... is like trying to lose weight by loosening your belt.

So says a commenter on a DM Register story about the southwest connector now under construction by the Des Moines Airport. This is a great comparison because (though transportation planners will rarely admit) we know that widening roads and adding lanes doesn't relieve congestion. Rather, it encourages additional development leading to more congestion.

The following photo was taken on I-80 just east of Waukee, where the interstate will soon be widened. At 3:30 in the afternoon, traffic was at a standstill.

Traffic Jam on I-80: Traffic stalled on Interstate 80 at 3:00 in the afternoon.Traffic Jam on I-80: Traffic stalled on Interstate 80 at 3:00 in the afternoon.

As I wrote before, Waukee's formerly substantial rate of growth has plummeted in recent years. Even so, it is a fabulous mistake for current Waukee residents to assume that their "crowded" commute to Des Moines will be eased by expanding the highway. Scores of millions of dollars later, what they will likely find is that additional population and higher individual vehicle miles traveled will erase any "gains" experienced soon after the expanded road opens.

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A recent letter to the editor written by Jon Turner to the Des Moines Register in favor of the MLK extension project falls prey to several commonly-held transportation myths. I want to debunk these myths here.

Come to my Beaverdale neighborhood anytime during peak travel hours and try to cross Beaver Avenue at an intersection that does not have crossing lights.

Traffic control and traffic volume are NOT the same thing. The letter to the editor makes this common error of assuming that reducing traffic volume is the only way to make a street easier to navigate at rush hour. In fact, controlling traffic flow is actually easier than controlling traffic volume - one can plan a control strategy. Volume is a function of a variety of factors, most of which are outside the realm of direct control. What the author can control is his own travel path during known times of heavy traffic.

Adding streets and Interstate connections will NOT reduce overall traffic. It is a commonly known, though not commonly acknowledged, fact that new and widened streets do not reduce congestion. Ironically, they increase congestion due to increasing the total vehicle miles traveled. Until we rethink our underlying transportation system and subsidies for single-occupancy vehicle travel, road additions and widening will remain a game of catch-up.

Let's reduce the number of vehicles speeding through my residential area trying to beat the flow out of town every night.

The author bases his entire argument on the fundamentally flawed assumption that a connector from Downtown through I-80 will reduce traffic through Beaverdale - a neighborhood several miles west of downtown, with no direct street connection. It is just too big a leap to assume that any measurable amount of Beaverdale's through-traffic is people trying to save time by cutting through 6 miles of local streets to get to the northwestern suburbs.

The last time I checked, not one single person lives in the pathway of the proposed extension north of Euclid Avenue.

There are two separate sections of the proposed extension. One section cuts through a protected wetland. The other cuts through an established neighborhood. The author minimizes the impact on the wetlands area (not my area of expertise) and ignores the impact on the actual residential neighborhoods affected by the expansion (my area of expertise).

While there may be valid arguments in favor of the extension, I have yet to hear any that positively and demonstrably benefit the City of Des Moines.

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Last week, I took the following photo at the northwest exit of the downtown branch of the public library!

In Case of Emergency, Break Glass?In Case of Emergency, Break Glass?

So, you know that while I think the design concept behind the downtown library is somewhat intriguing, I am not a big fan of it as a public building. I believe that just like you and me, municipal architecture has a responsibility to be a good public citizen.

To residents, this means things not littering, stopping at red lights, and ending your 4th of July celebrations by midnight.

Public buildings have different responsibilities:

  • Respecting the street edge
  • Presenting a gracious and understandable entry
  • And perhaps most important, not trapping their occupants inside in case of an emergency

Though the entire facade (including the exit door) is made of glass, it is unlikely that occupants could break it in an emergency - it is three layers thick, plus a layer of copper mesh.

I hope there is a good reason for blockading this exit with a 2x4 from the outside but I can't think of one. While it is unlikely that there would be an emergency necessitating use of this exit, emergencies are by definition unplanned and emergency exits are not allowed to be blocked.

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Mosquito Alert

02 Jul 2010

[UPDATE 7/2/2010 - Funding has been approved by the Des Moines City Council for short-term resumption of spraying for adult mosquitoes. The spraying map (dependent on weather conditions) is available online at http://arcgis.dmgov.org/extmapcenter/mosquitomap.aspx]

As summer get into full humid swing, so comes mosquito season, and this year is set to be particularly mosquito-ridden. Due to severe budget constraints, the City will not be spraying for adult mosquitoes.

The city will continue to maintain the capability to spray for adult mosquito control if and when circumstances call for these measures, such as an impending public health emergency. In the interim, citizens are encouraged to eliminate breeding sites around the home such as stagnant water in birdbaths, gutters, and garden pots. Wear protective clothing such as long sleeve shirts and long pants if you must be outside during the early morning or late evening hours when mosquito activity is generally at its peak.

Anopheles (mosquito)Anopheles (mosquito)Two evenings ago, I sought refuge from the heat of our house (the air conditioning is out) by working on the front porch. My setup included laptop, Sam Adams (of course), pens, floor plan drawings to correct, and a heavy dousing of high octane mosquito repellent. Yet even with multiple applications over the course of an hour, the mosquitoes were somehow finding places to bite that I didn't even know I had.

Mosquito fogging is one of those quality of life issues that is easy to take for granted until it is gone... certainly the inconvenience of mosquito bites is less critical to public safety than, say, fire protection, but the little things add up. People who live near Greenwood park will be inside all summer - the mosquitoes are simply unbearable in that "neck of the woods" so to speak.

Note that in a public health emergency such as an outbreak of mosquito-borne illness, the City will undertake control measures. Until then, we just have to tough it out against the small but mighty Anopheles.

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The Census Bureau releases annual population estimates by City. The most recent (2009) estimates were released last week.

I pulled statistics for the Des Moines metro area and created a couple graphs to show trends over time. Here are the top five things I noticed in these graphs:

1 - The City of Des Moines has clearly turned a corner

Like many central cities that have experienced declines in population, the City of Des Moines is is now gaining population in absolute numbers. This is good for the City and good for the region.

Des Moines MSA Population Trend by CityDes Moines MSA Population Trend by City

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What I Read

30 Jun 2010

I consume the vast majority of my news and analysis in digital form. on a rare occasion (like when the Rehabbers Club gets press) I pick up a paper to save, and I do enjoy reading the Sunday version cover to cover.

Here are some of my favorite Des Moines online sources (in no particular order):

  • Des Moines Report - A relatively recent venture that aggregates Des Moines related news and commentary. I look for this one to grow over time and become a great one-stop summary.
  • Des Moines Is Not Boring - Promoting Des Moines as a fun and interesting place to live and play.
  • Locally Grown - Local chef/writer has great prose and insight.
  • Des Moines Register - The online version is great if you don't bother to read the user comments, which trend towards thinly veiled racism and general idiocy.
  • dsmBuzz - Promoting locally-owned businesses.
  • Living Downtown Des Moines - Personal blog of an active and engaged downtown resident.
  • Brianne Sanchez Blog - Juice Magazine writer living Des Moines to the fullest.
  • Our New Old House - Renovating a home in the Union Park neighborhood.

Check out these great blogs and news sources!

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Last year, I scooped the Des Moines Register (by a day) when I posted about the closing of the Mandarin's Beaverdale location. In that article I wrote:

This is a classic example of where not to locate a restaurant! The building, constructed in the mid 1970s, is situated perpendicular from Beaver so that none of the office spaces face the main street. Rather, they face the parking lot (accessed from Euclid, the side street). There is no planned pedestrian access between the sidewalk and the entrance to the Mandarin restaurant.

This design typology is symptomatic of the automobile era: rather than enhance the pedestrian experience and knit the building into the surrounding residential neighborhood, each building is designed to behave autonomously - as if the only way anyone would ever arrive at the building was by car. It turns its back on the main street, necessitating massive signage to direct cars into its parking lot.

Turns out, you CAN have a successful restaurant at this location - you just need to relocate a loyal customer base from a restaurant formerly situated directly across the street. El Aguila Real seems to be making a pretty good run of it after moving into the vacated Mandarin space. It was packed and steady when we visited for dinner a few days ago.

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The Des Moines Register recently published an editorial in part promoting the extension of Martin Luther King drive through a new I-80 interchange to Ankeny. In response, Michael Baldus of the Neighborhood and Natural Recreation Protection Project (NNRP.org) wrote a guest column that was published today.

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I just implemented Facebook "Likes" into the Des Moines Perspective. If there is an article you enjoyed reading, or think someone else might enjoy, please look for the "Like" button at the bottom of the article text, below the Comments - it will automatically share the article on your Facebook Wall for your friends to read!

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".

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