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This One Change in the Historic East Village is a 'Win, Win, Win' For All

Des Moines Development East Grand Avenue

September 28, 2017

East Grand Avenue Changes

Earlier this month, East Grand Avenue between East 2nd and East 7th Streets in Downtown Des Moines (DSM) underwent a significant change. After extensive planning by the City of Des Moines and other local stakeholders, a pilot project is underway to reorganize this stretch of Grand Avenue into a Complete Street with a goal of being more safe and more accessible for all modes of transportation. This transformation changes the layout of East Grand Avenue from two lanes of traffic in each direction to one lane of traffic, a parking lane and a bike lane in each direction. 

Transportation Initiatives in DSM

This pilot project is consistent with the goals of Plan DSM, as well as Connect Downtown, an initiative of the City of Des Moines, Urban Land Institute Iowa and Greater Des Moines Partnership. Connect Downtown is investigating opportunities to make mobility in Downtown DSM safer, more comfortable, and more convenient. A primary goal is to improve access to and within Downtown DSM where people walk, ride their bicycle, drive and use transit.

Downtown DSM is experiencing great growth with more than 40 development projects underway or recently completed. This boom includes more than 1,000 apartment or condo units that have come online this year. More people downtown means more people on our streets throughout the day. When Downtown DSM is safer for all modes of transportation, it allows Downtown DSM to continue to build on its current momentum and increase its vibrancy.

How Changes Will Affect the Historic East Village

The Historic East Village of Downtown DSM is more alive than ever. It has been nationally recognized as a cool and fun neighborhood. It has eclectic shopping and dining options. It’s a gem of the region. As a neighborhood, folks were asking for changes that the pilot project should produce. That’s why it made sense for this pilot project to take place in the Historic East Village.

So, you might ask, “What are the benefits of updating this stretch of the street?”

For one, this should make the Historic East Village more walkable and safer for pedestrians by slowing down vehicular traffic.  It should make the area more inviting to pedestrians by putting more distance between them and car traffic. It will encourage more people to walk from one place to the next by shortening the distance a pedestrian needs to interact with moving cars. Bike lanes are a tool to right-size roads that are too wide. Additionally, the parking lane for vehicles will act as a protective barrier and make it safer for bicyclists to share East Grand Avenue.  This project adds the first protected bicycle lanes in this area. That said, we’re not the first in Iowa. Cedar Rapids has several and they seem to be working quite well.

You might also ask, “Will less lanes for traffic mean I spend a lot more time commuting?”

Not really.  Research shows that these types of changes do not significantly slow down commute times for vehicles. Reconfiguring the lanes allows the existing space to be optimized. It is a win-win-win for all modes of transportation.

Vibrant urban areas are those places that are easy to use, feel safe and are fun to come back to. They are places that provide this experience for all people who work, play, and live there. This pilot project is one more effort that can continue to make the Historic East Village great.

Justin Platts

G. W. Justin Platts, PLA, ASLA, LEED AP, CLARB is a landscape architect, principal, and the urban design focus market leader with RDG Planning & Design, a nationally-recognized multi-disciplinary design firm. As an award-winning designer, Justin's work has been recognized by ASLA, APA, and Public Art's Year in Review. Justin has authored and co-authored articles for multiple trade and professional organization magazines. As a recognized expert in his field, he regularly presents and speaks at conferences around the Midwest on the importance of an inclusive public process when seeking a successful community design.