A Complete Streets Extreme Makeover

Ingersoll Avenue is on its way to becoming a "Complete Street". The 6th Avenue revitalization project has identified "Complete Streets" as a goal of the infrastructure improvements. Beaverdale intends to remake a major neighborhood intersection to align with a "Complete Streets" philosophy. The City of Des Moines has adopted, over vocal objections of some business owners and residents, a general policy promoting "Complete Streets".

What is a Complete Street?

Bike-Friendly Street in Toronto: Copyright notice: This image was downloaded from Wikimedia Commons and is in the public domain.Bike-Friendly Street in Toronto: Copyright notice: This image was downloaded from Wikimedia Commons and is in the public domain.Beginning with the advent of the interstate highway system and the ensuing suburban construction explosion, streets have been designed with one overarching goal: to move cars as fast as possible from starting point to final destination. In contrast, Complete Streets refers to a roadway that is designed and operated with all users in mind - including bicyclists, public transportation vehicles and riders, and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.

A complete street is not necessarily urban. However, urban areas are inherently compatible with the complete streets philosophy - urbanity depends on density, layered uses, and interacting transportation networks. The idea behind an urban "Complete Streets" makeover is to consciously design and operate a roadway to take advantage of all that an urban environment has to offer.

A Complete Streets Extreme Makeover

Several weeks ago, I proposed removing a section of Interstate 235 that divides downtown from the neighborhoods to the north and slices through the heart of several established neighborhoods.

Ultimately, the city would be better served by a transportation network that links downtown to the rest of the city instead of providing a direct conduit to the suburbs.

UPDATE, 6/25/2010After a long discussion with my wife last night, I came up with the following clarification. I think the highway should lead to Downtown Des Moines as a destination by dumping out onto a "connector" that is tied to the street grid between 42nd street and the Capitol complex. This "complete streets" connector would be designed to do all of the following:

  • Move automobile traffic efficiently
  • Create a better relationship between downtown and the neighborhoods to the north
  • Layer transportation systems (pedestrian bike, auto, and transit) into a street that works for many different "trip types"
  • Promote more efficient use of the existing urban street grid
  • Take pressure off the streets that currently feed limited access points to the highway

But what would replace the Interstate? A Complete Street, of course! Let's see what that might look like:

Mixed-Use Complete Streets Replacement for Interstate 235: A potential design for reclaiming Interstate 235 through downtown Des Moines as a "Complete Street".Mixed-Use Complete Streets Replacement for Interstate 235: A potential design for reclaiming Interstate 235 through downtown Des Moines as a "Complete Street".

This potential design is 300 feet wide, an estimate of the average right of way consumed by Interstate 235 between interchanges. At interchanges, the right of way grows to between 600 and 1000 feet wide. The image below shows a close-up look at one side of the proposed boulevard.

Mixed-Use Complete Streets Replacement for Interstate 235: A potential design for reclaiming Interstate 235 through downtown Des Moines as a "Complete Street"Mixed-Use Complete Streets Replacement for Interstate 235: A potential design for reclaiming Interstate 235 through downtown Des Moines as a "Complete Street"

The breakdown of layers is this (starting from the center out):

  • Two 12' dedicated transit lanes
  • 5'-0" median/divider
  • Three 10'-0" traffic lanes
  • 8'-0" parking lane
  • 4'-0" bike lane
  • Street trees and pedestrian-scaled streelights
  • 9'-6" sidewalk
  • 60'-0" mixed-use building
  • 20'-0" service alley/residential access

Of the 300 foot right of way, 120 feet becomes taxable land, drastically increasing the city's tax base. It incorporates high-density transit in a dedicated lane - this could be bus or even light rail at some point.

As part of an overall strategy to reintroduce the street grid between downtown Des Moines and the neighborhoods to the north, the need for a limited access highway is reduced. A limited-access highway forces all drivers to converge on a few points at key times of the day, creating gridlock (which I experienced today on Martin Luther King Drive headed towards the Drake neighborhood). Not only were drivers backed up trying to enter the highway, but they were delaying people who simply wanted to make their way through the street grid to an adjacent neighborhood. Allowing more points of access and additional through-streets would relieve the pressure points.

As I have said before, I believe that highways are more damaging to central cities than helpful. Let's think about undoing this 50-year-old mistake and turning it into a place people want to be rather than a place they simply pass through.

Comments

This is a great post. As an Iowan living full-time in NY, I'm proud to see blogs like this, as well as some of the changes I see when I come home.

Thanks for creating a voice for a progressive Des Moines!

Ben | Jul 16th, 2010 at 7:07 pm

Ben, thanks for reading! Having grown up in Ames and lived for years in St. Louis, it has been neat for me to experience the positive changes happening here in Des Moines.

DMPerspective | Jul 17th, 2010 at 8:19 am

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