pedestrian

In response to last week's Perspective, a reader posted the following comment:

As you may or may not know, CVS is planning a new box store to replace the buildings on the northwest corner and when I pushed to have it built on the corner with the parking lot behind it, they balked.

CVS has been working for some time to assemble land and push through the zoning and permitting process for constructing a new store (the first CVS in Des Moines) on Euclid between 2nd and 3rd Avenues.

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I was fortunate to spend this past Thanksgiving in Florida - enjoying the sun, hotdogs at Doc's All American (best hot dog in America?), and of course a bit of urban analysis. Today's nugget comes from the seaside city of Delray Beach, located between Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm. Delray has expanded well beyond its pedestrian urban roots - it is difficult to build UP in Florida due to hurricaines. The downtown business district, however, is clearly thriving with what appear to be three primary business types: restaurants (drawing both regulars and tourists), arts (galleries), and tourist traps (t-shirts/tchatchkes). Between those are scattered various other service and retail businesses like real estate agencies, opthamologists, and civic. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, several blocks of side streets off the main drag were closed off to traffic for a massive art fair. A regular farmers market set up shop in the park outside our hotel as well.

Delray Beach Streetscape: Note the drive lanes separated from pedestrians by a row of parked cars, a tree row, and canopies at most stores work together to create a comfortable pedestrian environmentDelray Beach Streetscape: Note the drive lanes separated from pedestrians by a row of parked cars, a tree row, and canopies at most stores work together to create a comfortable pedestrian environment

But what I really want to write about today is the little things. Like this:

Whimsical Bike Rack: Whimsical bike rack serves double duty as a play structure when not being used for its "intended" purpose.Whimsical Bike Rack: Whimsical bike rack serves double duty as a play structure when not being used for its "intended" purpose.

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Thanksgiving weekend, dedicated bus traffic that has for decades sapped the vitality of a major downtown street, will relocate to the relatively unused Cherry Street two blocks south.

As the new DART transfer station nears completion, the powers that be are promoting potential changes on the soon-to-be-abandoned Walnut Street Experiment (worst band name ever). The City, Downtown Community Alliance, Downtown Neighborhood Association, and local business leaders have been engaged in planning for redevelopment of Walnut Street for some time (utilizing the services, of course, of the ubiquitous Mario Gandalsonas).

Juice has initiated a series looking at the future of Des Moines - starting off with redevelopment of Walnut Street. For some reason Juice, the Register's weekly free supplement dedicated to the young professional demographic, is leading the "re-imagine Walnut Street" publicity charge. (Of course, it is followed in this week's publication by an article on how to rock your look with patterned leggings.) Interestingly, Juice wears the "redevelopment guru" mantle well, with regular feature stories on urban design, government, and planning policy. They do a great job of digging in to the issues in a thoughtful and nuanced way (if necessarily focused on their 25-34 demographic).

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I just returned from a fabulous summer vacation to the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. While there, I spent most of my time at a cottage on the beach - however, I did get into town a couple times. Saugatuk/Douglas is a close-knit community of just a couple thousand permanent residents that balloons in the summer to tens of thousands. The towns have built for themselves a reputation as both an art and tourist destination. Having avoided the fires that swept through many midwestern towns in the 1800s, Saugatuk retains much its original historic Victorian and Queen Anne style buildings, many of which have been converted to retail shops along the main corridors.

Just a short car ride south of Saugatuk is a town of 5000 permanent residents called South Haven. This small town has a thriving district with, I daresay, more storefront retail than downtown Des Moines! How can this possibly be?

This map shows the main entry to South Haven - complete with a standard Wal Mart at the highway intersection.


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Compare for a moment the following two photos. These are two sections of the same street (Cedar) in Cleveland approaching Case Western Reserve from the west.

Cedar Road in ClevelandCedar Road in Cleveland

Cedar Road in ClevelandCedar Road in Cleveland

The posted speed limit on this section of street is 35 MPH, though over the course of 3 days, most cars appeared to be exceeding it. Particularly as I made my way back from the Reclaiming Vacant Properties conference each evening (walking up the hill against traffic) the section in the upper photo felt quite dangerous. For a brief moment at the apex of the curve, cars appeared to be heading straight for the sidewalk pedestrian, as if perhaps a in a moment of distraction one might end up as a hood ornament on a Ford Escape Hybrid...

Something as simple as the location of the sidewalk makes a huge difference in a pedestrian's feeling of safety - moving the sidewalk away from the street by five feet, on the other side of the streetlights, made the section in the lower photo feel safer by a factor of ten.

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So I find myself in Clive waiting at Holmes Auto for my passenger-side axle to be replaced (yes, a twenty-minute oil change turned into a four hour repair). Of course, I should have expected it when I said "...and would you also check out the clunking noise coming from the passenger front tire?"

Not my favorite way to spend a beautiful Summer day - I'd much rather be working on my front porch! For lunch I declined the offer of a ride from the friendly repair manager and decided instead to venture out and take the one-mile stroll up NW 114th to University.

This post addresses the pedestrian experience on my walk.


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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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The 6th Avenue Corridor through the River Bend and Cheatom Park Neighborhoods was named one of Iowa’s first Urban Neighborhood Districts by Main Street Iowa, a program within the Iowa Department of Economic Development (IDED). IDED Director Mike Tramontina named the new designees at a ceremony on Monday at 2 p.m.

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Despite my previous two posts, downtown Des Moines could really learn a thing or two from downtown Atlanta. An entire mini-neighborhood of walkable, pedestrian-friendly streets remain in the older portions of the large downtown.

Take this for example:
Pedestrian Friendly Street (Atlanta)Pedestrian Friendly Street (Atlanta)

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I found myself at the Southridge Mall Target over a lunch break a few days ago. On the way out of the (horribly designed and poorly maintained) parking lot, I witnessed an accessibility failure of monumental proportions. I had to take a picture.

What you see here in the middle of the photo is not a scooter, motorcycle, or other street-legal vehicle. It is a person in a motorized wheelchair forced to use a busy street because there are no sidewalks available. This situation represents a failure of the developers, designers, and local government code officials to adequately plan for pedestrian access to the site.

According to the Assessor's web site, the structures were originally built in 1975, well prior to passage of the Americans with Disability Act. A lot has changed in regards to Americans' understanding of accessibility since 1975, but what hasn't changed is our focus on automobile-oriented development patterns.

The buildings have seen significant and relatively recent remodeling/tenant alterations. In fact, the parking lot was paved in 2001 - a great time for everyone involved to think about pedestrian accessibility. It's never too late to do the right thing...

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