OKC streetcar testing starts, testing drivers mettle

OKLAHOMA CITY - Time is ticking away until the city's streetcars will start plying their mass transit trade throughout Oklahoma City's downtown and entertainment districts. But the first stop, before passengers begin boarding the electric trolleys, started Tuesday evening as the first test runs began.

Oklahoma City's EMBARK public transit system began testing street cars and tracks in the Bricktown loop shortly before 8 p.m. and continued into the evening. Officials say the plan is to also test cars Wednesday morning from 2-7 a.m.

"What’s significant about that is it’s not testing just the vehicle but the overhead catenary system," said EMBARK spokesman Michael Scroggins. "That’s how the streetcar is powered for most of the routes."

And along those routes, drivers need to be aware. Construction of the tracks in the metro has already proven to be a folly for a number of drivers whose cars ended on top of the unfinished tracks. And for the tracks that are complete, drivers now need to deal with a new danger: parked cars blocking the streetcar.

"We’re going to do everything we can in our power not to hit a vehicle, we’re always going to be looking out, being proactively safe," Scroggins said. "However, the thing is if your vehicle is going to cause us to stop, it’s highly likely it’s going to get towed, there will be a fine associated with that, and we’re working through those paces right now.”

In certain areas where parallel parking runs parallel to the rails, white lines show drivers where their cars need to be to avoid getting struck by the tram. Mirrors -- especially those on larger trucks -- needed to be turned in to avoid striking the streetcar. City ordinances that need changing have been whittled down to more than a dozen, Scroggins said.

"We’ll see the definitions outlined and as well as what are the things we need to account for in operating the streetcar.”

Police telling News 4, as of late Tuesday evening, a number of cars were given tow warnings, but that no cars were towed during the first, slow loop of the pink-colored streetcar. However, drivers need to heed the newly installed signs showing where they can -- and cannot -- park.

"It will be interesting to see how people do, as far as leaving the room for the streetcars," said Janet McCauley of Edmond, who parked along the rail line running along Sheridan. McCauley said it will be a learning curve, not just for drivers, but pedestrians, too.

"Especially for the pedestrians, because the cars are going to be watching the streetcar," McCauley said.

Testing will continue through the summer with the system scheduled to go fully operational later this year.