Ingersoll

I had a fantastic and far ranging conversation with a fellow design professional this afternoon, sparked by the demolition of six historic homes on 31st Street just a couple days ago. One of the things we talked about was a disconnect between preservation professionals and developers who want to work in urban neighborhoods (specifically older established neighborhoods).

Sometimes despite a general desire to "do the right thing," they end up on the wrong side of the argument. Having worked on all phases of the development process (from land assembly, planning, and zoning to design, financing, and construction), I can identify with the need to be selective about sharing information publicly until the project is ready. Most developers working in older urban areas, however, tend to take this too far - holding their cards too close to their vest will breed distrust and antipathy from concerned neighbors and organizations. It sets up a needless climate of conflict.

Here is a brief overview of how to include preservation in the development planning process: Engage, Evaluate, Execute.

Historic Preservation Planning for Developers - Engage, Evaluate, ExecuteHistoric Preservation Planning for Developers - Engage, Evaluate, Execute

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Zoning regulations are a tool communities use to protect property values and guide future development in ways that support an established vision.

Ingersoll Avenue betweten MLK and 42nd Street is zoned "Neighborhood Pedestrian Commercial", for the most part.

Ingersoll Neighborhood Pedestrian Commercial Zoning MapIngersoll Neighborhood Pedestrian Commercial Zoning Map

The Neighborhood Pedestrian Commercial (NPC) district was established to aid in the preservation and stabilization of commercial corridors by:

  • Improving pedestrian access
  • Promoting retail density
  • Protecting the adjacent residential districts
  • Protecting the character of the district

This district type is characterized by multistory brick apartments and one- and two-story commercial buildings with multiple tenants and minimal setback from the primary commercial street. It is intended to include specialty retail and office uses that serve the adjacent residential areas as well as the entire city.

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Last week I helped present a forum on historic preservation. Titled "Pragmatic Preservation," the underlying goal was to help promote a climate where developers and preservationists could find common ground. The panel included people with practical experience on both sides. Issues and current events were debated in a civil and, well, pragmatic discussion. I walked away from the event with practical ideas and the general feeling that perhaps there was a way to negotiate an honest if uneasy truce.

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Whole Foods Competition

Whole Foods and Trader Joe's are squeezing the upscale/prepared food market a little tighter according to a Business Journal article this past week. It is reported that Whole Foods may be already eying expansion to an additional location. Is Whole Foods the WalMart of organic?

While I appreciate the "buy local" philosophy, I am not a fanatic (I am a Costco member). Yet I continue to resist shopping at either Whole Foods or Trader Joe's - there's just no need. I continue to make at least a weekly stop at Gateway. Gateway Market is one local business I unequivocally support!

I'll see you at Gateway at least every Tuesday for "kids eat free" night!

Ingersoll/MLK Intersection

Moving the conversation just down the street from Gateway, let's contine the exploration of Ingersoll improvements from last week. Finishing touches are now being put on the soon-to-be operational storefront retail strip on Ingersoll east of MLK.

Ingersoll Retail Strip Under ConstructionIngersoll Retail Strip Under Construction

Compared to the retail strip across MLK, this one is fresh, creative, and engaging - a true presence on Ingersoll. Utilizing contemporary materials such as galvanized steel for the sunshades and corrugated metal cladding, this building capitalizes on the energy a new development in a prominent location can bring to a district. I do worry a bit about how the sheet metal on the "marquee" volumes at the east and west corners of the building will fare over time.

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Greystone Homes Start Construction

New construction homes have started to pop up along MLK and scattered throughout the adjacent neighborhoods just north of Downtown. This is a great sign for the City - I am excited to see investment in non-Habitat infill construction (even thought it is subsidized as well) because it demonstrates an expanding market.

Hatch Development Group is building 26 "Des Moines Greystones" on scattered infill sites. Here's what they will look like:

Des Moines Greystones, Hatch Development GroupDes Moines Greystones, Hatch Development Group

I'm not convinced that the design is appropriate for the locations. They are attempting to "import" the idea of the appearance of a Chicago greystone to a location that doesn't really support it. Here are some photos of infill Chicago "greystones" I took on a trip to Chicago several years ago:

Chicago Infill Housing

Not all of these are great design, but the Chicago greystone home type is a part of the context and underlying neighborhood development pattern there... density, material compatibility, consistent massing - these all create an understanding of why the buildings take the form that they do.

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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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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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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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