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Rail: OSU students bridge the gap from urban to rural communities

Rail: OSU students bridge the gap from urban to rural communities

The High Plains Journal

"Reclaiming rural America" through the use of existing railway infrastructure is a good idea.

Oklahoma currently owns more than 900 miles of railway, which is not utilized to its full potential. That may change in the future after Oklahoma State University students Seth Slifer and Cody Klein won one of the American Society of Landscape Architects most prestigious student honors: the Analysis and Planning category.

The ASLA is a professional society that recently re-accredited the landscape architecture program in OSU's Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources, continuing its accreditation since 1985.

"There are about 60 schools in the ASLA, so the competition is pretty severe," said Charles Leider, professor and director of the landscape architecture program. "This is the first time we have had students win the top award."

Spending a ton of time on this project paid off for the seniors of the five-year program, as they were presented with the award in Chicago at the annual ASLA conference in Chicago.

Their topic, "OKRail 2025: Reclaiming Rural America," shows how a high-speed passenger railroad from Tulsa to Oklahoma City, using available existing rail infrastructure, could greatly benefit the geographical central location, the town of Chandler. While the project uses Chandler as its model city, the effects of a passenger railroad system throughout the state offers hope to many rural communities.

"Because of the convenience and affordability of automobile transportation, abundance of cheap fuel supply and available land use, an ever-growing problem of urban and suburban sprawl have created a negative growth pattern in Oklahoma and across the nation," said Slifer, a Kansas City native.

Slifer explains the OSU student project focuses on initiatives to create a more environmentally friendly transportation model, including pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods, alternative methods of mass transportation focusing on passenger rail and connecting major metropolitan areas devoid of the automobile.

After months of research, Slifer and Klein's proposal was on to the design phase of their senior capstone project, under the direction of the students' advisor, John Ritter, associate professor of horticulture and landscape architecture. The OSU students spent months on the design, finally reaching a conclusion with which they were satisfied. They submitted their project for evaluation.

"The city of Chandler will serve as an inspiration for rural areas in Oklahoma and across the nation," said Klein, a senior from Little Rock, Ark. "Proving that innovation and vision can revitalize small towns to their once-prosperous condition without sacrificing the sense of pride in community so many share."

Included in the plan is a design for the Ninth Street Promenade and its transit hub to serve as iconic structures for sustainability and green infrastructure.

"Bridging the gap between the eastern and western portions of Chandler, the Ninth Street Promenade is an elevated boulevard with bike lanes, prominent sidewalks, mixed-use zoning and locale for the multi-modal transit hub," Slifer said. "This viaduct creates a safe and substantial crossing of the rail corridor while enhancing the aesthetic appeal of Chandler."

The roof of the transit hub is displayed with an extensive garden roof. It demonstrates green technologies such as solar and wind harvesting, rainwater collection and storage for irrigation purposes and live roof plant species.

The 16-page report about the project goes into great detail to include an improvement to the housing condition of Dewey Ave. on the east side of the rail corridor, creating space for incoming businesses.

"This district will promote alternative means of transportation by including narrow streets, bicycle lanes, interior parking, wide sidewalks and bioretention cells to beautify the streets and collect and retain storm water runoff making them exceedingly pedestrian-friendly," Klein said. "This will not only serve as a means to reduce dependence on the automobile and oil, but also to promote a healthy lifestyle by encouraging physical activity."

Whether this plan is ever put into effect is yet to be determined, but Klein and Slifer have done their part to connect small towns to the rest of the state and nation.

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