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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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Ewing Land Development (http://ewingdevelopment.com) has purchased the hotly contested Rice field from the Des Moines Public School District for just under $200,000. They intend to develop a 44-unit senior housing facility on the site - this is a disappointing end to a divisive debate.

In order to fully realize the potential of this beautifully situated and eminently developable site, it should be occupied by relatively dense mixed-use residential and commercial. Given the images available on the Ewing web site, the building constructed will probably be best described as "suburban forgettable". Ultimately, as a single-use senior housing development, this project will represent a failure to plan for future expansion of the Beaverdale pedestrian commercial district.

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According to a Business Record article:

Monrovia, Calif.-based Trader Joe's will open in West Des Moines, a spokeswoman with the privately held chain of specialty grocery stores confirmed today. Alison Mochizuki said Trader Joe's in 2010, will open a 12,200-square-foot store at Galleria at Jordan Creek at 6305 Mills Civic Parkway.

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Ingersoll Streetscape and Bike LaneIngersoll Streetscape and Bike LaneThe sky isn't falling!

With just over a month's worth of experience (in time for "Bike to Work Week"), Des Moines drivers and bicyclists seem to be adapting (with a few exceptions) to the lane revisions on Ingersoll.

My thoughts as a regular Ingersoll driver:

  • It is harder to make a left-hand turn onto Ingersoll from a side street or parking lot. With one lane of automobile traffic, the line of moving cars is longer and one must wait a little longer to cross over to the opposite lane.
  • The new lane striping makes drivers more conscientious. I see drivers being more cautious about entering traffic (and feel more cautious myself) - people are taking more time to look for cyclists?. Perhaps we just aren't used to the changes and things will go back to normal behavior in a few months.
  • Drivers are operating their cars more slowly. The new striping encourages slower driving. I'm sure this is a source of frustration to people who are used to weaving in and out of cars on a two-lane Ingersoll. It is actually better for business in a pedestrian-oriented district. However, the large plantings between traffic and the buildings partially negate this benefit because people in the slower-moving cars can't see signage and into the businesses.
  • Drivers don't know how to use a center turn lane correctly. Inevitably, a driver new to center turn lanes stops in (or halfway in) the traffic lane to wait for a left turn opportunity.
  • It doesn't take a whole lot longer to drive the length of Ingersoll. After reading some of the comments at dmregister.com, you'd think it now takes an hour and a half to drive two miles on Ingersoll. In reality, I haven't noticed a major difference (except for the left turn onto Ingersoll and for a few minutes during rush hour) from before. News flash: successful pedestrian commercial districts get crowded. People learn to expect it and plan accordingly. In fact, slowing cars down gives drivers the opportunity to notice the businesses on either side of the street! A "layered" space with pedestrians, cars, bikes, occupied outdoor spaces, and businesses lining the street is what we want for Ingersoll.
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Back in Business

27 May 2010

After many months of (very) sporadic work trying to fix critical technical issues, last night I finally stumbled upon the reason behind dmperspective's web illness. It is fixed now, and I will resume regular postings.

Over the next few months look for a game-changing pie-in-the-sky downtown development idea, advocacy regarding historic tax credits, an analysis of the Ingersoll streetscape, and Rice Field among others.

Thanks for reading!

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 Rehabber’s Club seeks nominations to its 2nd Annual Most Endangered Buildings list. Neighborhood groups, individuals and businesses are encouraged to submit nominations for buildings in danger of demolition or neglect.

Nominations are due by 5 p.m. Sept. 16, 2009, and may be submitted online at http://renovatedsm.com by registered users. Nomination forms (also available at RenovateDSM.com) can also be printed out and mailed to the Des Moines Rehabbers Club.

Groups have recently stepped forward to renovate two of the high profile structures on the 2008 Most Endangered Buildings list - the East Village gas station and Kingsway Cathedral - The Des Moines Rehabbers Club hopes to bring attention to the numerous buildings around Des Moines that are in danger of being lost forever.

“Buildings are more than piles of bricks and wood,” said Des Moines Rehabber’s Club organizer Steve Wilke-Shapiro. “We hope the Most Endangered Buildings list inspires people to think about why the buildings that make up our city are important to preserve.”

Nominations for the Des Moines Most Endangered Buildings list should meet the following criteria:

  • The building or structure must be located in the City of Des Moines.
  • The building must be threatened with either active demolition or permanent damage due to neglect within the next year. The building must not be too far deteriorated as to make rehabilitation unfeasible.
  • There is no preference for building type, use, style, or size.
  • A building does not have to be on the National Register or located in a historic district to be nominated.
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