highways

Slow Down, Speedy

27 Sep 2011

Eyes in the sky are now watching you speed down the eastbound lanes of I-235 between 53rd and Polk. Starting Wednesday, September 28, police will begin issuing tickets for speeds in excess of 10 miles over the limit. Fines are scheduled to be $65 for violations 11-15 miles over the speed limit, $75 for 16-20 miles over, and $80 plus $2 for each mile over 21 mph above the speed limit.

Cameras cover all four lanes, so don't think that you can slide by on the right...

And you had better watch your back driving around the rest of the region as well - there are five additional fixed cameras and one mobile camera placed around Des Moines on a rotating basis. Clive has at least nine on Hickman alone.


View Des Moines Fixed Traffic Camera Locations in a larger map

Despite statements that the cameras are intended to "reduce side impact crashes", it is pretty clear that income is a driving factor (so to speak) in the decision to install these enforcement cameras. Why do I believe this? because they are unmarked. If the intent was truly to reduce crashes and infractions at particularly dangerous intersections, they would be clearly marked with signage at the intersection. Rather there are inconspicuous signs when entering the City - "Photo enforced" on a small white sign on the right shoulder, for example.

By and large, I follow traffic laws. I don't speed, and I am pretty conscious of coming to a complete stop at red lights, so I am not particularly worried about getting tagged. It rubs me the wrong way, however, that the City is disguising what appears to be an income grab at least partially as a public safety measure. It is also disturbing that they outsource enforcement to a private company at a massive profit.

Channel 8 reports that net fixed camera revenues for the first two weeks in September (excluding the I-235 camera) totaled $50,000. Let's say the average citation was $70. That's a whopping 714 citations at five intersections. The private company running the cameras collects $27 per citation, for a gross income of about $38,600 per month or half a million dollars per year (rounding).

The City is poised to collect $800,000 at this rate ($1.3 million in gross revenue less $500,000 paid out to the private camera company). Until I see bright red signs at each monitored intersection, I don't think I'll be convinced that it's about safety over money.

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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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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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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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