A Des Moines Register article today reports that the the Ingersoll fiasco bike lane addition left automobile travel times essentially unchanged. Not only is the street now more accessible to bicyclists, but it was done without substantially impacting automobile travel.

Commute times on Ingersoll Avenue have changed little since traffic lanes were reconfigured, according to city traffic studies...

In the worst case, travel times increased roughly 20 seconds for westbound motorists traveling between Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway and 42nd Street during the afternoon rush hour, said Gary Fox, the city's traffic engineer. There were essentially no changes overall and slight improvements in midday vehicle travel times, he added.

Um, yeah. I probably could have told you that without a GPS-outfitted car, but such technology makes the conclusion a little more believable to the naysayers. Perhaps.

UPDATE, 6/30/2010: A reader who lives just off Ingersoll and commutes every day on the street notes that her commute time has actually decreased!

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[UPDATE 7/4/2010: Voting is over - we ended up in sixth place. Thank you to everyone for their help!]

Victorian Home in Danger of Demolition: This home is on the City's "Public Nuisance" list and may be demolished if deficiencies are not corrected in a timely manner.Victorian Home in Danger of Demolition: This home is on the City's "Public Nuisance" list and may be demolished if deficiencies are not corrected in a timely manner.The Des Moines Rehabbers Club is a loose affiliation of people with a common interest in renovation, preservation, and maintenance of Des Moines' historic buildings.

The group is in the running for a $1000 grant through the "Dream Big Grow Here" project of MyEntre.net. MyEntre.net is an entrepreneurship development system consisting of an online social network and free web-based entrepreneurial resources, coupled with collaboratively driven services and capital for entrepreneurs in Iowa.

The $1000 grant will be awarded to the top vote getter each month. You can help out by voting daily and getting your friends to vote, too. Voting opens June 16 and closes June 30, 2010

Send an email to steve@renovatedsm.com to be included on a daily reminder list.

The Des Moines Rehabbers Club will use the grant to incorporate as a sustainable organization, sponsor additional events throughout the year, and hopefully send two (or more if there is enough left) members to Lead-Safe Work Practices trainings.

Thanks for your help!

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The online forums are filled with people complaining about the new bike lanes on Ingersoll. People who claim to have previously shopped at stores on Ingersoll are boasting that they have "taken their business" to West Des Moines because of the new bike lanes and will "never drive down Ingersoll again. (My guess is those people never did a whole lot of shopping on Ingersoll to begin with).

Mars Cafe Bike Night PosterMars Cafe Bike Night PosterThe hills are alive with extreme claims that the bike lanes will be the end of business on Ingersoll.

If they are concerned about business falling off, businesses on Ingersoll should take a page from Mars Cafe's brilliant playbook and embrace the bike culture. Every Tuesday evening is "Bike Night" at Mars Cafe - riding a bike there gets you drink specials and happy hour prices all night long if you come with a group.

Here are some other ideas for Ingersoll businesses to take advantage of the transportation upgrade:

  1. Biker Specials - Copy Mars Cafe and offer discounts to patrons who arrive on two wheels.
  2. Bike Festival / Bike Show - Collaborate with local bike shops to host an annual Bike Show and kid-friendly Bike Parade.
  3. Bike Race - Host an annual bike race up the 42nd Street hill.
  4. Pre-RAGBRAI Bar Crawl - Bikers, get ready for RAGBRAI! Ingersoll Bars could host a pre-RAGBRAI bar crawl, where each bar represents one of the overnight towns.

What other events or promotions could build on the new bike lane asset?

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Last week, I posted a proposal to convert Interstate 235 from 42nd Street to East 14th Street into a boulevard. One of the reasons a project like this could benefit the city is by reclaiming vast amounts of unproductive land as taxable property.

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Just to make it clear, we're not always nitpicky and negative. Lots of good things happen, too!

You may have noticed Redbox DVD vending machines popping up at local Kum and Go stores. Let's hope these ubiquitous red retail robots follow Asimov's three laws - if not, we are all in trouble. There are now six or seven within biking distance of my house! Between Hulu, Netflix, and Redbox it is not hard at all to ditch cable, unless, of course you are a diehard sports fan. Oh, yeah, and don't forget the silly kitty videos on YouTube.

Anyways, in honor of this new distribution agreement, Kum and Go is offering a FREE Redbox rental between June 14 and June 21, 2010.

Free Redbox Coupon: Kum and Go is offering a FREE Redbox rental between June 14 and June 21, 2010.Free Redbox Coupon: Kum and Go is offering a FREE Redbox rental between June 14 and June 21, 2010.

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Comments are Working

10 Jun 2010

Thank you to the reader who alerted me that the comment submission form was broken. It's now fixed and you are encouraged to post comments!

Interestingly, after posting the article today about removing the downtown portion of I-235 in order to promote development and reconnect downtown to the rest of the city, I received the following announcement. Local funding for the environmental impact study of the proposed north-south connector extending MLK to I-80 has been pulled, jeopardizing the project!

The MLK extension is a good idea from only one point of view: that of an Ankeny resident who works downtown. From just about every other perspective, it is a horrible plan.

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Across the country, cities are looking for ways to reverse decades-old planning decisions that facilitated decline of their downtowns and surrounding neighborhoods. Some of the most brilliant and innovative projects are those that stitch together neighborhoods torn apart by the construction of interstate highways. Yes, some particularly progressive cities are actually removing interstate highways!

This approach seems counter intuitive to many people. Many Americans have grown up knowing no other option for moving people through a city or between cities. Indeed, as a means of moving a steady flow of individuals and goods across great distances to decentralized locations, the Interstate was a wonderful experiment. Intercity travel has become simple and relatively fast.

Within cities, however, we have found quite the opposite. It was assumed by early planners that adding limited access highways as another layer in a complex transportation system would facilitate easy travel. Unlike previous transportation innovations, the limited access highway has never been adequately incorporated into a healthy urban environment.

It is time to reconsider this experiment.

The Proposal

What if Des Moines were to remove I-235 from 42nd Street to East 14th? What if we converted the limited-access highway that currently divides downtown from the surrounding neighborhoods into a six-lane boulevard with integrated public transportation and lined with appropriate retail/residential and commercial development?

42nd Street marks a change in the character of the neighborhoods that surround the highway. East of 42nd, it is clear that the highway sliced through established residential neighborhoods. West of 42nd, the underlying development pattern is not disrupted to the same extent.

On the east, it is clear that any fundamental transportation planning initiative should include the Capitol complex, the river, and Downtown proper.

And yet, we should also dream big... This could be the start of a larger project to convert the highway all the way through the Fairgrounds/University exit (or beyond) on the east.

I-235 Study Area: Proposed study area for conversion from limited access interstate highway to urban boulevardI-235 Study Area: Proposed study area for conversion from limited access interstate highway to urban boulevard

The goal of this project would be three-fold:

  1. Knit Downtown and Capitol complex back into the street grid. Not only would this create additional land for residential and retail development, but would also drastically improve access into and out of downtown.
  2. Create approximately 100 prime "developable" acres in the central city. Sale of the land could top $26 million. Once built-up and after any development incentives have expired, the land could generate $6 million in annual tax revenue for the city.
  3. Promote more compact development and the opportunity to rethink underlying regional transportation strategy. Rather than continued expansion of the suburban and exurban fringe, the future will demand that we refocus on sustainable neighborhood redevelopment.
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Most cities are scarred by freeways cutting through residential neighborhoods and downtowns. These highways have multiple commonly accepted negative impacts that include:

  • Long-lasting effects of the original construction such as removal of historic buildings, relocation of poor residents, and division of long-standing neighborhoods.
  • Facilitating suburban expansion at the expense of traditional neighborhoods. Highways encourage automobile use rather than public transportation.
  • Creation and maintenance of a physical separation between formerly connected neighborhoods. Restricted access highways are a physical barrier that prevents people from crossing - what was once a two-block trip may now take 12 blocks. Bridges and tunnel crossings are often unpleasant for pedestrians.
  • High cost of construction and maintenance for the road surface, bridges, and ramps. The complexity inherent in a highway ratchets up the cost of maintenance and construction.
  • Massive amounts of formerly productive land are utilized as circulation and buffer rather than generating taxes through intensive use.

40th Place Pedestrian Bridge40th Place Pedestrian BridgeDes Moines has done a comparatively good job of reconnecting across Interstate 235 for both pedestrians and automobiles. There are numerous pedestrian bridges between major cross streets. Streets like Cottage Grove connect through easily by automobile, bicycle, and foot to downtown amenities.

Generally speaking, it is my opinion that the introduction of highways within city borders has done much more damage than good. The highways themselves have become one of the primary drivers (so to speak) of our dependence on automobiles for personal transportation, economic stimulus, and as symbols of freedom. Instead of planning our cities around people, we now plan them around automobiles.

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I fear that we are losing the collective ability to create and appreciate good public architecture.

There are many facets to this argument. The one I will address in this post is the experience of a pedestrian arriving at and entering a public building. And what building could possibly be more public than a library, where citizens are invited in to browse through a collection of books (that they own collectively), host meetings, study, research, listen to music, use the internet, attend lectures.

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