two-day (for just $9), monthly, or annual passes.
As part of the MAPS 3 project, OKC built 12 miles of dedicated bike lanes, and the city is in the middle of updating its master plan for cycling and walking. Cyclists now have an almost 58-mile loop around OKC through trails and bike lanes. Cyclists are also working to get OKC certified as a Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists.
Riding the bus in OKC
Although not as cheap as walking or cycling, buses are still an incredibly affordable way to travel around OKC. Since 2013, OKC’s bus service has operated under the name Embark, and almost 25 new routes have been added across the 465 miles it serves. Embark’s website is available in English, Spanish, Chinese, and Vietnamese. The buses cover approximately a 10- to 12-mile radius from downtown OKC. Those routes extend north to Memorial Rd., south to SW 104th St., west to Council Rd., and east to Hiwassee Rd. Some of Embark’s routes also connect to the cities of Edmond and Norman.
All bus routes run Monday to Saturday except for the Midwest City, Spencer, and Lincoln routes, which run Monday to Friday. Embark buses run from 5:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday to Friday, while Saturday buses run 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. In addition, four routes run Monday to Friday from 7 p.m. to midnight. OKC’s buses do not run on Sundays or on certain holidays.
All those routes mean OKC’s buses serve a lot of people, and that requires delivering a high level of service to riders. Embark provides more than three million passenger trips every year, and its great customer service and innovation are why Embark was named the 2016 Outstanding Public Transportation System by the American Public Transportation Association. To make riding the bus even easier, the Embark Connect App on your smartphone and the Embark website both provide trip-planning tools and real-time bus schedules. You can also find tips and rules for riding—for example, each person on the bus is limited to bringing on four grocery-size bags and small strollers. A few Embark Plus buses also accommodate wheelchairs and mobility devices.
Embark even encourages residents to combine buses with bicycles. The “Bike N Ride” program offers a free bicycle storage area at Embark’s Downtown Transit Center. Riders can bike to the center, store their bikes, take a bus to and from their destination, and then ride their bikes home.
Fares for most adults start at $1.75 for a local bus ride and $3 for an express bus ride. Children age 6 and under are always free. Reduced fares of $0.75 and $1.50 are available for adults age 60 or older, those on Medicare, anyone with a qualifying disability, and youth ages 7–17. One-day, seven-day, and one-month passes are also available. Occasionally, there are a few days a year when it is free for anyone to ride the bus, which the city offers to help reduce vehicle emissions.
Ridesharing in OKC
In the last five years, Uber and Lyft have dramatically grown in the US, which means that riding in someone else’s car is now an easy way of getting around. More and more people in OKC are using their phones to pay for or work in the rideshare industry. You can use the companies’ apps to order rides and check for price changes during peak, off-peak, and surge price periods.
Perhaps one of the least-known rideshare options available in OKC is the vanpool service by Embark and vRide, which is offered to groups of four or more people who share a commute. You can even be matched to an existing group if you don’t have one. Groups choose between small and large vans, and each rider pays a low monthly fee that covers all costs except fuel. One member of the group even keeps the van at his or her house.
Finally, the oldest form of ridesharing is good old-fashioned carpooling. If you can find someone who owns a car, travels where you are going, and has an open seat, you can ride together and split fuel costs. Luckily, Get Around OK has a great website where drivers and riders can connect with each other.
Call a cab in OKC
Just like any large city, OKC has a healthy taxi industry. While a little more pricey than ridesharing services, taxi companies have more oversight and are considered to be more reliable. The two you’ll see around the city most often are Yellow Cab and Thunder Cab. You can book a taxi with a phone call or online.
Riding the train in OKC
Lesser known to locals in OKC are train options offered by Amtrak. Even though there are only a few routes, for some travel needs, riding a train may be your best choice. The Heartland Flyer operates a daily round-trip between OKC and Fort Worth, Texas. The 418-mile trip has Oklahoma stops in Norman, Purcell, Pauls Valley, and Ardmore, as well as one stop in Gainesville, Texas.
We want to hear from you!
As you can see, OKC offers so many different options for getting around without a car. We want to make sure your move to the US is as smooth as possible, which is why we love telling our clients that OKC is becoming a leading pedestrian-friendly and bike-friendly city. Embark’s bus system is recognized as one of the best in the country, an exciting new streetcar service is coming soon, and there are more ridesharing and carpooling options available than ever before. There has never been a better time to get around OKC without a car, and we can’t wait to see even more options become available as our city continues to grow!
Are you moving to OKC soon and have questions about getting around? Or have you already made your way around OKC without a car? We’d love to hear from you—comment below and let us know your thoughts.