Entry to River Bend

6th Avenue is the spine of the River Bend neighborhood. The intersection of 6th Avenue with University Avenue serves as the primary entrance to the neighborhood for much of the traffic that passes through.

6th Avenue at University: Entry to River Bend6th Avenue at University: Entry to River BendUnfortunately, this intersection is not very welcoming to either vehicles or pedestrians. It is marked by surface parking lots at the southeast and southwest corners, a Quicktrip gas station on the northeast corner, and a McDonald's drivethru (behind a three foot retaining wall) on the northwest.

This intersection actually misleads potential visitors about the neighborhood - though it cuts right through the center, there is very little on 6th Avenue that relates to the residential areas on either side. The sidewalks are pushed up against a highly traveled street (though there are curb cuts at all four corners!). None of the corners are "built" with pedestrian-oriented uses, despite the proximity to Mercy medical center that could provide a flow of pedestrians. Despite its current configuration, 6th Avenue actually has a history of pedestrian use.

This intersection should be high on the city's priority list to redefine as a pedestrian node, and as the entrance to a revitalized pedestrian district at the center of a historic neighborhood. It would be difficult to incorporate auto-oriented uses such as a drive-thru and gas station into such an intersection.

I recently had a conversation about this intersection with a neighborhood resident who had a different take on it. He said that the McDonald's was good to have at this intersection for the following reasons: (1) it was extraordinarily successful, as the busiest McDonald's in the Des Moines area, and (2) it demonstrates that a business can be successful in the neighborhood.

McDonald's built this sign and neighborhood entry monumentMcDonald's built this sign and neighborhood entry monumentPerhaps he is right. It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to exclude a use, particularly one that has been successful, relatively involved in the neighborhood, and generally appears to do a good job of maintaining the site. What does make sense is for the the city to plan for a more graceful entrance to the neighborhood.

Eventually, every McDonald's franchise must perform a major rehabilitation or rebuild. When this happens, it is critically important that there be a plan in place to guide the rebuilt structure towards a more urban form and the traffic towards a more pedestrian friendly pattern.

This is an example where a form-based zoning overlay would be an excellent solution. A form-based overlay district would allow the 6th Avenue Corridor to be "re-planned" as a pedestrian corridor without dictating the uses. A McDonald's could peacefully co-exist with other uses as long as the form was more urban.


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